28 April 2016

Review: Close to You by Kara Isaac

Extremely Biased Review Ahead 


Amazon Description


A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.

Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.

Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.

When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?

My Review

To the best of my knowledge, Close to You by Kara Isaac is the first novel from a New Zealand author contracted and published by a major US Christian publisher. That alone is worth five stars, at least from this parochial Kiwi reader. Those of you who can’t see the appeal of a romance novel set in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and the land of hobbits) should leave now and go back to … I don’t know. What do people who don’t like New Zealand or hobbits read? Do they read? Can they read?.


Anyway, on to the novel.

Allie is short of money, as her funds are currently tied up in a messy divorce. She’s working as a tour guide delivering high-class (i.e. seriously expensive) tours of New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations, making good use of her PhD in English literature. Unfortunately, she now loathes all things Tolkien.

Jackson’s company has just gone bust, and he’s accompanying a long-lost—and rich—uncle on Allie’s Lord of the Rings tour in the hope he can persuade uncle to invest in his next business idea. Unfortunately, he knows nothing about Tolkien, hobbits or Lord of the Rings … despite telling his uncle he’s a die-hard fan.

Naturally, Allie and Jackson start off on the wrong foot and equally naturally (this is Christian romance!), things change as they start to get to know each other. Throw in a tour bus full of seriously eccentric characters, a wily uncle and a weasly almost-ex-husband, and the stage is set for fun and romance.


I loved all the Kiwi touches, from the nail-biting approach to Wellington Airport to the lush greenery of the Waikato, the “scents” of Rotorua, the majesty of Queenstown, and the Tolkien tourist mecca of Hobbiton (which is even better in real life). The writing was good, with a good dose of humour (people actually speak Elvish?) and a subtle underlying Christian theme.

Recommended for fans of Carla Laureano and Susan May Warren. And New Zealand, and Tolkien. So that should cover pretty much everyone.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

27 April 2016

I'm Reviewing Dressed for Death at Suspense Sisters Reviews

I'm visiting Suspense Sisters Reviews today, reviewing Sins of the Past, a collection of three novellas by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey and Lynette Eason. Click here to read my review.


You can read the preview for Dressed for Death below:

26 April 2016

Review and Giveaway: Sit Stay Love by Dana Mentink

What do you get when you add one abrasive professional athlete, a quirky out-of-work schoolteacher, and an overweight geriatric dog? A lesson in love—Tippy style—in Dana Mentink's new book, Sit, Stay, Love. As Gina travels through Cal’s world with Tippy in tow, she begins to see Cal in a different light. Gina longs to show Cal the God-given blessings in his life that have nothing to do with baseball or fame. When her longing blooms into attraction, Gina does her best to suppress it. But Cal is falling in love with her too. . . .

Join Dana in celebrating the release of Sit, Stay, Love with a blog tour and a Travels with Tippy prize pack giveaway!

sit stay love-400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Sit, Stay, Love
  • A $75 Visa cash card
  • A basket filled with Tippy-themed goodies
    • Travel-themed decorator box
    • Reading dog statue
    • Dog journal
    • Poems for Dog Lovers
    • Snuggle Paws fleece blanket from Animal Rescue Site
    • Pawprint scarf
    • Doxie desk pen
    • Pupmobile auto magnet
tippybasket 


Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on April 25th. The winner will be announced April 26th on Dana's blog.


sit stay love-enterbanner



My Review
I almost didn’t read Sit Stay Love. I didn’t especially like the title (which was probably a subconscious reaction to it being too close to Eat, Pray, Love, although that was general market memoir and this is Christian fiction). And I didn’t like the cover. It looked boring—I’m a cat person, not a dog person.


But something about those doleful canine eyes must have caught my attention, because I did request a review copy. And I read it.

And it’s excellent.

The writing grabbed me from the very first sentence, then I was engaged with the characters, baseball pitcher Cal Crawford and Tibby, the old mixed-breed dog he inherited when his mother died. As a cat person, I’ve always thought most dogs were a little stupid, and Tibby is no exception (although she’s more eccentric than stupid). But her owner? Definitely had his stupid moments.

Cal has no interest in looking after Tibby, so he hires Gina Palmer to dogsit. Gina is a real people person, but naïve—something she knows and struggles to overcome. But she has a deep Christian faith, and it’s lovely to see the subtle way she influences those around her.

Gina and Cal are a good match—both are able and intelligent in their areas of expertise, but woefully naïve and stupid in other areas, especially when it comes to people. This provided a lot of humour and fun conversation. I especially liked the way Twitter featured as a combination of a plot point and an almost-character—it certainly added a sense of reality to the novel.

