25 April 2017

Review: A Secret Courage by Tricia Goyer

Too Many Mistakes

Tricia Goyer has written over fifty novels, but I think this is the first I’ve read. The big-picture historical background was new to me, and fascinating. I’ve heard of the codebreaking work that went on at Bletchley Park in World War II England, but I’d never heard of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at Dansefield House near Henley, England. Reading about the work these men and women did was fascinating, and was the novel's greatest strength.

The details were less strong—tea with cream, a fried egg for breakfast (rationing, anyone?), references to sidewalks, signposts, the United Nations, and majoring in history in college (a Brit would read history at university).

There was unintentional comedy in the references to British efficiency (if we’re talking national stereotypes, Germans are efficient. The British are bureaucratic). And while I’d like to think the typos in my review copy were all were corrected in the final published version, I don’t think that’s the case. I was able to search the Kindle Look Inside and find Blenheim Place (should be Palace), and American accident (should be accent). Awkward …

In terms of the plot, I found the first quarter confusing. While it was obvious Will was a double agent, it was less obvious where his true allegiance lay. This made it difficult to engage in the developing romance as I didn’t know whether I was supposed to like Will or loathe him. This made it impossible to engage in what was supposed to be a romance. The middle of the novel often dragged to the point where I considered giving up several times, and I didn’t feel the suspense aspect of the plot really kick in until the last quarter.

This is the first book in The London Chronicles series, but I can’t say I’m interested enough to follow the rest of the series, even though World War II is one of my favourite historical fiction genres.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to A Secret Courage below:

24 April 2017

An Irish Hero and a Seattle Beauty

Guest post By Christine Lindsay

Sofi’s Bridge shows a variety of dialects from the many different immigrants who settled in Washington State. Here is a sample of Neil’s Irish-ness.
Neil returned the smile Sofi gave him. “To a new day then.” He took a sip and held the cup away from him, crinkling his face. “My, how you Swedes like your coffee strong.”

“Too robust for your delicate tastes, Neil Macph—.” Her eyes danced.

“Not at all. We Irish like our tea just as strong.”

“But is the coffee to your taste?”

He leaned against the wall, and his voice came out husky. “ ’Tis grand. Sure I prefer it, so I do.”

“If we’re starting off a new day, then tell me—you prefer tea, don’t you?”

“I do miss a pot of tea, one where the leaves have been stewing so long the spoon can stand straight up in the cup. Does that satisfy ye?”

Their combined laughter lifted to the eaves, filtered down on them, and their gazes locked.

While I know my Irish, I researched the correct phrasing and tone for my other immigrants. Sofi is second generation Swedish, but here is a sample of her mother’s strong cultural roots.
“As the child of poor Swedish immigrants I grew up on the old saying, ‘Manure and diligence make the farmer rich.’”
But the cadences of language and culture disappear in the universal language of a kiss.
Neil could have been strong if Sofi had stayed away. But with the perfume of her nearness, the low, melodious kindness of her voice she exposed his wants, his dreams for his life, a wife, a home. His blood ran brighter through his veins.

He took her upturned face in his hands, his breath going shallow.

If things were different, this girl, this woman could be his. Sofi was the only woman who’d ever penetrated his self-reliance and made him aware of his own needs. She brought wholeness to him, healing to him.

She closed the gap between them. Wind whispered through the pines and cedars as he grazed his lips along hers. He trailed his mouth upward, along her cheek and down the warm softness of her neck. He returned to her lips, drawing in the sweetness of her mouth.

But it wasn’t right, and he pushed away from her. He may be a lot of things, but his father had taught him to be an honest man. By kissing her he was saying he wanted to marry her. And he could never marry Sofi.

Ah yes, the language of human love.

About Christine: Irish born Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction and non-fiction. Readers describe her writing as gritty yet tender, realistic yet larger than life, with historical detail that collides into the heart of psychological and relationship drama.

Christine's fictional novels have garnered the ACFW Genesis Award, The Grace Award, Canada’s The Word Guild Award, and was a finalist twice for Readers’ Favorite as well as 2nd place in RWA’s Faith Hope and Love contest.

This author’s non-fiction memoir Finding Sarah Finding Me is the true-life story that started this award-winning career in Christian fiction and non-fiction. This book is a must for anyone whose life has been touched by adoption. Christine is currently writing a new fictional series set on the majestic coast of Ireland and loaded with her use of setting as a character that will sweep the reader away. Subscribe to her newsletter on her website www.christinelindsay.org

https://www.amazon.com/Sofis-Bridge-Christine-Lindsay-ebook/dp/B015M9SR6CAbout the Book: Seattle Debutante Sofi Andersson will do everything in her power to protect her sister who is suffering from shock over their father's death. Charles, the family busy-body, threatens to lock Trina in a sanatorium—a whitewashed term for an insane asylum—so Sofi will rescue her little sister, even if it means running away to the Cascade Mountains with only the new gardener Neil Macpherson to protect them. But in a cabin high in the Cascades, Sofi begins to recognize that the handsome immigrant from Ireland harbors secrets of his own. Can she trust this man whose gentle manner brings such peace to her traumatized sister and such tumult to her own emotions? And can Nei, the gardener continue to hide from Sofi that he is really Dr. Neil Galloway, a man wanted for murder by the British police? Only an act of faith and love will bridge the distance that separates lies from truth and safety.

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21 April 2017

Friday Fifteen: Pamela Poole

This week I'm pleased to welcome author Pamela Poole to share her Friday Fifteen—the fifteen authors who have most influenced her life and work. Welcome, Pamela!

Fifteen Authors that Changed My World

I grew up when classics were still revered as required reading in school, so they shaped me at an impressionable time. Looking back, I’m grateful that such powerful literature filled my heart and mind, in contrast to the book market of today.

Christ will always be first in my life for every role model, and His words have molded me as no other author can. Scripture is the sieve through which I filter my comparisons of worldviews and morality, and it inevitably influenced the choices I settled on for this post.

1.      Robert Louis Stevenson
I love anything by Stevenson, but the two books that often still come to play in my life are Treasure Island and A Child’s Garden of Verse. I truly admire this man, for he conquered the pitiless adversary of chronic illness and used the forced periods of rest to write books that contributed immeasurably to the world. He’s also a terrific example of how writers can enthrall audiences by creatively crafting rough characters and situations to make them readable without course language.

2.      James Herriot
When I was a teenager, I babysat for a professor and his wife who lived across the street from me. They introduced me to James Herriot’s work by giving me All Creatures Great and Small. Herriot’s true accounts of his escapades as a veterinarian in the English countryside were profoundly insightful peeks into human nature, and he told them in ways that left me gasping in laughter!

3.      Margaret Mitchell
This author’s classic story of the war-torn South has always been a favorite for me because of her fascinating characters in Gone With the Wind, though I personally think that she failed readers in the ending. The line that shocked so many was also the point where Rhett had a chance to shine as a hero, but he fell, and Mitchell left readers unfulfilled. I’m so glad another author, Alexandra Ripley, came through in the 1990’s with the sequel, Scarlett. The sequel was satisfying in her redemption of Scarlett and Rhett.

4. Jane Austen
I know, this is predictable. But on so many levels, she is the ultimate in classy romance writing.

5. Catherine Marshall
Christy was the novel that opened my teenage eyes and heart to the need for missionary work in the mountains not far from my own home. She also taught me that romantic love doesn’t conquer all.

6. Jules Verne
I love adventure, and Around the World in Eighty Days is unforgettable!

7. Lew Wallace
Ben-Hur, a Tale of Christ was a story that deeply affected me, and the movie adaption is still one of my all-time favorite Biblical tales. This profoundly moving story covers almost every universal situation in one timeless epic.

8. C.S. Lewis
Narnia, Mere Christianity, and the Screwtape Letters are truly books to study, not just read through.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are gold mines of life truths and encouragement for spiritual battles.

10. Bram Stoker
Many people don’t realize that the original Dracula is written from a deeply Christian perspective, and that we battle spiritual “monsters” every day. Hollywood deviations are far from the spirit of Stoker’s masterpiece.

11. Frank Peretti
This Present Darkness gave me new eyes to imagine the dimension of the spiritual battles I already knew were raging around us.

12. Robert Whitlow
The List was another nudge for me in the direction of Southern fiction and the spiritual dimension behind so much that happens in our lives, sometimes for generations.

13. Jeanette Windle
This author’s missionary background and the way she crafted rough, dark settings and characters into art, rather than communicate with offensive words, inspired my writing style. Crossfire and DMZ are so well written that she’s been interviewed by governments about her knowledge of the settings!

14. Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
The Left Behind series was eye-opening for my family, for we were reminded of the impact that scripture could have when presented in a dramatic story.

15. Edgar Rice Burroughs
While there is a wide gap between this author’s outlook and philosophies compared to my own, he created an amazing character in Tarzan. Derivatives of this novel stirred my imagination for years, and a few elements from it influenced Jaguar, my latest novel release in the Painter Place Saga. My worldview of Tarzan leans toward marveling at God’s provision for a man whose only environment in his formative years was survival in the jungle, and how the man’s reactions play out with the Biblical truth that we are not evolved from animals but created in God’s image, with His moral truth stamped into our very essence of heart, soul, and mind.

About Jaguar, Painter Place Saga Book 3

Caroline and Chad Gregory are happy on their island home at Painter Place. But an old vendetta against them puts Caroline in terrible danger. Her enemies are closing in, and the future of Painter Place is at stake. Her only hope of escape is a man known as the Jaguar, a legendary international operative and Caroline’s one-time boyfriend. Even if he and a miracle can save her, Caroline will never be the same sheltered woman who has been groomed from childhood to inherit the island.

About the Author
Pamela Poole’s love for the South inspires all her books and paintings, and is why she describes her work as Inspiring Southern Ambiance. She became an author after endlessly returning unread books to the library and her son challenged her to write the kind of novel she wanted to read. She and her husband Mark live in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and ACFW-NC.

Where to Find Pamela Online
Main Website: www.pamelapoole.com
Southern Sky Publishing Website:
YouTube Channel:

20 April 2017

Book Review: Above Rubies by Keely Brooke Keith

Back in the Land in the 1860’s

Above Rubies is the second book in Keely Brooke Keith’s Uncharted Beginnings series. It is set in the 1860’s, two years after the settlers arrive in The Land.

The story focuses on Olivia Owens, who has a calling to be a schoolteacher. Unfortunately, the people of Good Springs don’t see the need for formal teaching—they need their children to be contributing to building the settlement. And they certainly don’t see the need for a dedicated schoolhouse. It seems the only person supporting Olivia is carpenter and flirt Gabe McIntosh.

And Olivia has a secret (all good characters have a secret). If people knew her secret, they’d never let her teach their children. Because Olivia has what we now call dyslexia: some days she can read words, and some days the monster comes and mixes up all the letters. And who’d want a teacher who can’t read?

Above Rubies was an enjoyable read. I liked the interplay between Olivia and Gabe, both in terms of their developing personal relationship, and the way he supports her to achieve her dreams.

The one fault was that the ending was somewhat abrupt. I’d been thinking there were a couple more chapters when the book just finished—the remaining pages were teaser chapters from The Land Uncharted.

Above Rubies is a standalone novel, although it’s probably best to read Aboard Providence first, so you understand the background and family relationships. However, it’s not necessary—all you need to know is the community have settled an uncharted island, and have no way of leaving.

A must-read for all Keely Brooke Keith fans, and anyone who enjoys historical Christian romance.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Keely Brooke Keith at her website, and you can read the introduction to Above Rubies below:

13 April 2017

Review: Behind the Scenes by Jen Turano

A New Series from Jen Turano

Jen Turano is one of my favourite Christian historical romance authors. I love her characters, her witty dialogue, and the underlying truth (Truth) in her novels. And Behind the Scenes is no exception.

The main character is the unfortunately named Miss Permilia Griswold, member of New York’s elite, and well-known (or perhaps unknown) wallflower. The story starts at the famous 1883 costume ball given by Mr and Mrs William Vanderbilt II, an event which let the media into New York society for the first time, for better or worse. The descriptions of the ball are excellent, and my initial suspicions that the descriptions might have been a little over-the-top were allayed when I did a little research. If anything, Behind the Scenes is understated.

The story has touches of Cinderella, with Permilia as the motherless girl, a self-centred stepmother and an even more self-centred step-sister, an absent but loving father, and Mr Asher Rutherford, the owner of one of New York’s biggest department stores, as Prince Charming.

But there is also a suspense element, after Permilia overhears a death threat against Mr Rutherford … and he doesn’t believe her. This leads a quirky troupe of characters on what is best described as a merry chase as Permilia and Asher spend more and more time together as they attempt to find the source of the threat.

My one issue was that there were parts of the story I didn't quite understand, almost as if I'd missed something ... I had. I'd missed At Your Request, the free novella introducing this new series (partly because the novella didn't release until January 2017 and I couldn't resist reading this as soon as the review copy was available. In December 2016). Anyway, I suggest you don't make the same mistake.

Recommended for fans of witty historical romance.

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

11 April 2017

Review: The Hidden Hours by Sara J Foster

Cover image The Hidden Hours by Sara Foster

Not Christian Fiction. 

But It's Excellent Suspense.

The Hidden Hours took me a while to get into, but once I did, I found it was gripping reading. Most of the story is told from the point of view of Eleanor, and it’s in present tense (which I always find takes me a while to get my head around). To add to the complexity, each chapter begins with a short piece from the point of view of a minor character. There are also some shifts in tense and time which took a while to get used to, but which were used to great effect.

Eleanor is an Australian in London on her OE (that’s her Overseas Experience, a rite of passage for those of us from Australia and New Zealand). She’s living with her uncle’s family, and has a temp job as a personal assistant at her aunt’s employer. The story starts the day after the company’s Christmas party, when is discovered that an executive drowned in the River Thames following the party. The police investigate, and Eleanor finds herself in the awkward situation of being one of the last to see Arabella, but having no memory of the end of the party, or of getting home. Oh, and she’s found Arabella’s distinctive engagement ring in her handbag. Oops.

So at the most basic level, the story is a whodunit. Did Arabella fall, or was she pushed? If she was pushed, by whom? By Eleanor, who can’t remember? By Nathan, Arabella’s husband and Eleanor’s boss? But it’s also a study in messed-up families. Specifically, Eleanor’s messed-up childhood which has left her with ongoing nightmares and memories which intrude on her present life, to the point where they can get mixed up.

The writing was strong, with a unique voice and excellent characters, especially Eleanor. There was a real sense of place – the setting felt authentic to me as someone who lived in London for ten years (and I liked that feeling of recognition). My only complaint is a little swearing that I didn’t feel was necessary.

Overall, excellent.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

6 April 2017

Review: Home by Ginny Yttrup

Slow Start

I was super-impressed by Words, the first Ginny Yttrup book I read. The second, Invisible, was a little harder to get into. And Home was a little harder again. I know Words was partly based on Ginny’s own story, and I suspect part of Home is as well (a novel about a novelist? Who ends up writing a novel titled Home? It’s easy to see why I might think that).

I know authors are told, ‘write what you know’. And obviously, authors know writing novels. But I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of novels featuring novelists as main characters. I don’t mind novels about journalists or bloggers. But something about a novelist as a main character makes it harder for me to suspend disbelief—some novels have done it (Denise Hunter and Kaye Dacus are two, but their novels are fun romance. Home isn’t).

No, Home is a story about a novelist who’s having problems writing her novel, and who has a husband who is having problems with work—he’s a building contractor, and the work isn’t coming in the way it used to. Which means the money isn’t coming in either (I must admit, this was the part of the novel that didn’t work for me. He was a successful contractor until the Great Recession hit a couple of years earlier, they’d been living in the same house for twenty years—the house he built—and it wasn’t paid off?)

Home is told in first person point of view. This isn’t something that usually bothers me, but it bothered me with Home because it’s told from the viewpoint of several different characters, and I kept having to go back to the beginnings of chapters to work out who the viewpoint character was. I find it easier if first person is one character.

The result was it took me longer than normal to get into Home, and when I did, I found myself engaging less with Melanie’s story (the novelist), and more with the story of her neighbour and editor, Jill. I did get into Melanie’s story, and even into Craig’s (her husband), but it took a while.

And that makes it a hard novel to review. The ending was good, but it took a long time to get there. The writing was excellent, particularly in the second half, and there was a lot about Melanie I could relate to:

I also liked the quotes at the beginning of each chapter:

And I liked the way the characters, especially Craig, had a solid Christian faith:

And I’m prepared to forgive a lot from a character who can say that. Overall, Home is a novel about loss and grief, and learning to cope with both. It’s uplifting and encouraging, but not a book to pick up if you’re looking for a light read.

Thanks to Shiloh Run Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read more about Ginny Yttrup at her website.

5 April 2017

ACRBA Blog Tour: Activate by Adele Jones

3 - 7 April 2017

is Introducing 
(By the Rhiza Press, 1 November 2016)
By Adele Jones

About the Book:

Josh Hammond’s not who he says he is. To stay alive, he must guard his identity, existing isolated from his former life and those he loves. The one enemy he can’t outrun is his failing health, and time is short. Desperate for a solution, Josh leaves the protection of his safe house unapproved. Instead of a cure, he’s left powerless against a cunning adversary. Determined to reclaim his life, he grasps an opportunity for escape, but things go drastically wrong. Can he find a way to expose the lies of a criminal mastermind, or will he be silenced? Forever.
About the Author:
Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination.

A strong believer in embracing life's journey, Adele delights in sharing that adventure with others, be that through the pages of a story or engaging in a social or professional context. Through her broad personal and professional interests, she has welcomed diverse engagement opportunities, including science based student experience sessions, conference presentations, literary readings and musical exploits.

With a long standing interest in historical fiction, Adele based her Master's dissertation on this topic and is currently anticipating release of her first novel in this genre, A Devil's Ransom (www.roseandcrownbooks.com). She has also had a variety of poems, short stories, inspirational meditations, devotions and magazine articles published. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 Caleb Prize for unpublished manuscript, and is due to for release in September 2014. Replicate is the second book in this series and was released in October 2015.   

More information:
Adele Jones: www.adelejonesauthor.com

You can read my review for Activate here: Activate by Adele Jones

3 April 2017

Clash of the Titles Winner: Protective Custody by Jennifer Vander Klip

Congratulations to Jennifer Vander Klip
and the novel
Protective Custody

About the book:

A cop burned by love falls for a key witness in a crime implicating the town's rich and powerful.

Lifestyle magazine editor Heather McAlister was in the wrong place at the wrong time. What she saw sends her faith and life into a tailspin. As a key witness in a crime shaking the roots of the town's power brokers, doing the right thing may cost her everything. Including her life.

Detective Kyle Taylor is in the midst of solving the town's worst crime spree, a case that cold make or break his career, when the woman he thinks he might have a future with witnesses a gang initiation gone wrong before they can finish their first date. He has spent his entire adult life protecting his hometown. Now he's protecting a woman he'll risk everything to save.

With more than their future at risk, they must discern betrayal from trust, image from truth while avoiding a danger closer than they think.

Christian Romantic Suspense

What Reviewers Are Saying:

I just kept turning pages to see what would happen next! Can't wait for the next one!—R. Cole

This is my second novel from Vander Klipp and I continue to be impressed with her writing.--Kelly T.

Add this book to your must-read list!—Regina F.

What COTT Voters Had to Say:
~Great Book, Jennifer! Kept me on the edge of my seat!!

~Jennifer Vanderklipp, keep on writing. Some days it may seem as if no one appreciates your books, but believe me, we, your readers, are out here just waiting for your next
release. A. Zuniga

~You have an awesome cover.The book sounds great.

~In love with Jennifer's writings!!!

~Enjoying so many new titles from amazing authors that pour their hearts in to their work. However I have to say that Protective Custody is a nail biter beginning to end. I could not put it down. Kudos to Jennifer Vander Klipp. Looking forward to more great reads from her.

~I like suspense like Jennifer VanderKlipp writes!

About the Author:

I make beauty from neglect, order from chaos. I like fixing messes!

And I get to do that a lot since I’m a mom to two and stepmom to four, navigating the tweens and

teens while battling my daughter’s juvenile arthritis, exploring the delights of my son’s autism, and keeping gluten free. A California native transplanted to the Midwest, my favorite thing is discovering with my husband how much there is to love about seasons, snow, and the delight that is Michigan.

Upcoming Release:

Promise Me is a prequel novella to Protective Custody, and it is releasing in May. With the same great setting as Protective Custody, (Orange County, California) this story focuses on Cait Bellamy and Grayson Kendall, who make brief appearances in Protective Custody. But we also get introduced to the stars of Protective Custody, Detective Kyle Taylor and Heather McAlistair.

Marketing director for Samashima Family Farms Cait Bellamy, on a break from the endless restoration of her farmhouse, witnesses potentially-devastating vandalism at the farm. Car restoration hobbiest and real estate attorney Grayson Kendall finds himself intrigued by the happenings at the farm which seem to be related to his latest real estate development. He does some digging, unknowingly putting Cait and her beloved farmhouse in danger. Can they both learn trust each other and create something new out of the wreckage their pasts while trying to discover who wants to put the farm out of business?

To find out more about her books, her latest releases, and get free chapters sign up for her newsletter at www.JenniferVanderKlipp.com

30 March 2017

Book Review: The Memory of You by Catherine West

Thought-Provoking Christian Fiction

Natalie lost her twin sister in an accident when they were thirteen, and she’s been suffering the after-effects for the fifteen years since. Now she’s forced to return to the scene of the accident, her grandfather’s vineyard in California, where she reconnects with family and old friends.

And Natalie is disconnected. We see this early on—she's recently broken her engagement, she appears to have only one friend, and her relationship with her parents is distant, her relationship with her grandfather non-existent from having not seen him in fifteen years.
Natalie never knew what her mother was thinking, never knew how she felt. And couldn't imagine what it must be to live a life marked in half-finished sentences.
Her father would always find a flaw. Even her best was never good enough.

It’s rare to read a Christian novel about mental illness.

There are quite a few about returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. It’s even rarer to read a Christian novel where the heroine’s mental illness is treated with drugs. It’s as though taking drugs to treat a mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness, even though most of us happily pop pills for a headache, or get the flu jab every year. And don’t tell me physical pain is somehow different.

That painkiller isn’t stopping your body from hurting. It’s stopping your brain from telling you your body is hurting.

The Memory of You reunites two teenage almost-sweethearts fifteen years later. It's got the issues-driven emotional punch of other Catherine West titles I've read, but more of a focus on the developing relationship (aka romance) between Natalie and Tanner. It's a story of unearthing secrets, acknowledging truth, and finding reconciliation for both Natalie and Tanner.

It's a fascinating lesson in how wrong our assumptions can be—and how that can mess with our relationships, with God and with family and friends. 

Recommended. Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can click here to find out more about Catherine West at her website.

28 March 2017

Review: Lost and Found by Kendra Fletcher

A Fascinating and Disturbing Read

Fletcher pin2Lost and Found provided a fascinating insight into one woman’s disturbing experiences within the US purity culture and homeschool movement. It shows how Jesus can be lost in a church bubble where doing things “right” is the most important thing, where grace was forgotten in the quest for performance. As she says:

It’s easier to follow a checklist and check off all the correct boxes than to listen to the gentle, faithful leading of the Holy Spirit.

But something was missing for me. The book description promised to show me *how* God used these events. I couldn’t see the how. I saw the what—the almost unbelievable (and ungodly) control present in her previous church, and the three health crises.

I saw the result, but I don’t see how she got from A to B. How did God speak to her? What caused her to change her view? How can others in similar situations use her experiences to get closer to God, to understand our freedom in Christ? We can’t imitate her journey—no one in their right minds is going to recommend running over a five-year-old as a way to get right with God.

Despite these gaps, Lost and Found was a fascinating read, and shared a message many Christians need to hear. I don’t live in the US, and Lost and Found highlighted theological superiority issues within the US church that may well have always been there, but which the omnipresence of social media now highlight for us all to see.

It seems to me that a lot of these views and actions are the opposite of a good Christian witness—as Kendra Fletcher illustrates so well. This book should be read as a challenge to the US church to focus on obedience to Jesus rather than on internal differences over theological trivialities.

Thanks to New Growth Press, Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. Which is ironic: I reviewed an electronic copy, but there doesn't appear to be an ebook version on sale.

27 March 2017

Clash of the Titles: Four New Spring Reads

Clash of the Titles presents four new springtime reads! 
Peruse the images, read the blurbs, 
then vote on your favorite in the survey. 
I know which one is my favorite.
Enjoy, dear readers!


He's a nature photographer returning to make amends, and she's a camera-shy naturalist seeking privacy. Their love for a boy brings them together, but the camera could drive them apart.
~ ~ ~

Lifestyle magazine editor Heather McAlister was in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnessing a crime that shakes the roots of the town’s power brokers and sends her life into a tailspin. Previously burned by love, Detective Kyle Taylor has spent his entire adult life protecting his hometown, but now he’s protecting a woman he’ll risk everything to save.
~ ~ ~

She’s ready to fly free of a life-long cocoon; he’s looking for anything but Raine. Can Paradise Pines find a miracle for two unwilling hearts?

~ ~ ~

When a homeless man rescues Glorilyn Neilson from violent assault, he's not the man he seems. What powerful secret keeps him on the streets?

If you have trouble viewing the entire survey Click Here to load a dedicated page to the survey. 

23 March 2017

Review: Season of Miracles by Alexa Verde

Faith, but No Murder

Lana Smith is a visiting nurse in Rios Azules, Texas, having escaped from a rough upbringing being moved from home to home as a foster child, then from the shallow Los Angeles party scene. Arturo De La Vega is a star running back with the Houston Storm, home temporarily to visit his sick grandfather … and where he meets Lana.

Most of Alexa Verde's novels are romantic suspense, as promised by her tagline: Faith, Hope and Murder.

I’ve read and enjoyed some of her romantic suspense novels, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this nearly so much. The writing was fine, but the plot didn’t seem as developed as in her other novels. There was little external conflict, and the internal conflict was too understated—by the time I realised Lana’s real problem, she’d solved it. And, strangely, I didn’t find the romance as convincing as in her earlier novels. I never got the impression either character really "saw" the potential in the other.

Write What You Know

I also wasn’t convinced by Arturo—and this might come down to the fact that Verde admits she knew little about football before writing Season of Miracles. It shows. While there is no on-field action to highlight her lack of knowledge, I did question Arturo’s constant visits to Rios Azules, a five-hour-drive from his Houston home. It might have made sense if he was injured, but he was playing each weekend—so how did he come to have so much free time? Didn’t he have training sessions to attend each day?

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Alexa Verde at her website, and you can read the introduction to Season of Miracles below.

21 March 2017

Review: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden

Not Her Best

I’ve read most of Elizabeth Camden’s novels, and haven’t had a bad one yet. She avoids the more common time and place settings for historical fiction/historical romance, and her novels often feature women in unusual settings and occupations. To the Farthest Shores is similar, set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and featuring a civilian nurse in an Army hospital as the main characters.

But the beginning of To the Farthest Shores was shaky in comparison with Camden’s earlier novels, and I found it took a long time to settle. The story starts with Jenny Bennett and Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher professing their undying love as Ryan is about to be sent to fight in the Philippines in 1898. But he doesn’t come back … and when he does—six years later—he has a daughter in tow. And he’s pretending not to know Jenny. And lying to her. We soon find out what happened in the intervening years (through a big pile of backstory), but Jenny doesn’t find out until much later in the book.

There were a lot of secrets, and that annoyed me because it disobeyed one of my felt’ rules of fiction—that we can trust our point of view characters, that they have no secrets from the reader. I love the tension that comes from a novel where the reader knows something one of the main characters doesn’t know, and we’re then waiting with baited breath for the character to find out. When will they find out? How will they react? So much room for tension … that’s removed if the reader doesn’t know what the secret is (in Jenny’s case) or even that there is a secret (in Ryan’s case).

The story included references to early military intelligence, the search for the ability to culture pearls, and even a reference to the still-present conversation around equal pay. The research seemed solid, and never overpowered the story. The one glitch I did find was mercurochrome—something I’d never heard of, so looked up. The Kindle dictionary told me was a trademark for a disinfectant, dating from the early 20th century. In fact, it was first discovered in 1918, which means Ryan was unlikely to be using it in 1904. He was clever, but not that clever.

Overall, the story showed promise and ended well, but I found Jenny and Ryan’s secrets—and the fact they both hid them—took away a lot of the tension and therefore took away a lot of the power of the story. The story lacked in any Christian content, a trend I’m not altogether happy with, and not what I expect from a major Christian publisher like Bethany House.

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

14 March 2017

Review: The Second Bride by Katharine Swartz

An Intriguing Premise ...

The Second Bride is an intriguing dual-timeline story set in the wild north of England. The present-day plot centres around Ellen, a freelance proofreader married to Alex. It’s the second marriage for both of them—they each have a teenage girl from their respective first marriages, and they also have ten-year-old Sophie.

It’s a peaceful life, until Alex’s ex calls with the news that she’s leaving the country for a year and their sixteen-year-old daughter will have to come and live with them. This well and truly messes up the family dynamics as Ellen finds herself cast in the unwanted role of the wicked stepmother, and resenting the fact Alex leaves the parenting of Annabelle up to her. Ellen finds an old death certificate hidden in the boards of the spare bedroom … and that’s the link to the past storyline.

The death certificate is for Sarah Mills, who died in 1872 at the age of twenty-two, of ‘General Debility’. That provides instant conflict and suspense for the past story, which starts in 1868 as eighteen-year-old Sarah Telford and her ten-year-old sister are leaving their home town of Goswell for Kendal, to live with their aunt, their only surviving relative. Sarah’s story is revealed in the past as Ellen searches for it in the present, at the same time as trying to hold her family together.

I have to say that I found Sarah’s story a lot more engaging. Ellen’s problems were real, to be sure, and—like Sarah—she didn’t necessarily have a lot of control over what happened to her. That frustrated me as I like to see characters triumph over their circumstances, and that never quite happened for Ellen.

It didn’t happen for Sarah, either, but we knew from the first page that she was going to die young, so her story was tinged with that sadness. Also, Sarah’s misfortune wasn’t the result of her own bad choices—it was more the result of bad luck and circumstances she couldn’t see any other way out of. And that engaged me more than Ellen, especially when I compared Sarah’s self-sacrificing attitude with Ellen’s simmering resentment of Annabelle and her effect on their once-happy family.

So the present story was good, but the past story was better. The writing was solid but not spectacular, but there was plenty of conflict and it certainly kept me reading. The Second Bride is part of the Tales from Goswell series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel. I didn’t even realise it was part of a series at first, and don’t feel I missed anything.

Recommended for those who like British fiction.

Thanks to Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can click here to find out more about Katharine Swartz, and you can read the introduction to The Second Bride below:

10 March 2017

Friday Fifteen: Elizabeth Musser

Today I'd like to welcome Elizabeth Musser to Iola's Christian Reads. Elizabeth is an American missionary living near Lyon, France, and has just released her latest novel. The Long Highway Home

Welcome, Elizabeth!

1. Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess and The Secret Garden captured my heart as a child. Loved, loved, loved Sara Crewe and when I read her riches to rags to riches tale, I longed to write a story like that.

2. Walter Farley and 3. Marguerite Henry

I grew up around horses and when I wasn’t riding one or cleaning out a stall or tossing hay to my ponies, I was curled up with Farley’s Black Stallion series or Henry’s Born to Trot, Misty of Chincoteague and the sequels. I started writing horse stories because of these authors, and I would also illustrate them (inspired by the wonderful drawings by Wesley Dennis in Henry’s books.) Despite my obvious skill, ahem, I have never been asked to include my illustrations in my novels!

4. Carolyn Keene

I now know this was a pseudonym for various authors who penned the Nancy Drew series, but I didn’t know it as a child and I devoured these stories—I think I had the whole collection at the time (in the late 1960s), maybe 50 or 60. Nancy gave me my first taste of mystery tales—(and taught me a new word: sleuth)—and I determined I would write some myself.

5. Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” That first line! The mystery, the romance, the intrigue, I fell into those wonderful and exotic lands of du Maurier’s prose as a teen and wanted to stay there forever. This novel and a few others were also a big inspiration for me.

6. Charles Dickens

I wept when I read A Tale of Two Cities. The themes of sacrifice and redemption broke my heart and inspired me to try, try, try, in my small way, to show faith and hope in my stories. And I love Dickens’ ‘cast of thousands’ in his novels and the way he leads us down many paths with delightful twists and turns that ultimately come together.

7. Catherine Marshall

As a young woman, Marshall’s non-fiction, A Man Called Peter, To Live Again, Beyond Ourselves and The Helper profoundly influenced my spiritual life. Her novels Christy and Julie showed me a contemporary author (of the 20th century) doing what the great writers of centuries past had done—incorporate themes of faith into a wonderful story.

8. C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and on and on. His words helped me understand God’s Word better and encouraged me to grow up in Christ.

9. Bodie Thoene (and hubby Brock)

Her Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles series provided endless hours of entertainment as well as history lessons for me and many other missionaries in Europe. We’d pass the books around til they were completely worn out. I admired the way she included great historical detail and non-stop action in her stories of faith. I learned so much about recent history from her novels, and they added to my desire to write recent historical fiction (20th century) that I call ‘entertainment with a soul’. She paved the way for the Christian fiction movement of the late 1980s on up through the present.

10. Mary Higgins Clark

When I needed a complete escape from life, I’d read her suspense novels in French (helped my language learning too) and off I went.

11. Randy Alcorn

His books Money, Possessions and Eternity and Heaven had me nodding in agreement, reflecting, reconsidering and challenging me to think more broadly.

12. Philip Yancey

I so admire the way Yancey tackles the most difficult questions with honesty and humility. He tells fascinating stories of real people that force me think outside a too-narrow box of faith.

13. Ann Lamott

When I first read Traveling Mercies as a young missionary wife and mom, I was deeply offended, highly entertained and ultimately so thankful for her very ‘out of the box’ unique voice. Her Bird by Bird has been a great encouragement as I write.

14. Sharon Garlough Brown

A few years ago, I began spiritual direction with a fellow missionary who lived in France. She gave me Sharon’s novel Sensible Shoes as the first book to read. A novel! And what a novel! The Sensible Shoes series (Sensible Shoes, Two Steps Forward, Barefoot) has been a life-changing adventure for me as Sharon brilliantly tells the story of spiritual transformation in the lives of four ordinary women. I find myself in each of the women and the spiritual exercises they work through have been extremely helpful for me, too, in this season of my life. I recommend the books widely and use the Companion Guides in my Member Care role with fellow missionaries.

15. Ann Tatlock

Her prose is breathtaking and her stories real, the characterization deep, the faith element subtle and true. One of our finest CBA authors today.

About Elizabeth

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Elizabeth’s highly acclaimed, best-selling novel, The Swan House, was named one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year and one of Georgia’s Top Ten Novels of the Past 100 Years. All of Elizabeth’s novels have been translated into multiple languages. The Long Highway Home has been a bestseller in Europe.

For over twenty-five years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions’ work in Europe with International Teams. The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren who all live way too far away in America. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and her new blog. See photos from scenes in The Long Highway Home on Pinterest.

About The Long Highway Home

Sometimes going home means leaving everything you have ever known.

When the doctor pronounces ‘incurable cancer’ and gives Bobbie Blake one year to live, she agrees to accompany her niece, Tracie, on a trip back to Austria, back to The Oasis, a ministry center for refugees that Bobbie helped start twenty years earlier. Back to where there are so many memories of love and loss…

Bobbie and Tracie are moved by the plight of the refugees and in particular, the story of the Iranian Hamid, whose young daughter was caught with a New Testament in her possession in Iran, causing Hamid to flee along The Refugee Highway and putting the whole family in danger. Can a network of helpers bring the family to safety in time? And at what cost?

Filled with action, danger, heartache and romance, The Long Highway Home is a hymn to freedom in life’s darkest moments.

9 March 2017

ARCBA Book Review: Chocolate Soldier by Hazel Barker

6 - 10 March 2017

is Introducing 
(Rhiza Press, 1 October 2016)

By Hazel Barker

About the Book:
London. 1940.
When World War II breaks out and men over eighteen are conscripted, Clarence Dover, a conscientious objector, refuses to go rather than compromise his principles.  Instead he joins the Friend's Ambulance Unit.  From the London Blitz to the far reaches of Asia the war tests Clarence in the crucible of suffering.  In the end, will he be able to hold his head up as proudly as the rest and say, to save lives I risked my own?
One man will stand as God's soldier, not the war's soldier.
About the Author:
Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.
Hazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier, and Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind, will be released in 2016. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter in Burma.
For more information, visit her blog on:

Chocolate Soldier: The Story of a Conchie

England began conscripting men into the armed forces not long after the beginning of World War Two. That placed men like Clarence Dover in an award situation: did they go against their personal beliefs and sign up, or did they do the unthinkable and register as a conchie, a conscientious objector?

Clarence chose to register as a conchie, and was assigned a place in the Friends Ambulance Unit, from where the book gets its title. The FAU was run by the Friends, better known as the Quakers, and they trained near Bournville, home of Cadbury’s Chocolate. The Chocolate Soldier is the fictional retelling of Clarence’s war, based on his real-life diaries and surviving letters. Parts of the story are also from the viewpoint of his brother and sister, Doug and Eva, and his maybe girlfriend, Mary.

The book didn’t work for me as a novel. There was no overall plot, just a series of events. There was no great character growth or change in Clarence—he acknowledges towards the end that while he has a greater appreciation of different cultures and beliefs, he remains a Christian and an Englishman. The writing focused on the retelling of facts rather than inciting the reader’s emotions (I never really felt the horror of the situations Clarence found himself in). Much of the story read more like a diary than a novel, while other parts read more like the author than Clarence.

Despite those faults, I still enjoyed The Chocolate Soldier. I’ve lived in London and met Blitz survivors (including my great aunt). My grandfather served in Egypt, and Doug’s letters show some of what he may have experienced. I’m a history buff and a family historian, and I appreciated the insight into their lives.

It’s often the details which elevate a book from good to great, and The Chocolate Soldier had details in spades. Big details, like London in the Blitz and visits to tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal. And little details, like the fact soldiers received only six weeks of training before being sent into battle, trucks running on charcoal because there was no petrol, and the Chinese eating watermelon seeds for protein. