29 June 2015

Review: Firefly Summer by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Excellent Contemporary Romance!

This is the third Kathleen Y’Barbo book I’ve read, and it’s taken me a while to try again after I didn’t enjoy the first two. One was the last book in a series, which made it harder to pick up. The other was the first book in a series, but I didn’t like it because the back cover copy gave away two major plot points within the book, and I found it difficult to engage with parts of the plot. They felt a little ‘off’ to me (I later found out it was badly-marketed—it wasn’t historical romance, as I’d thought, but steampunk, which explained those aspects I felt were ‘off’). I also read hints that Y’Barbo herself hadn’t been pleased with the way the book was marketed, which inspired me to try her writing again. She’s now changed publisher and moved to contemporary fiction, a move which can only be for the better given her previous publishers substandard effort on the earlier book.

What about Firefly Summer?


The story starts shortly after Sessa Lee Chambers’s husband dies, leaving her distraught and with a five-year-old son to raise alone. It then moves forward in time by a couple of decades to mature Sessa, who now has a successful business restoring wooden carousel horses, a dream she’d shared with her husband. But life takes a few unexpected turns and she finds herself caring for her infant granddaughter … and befriending the man who killed her son.

Sessa is a fabulous character. She’s gone from the so-distraught-she’s-good-for-nothing widow to the strong woman with a healthy social life and thriving business. It’s also good to see a character who’s had a less-than-perfect life: her son rejected his Christian upbringing and his mother, which is something Sessa blames herself for. That’s rare in Christian romance, probably because most novels don’t feature characters old enough to have adult children, or grandchildren. It was especially good to see a romance featuring a mature couple—a reminder that romance isn’t just for the young.

Both Sessa and Trey had issues with the perceived and actual sins in their past, and with forgiveness for both themselves and each other. This aspect of the plot had the potential to be awkward and cringe-inducing, but Y’Barbo’s writing prowess shone through and it was excellent. The one thing missing was tying up the loose end about the red cowboy hat (you’ll have to read it to know what I mean).

Overall, an excellent novel and I’ll look forward to reading more from Kathleen Y’Barbo in the future.

Thanks to Redbud Press for providing a free ebook for review.

26 June 2015

Review: A Heart's Betrayal by Colleen Coble

Emmie finds shelter in the arms of a soldier in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, but will her big secret drive them apart? Find out in book four, A Heart's Betrayal, of Colleen Coble's A Journey of the Heart series. Suddenly displaced, powerless, and ashamed, Emmie can’t stay in Wabash, Indiana. She makes a hopeful start for Fort Laramie to find her friend Sarah Montgomery and a new beginning. But when she arrives, she discovers she’s pregnant—and without a husband. The new start she’d hoped for slips from her fingers.

Melt into summer with a new giveaway from Colleen: four books (books one–four in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series) and a box of chocolates to pair with your new books!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Heart's Betrayal
  • A box of Colleen's favorite chocolate truffles from DeBrand Fine Chocolates
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession
  • A copy of A Heart's Danger
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 30th. Winner will be announced July 1st on Colleen's website.


Spoilers in the Book Description. Again.

Well done, Thomas Nelson (and Litfuse Publicity). Yet again you’ve done Colleen Coble the huge disservice of giving away the key plot twist in the book description. I understand that writing these advertising blurbs is hard, but let me give you a hint: the objective is to hook the reader into buying and reading the book, not give them a plot synopsis. Here's the Amazon Book Description:

Emmie finds shelter in the arms of a soldier, but her secret could drive them apart.
When Emmie Croftner answered the door to her late husband’s home, she discovered an awful truth: her deceased husband was a bigamist. And what’s more, the home she thought she inherited never belonged to her at all.
Suddenly displaced, powerless, and ashamed, Emmie can’t stay in Wabash, Indiana. She makes a hopeful start for Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to find her friend Sarah Montgomery and a new beginning. But when she arrives, she discovers she’s pregnant—and without a husband. The new start she’d hoped for slips from her fingers.

But then she meets Isaac Liddle, a handsome soldier with a kind heart. When he begins to court her, Emmie wonders whether she could ever really be his—and whether she dares to tell him she is carrying another man’s baby.

No, Emmie doesn't find shelter in the arms of a soldier, at least not in this novella. She's not also worried about any secret which cold drive them apart—she doesn’t discover she’s pregnant until the final chapter of this novella. Despite the book description, she meets Isaac when she arrives in Indiana, weeks before she discovers she's pregnant.