Overall, Sit Stay Love is a lovely story, one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read. It’s not a fast-paced thriller by any means, but still managed to grab me and keep me turning pages to find out what happens. Recommended for dog lovers and romance lovers.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about author Dana Mentink at her website. 

22 April 2016

Review: On the Edge by Theresa Santy

Simply Outstanding


On the Edge is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in a long time. Okay, it takes a while to find itself at the beginning and not everyone will enjoy the first person present tense narration (and that could by why I found the beginning difficult), but it’s worth the effort.

Kristen Craemer is an LA interior designer who is running. She can no longer run in real life, so now she runs in her dreams, and the dreams always turn into nightmares and they always lead her to water—the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Her life is slowly unravelling: she’s making mistakes at work, therapy isn’t helping, and nor is the liquid diet of drugs and alcohol.

Then she meets Jesus-freak Ethan Adams, and soon finds two awkward things: she likes him (as in, really likes him) even though he’s a Jesus-freak, and their mothers are in the same addiction therapy group. So this is a story of a woman whose messed-up childhood is still affecting her adult life, and meeting a guy with a messed-up childhood who seems to have it all together.

One of the difficult parts of writing a review of a book isn't what you put in to the review, but what you leave out. Readers and authors, quite understandably, don't want book reviews to include plot spoilers. But some readers also want to be warned about certain aspects of the book they might not want to read. Some reviewers call these trigger warnings: content that might act as a trigger for some readers.

And here's the problem. I want (need?) to include some trigger warnings for On the Edge, but to tell you any more would act as a spoiler. So be warned: if you read reviews to find out if there's anything in the book you want to avoid, you might be best avoiding On the Edge.

But you’d be missing out. The plot and characters are outstanding. The writing is outstanding—I loved lines like this:
This Kierkegaard writes so deep, he makes my brain ache.
It’s not typical Christian fiction (too much alcohol, too many drugs), but I think this is what Christian fiction should be: real. Telling difficult stories, and showing Jesus in the lives of characters. Not preaching. Basically, the whole book was outstanding, and you should read it. Unless the triggers . . .

Thanks to Breath of Fresh Air Press for providing a free ebook for review. Although I’ve now bought the paperback as well. Yes, it was that good.

You can find out more about Theresa Santy at her website: http://www.theresasanty.com/

21 April 2016

Demon Whispers by Phillip Cook

Demon Whispers is the sequel to Dead Man's Journey, and I had the privilege of working with Phillip to edit both novels.

In Dead Man's Journey, scientists discover a form of transporter technology which had unintended side-effects: it transported people into the spirit realm, the realm of angels and demons. Demon Whispers has a similar theme, in that the characters are looking for the answers to the puzzles of the universe through science—this time, through plants.

Here is the slightly creepy book description from Amazon:
Whisperers, spectators of our lives until they gain access.

For Madeleine Perdu, access was granted. Gentle whispers, subliminal messages came, and then the darkness.

Why, Madeleine, why? Her mother, Ava Perdu, asked. The whisperers blew thoughts into Ava’s head. People will pay for this. And so they did.

Ava, a mysterious and dangerous woman, never stopped to question the accuracy of those whispers. But she had no choice when a stranger entered her life and identified the whisperers.

Things are not as they seem.
Demon Whispers isn’t your typical Christian novel. It’s speculative fiction (a growing genre in the Christian market, but still not one that’s considered mainstream). It’s set in the near future. It’s written by an Australian and set in Australia (and although I’m not Australian, I do enjoy reading about somewhat familiar locations).

And it’s Christian fiction that is unashamedly Christian (although there aren’t as many angels and demons in Demon Whispers as in the first in the series, Dead Man’s Journey, there is still ample acknowledgement of the spirit realm, and the fact that not all angels are good).

In terms of writing craft, Phillip Cook is still learning and is improving with each book. But he’s got a strong sense of plot and has created excellent characters: the heroes aren’t perfect, and the villains aren’t all evil, and each of the characters has clear goals and motivations. I look forward to reading (and editing) his next novel.

I do recommend reading Dead Man's Journey first—while Demon Whispers works as a standalone novel, you'll get more out of it if you start the story at the beginning.

You can find out more about Phillip Cook at his website (Phillip-Cook.com), and you can read the beginning of Demon Whispers here:


19 April 2016

Book Review: The River Girl's Song by Angela Castillo


A Lovely Story


I listened to The River Girl's Song as an audiobook, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd actually read it. The audiobook felt very slow—I'm a fast reader, and could have read it much faster than it was being narrated. The narration was clear, although there were a couple of words I had trouble picking up because of her accent (which Americans probably wouldn't even notice, but I'm from New Zealand).

