30 May 2014

Friday Fifteen: Andrea Grigg

Friday Fifteen: 

Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Andrea Grigg, a Kiwi who now lives in Queensland. I reviewed her debut novel, A Simple Mistake, and am looking forward to reading her second, which is due in August 2014.

Here's Andrea and her Friday Fifteen:

1. A.A. Milne

My parents read to me from a very early age, and I loved this guy. Not just for his Winnie the Pooh stories, but for two books of verse entitled, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six. These books were first printed in 1924 and 1927, although my editions are 1961 and 1964 – practically vintage! I can still recite a poem called The End. Give me a platform and I’ll oblige.

2. Enid Blyton

Despite it being ‘politically incorrect’ I was hooked on Noddy. (Somehow, I came through unscathed, along with my Big Ears egg cup) But my favourite Enid Blyton stories were the Famous Five series. When we went on our annual holiday to a little cabin in a place called Ngunguru (in NZ’s Northland) my dad put up a sign on the door: Welcome to Kirrin cottage. The home of Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy the dog. I was in heaven.

3. Louisa May Alcott

Little Women, Good Wives, Little Men, Jo’s Boys – I read them all. But out of these four, Little Women had the most significant effect on me. I was so upset when Beth died, that, at the age of eleven, I rewrote the ending. How I wish I’d kept it!

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder

It’s a wonder I didn’t end up writing historical prairie fiction. I loved reading the Little House on the Prairie novels and was thrilled when they eventually came to TV, even though I was a lot older by then. I used to watch them at a girlfriend’s place with her mum, who hid her face behind a newspaper so we couldn’t see her cry. These stories
are truly for all ages.

5. Beverley Cleary

This lady is a prolific writer and is now 98 years old! Apart from all the wonderful Ramona and Beezus books, she wrote one called Fifteen, about Jane and her first love, Stan. I was about that age when I read it and it resonated with me so much. I think she could be responsible for my interest in romance writing ...

Then came my fixation with authors from the UK:

6. Mary Stewart – romantic suspense, historical, fantasy
7. Catherine Cookson – historical romance
8. Daphne du Maurier – mostly historical with elements of romance
9. Victoria Holt (aka. Jean Plaidy, Phillipa Carr) – historical romance
… and yet I don’t write historical romance. Go figure.

Three ladies from England, Ireland and Australia:

10. Jill Mansell – contemporary romance and very funny. Loads of banter and one-liners.
11. Cathy Kelly – women’s fiction with strong elements of romance. Lots of family influence.
12. Monica McInerney – an Aussie girl married to an Irishman. Monica writes fiction set both here and in Ireland. Two books in particular have fabulous plots and rich characters: At Home With the Templetons and The House of Memories,

I love these authors but they don’t write from a Christian world view. And that was what got me thinking that perhaps I could try writing a book myself, a romance which didn’t compromise my morals or beliefs. And so I had a try. I wouldn’t put myself in the same calibre as these women yet, but hopefully, one day I will be.

And finally, the Christian contingent! Interestingly, they’re all from the USA.

13. Francine Rivers 

I just love her books.

14. Melissa Tagg 

A new writer on the scene who writes fun, contemporary romances. Look out for Made to Last, and Here to Stay.

15. Becky Wade 

Becky has just released her third novel, Meant to Be Mine, which I recently reviewed. Love the banter!

I wish I was allowed to cite more authors, (how could I have not mentioned C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, K.M. Peyton, L.M. Montgomery?) but then again, it’s probably just as well there was a limit.

I’ve really enjoyed reading the Friday Fifteens – I hope you enjoy mine. Thanks Iola for the opportunity to share.

Thank you for contributing, Andrea. I'm enjoying the series as well. It's a great way to remember old (book) friends, and discover new ones. 

29 May 2014

Review: A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge

Wow. And Yum.

Juliette D’Alisa is the youngest of five children born into a foodie family in Portland, Oregon. Her mother is French, her father Italian, and the whole family is involved in the food business in some way, either as a restaurant owner, chef, or in Juliette’s case, as a food writer for the local newspaper.

A Table by the Window is narrated in the first person, by Juliette, who is currently going through a tough time. Her grandmother has recently died, she’s lamenting the she’s 28 and doesn’t have a boyfriend, and she’s not happy at work. Juliette is a great character. She’s real, and I enjoyed reading about her family, the food, and all the cultural references (although I was a little disturbed to read the reference to the Top Gear presenters as “middle-aged”. Hamster is less than a year older than me. Surely not …).