The writing is good, the characters are interesting, and I have to say I’m interested in the story of Emmie Munroe/Croftner. This is partly because I’m interested in her dilemma as the pregnant non-wife of a bigamist, and I want to know why she is so different from her rotten brother, Ben, who persecuted Sarah and Rand in the first three novellas in this collection. But I should have listened to my own advice (in my review to the first novella, A Heart’s Disguise) not to read the book descriptions. Because I’m now afraid I already know everything important that happens in these three novellas, which takes away any possibility of suspense (which Coble is known for) or even surprise.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

24 June 2015

Review: SPLASH! by Various Authors

2015 Reading Challenge – Short Stories

SPLASH! is a compilation of nine faith-filled romance novellas by indie authors from around the world. Yes, I know novellas aren’t exactly short stories, but I haven’t read short stories in years and Amazon had this listed in the Christian Short Stories category. I figure that means it counts.

It’s hard to review nine different stories by nine different authors. I’ve and enjoyed read previous books by the first three authors, but the other six were new to me. No matter. My previous knowledge of the first three set high expectations I hoped the others would match.

Overall my expectations were met. Yes, the writing and editing was better in some stories than others. Yes, I liked some of the stories better than others (with nine stories there is always going to be a couple I like more or less than the others, for whatever reason). Yes, the Christian element was stronger in some stories than others. But all nine had a solid Christian message, and it was good to see (read?).

I’m sure you don’t want to read my extended views of each novella, so I’m going to give you a whistle-stop tour of all nine, prefaced by one simple statement: this is a great light read, and you might just find a new favourite author.

His Perfect Catch by Narelle Atkins, set on the beaches of New South Wales, Australia. Mia is escaping Sydney—and her ex-boyfriend—and finds hew new next-door neighbour is Pete, her teenage crush. There’s a heap of attraction, but is Pete planning to move back to Sydney? I edited this story which means I’m naturally biased towards it, but I did enjoy Mia and Pete’s story, especially the location (it’s not New Zealand, but it’s close), and the fishing scenes (Mia might not be as high maintenance as Pete thinks, but flat shoes are still a stretch for this city girl).

Sweet Serenade by Valerie Comer, set in the wilds of Canada, in which outgoing tour guide Carly finds she is attracted to the brooding Reed, despite her cousin’s assertion that he’s a standoffish ice man. A fun story, and I especially liked the way Carly and Reed were able to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in a lake of lukewarm churchgoers. This is one of those novellas I’d like to have been longer, so we could see more of Carly and Reed sharing their faith as they fall in love. It’s the third novella in a series, but works just fine as a standalone story.

More than Friends by Autumn Macarthur, set near Edinburgh, as Catriona is desperate for a man to chaperone a church trip to the beach with her and a minibus full of disabled children. She turns to Alistair Murray, her brother’s best friend, a work colleague … and the teenage crush she never quite got over. Friends to more-than-friends is one of my favourite plot devices, and this one had me smiling as Ally and Cat worked things out.

Love Flies In by Heidi McCahan, set in Alaska as new Christian Tisha McDowell reconnects with her college nemesis Chase Binford, the guy she used to hassle for his Christian faith … and apparently kissed. Once. I always enjoy stories set in Alaksa—it’s the US with a twist—and this novella showcased the setting well. And, yes, there was some romance once Chase worked a few things out. Men. Eternally frustrating, but you can’t have a Christian romance without one.

Testing the Waters by Lesley Ann McDaniel, set in Crescent Cove, Oregon, where Curt Mason is working as a waiter to help out a friend, and meets the gorgeous and glamourous Theresé from Paris. Except she’s actually plain Theresa Reynolds from Portland. I was initially hesitant about this—I’m not a fan of lying heroines or heroes—but the author redeemed the plot and wove in an important point about being who we are meant to be in God, so I was more than pleased with the end.

The Lifeguards the Swim Team and Frozen Custard by Carol Moncado has an intriguing and potentially amusing title, but the story didn’t live up to the promise, partly because I never got a fix on where it was set, and I had some initial confusion about a couple of the characters. But it was fun once it got going, and my lasting complaint was it ended too quickly (an unfortunate side-effect of the novella!).

Time and Tide by Lynette Sowell, set in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, where fashion writer Karyn Lewis has retreated following the loss of her job. She reconnects with high school friend Brodie … but gets a shock when she meets his daughter. This wasn’t one of my favourite stories—I didn’t see enough chemistry between Karyn and Brodie, and the plot seemed too detailed for the novella format. It’s ironic, because Lynette Sowell is probably the best-known author in this set, but I found the other stories featured stronger, fresher writing.

Draw You Near by Jan Thompson is set in Savannah, Georgia, where Londoner Lars Cargill has come to find the mysterious woman in a painting by Abilene Dupree. This had potential, and parts of the story were really sweet, but Lars came across as more American than British (perhaps he’s really from New England). On the plus side, there was plenty of chemistry and a shared faith between Lars and Abilene, but that came to a head too quickly and the last quarter of the story dragged. A lot.

Orphaned Hearts by Marion Ueckermann, set in Zambia near the mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls. I’m a sucker for exotic locations, and my only experience of Africa is Egypt, so this story really attracted me. Lady Abigail goes to Africa to spend a year teaching in an orphanage … and to get away from an ex-fiancé she can’t ever see herself marrying. She meets handsome widower Simon, who runs a different kind of orphanage—an elephant sanctuary—but who has given up on God since the death of his wife in childbirth. No, the plot isn’t exactly unique, but the setting is and that made what could have been a ho-hum story rather special.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading these novellas, and have certainly found some more authors to add to my to-watch list. My ever-longer to-watch list. Some of these novels are part of a series of novels or novellas, but they can all be read as standalone stories.

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

I do have one free copy of the SPLASH! Kindle ebook to give away—leave a comment to be in the draw to win (winner drawn one week from the publication of this post).

22 June 2015

Review: A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

Larger than Life

A Worthy Pursuit is larger than life in more ways than one. Miss Charlotte Atherton is happy in her role as headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths in Austin, Texas—at least until Dr Sullivan announces the school is closing. The students will be returned to their families … including Lily Dorchester, an orphan for whom Charlotte is the legal guardian. So she does what any sensible 28-year-old woman would to in 1891: she kidnaps Lily and two other parentless students and takes them to a remote farm where she hopes they won’t be found.

Stone Hammond is the best retriever in Texas—he always gets his man. Or, in this case, his girl. He’s been hired to find little Lily Dorchester, who was kidnapped by her teacher. Only when he finds her, he finds the teacher claims she is Lily’s legal guardian, and she has the papers to prove it. Awkward. The two settle on an uneasy truce while Stone looks into Charlotte’s claim, and he finds the whole experience unexpected: the relationship Charlotte has with the children, the unique talents each child has, and his reaction to Charlotte. Especially his reaction to Charlotte.

I’ve enjoyed every single Karen Witemeyer book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. The only problem with her books is that she doesn’t write them fast enough – it’s usually the best part of a year between releases. Her plots and characters are both excellent, and she manages to inject a lot of humour into her novels without ever going over-the-top or descending into cliché or cringe. His is illustrated by one of my favourite lines out of A Worthy Pursuit:
Shoot. He could fit what he knew about women in a bullet casing and still have room for the gunpowder.
Despite the light humour, this was also a story of two wounded adults doing their best to follow God and protect the children in their charge from similar wounds. While the Christian aspects of the novel weren’t overpowering, they were powerful:
There are few guarantees in this life. The few that do exist come from God.

Overall, an excellent novel. Recommended for fans of historical fiction from authors such as Jen Turano and Carol Cox.

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

19 June 2015

Review: A Flying Affair by Carla Stewart

Great concept but too many issues

Book Description

Ever since Mittie Humphreys agreed to join dashing barnstorming pilot Ames for a joyride in his airplane, her lifelong love of horses has been surpassed by one thing--a longing for the skies. It seems she's not the only one--with Charles Lindbergh making his victory tour in the Spirit of St. Louis, aviation fever is spreading across the country. Mittie knows flying is the perfect focus for the soaring ambition and taste for adventure within her, and whenever she can slip away from her duties on her family's prosperous Kentucky horse farm, she heads to the airfield.

Considering their shared passion, it's no surprise that Ames begins to vie for Mittie's time. But when handsome British aviator Bobby York offers her flying lessons, he is equally surprised-and beguiled-by Mittie's grit and talent. Driven to succeed, Mittie will do whatever it takes to compete in the Women's National Air Derby alongside Amelia Earhart. But when Calista "Peach" Gilson, a charming Southern belle, becomes her rival both professionally and in love, Mittie must learn how to navigate her heart's romantic longings as well as the skies.

My Review

I thought there were good and not-so-good things about A Flying Affair. The writing was polished, and it’s written entirely from MIttie’s viewpoint which keeps the focus firmly on her as the main character. I liked the way the plot provided insight into the motivations and achievements of early women aviators (aviatrixes?), of the way aviation caught the imagination of the common people. It’s something people are still fascinated by, judging by the number of people who attend air shows each year.

But there were issues than things to recommend. Yes, the writing was polished but there was far too much telling, including a couple of instances of telling the reader what’s going to happen next, which reminded me of a 1970’s TV presenter telling us to Tune in next week for the next exciting episode, where … happens. There were also too many instances of 1920’s slang, especially in the first part of the novel. I can see they were trying to establish setting but it felt as though they were only thrown in to tell us, “Hey! It’s the Roaring Twenties, and young people use slang!” It felt forced, and not natural to Mittie’s character.

There were too many named characters, especially in the beginning, which made it difficult to know who was who, and who was important to the story and why. There was too much plot: at times it felt like A Flying Affair couldn’t decide if it was a book about a female aviator or a woman running a horse farm. There were too many subplots. Mittie and Ames, Mittie and Bobby, Mittie and Calista, Mittie’s grief and guilt over causing accidents, MIttie and Iris, Iris and her husband. Again, decide what the story is about and write that story. There were enough plots and subplots in here for an entire series.

Finally, there was no Christian element. Sure, the characters say grace once or twice and I think I recall Mittie making a reference to the man upstairs, but I’d classify this as a clean read rather than Christian fiction. While this is potentially an important issue for those readers specifically looking for Christian fiction, I have to say this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel (or lack thereof).

Cathy Bryant recently published a blog post comparing clean reads and Christian fiction, which inspired a healthy discussion on a Facebook group I’m a member of. I do think there is a place for both, but I'd like it if Christian publishers would brand books better so readers know what to expect. Christian readers looking in the Christian fiction section are looking for some faith in their fiction.

But there is also a market for sex-free novels with no underlying religious theme, and a clever Christian publisher would do both, but market them as separate imprints. (In fairness, I often find FaithWords/Hachette books light on their faith content … which suggests ‘FaithWords’ isn’t entirely accurate).

It’s telling that the author thanks her agent for providing the inspiration for this story. That suggests to me this topic is something the agent thought she could sell, not a subject the author had a deep passion for. I think that’s come through in the writing. Stewart started off writing a book about horses but got sidetracked with the flying. It’s a perfectly good commercial book, but lacks that inspiration that would make it great. This isn’t the first time I’ve come across authors saying their agent gave them the idea, and the other book I can think of in this category was also lacklustre.

Authors, perhaps you need to focus less on following the market and more on following your God-given passions and inspiration.

Overall, A Flying Affair didn’t fly for me. Thanks to NetGalley and FaithWords for providing a free ebook for review.

17 June 2015

Review: Kept by Sally Bradley

A book a friend recommended

I first saw Kept reviewed by Rel Mollet of Relz Reviews. Like me, Rel is tired of reading Christian novels which have the same feel as every other Christian novel. We’re looking for something real, something different, but something which still affirms our Christian faith. Rel raved about Kept, and while I bought it immediately, it’s taken me a while to get around to reading it. I kept (ha ha) hearing good things about it from people whose opinions I respected, and I started to wonder … could it really be that good? Or was I setting myself up for disappointment?

Well, it really is that good.

Kept isn’t perfect. There was one amusing typo (a segue is a change of topic in conversation; the two-wheeled ride-on has the same pronunciation, but it’s a Segway. Silly name, if you ask me). There was one scene from the point of view of a minor character that didn’t seem to add anything to the plot (and in hindsight, could have been eliminated), and there were a couple of minor plot points that didn’t make sense (maybe they’ll make more sense on the re-read). And there were times when I would have liked to better understand what was going on inside Dillan’s head. He plain didn’t make sense at times. Of course, he’s a man, so that could explain things.

Those details aside, Kept clocks up a number of achievements that rate highly with me. She’s managed something completely original—a story about a kept woman, a euphemism for a high-class prostitute—yet it’s unashamedly a Christian novel, a story of forgiveness and redemption that reminded me of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The writing is excellent, and manages to cover some gritty ground without ever spelling out the ugly details.

Sally Bradley has created a cast of likeable characters who feel true to live, even in their failings. Dillan, at “six foot thirteen”, is a complete klutz, which perhaps forces him to cultivate a friendship with Miska even when he’d rather avoid her. His brother, Garrett, is a loveable lawyer with a past he’s still trying to get over.

Miska is complex. At first she comes across as the sweet girl-next-door—until we begin to get to know a bit more about her, and realise she’s caught up in the oldest profession, and telling herself the biggest lie: that he’ll leave his wife for her. One day. It’s never exactly explained how she became a kept woman, but we see enough of her background to realise it’s a logical progression, and that she feels no qualms for taking the men in her life for everything she can get. After all, that’s all men have ever done to her.

Miska’s scenes showed how good the writing was, because I was completely engaged in her character. She’s an intelligent woman who does dumb, DUMB, things when it comes to me, and there were times I wanted to give her a good shake. Dillan and Garrett were similar, and even at the end I was thinking that Dillan needs to get over himself, while Garrett just needs to get his head examined. They were frustrating, but in a good way—like a teenage daughter. Their actions might be annoying, but you love them anyway.

Yes, that pretty much sums up Kept. Recommended for those who want something real in their Christian fiction.

You can find out more about Sally Bradley at her website.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book a friend recommended (thanks, Rel). 

15 June 2015

I'm Reviewing at The Christian Manifesto!

I'm reviewing Beyond the Ashes by Karen Barnett over at The Christian Manifesto. Click here to pop over and say hello!

Amazon Book Description

Where better to rebuild and face one’s fears than in 1906 San Francisco, a city rising from the ashes? Ruby Marshall, a young widow, is certain she’ll discover new purpose assisting her brother Robert with his cancer research, but she doesn’t anticipate finding new love. Dr. Gerald Larkspur dreams of filling his empty home with family, but he’d always hoped it would be a wife and children. In the aftermath of the great earthquake, the rooms are overflowing with extended family and friends left homeless by the disaster. When Robert’s widowed sister arrives, the close quarters seem close indeed. Ruby and Gerald’s fledgling romance is put at risk when Gerald develops symptoms of the very disease they’re striving to cure. Together they must ask—is it worth a second chance at love when time might be short?

12 June 2015

Review: Kiss The Cowboy by Julie Jarnagin

Amazon Book Description

What if your competition for your dream job…was your dream man? All Lucy Pickett needs to become executive chef in one of Dallas’s finest restaurants is to pull off the high-profile wedding she’s catering. So what if she’s forced to share duties with Dylan Lawson, a modern-day chuck-wagon cook? So what if he’s got rugged looks and cowboy charm? None of that is going to knock her off her game. 

Until she learns the restaurateur is considering Dylan for the position she wants. Game on–and it’s a winner-take-all event! 

Dylan Lawson finally has the opportunity he’s been waiting for to prove he can do more than just be a ranch hand. The only thing standing in his way is the fiery chef fighting for the same position. Will the heated competition scorch any chance they have for love?

My Review

Food and cowboys? In Texas? What more could you want in a good novel? Well, to be able to EAT the scrumptious-sounding food these two prepare as they each fight for their dream job: Lucy so she can prove to herself—and her family—that she’s got what it takes to be successful, and Wyatt to pay medical and college bills. All they’ve got to do is combine her haute cuisine with his down-home cooking and gain the agreement of the cowboy groom, the socialite bride, and the eccentric matriarch. And ignore the fact that it’s not just the food that sizzles …

Kiss the Cowboy was an enjoyable combination of witty banter, chemistry, deeper discoveries, and more than one sizzling kiss. It was a good plot which managed to neither speed nor drag, likeable (loveable?) characters it was easy to sympathise and empathise with, and a solid Christian message about the importance of finding and living the life God wants for us, not the life others thing we should have.

The Kindle version of this book includes a free novella, which is Heather and Wyatt’s story. If you haven’t already read it, you might want to read it first—not that you have to read it to enjoy Kiss the Cowboy, but I prefer to read a series in order. I don’t know why, because it’s a romance novella, so it’s pretty obvious what the ending is going to be. Nevertheless, I prefer not to read what came before after reading what came after.

Thanks to Redbud Press for providing a free ebook for review.

11 June 2015

ACRBA Blog Tour: Mirage by Jeanette Grant-Thompson

8 - 12 June 2015
is introducing


(Ark House Press)


Jeanette Grant-Thomson

About the Book:

Miraim is desperate. Her mind is a fog of drug-induced forgetfulness. She has forgotten her past, her family, even who she is. But who is the disturbingly familiar girl in the shopping centre?

Enmeshed in Soleternity, a cult in the Queensland outback, Miriam is pregnant. She believes her future - and that of her baby - lies with the cult.

Bronwyn is determined to rescue Miriam. She has not bargained on falling in love with the journalist helping her.

Away from Soleternity, Miriam faces conflicts. Sol . . .Soleternity . . .and now Anna and Christianity
. How can she know the truth? Who is to be trusted?

About the Author

Jeanette Grant-Thomson has been writing since she was a child, having short pieces published. Her first book was Jodie's Story (Anzea 1991 and two later editions), followed by two more biographies and two novels. She is a teacher and a writer, living in Redlands.

10 June 2015

Review: Married 'til Monday by Denise Hunter

Not Your Typical Christian Romance

Ryan and Abby McKinley divorced three years ago, but Ryan is still in love with his wife. A chance telephone call from her parents provides him with the perfect opportunity to spend time with Abby and try to find out what went wrong. He and Abby embark on a road trip to visit her parents for their wedding anniversary … with Ryan tagging along because Abby never told her parents she was divorced. Hmm …

It’s tempting to think Ryan is too-perfect. After all, he’s the perfect gentleman, a strong Christian, loves and supports his family, and spends hours working with his high school football team to teach them about both football and life. But he has one fault: he takes everything at face value and doesn’t see beyond the obvious (something I’ve found is common to the male of the species). This is illustrated early in the book when he’s thinking his younger sister, PJ, “had always led a charmed life”: anyone who has read the earlier books in this series will know that’s not exactly true. As we find out, you can’t take everyone at face value in life or in marriage.

Abby first appears to be normal, but as she takes her unplanned and unwanted road trip with Ryan, we (and Ryan) gradually discover that her normality is a façade that’s so well constructed even Abby doesn’t understand it’s there. It’s a powerful story with lessons for all couples, married or not, and I especially liked seeing a Christian romance novel showing that love and romance is about more than the wedding—it’s about the marriage, and the baggage and brokenness we each bring into that relationship.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Married 'til Monday since I finished the third book in The Chapel Springs Romance Series and realised the fourth story was going to reunite Ryan and Abby. It didn’t disappoint me. I’ve enjoyed all four books, but I think my favourites are this and Dancing with Fireflies, because they both step out of the Christian norm in terms of plot, while still delivering a strong Christian message. Recommended.

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

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as A book I can finish in a day. Yes, that's most good books, but I picked this because I was so keen to read it, and it more than lived up to my expectations. 

8 June 2015

Review: Grime Beat by Marji Lane

Fun Romantic Suspense Debut

Dani Foster is a household cleaner with a difference—she works cleaning up crime scenes. But one day, her colleague and best friend doesn’t show up to work. She’s not at home, either, and her placed looks as though it’s been trashed. Dani finds herself arrested for breaking and entering, and now she’s depending on crime scene specialist Jay Hunter to get her out of trouble … and to help her solve the mystery.

Grime Beat is a fast-paced suspense novella with more than a hint of romance. Dani is an excellent character, and there are hints that she’s hiding something as well. While I don’t necessarily related to her compulsion for cleanliness (I’d rather read than clean), I had to like her—she’s hard-working, loyal and intelligent, and knows just enough about policing to get suspicious about some things. Jay is also a good character, honest and professional, and someone who doesn’t like finding he’s missed an important detail. And he suspects he’s missed more than a few here ...

The plot and writing in Grime Beat are excellent. Romantic suspense is my favourite genre, and I’ll look forward to reading further novellas in this series. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

5 June 2015

Friday Fifteen: John Cooper

Today I'm delighted to welcome John Cooper to Iola's Christian Reads, to share his Friday Fifteen with us: fifteen authors who have influenced his life and his writing. John has recently released From Woodstock to Eternity. 

In his current life, John Cooper is an author, Christian song writer, husband and father of seven. In his old life, he was a hippie drug smuggler and general no count. This is the life Jesus delivered him from in 1984. In his book, From Woodstock To Eternity, he paints a picture of the wild and colorful days of the counter culture through the eyes of his hero, Dustin Morgan. While the book is filled with “you are there” action, it also tells a heartfelt story of the struggle many have to leave the old life once they have heard the Gospel.

Welcome, John!

Here are my picks for the 15 most influential authors and books that have affected my writing and my life. I would separate them into four categories: Christian, Action, Story Telling, and What Not To Do.


1. Charles Colson: Loving God

At first, I had no desire to read this book, thinking it was just another formatted lesson about a theological point. However, when I read the first page, I was hooked. Colson is the first Christian author I have read who puts his story into a real time, descriptive adventure that makes you feel like you are there. This inspired my style of writing to create From Woodstock To Eternity as a Christian Adventure novel.

2. Peter Marshall: The Light and the Glory

The son of the great Presbyterian preacher, Peter Marshall, and his wife, author Catherine Marshall (Christie books), Peter the younger surprised me with his ability to depict historical events with such vivid description and feeling. This book helped to form my ideas of dynamic scenes and settings.

3. C.S. Lewis: The Screwtape Letters

The idea of creating a living persona of the devil and his demons was revolutionary to me. At the time I read it, I was in a jail cell, pondering a commitment to raise my family in the Lord. It was meant to be humorous, but the light hearted handling of spiritual truths actually made me feel more at ease with God. C.S. Lewis set a precedent for me that inspired the character of Legion and the setting of the Heavenly Control Room in my book. Many believe there are spiritual forces at work in our lives, and showing them in this way makes it more personal.

4. Brian Edwards: God’s Outlaw

One of my favorite books, this biography of William Tyndale deserves much more praise than it gets. With many “series” books of Faith Heroes, etc. this book is written with historical background and intense action as Tyndale avoids his persecutors. Again, the author takes what could be a drab topic of Christian biography and turns it into an action story that teaches reformation doctrine along the way.


5. Jeff Shaara: The Glorious Cause

My favorite action writer of all time. It just so happens, all of Shaara’s books are about war, but I like war stories, because I like victory. But it is his unique writing style that captivates me. When I first read his account of the British occupation of New York, I could swear I was there. I could see it and smell it and feel it. His reviewers call it “you are there immediacy”. I must admit, I have tried to model some of the adventures in my book in the same way, and his example has been a great teacher.

6. Tom Clancy: Clear and Present Danger

When an author reaches a point that most of his books wind up being movies, you know he has made it big. Read any one of Clancy’s thrillers and you will know why. He draws you into the story line and gets you to know his characters to the point you feel invested in them. He is a master of character development. The good guys are good, and the bad guys need to get what is coming to them. His style has taught me a lot about characters and plot.

7. Tom Wolfe: The Right Stuff

I first became acquainted with Tom Wolfe as a hippie when he wrote The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Not knowing how he would handle a mainstream topic like the American Space Program, I wanted to see if he had the right stuff as an author. Of course, they had already made a movie out of it, so it couldn’t be too bad. I have learned the importance of research to add authenticity, and Tom Wolfe had to do an awful lot of research to write this book. What has helped me is his ability to take technical information, personal information, and some boring information and mold it all into flowing dialogue and great action.

8. Stephen Crane: The Red Badge of Courage

Crane invented an entirely new, original, unfamiliar writing style to tell this Civil War story of valor. He displayed an ability to break out of the standard mold and still achieve his goals of action, emotion and conflict. Perhaps it was necessary for him to break through old restraints to tell his tale. Whatever it was, it shows that artists can be out of the ordinary and still succeed, even in writing.


9. Mark Twain: Tom Sawyer

As a ninth grade reading assignment, Tom Sawyer was my first introduction to the world of adventure in storytelling. Up to then, all my reading had been school books, and I didn’t even want to do this book report. Being pulled into the story with Tom was a joy that has given me a love of reading ever since. It wasn’t required, but I read Huckleberry Finn after that. I had to find out the rest of the story.

10. Jack London: The Sea Wolf

Probably the best descriptive writer I know. London’s word pictures of the ship, the sea, the crew and the captain (The Sea Wolf) are enthralling. When writing, there is a temptation to move too fast, to keep the story going, when a great story has to have substance and scenery. Smelling the roses, so to speak. When I pause to create a setting, I think of the Sea Wolf and only hope I can get close.

11. Herman Wouk: War and Remembrance

A huge book, one thousand pages long, it would never get by today’s agents and publishers with their 100,000 word limits. Nevertheless, each word adds to the story and moves it along. The goal of this book is to leave a record of World War II, the atrocities that were committed to the Jews, and the valor it took to conquer evil. Wouk told the factual story through fictional characters with fictional life stories. This became a model for the storytelling in my book, as I mixed historical and cultural events into the narrative while moving from one action account to another.

12. Margaret Mitchell: Gone With The Wind

A perfect example of storytelling by a master from yesteryear. Even today, with all the great rising stars in the writing world, her tale of the Old South, with the romance of Rhett Butler and Scarlet O’Hara, can stand with the best of them.


Sometimes, our most valuable lessons are what to avoid. The following are just my opinions and how they have helped me in a backwards sort of way.

What not to do - what a great idea! I do believe we can learn as much from mistakes (ideally, other people's mistakes), and it's a good sign when a reader or writer is able to articulate why they didn't like something. 

13. Dana Fuller Ross: Wagon’s West Series

With the promise of getting lost in the Pioneer Days, my expectations were high when I started reading this series with the book Independence. I soon realized that the writing was lacking what I would call good style. The subject matter was interesting, the characters were compelling, and the plots were intriguing. However, the storyline seemed too “regular”, with a hint of normalcy to it. It wasn’t enough to stop me from reading, but occasionally, I would stumble over a dialogue or a narrative that just seemed too plain. This has put a fear in me to avoid being “trite” at all cost. I am not worried about being controversial, but I am worried about being “blah”.

So true.

14. John Jakes: Kent Family Chronicles

I know people love John Jakes, but a couple of his habits really bug me. One is excessive graphics on sex scenes. If it was erotica, that would be one thing, but when you recommend it to your teenage daughter as an historical novel, that’s another. I have always believed you can tell the same compelling story without the lewd details.

The other beef I have is the way he uses his characters. In one book, a brother and sister are separated for the entire book. He finally finds her, but is shot and killed the next day. Jakes developed a great conflict and buildup to a climax, only to demolish it immediately. It left a bad taste in my mouth and convinced me to take extra care in how I treat my characters. I want to attract more readers, not drive them away.

Yes, this would annoy me no end!

15. Chuck Norris: Against All Odds

Chuck Norris is a great role model and good movie actor, but he is not an author. I had to force myself through the simplistic dialogue and elementary circumstances. Not everyone feels this way. My kids love it. To me, it is an example of writing styles that I want to avoid.

So there it is, the good, the bad and the ugly. Thank you, Iola for having me as a guest on your blog, and I hope these insights will help other writers. I am open to guest blogging and cross promotion with other authors.

From Woodstock to Eternity is a triumphant saga of adventure and transformation, and is based on a true story. Find it at www.amazon.com/dp/1500740241 Available in print and kindle.

Please contact me or check out my book, here are some links.
blog: www.fromwoodstocktoeternity.com
Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/fromwoodstocktoeternity
Email: eternalpioneers@gmail.com
Book: www.amazon.com/dp/1500740241
Twitter: @eternalpioneer

3 June 2015

Review: Lives and Loves of a He Devil by Graham Norton

A Memoir

Anyone who has watched and enjoyed one of Graham Norton’s TV chat shows will know he’s funny, irreverent, and gay (both happy and homosexual) with a distinct voice. If any of that bothers you, this isn’t the book to read, because his ireverent voice shines through in this memoir. It’s as though he’s reading (and no, this wasn’t an audiobook). I enjoy Norton, so I enjoyed this book.

Norton wrote a “then I did this” autobiography when he was forty, and The Life and Loves of a He Devil memoir is quite different. It is structured along a series of themes of things he loves—dogs, Ireland, New York, divas, booze, men and work—capped off by things he loves to hate. As such, it bounces all over the place in terms of timing: boyfriends he broke up with in the “Dogs” chapter reappear and disappear throughout the memoir, as do home, locations and jobs.

He has some fascinating tales about people he has worked with and hosted on his various chat shows, but what really shines through is his own strong personality—and humility. He’s as surprised as anyone he’s become so successful, and doesn’t take it for granted or believe he has somehow ‘earned’ it. That also comes through in his show, which hosts a mix of the almost-famous, famous and mega-famous, and while Norton is at ease with all of them, there are some guests he is clearly thrilled to get to meet, just like a teenage girl meeting her idol (he actually tells a funny story about meeting idols: they are usually better admired from afar).

At the very end, he says:
“The final thanks must go to you, the reader ... If you watch or listen to any of my shows, thanks for that as well. None of what I do actually matters, but without an audience it really would be pointless."
I found that refreshing.

Norton fans will enjoy this book, but anyone who isn’t a fan should steer well clear. It’s definitely not a clean read, but it is an excellent example of memoir (as opposed to biography) in that it’s all about themes and ideas, not necessarily chronology and events.

This book counts as part of my 2015 Reading Challenge as A Memoir. 

1 June 2015

Review: London Tides by Carla Laureano

Excellent characters in a great location

London Tides is the much-awaited sequel to RITA Award-winner Five Days in Skye, which was about James MacDonald. It’s been too long, partly because the author has released two fantasy novels (as C.E. Laureano) in the meantime. I thoroughly enjoyed Five Days in Skye, so was looking forward to reading this sequel. I found it hard to get in to, but in the end it didn’t disappoint.

Grace Brennan is a photojournalist who’s spent the last ten years working in war zones. She’s produced some amazing photographs, but the personal cost has been too high, as illustrated by numerous tattoos commemorating colleagues she has lost … as well as the nightmares and the flashbacks. Now she’s back in London with no idea what to do, except reconnect with

Ian MacDonald is an ex-Olympic rower and Chief Operations Officer of his brother’s growing hospitality business, which includes several restaurants, a BBC TV show, books, and a hotel. He’s almost forty, and still single after since the love of his life left him ten years ago, six months before their wedding. He forgave her, he still loves her, and now she’s back.

The author has done an excellent job in researching London life and locations, particularly around rowing. But there were a handful of language glitches which reminded me the novel is written by an American, not a Londoner. Or perhaps the language was edited to make it more accessible to American audiences. Either way, these glitches meant I did have some trouble getting in to the story.

My other possible area of concern was around the Christian elements of the plot. It was obvious neither Ian nor Grace were practicing Christians ten years ago, and their present faith was also ambiguous. There wasn’t a distinct faith thread to appeal to the Christian reader, yet there were perhaps too many ‘God’ references to appeal to the general market reader. The low-key Christianity might appeal to British Christian readers (who prefer their Christian fiction not be too overt), but those readers will pick up on the language glitches.

These two issues aside, I enjoyed London Tides. Grace was a fascinating character, driven by forces she didn’t entirely understand. Ian was an amalgamation of many of the men I worked with in London, and I’m pretty sure I met his mother at least once. There was plenty of attraction between the two right from the start (and it was good to see in kept in check), but there was also plenty of conflict, mainly arising from Grace’s (understandable) personal lack of direction. This combination made for an excellent plot, with a variety of characters and a welcome cameo from James and Andrea (from Five Days in Skye).

Now I’m waiting for the final book, to see if Serena meets her match …

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carla Laureano at her website.