But the story was lovely. Zillia Bright is orphaned at the age of sixteen, and left to care for her newborn baby brother. Her stepfather leaves the two of them alone on the farm, taking with him everything of value, leaving Zillia to struggle with the farm, and with raising her brother.

She has the help and support of her some of her neighbours, especially Soonie and Wylder, the half-Comanche sister and brother who live on the next farm over. As well as befriending and helping her, they show God's love, and teach her that God will listen to the her song and answer her prayers.

A sweet Christian romance with a real feel-good ending. And there is a (free on Kindle) sequel, which follows Soonie's story. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Thanks to Angela Castillo for providing a free audiobook for review. You can find out more about Angela at her website (http://angelacastillowrites.weebly.com/), and read the introduction to The River Girl's Song here:


14 April 2016

Review: What Happened on Beale Street by Mary Ellis

Not up to expectations


I had two problems with What Happened on Beale Street. The first was that solving the question of what happened on Beale Street—the murder of Danny Andre—didn’t seem to be the focus on the novel. Instead, it seemed like it was little more than a handy plot device to get newly-licensed private investigator Nicki Price from her home in New Orleans to Memphis, so she could investigate a fifty-year-old mystery in hotel.

My second problem was that I didn’t warm to Nicki Price, and I liked her fiancé, Hunter Galen, even less. This is perhaps my fault, because this is the second book in Mary Ellis’s Secrets of the South Mysteries series, and I haven’t read the first, Midnight on the Mississippi. This Nicki and Hunter, and maybe I’d have liked them better if I’d read the first book. As it was, Nicki came across as naïve and lacking intelligence, while Hunter came off as arrogant and controlling.

Having said that, Nicki and Hunter weren’t meant to be the focus of What Happened on Beale Street (even though Nicki did her best to steal the show, and the climax of her subplot was actually more satisfying than the payoff from the main murder plot, and I did enjoy the scenes where we got to explore the opulent Peabody Hotel).

What Happened on Beale Street centres aroud Nate Price (Nicki’s cousin and boss) and his search to find out what happened to Danny Andre, Nicki’s best friend, a some-time saxophone player in some of the blues clubs on Beale Street. He reconnects with Danny’s sister, Isabella, an old acquaintance from school days, and that provides most of the relational interest in what is otherwise a straightforward mystery novel (well, as straightforward as a mystery novel ever is, with all the requisite twists and turns on the journey to find whodunit).

Overall, while What Happened on Beale Street is a solid mystery novel with a developing romance, it wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped.

Thanks to Harvest House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about author Mary Ellis at her website.

12 April 2016

Review: Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg's Best Contemporary Romance Yet


Amazon Description

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley's haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher...if only she knew who he was.

After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime--a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he's inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.

But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She's scrappy, but wounded. He's dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley's quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.

My Review


Like Never Before is the third book in the Walker Family series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel (thankfully—while I’ve read the previous two, I read so many books I can’t keep up with complex plots that require me to remember every detail of the previous novels).

I thought Like Never Before was excellent. Amelia and Logan were both great characters—totally opposite in many ways, but both doubting their Christian faith since the loss of their respective spouses. The writing was excellent, with the romantic tension between Amelia and Logan so strong it almost flew off the page. Just what we need in a romance . . .

I also enjoyed the interplay between the Walker siblings (and Amelia), and the sense of family that showed. And I liked the mystery around aviation pioneer Charles Lindberg, local eccentric Kendall Wilkins, and the empty safety deposit box (and not just because it forced Amelia and Logan to spend more time together. But that was part of it).

There were a couple of editing glitches (wrong character name, a repeated paragraph), but I read a review copy, not the final text, so these will hopefully be corrected before final publication (ditto for the typo in the Amazon book description). And sometimes the writing sounded more like Susan May Warren than Melissa Tagg, but SMW is one of my favourite authors, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing . . .

Overall, I agree with Susan May Warren that Melissa Tagg just keeps getting better and better. This is definitely her best yet. Recommended for contemporary romance fans.

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

5*

8 April 2016

Review: Breaking Free by Jennifer Slattery

A Thought-provoking Read


Amazon Description

Sometimes it takes losing everything to grab hold of what really matters.

Women’s ministry leader and Seattle housewife, Alice Goddard, and her successful graphic-designer husband appear to have it all together. Until their credit and debit cards are denied, launching Alice into an investigation that only leads to the discovery of secrets. Meanwhile, her husband is trapped in a downward spiral of lies, shame, and self-destruction. Can they break free from their deception and turn to the only One who can save them? And will it be in time to save their marriage?

My Review

Breaking Free isn’t a fun read. It’s a hard-hitting story of a disintegrating marriage. At first, I thought gambler Trent was the one with the problem. But by halfway through, I was equally annoyed with both characters (and with Alice’s mother, and Trent’s boss. And both their children). Sure, Trent was taking the lead in lying, cheating and stealing to fund his gambling habit, but Alice wasn’t helping. She wasn’t addressing the issue. She wasn’t asking for help. She wasn’t even admitting there was a problem.

On one hand, I understood why. Alice and Trent were good church-going Christians (although Trent’s salvation may well be in question), and the church isn’t generally in favour of divorce. The novel opened with Alice having lunch with a group of her church “friends”, with the implication she didn’t really like any of them because they were all fake. Yet she was as fake as any of them, not trusting anyone—even her best friend—with the truth of what was happening in her life. This was annoying, as the opening implied a strong woman of God, but she was more doormat woman of mammon (on the plus side, this did give her plenty of room for character growth, which did happen albeit perhaps too quickly to be believable).

And that meant that instead of being a story of a disintegrating marriage, Breaking Free turned into a story of a disintegrating family. I couldn’t help but think things might have been different if Alice had been more Christian and less churchgoer. If she’d asked for God’s help.

That if she’d been a little more open about the problems between her and Trent, especially the money problems, that her sons might have had a little more grace and understanding towards her. On the other hand, should you tell your children stuff like that? They were teenagers, old enough to understand. Or is that turning the children into pawns?

Yes, Breaking Free was a frustrating read, but that’s what made it good. While Trent continually had the choice between good and bad decisions (to gamble or not to gamble, to pay the household bills or to use that money for gambling, to pay back the money he owed or to steal), Alice didn’t. Alice’s choices were between bad and bad, with no right answer. A best answer, perhaps. But no right answer. After all, there is no perfect formula for a marriage breakup.

But I did expect Alice, as a Christian and a women’s ministry leader, to turn to God, at least occasionally, even if she couldn’t turn to her friends. This is what made me think she was as big a fake as her so-called friends (and a hypocrite as well, for judging them). I found her passivity frustrating—she let a lot of this happen through her personal inaction. Sure, Trent’s gambling wasn’t her fault. But her lack of reaction was. So that was frustrating as well.

And the ending . . . too quick. And I’m not convinced it was believable, or that it would last. However, it’s still a solid read with an excellent message. You can find out more about author Jennifer Slattery at her website (http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com/), and you can read the beginning of Breaking Free here:



Thanks to New Hope Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

7 April 2016

ACRBA Review: Twice Stolen by Susanne Timpani


4 - 8 April
is introducing

(Armour Books, 14 February 2016)

by

Susanne Timpani

About the Book:

After the death of his grandmother, Dimitri finds he's been lied to most of his life. His journey into the Outback to unravel the mystery of his identity leads to an encounter with Leah, a nurse with a tragic secret.

About the Author

Susanne is married, has four beautiful children and works as a community nurse with children and families. Themes of her work and her faith appear in her writing. 

Susanne is the author of the blog, 10 Minute Daily Retreat. These twice weekly reflections on scripture can be read via:

http://susannetimpani.blogspot.com.au/ 

https://www.facebook.com/10MinuteDailyRetreat

Her first novel, Twice Stolen, was released in February 2016. It fits the genre of Inspirational Fiction, has Australian Aboriginal themes and is flavoured with a sprinkling of Medical Romance. 


Twice stolen won the CALEB prize for an unpublished manuscript.  The book is published by Armour Books

My Review

Dimitri is an aspiring photographer who is also looking to discover more about his heritage, having lost his parents in a plane accident when he was a small child. He wins a short-term apprenticeship with a landscape photographer which takes him to the Bilyaj region, on the edge of the Outback—where his parents died. Leah is a student midwife assigned to the Bilyja region, where she meets the handsome Dimitri, but she’s nervous about getting involved with him—especially after she has a health scare.

The story revolves around a lot of secrets, which makes it difficult to describe without giving away spoilers. It also made parts of the story frustrating for me. Dimitri’s grandparents lied to him and it was never explained why (and I don’t understand how they got away with one of the lies). The ongoing conflict between Leah and Dimitri could have been solved with a conversation (while I understood why Dimitri stayed away from Leah, his initial assumption was ridiculous. So ridiculous it took me a while before I worked out what he’d thought).

There were issues about timing that either didn’t make sense, or skipped forward in time without adequately covering what one of the characters had been doing in the intervening timespan. I noticed this especially around Leah’s health scare. And I thought Leah needed her head examined (but to tell you why would be a spoiler).

Overall, the idea of Twice Stolen was excellent, but there were too many problems for it to be a truly outstanding novel, at least for me.

Thanks to Armour Books for providing a free ebook for review.

5 April 2016