I loved the writing. Lines like “my pantry had grown to resemble an elitist food bank” appealed to me, as did Juliette’s comments on restaurants:
“The best restaurants [add] … an element of delight. Of surprise. And the worst restaurants do the opposite of that. So I want to guide people to the good ones.”
That reflect my beliefs about book reviews. I want to find books that have that element of delight, to recommend to others who are searching for a good novel that’s a little different to the usual offerings. A Table by the Window certainly passes that test. It’s a mixture of women’s fiction, mystery and romance, and the added recipes only add to the appeal.

I’m looking forward to the sequel which will (I hope) show us a little more about Juliette, Neil, and the family secrets. And hopefully some more recipes. Recommended for fans of authors like Christa Parrish and Meg Mosseley.

Thanks to WaterBrook Press and Blogging for Books for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Hillary Manton Lodge at her website

28 May 2014

Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Decisions ...

Autumn Kingsley operates Kingsley Inn, the family bed-and-breakfast in Whisper Shore, even though it was never her dream. The Inn is facing financial pressure, although getting the booking for a wedding will help … even if the wedding is for her ex-boyfriend. Meanwhile, Blaze Hunziker is back in town, and she somehow gets roped into planning the town winter festival with him, despite the fact that his father owns her main competitor, and her sister used to date his brother.

The character of Autumn was frustrating and admirable all at the same time. She doesn’t want to be managing Kingsley Inn, yet won’t give up on trying to make a success of the business against all the odds. Even though I thought at times she should just give up and chase her dream, I admired her stickability.

Blaze was equally interesting. We know from early on that he’s been away for a long time, travelling and adventuring, and we know he doesn’t feel comfortable in Whisper Shore. His story only comes through in bits, but we really feel his conflict in being attracted to Autumn, when there is every reason they shouldn’t like each other.

Here to Stay is the sequel to Made to Last, but can easily be read as a standalone novel. It’s a fun, easy to read contemporary romance with plenty of chemistry between two old adversaries who have to come to terms with the way the decisions of others can impact on our lives in a negative way, and who have to learn that we can’t be responsible for the actions of others.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Melissa Tagg at her website.

27 May 2014

Review: A June Bride by Marybeth Whalen

Reality TV Romance

Wynne Hardy sent in a tearful application for reality TV show The Rejection Connection after being dumped by her fiancé, Callum Royce, her high school sweetheart. She does the show, accepts a marriage proposal from the handsome and caring Andy Green, but finds herself lost in wedding plans that seem to have been taken over by the TV network. And she wants closure with Callum before marrying Andy, to confirm she’s made the right choice.

A June Bride is written entirely in the first person, from Wynne's point of view, and that is both a strength and a weakness. It’s a weakness in that we never know exactly what Andy or Callum are thinking, so we don’t get to understand their feelings or their motives, and I’m was never sure which man was the ‘right’ choice (one of the issues with this kind of plot, and one reason many readers—and authors—prefer not to use the ‘other man’ plot). But that’s also the strength: if we knew what the men were thinking, it might telegraph the ending.

A June Bride is part of the A Year of Weddings series, featuring stories from a range of contemporary authors such as Denise Hunter, Rachel Hauck and Deborah Raney (not surprisingly, the plan is for a series of twelve books). Each novella appears to be a standalone story, although they do also link to other books by the author, either in terms of characters or location. In A June Bride, it was the location, which has featured in several of Whalen’s novels (I’ve read several, and enjoyed all of them more than I enjoyed this novella). The writing is good, but I didn’t find the male characters convincing, and I’m not sure Wynne made the right choice.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about MaryBeth Whalan at her website.

26 May 2014

Review: Silenced by Dani Pettrey

Excellent Christian Romantic Suspense

Alaska, to me, is an exotic location. But I’m warm blooded, so I don’t see Alaska as romantic. And I’m more than a little in awe of the outdoor lifestyles the McKenna family appear to lead in that cold climate. It’s definitely foreign, and it’s the perfect setting for a romantic suspense series.

Silenced is the fourth book in the Alaskan Courage series, each of which centres on one of the McKenna siblings. Kayden (female, despite the masculine name) is out rock climbing one day when she finds a body. What is first thought to be an accident soon proves to be murder, and Kayden finds herself pulled into the Jake’s investigation because of her climbing knowledge.

I’m a real romantic suspense fan, and Silenced ticks all the boxes. Great location. Lovable hero. Strong heroine. A problem to solve. A mystery antagonist who is out to get them. A close family. And a strong faith element running through it all. What’s not to like?

While the mystery and romance plots are self-contained, there are a lot of references to Kayden’s brothers and sisters (and their respective spouses), and it will be easier to keep these straight if you’ve read the earlier books. Recommended for romantic suspense fans.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Dani Pettrey at her website.

23 May 2014

Review: Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley

Castle meets Christian Romantic Suspense

Shadows of the Past is kind of a Christian version of Castle, with the handsome and successful writer and the beautiful crime fighter. However, it’s set in rural Mississippi rather than New York, Taylor Martin is a college professor, not a cop, and Nick Sinclair isn’t her muse—he’s the older brother of the guy Taylor suspects is stalking her.

Dr Taylor Martin is a psychology professor and criminal profiler, a job that means she sometimes attracts the wrong kind of attention. She journeys home to Logan Point in the hope she will escape her stalker and finds herself drawn into a family argument dating back from when her father disappeared. Nick is also in Mississippi, trying to locate his brother and restore their relationship—and show that Nick hasn’t got anything to do with Taylor’s stalker.

This was a mystery within a thriller, which added layers of suspense to the plot, and had me wondering all the way through what was what. It was obvious that several characters were hiding secrets, including Taylor, but it wasn’t until the final pages that all the ends were tied up (in a most satisfactory manner, I might add). It’s a combination of strong characters, exciting plot, and a budding romance—if only Nick can get over his past, and Taylor can rediscover hers.

It’s no secret that romantic suspense is my favourite genre. Shadows of the Past is an excellent romantic suspense debut, and I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading more from Patricia Bradley.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Patricia Bradley at her website.

22 May 2014

Review: Bluebonnet Bride by Colleen Coble

Short Novella. Sorry, Spoilers Ahead

Mail-order bride Elli Korpela has travelled from Finland to Austin, Texas, to marry Nathan White. She’s hiding from her past, while Nathan is looking for a woman to care for his four-year-old niece, Hannah. He’s not looking for love. But he finds himself drawn to Elli and feels protective towards her, particularly when they have a break-in and it seems Elli was the target …

There were a few factual oddities, and I found these distracted from the story. It wasn’t explained where Hannah’s father was, and why Nathan was responsible for her. Finland wasn’t the first country to give women the vote (that honour goes to New Zealand, in 1893), although Finland was the first to allow women to vote and stand for Parliament. It didn’t explain how allowing women to vote impacted on Elli’s property rights.

[Spoiler alert]

And I didn’t understand how a property deed would fit inside a wooden Russian doll (the smallest doll in a set of Matryoshka dolls is solid, not hollow, and is far too small to hold a property deed and letter). This last point was particularly annoying, as it made the entire suspense plot seem unbelievable.

However, the romance was sweet. I’ve always got a soft spot for a good marriage of convenience story, and Bluebonnet Bride certainly provided that.

Thanks to BookLookBloggers and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Colleen Coble at her website.

21 May 2014

CrossReads Book Blast: Unraveled by Heidi McCahan

By Heidi McCahan

About the Book:

Blind-sided by her questionable fiance, Lauren Carter returns to the one place she's been avoiding, the place she used to call home. As she's forced to look into the eyes of her past and even worse, her unraveling future she discovers that running only leaves you out of breath on a dead end street. Will she choose to unveil the secrets that haunt her? Or will she bury them once and for all and embrace a new life so different from the one she once held dear?

Blake Tully, wildly successful and breathtakingly winsome owner of a new rafting business, finds Lauren's unexpected reappearance confusing. As he torments himself with what if's and what should've been's, he can't mistake the feeling that crawls down his spine every time he looks at her. Although she broke his heart once, he longs to give his childhood sweetheart another chance, but can he convince her to stop running away when life gets tough? And can he forgive her when he discovers the reason she's been hiding?

Follow the story of these two shattered hearts as they discover the beauty of grace and forgiveness.

2013-03-003Heidi McCahan was blessed to spend her formative years in Alaska, where she met many interesting people who frequented the lodge her parents owned and operated. Heidi’s unique upbringing, coupled with Alaska’s breathtaking scenery, fueled her active imagination and loosely inspired her debut novel, Unraveled.

Heidi graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Medicine from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington and then earned a Master’s Degree in Athletic Training from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After a brief career as a Certified Athletic Trainer, Heidi married her husband, Steve. They live in North Carolina with their three active little boys.

When Heidi isn’t stepping on Legos, chauffeuring the boys around suburbia or folding laundry, she loves to write heartwarming romance set in unique locales.

Follow Heidi McCahan

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This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

20 May 2014

Review: 40 Day Devotional Challenge by Kathi Macias

Solid Biblical Devotional

The stated purpose of 40 Day Devotional Challenge  is to draw the reader closer to the heart of God, and to encourage us.

Each day is short devotional reading based on short passage, usually one or two verses. The devotional for the day then discusses the chosen verse, with the author applying it to her life in some way, then inviting the reader to make it personal, to seek the heart of God and how it applies in our lives. There is space to write down these personal thoughts (although that’s more applicable for the paperback than the ebook version!).

The devotionals were well-written and consistent with scripture. However, there didn’t seem to be any pattern to the readings. I think this was the one weakness, as I prefer to either work through a book or the Bible, or to have a series of readings based around a theme. However, that’s merely my personal preference. A solid devotional for anyone looking for some guidance in their study of the Bible, or anyone seeking to better know and understand the heart of God.

Thanks to Bookcrash for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Kathi Macias at her website.

19 May 2014

Review: Until I Found You by Victoria Bylin

An Unexpected Surprise

Kate Darby is returning to her small home town to care for her grandmother when her car goes over a cliff. She is rescued by the handsome Nick Sheridan, a freelance journalist employed by her grandmother at the Clarion, the weekly town newspaper.

Like many good novels, Until I Found You works on several levels. It’s a story of two people searching for love in spite of the fact they’ve been burned before (to the point where Nick has actually committed not to date for a year. And it’s six months until the end of the year).

It’s also the story of two people searching for faith, and trying to find the life they are meant to live. I particularly liked the Christian element of the novel—it felt real. Nick and Kate are both flawed characters with histories, characters searching for they want out of life, and finding the answers isn't easy.

Although Victoria Bylin isn’t a debut author, Until I Found You is her first full-length novel, and her first contemporary (her previous books have been shorter Love Inspired historical romances). I’ve found that not all authors adapt to the longer form novel, but Victoria Bylin has done an excellent job in developing the combination of plot and subplot needed for a longer novel. I’ll look forward to reading more of her work.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Victoria Bylin at her website. http://www.victoriabylin.com/index.html

16 May 2014

Review: Fair Play by Deeanne Gist

Trademark Deeanne Gist

Despite the name, Dr Billy Jack Tate is a woman. A woman doctor, in 1893 Chicago. She is offered a job as a doctor in the infirmary at the Woman’s Building at the Chicago World’s Fair. She meets Hunter Scott, Texas Ranger employed at the Fair in the Columbian Guard. The two get closer when Hunter finds an abandoned baby, and the two of them take it to Hall House, a home for foundlings on the outskirts of the slum district. As they get to know the area, they decide to work together to build a playground so the local children have a safe place to play.

A huge amount of research has gone into the writing of Fair Play, as is evident from the authentic photographs at the beginning of each chapter. This authenticity was one of the strengths of the story, as it made it so much easier to see the deprivation in the slums, and the contrast between rich and poor. It was also gratifying to read at the end that many of the plot points, including the playground, were based on historical records.

I also liked the characters. Both Billy and Hunter were intelligent and ambitious, and both had a certainty in their occupational calling that provided some interesting misunderstandings. This was tempered by genuine caring for the plight of the poor … and each other.

Fair Play is a standalone novel, but is loosely related to It Happened at the Fair, also based at the World’s Fair. It is published by Howard Books, a Christian imprint, but I have to say that the content is more clean general-market romance than Christian, as there is no overt faith element. That’s a disadvantage for those looking for some Christian in their Christian fiction, but will be seen as an advantage by those who find some Christian fiction too preachy. However, it has all Deeanne Gist’s trademark passion and I’m sure her fans will enjoy it.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Deeanne Gist at her website.

15 May 2014

Review: Somebody Like You by Beth K Vogt

An Unexpected Pleasure

Haley Ames was widowed three months ago before she could tell her husband she was expecting their first child. Then one evening he turns up on the doorstep—only it’s not Sam. It’s Stephen, his identical twin brother, who she never knew existed. It's a shock, and not a pleasant one.

Stephen has returned to his home town to reconnect with the brother he lost touch with after high school, but instead finds only Sam’s pregnant widow. Stephen tries to connect with Haley in the hope that he can learn something of the man Sam became through the woman Sam married. What he doesn’t expect is to be attracted to Haley.

Stephen and Haley form a relationship that is uncomfortable at first, especially for Haley, but she gradually comes to rely on Stephen. Somebody Like You had the potential to be really trite, full of awkward moments and embarrassing conversations. It wasn’t. Instead, it was a sensitive portrayal of grief, regret and acceptance. I think the strongest part was the regret—both Haley and Stephen were left wishing they could have said one more thing to Sam, and had to learn to live with the knowledge they could never make that right. Recommended

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

14 May 2014

Review: God's Daughter by Heather Day Gilbert

4.5 Stars for a Unique Historical Novel

It is 1000 AD, and Gudrid is one of the few women on a Viking expedition to upper North America, to rediscover Vineland and bring great wealth back to Leif Eiriksson, their chieftain. She is the wife of Thorfinn Karlsefni, the expedition leader, mother to Snorri, the unofficial leader of the small band of women on the expedition—and the unwilling object of the affections of several of the men. Gudrid stopped worshipping Thor when she was a child and the capricious god demanded her mother as a sacrifice to guarantee a good harvest. As an adult in Iceland, she learned of the one true God from the monks, and she now follows Him.

God's Daughter is a character-driven family saga, told entirely in first person from Gudrid’s point of view, and in the present tense—an interesting choice for a story set 1,000 years in the past, but one that’s strangely effective. Her voice is understated, deliberately downplaying the everyday struggles for survival in Viking society, a culture that still worships Thor and where life includes many pagan rituals.

It is obvious that a huge amount of research has gone into God's Daughter, and while that research comes out in the depth of the narrative around the people, culture and lifestyle, it’s never overbearing and it never gets in the way of the story (although the names were a little difficult at times, because they were so unfamiliar).

The distance of time makes it impossible for us to really know what life was like in the Viking camp of Straumsfjord or the village of Brattahlid in Greenland, but the majesty and the savagery both come alive in the excellent writing. I came away feeling I had a real understanding of Viking life (certainly more than enough to be thankful I live now!).

God's Daughter is recommended for readers who enjoy well-researched historical fiction set in less well-known times and places, from author such as Iris Anthony (aka Siri Mitchell) or Sharon Penman.

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

About Heather Day Gilbert

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling. Heather is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket, a site dedicated to bringing helpful information to authors.

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert–Author, and at herFacebook Author Page, as well as TwitterPinterestYouTube. Her first novel, God’s Daughter, is available on Amazon.

13 May 2014

Review: Gathering Shadows by Nancy Mehl

Mystery in a Mennonite Town

Wynter Evans is an aspiring journalist with a Missouri TV network, on assignment in the tiny Mennonite town of Sanctuary with her colleague, photographer Zac Weikal. But she’s got another motive: she’s searching for her brother, Ryan, who was kidnapped several years earlier. Reuben King is the young and handsome mayor of Sanctuary, who agrees to work with Wynter despite opposition from some of the townspeople.

Gathering Shadows starts off as a predictable romance in an Amish/Mennonite setting, but soon turns into something more. It’s written entirely from Wynter’s point of view. As we get to know her better, her past begins to collide with the present and we start to realise there is more of a mystery than whether the mystery Mennonite boy is Wynter’s long-lost brother. Why don’t the townspeople want her in Sanctuary? And who is leaving her mysterious notes?

It’s a plot that grabbed and kept my attention, both in the mystery and the strong characters. The Christian elements were solid but not preachy. I especially liked this quote:

“Believing someone’s words, whether it’s a person in our lives or God himself, only comes second to knowing their heart. If you understand someone’s heart, you can believe what they say.”

I liked this because it reminded me of the Bible study I’m doing this year, based on Woman's Guide to Reading the Bible in a Year by Diane Stortz. Each week, Stortz asks, ”How did you experience God’s heart in this week’s reading?” Gathering Shadows illustrates the importance of that question. It’s not just about knowing God intellectually. It’s about knowing Him personally. Anyway, back to the book review …

The one weakness of Gathering Shadows was the romance. It took a long time to get started, and I wasn’t convinced they spent sufficient time together to form a lasting relationship—or that there was any chemistry, and it might have been better with no romantic subplot at all. However, the mystery-thriller aspect of the plot was excellent, and I’d certainly read more books by Nancy Mehl.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Nancy Mehl at her website.

12 May 2014

Review: Meant to be Mine by Becky Wade

An Interesting Premise

When Celia meets her high school crush, Ty Porter, during a weekend in Las Vegas, she never dreams it will turn into a romance—or a marriage. Her dreams come crashing down when Ty reveals he has a girlfriend, and Celia vows she’ll hate him forever.

Five years later, Celia has put aside her dreams of owning a pastry shop and café in favour of the need to earn a steady wage and provide for her daughter. She’s never told Ty about Addie, and she has no intention of doing so. But that’s difficult when he shows up out of the blue in her Oregon home town.

Meant to Be Mine was a well-written story with an interesting plot and a solid faith thread, but it was let down by the main characters. I was never fully convinced by the romance. To put it bluntly, the relationship between Ty and Celia seemed to be based on mutual lust rather than mutual faith or mutual friendship (although I did enjoy their verbal sparring).

Celia spends most of the novel hating Ty—or pretending she does—while Ty is pining for the woman who dumped him after that Vegas weekend. They had too many reasons not to be together for my taste, and that’s difficult to get past in a romance novel. I see them being happy for now, but I'm not convinced it's happy ever after. The Other Woman trope didn’t help. I know some people loathe the Secret Baby plot, but that's not my problem. I don’t like the Other Woman plot.

Meant to Be Mine is a sequel to Undeniably Yours (in that Ty is the brother of Bo Porter, hero in the first novel), but works well as a standalone story. There was more of a faith element in Meant to Be Mine than in Undeniably Yours, but I enjoyed Bo and Meg’s story more. I’ll probably want to read the next in the series, because that’s probably going to be about Jake, who strikes me as a character worth knowing more about …

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Becky Wade at her website.

9 May 2014

Review and Giveaway: The Nurse's Perfect Match by Narelle Atkins

Sweet story of second love

Wilkins is a twenty-seven year old nurse working for Dr Luke Morton, and a widow. She's returning home from a date gone wrong when Ben Morton, Luke’s older brother, a widower with two children—two children who seem to think it’s time they got a new mother.

Ben’s wife died three years ago, and he hasn’t had time to even think about dating since. But Amy catches his eye. And he still hasn’t come to terms with how a loving God could take his wife. Amy lost her husband eighteen months ago, and blames herself. She’s attracted to Ben, but believes she doesn’t deserve a second chance at love.

Amy and Ben are both likeable characters, each hiding some private pain that stands in the way of their happiness. I also liked the minor characters, particularly Luke and Rachel, Ben’s younger brother and sister. They were a combination of supportive and interfering, in the way that only siblings can be.  The plot asks the age-old question of why do bad things happen to God’s children, and I think it was well answered without being a cliché.

I enjoyed The Nurse's Perfect Match (although I will admit to enjoying Falling for the Farmer, the first book in this series, more). It's a perfect example of a Heartsong Presents novel: short, with likeable characters and a strong Christian element. The Nurse's Perfect Match starts a couple of years after the end of Falling for the Farmer, and is set in the same small community, Snowgum Creek. While the two books have some characters in common, The Nurse's Perfect Match is a standalone story.

Overall, this is an enjoyable light read, and I’ll be looking forward to reading the final book in the series, The Doctor’s Return (Luke's story).

Thanks to Narelle Atikins for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Narelle at her website.

If you'd like to win a copy of The Nurse's Perfect Match, leave a comment below and tell us what you like most about novels set in Australia. Come back next Friday (16 May), when we'll announce the winner.

8 May 2014

Review: A Lady's Honor by Laurie Alice Eakes

Solid but not Spectacular

Elizabeth Trelawney has fled to her family home in Cornwall to escape an engagement she doesn’t want to a man as old as her grandfather. She is kidnapped by one Rowan Curnow, who is pretending to be a friend of her brothers. Can she trust him? Does she have a choice?

When Elizabeth eventually arrives, she finds her childhood friend is dead, her smuggler brother has run away to hide from the excise men, her cousin has been banished for getting herself into a ‘delicate situation’, and the best friend she hasn’t seen for ten years is homeless after the American heir to the estate just happens to be visiting. And it seems danger still lurks …

It’s a fast-paced story of mystery and intrigue as Elizabeth is challenged by her grandparents to find the family treasure. A Lady's Honor is the first novel in the new Cliffs of Cornwall series, and it’s unusual in that it doesn’t have the usual portrayal of smugglers as jolly good fellows who wouldn’t harm anyone, popular in gothic romances in years gone by. Eakes’s portrayal was uncomfortable in that regard, even if it is more accurate.

I did get hung up on a few glitches, including misquoting Shakespeare, misused words, inaccurate coinage, and the imaginary location of Bastion Point – there really is a Bastion Point in Auckland, New Zealand, and it’s famous for Maori land protests. Incidentally, while the book blurb calls it “Bastian Point”, it’s “Bastion Point” inside. Oops.

I’m also not convinced by the references to Conan Lord Penvenen (which made me think of Conan the Barbarian. Sorry). Shouldn’t that be Conan, Lord Penvenen? Or simply Conan, as they are talking about a close family friend?

My other issue was with the character of Rowan. We find out more about him as the story progresses, with some major revelations towards the end. While these did explain some of the questions I’d had about Rowan’s character, they also left me feeling as if I’d been deceived. Rowan was a viewpoint character, and while he was romantic and reliable as the hero, he was an unreliable narrator, and I felt as if all the conflict around his background was manufactured for the sake of introducing conflict, rather than being an intrinsic part of the story.

Despite these faults I did enjoy A Lady's Honor. It was a good combination of suspense, mystery and romance with a strong underlying Christian message about treasure and unconditional love. However, I didn’t enjoy it enough to read it again, and I’m not convinced I enjoyed it enough to bother reading the sequel when it comes out.

Thanks to BookLookBloggers for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Laurie Alice Eakes at her website.

7 May 2014

ARCBA Review: Imogen's Chance by Paula Vince

5th - 9th  May 2014
is introducing

Imogen’s Chance

(Even Before Publishing April 2014)


Paula Vince 

About the Book

She has given herself a chance to fix her personal history. But will old mistakes bring up new emotions?

Imogen Browne longs to make up for past mistakes before she can move on. She quietly resolves to help the Dorazio family, whose lives she accidentally upset. Her biggest challenge is Asher, the one person who may never forgive her. And he is facing a crisis of his own. Imogen must tread very carefully, as trying to fix things may well make them shatter.

A sensitive story about misplaced loyalty, celebrating life and falling in love. Can family secrets concealed with the best intentions bear the light of day?

About the Author

Paula Vince's youth was brightened by great fiction and she's on a mission to pay it forward. A wife and homeschooling mother, she loves to highlight the beauty of her own country in her stories. Most of them are set in the lovely Adelaide Hills, where she lives. Paula's books are a skillful blend of drama and romance. Together with elements of mystery and suspense, you will keep turning pages.

Guest Review by Catherine Hudson

When the unexpected happens, it can define or derail. Paula Vince’s Imogen's ChanceImogen's Chance is a deep-thinking book, and the reader will not come away without impact. Rather than being negative it is hopeful, and at times, humorous. The romantic sub-plot between Imogen and Asher makes this read all the sweeter, gently developing in a believable manner and timing.

Cancer is one of the biggest challenges of our time and one requiring taste, tact and understanding, even when explored in a fictional setting. Paula Vince has achieved this and when I received news of a friend’s diagnosis of an aggressive form cancer the day after finishing Imogen's Chance, I felt the message of hope whispering in my heart.

The characters were colourful and individual which was most pure and entertaining, when displayed through Asher and his thankfulness notes and Imogen’s shy quirks. The progression of their Christian journey was appropriate to the subject matter and the more biblical aspect written in a manner that held me, without leaving me feeling that I was hearing a sermon. Life was at the centre of this book and that kept me turning the pages.

The big reveal moment tied up the reasons for Imogen’s decision to travel to Australia and was executed through a narrative approach rather than dialogue. Although I wanted to hear the main characters interaction, the conclusion to Imogen's Chance was a satisfying end to an epic journey for two very likeable characters.

Another thought-provoking read from Paula Vince that still offers entertainment despite the real and raw subject matter. Thank you, Paula, for the review copy. I know many lives will be touched by this book. Recommended.

Catherine Hudson writes Historical and Contemporary romance for the CBA market. She was a finalist in the 2013 MARA Fiction from the Heartland contest.

6 May 2014

Review: Undetected by Dee Henderson

Classic Dee Henderson

Gina Gray is a certified genius. She entered college at fourteen, has multiple advanced degrees, and has just broken up with her boyfriend. She is twenty-nine and wants to be married, so heads to Bangor submarine base, where her older brother is based, in the hope he can introduce her to a good man. In the meantime, she’s got an idea about a new way for submarines to use sonar …

Forty-year-old widower Mark Bishop is the captain of a submarine, one of a small number of men responsible for the deployment of the US fleet of nuclear submarines. He’s friends with Jeff Gray, another sub captain, but isn’t interested in Gina. She’s too young for him, but she’s brilliant, and needs a friend on base as she works on her revolutionary idea.

I very much enjoyed Undetected. It had a strong Christian thread, good characters (the only faults with Gina and Mark is they are possibly too perfect), a solid romance, and a thought-provoking suspense plot as Gina works to improve the safety of US submarines (this was timely, as I was reading it during the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane. I thought if only this were true, the technology could be used to locate the plane far more quickly).

Initially, I was worried about the age difference between Gina and Mark, but I think it works in the end. There was another subplot (which isn’t mentioned in the blurb, so I won’t spoil it), but would say I didn’t think it added to the plot, as there was never any doubt how the subplot would play out in the end.

I wondered after Full Disclosure and still wasn’t entirely convinced after Unspoken, but I think Undetectedis almost back to the classic O'Malley and Uncommon Heroes style Dee Henderson’s fans know and love. I still think it’s books are over-long, has too much technical information, and there are a couple of glitches in the writing (she mentioned quietly), but those are my only real problems. The suspense is gripping, and the romance builds nicely, to the point where I really believed it. Excellent romantic suspense.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about Dee Henderson at her website (which has to be one of the most boring author websites I’ve ever seen. I guess it shows that good books sell books, not fancy social media.).

5 May 2014

May 2014 New Releases and Giveaway

The wonderful Ellie Whyte at Soul Inspirationz has posted her monthly new releases and giveaway post:

There are some excellent new releases this month. I'll be reviewing:

All those, and there are still three or four more I'd like to read! Find the giveaway at the Soul Inspirationz website.

2 May 2014

Review: Out of the Ruins by Karen Barnett

Warning: Minor Spoilers Ahead

It is 1905 San Jose, California, and Abigail Fischer's sister, Cecelia, is dying of leukaemia when their doctor cousin offers the opportunity to try an experimental treatment—X-rays. The family moves to San Francisco to support Cecelia during her treatment, which cousin Gerard leaves largely to his partner, Dr Robert King. Robert is attracted to Abigail, but faces the ethical issue of dating the relative of a patient, a patient who is also the beloved relation of his friend and partner.

I very much enjoyed Karen Barnett's debut novel, Mistaken, and the first portion of Out of the Ruins is as good, if not better. It has the same excellent attention to historical detail, robust plot, authentic characters and addresses one of the core 'problems' of the Christian faith: why does God allow His people to suffer? This is Abby’s central conflict:

“If You take her away, I’ll never speak to You again.”

The historical context, such as the doctors testing the X-rays on themselves, was fascinating—particularly given what we now know about the dangers of excessive doses of radiation. The research around the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was also excellent, as were the descriptions of the efforts to contain the resulting fires.

However, I thought Out of the Ruins wasn’t as good as Mistaken, because the story is less cohesive. At first, it's the story of Cecelia's illness and treatment, then it turns into a story of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Both stories have merit, but they don't necessarily hold together properly, partly because there is a gap of several months between the two sections.

It felt as though a lot of the action around the earthquake was simply to display the situation, as there was little character development from Abigail during this section, and even less from Robert. I think Into the Whirlwind (Elizabeth Camden's story set amidst the 1871 Chicago fire) did a much better job of integrating the character development into the disaster plot.

The story takes another segue in the aftermath of the earthquake, when Abby is given the diary of a great aunt and begins to read it. Abby and Mae share some similar experiences, and it's obvious the diary is going to be instrumental in bringing Abby back to God after her earlier declaration that she's never going to talk to Him again. It's a little convenient, bordering on contrived. We believe God heals, yet also have to acknowledge that not everyone who prays for healing experiences release from their symptoms. Why not? It's a hard question, one that Out of the Ruins skirts around but, in my view, fails to adequately address.

This is the first of a new series, The Golden Gate Chronicles. Will I read the next book? Yes, because I can see the original plot and solid writing that made Mistaken such an outstanding debut. And the earthquake has happened now, so hopefully future books in the series will focus on building strong characters in the unpredictable aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

The writing was excellent, the characters showed potential and the plot had the potential to be fascinating, but overall, Out of the Ruins just didn’t deliver for me.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Barnett at her website.

1 May 2014

Review: A May Bride by Meg Moseley

Happy Ever After ... or Happy For Now?

Ellie Martin meets handsome Gray Whitby in a church garden, where he’s attending a guerrilla wedding and she’s hiding in the bushes. They immediately hit it off, but the relationship hits some bumps when it’s time to meet Ellie’s family: her mother hasn’t trusted men since her city-boy husband left her with two small girls to raise alone.

While A May Bride was well-written, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed some of the other novellas in the A Year of Weddings series. Although Ellie’s mother was over-the-top  in her irrational dislike of city boys, I think she had a valid point in worrying about Ellie getting involved with a man she’d only just met.

And at the risk of adding a spoiler, there were a couple of things that I’m not convinced about regarding the relationship. (Let’s be realistic, I’m not exactly adding a spoiler. The title of the novella is A May Bride. The clue is in the title).

Ellie makes several decisions that affect both of them without asking Gray first—that’s not a recipe for good communication in marriage. Mom’s bad behaviour drives Ellie to do exactly the thing Mom’s advising against, which I think shows a lack of judgement on Ellie’s part. And Ellie and Gray attend different churches because neither feels comfortable with the church the other attends, which doesn’t seem to be a strong foundation for a Christian marriage.

Overall, I think A May Bride might be a Happy For Now story, not a Happy Ever After. And that’s not the message I want to see in a Christian romance novel.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Meg Moseley at her website.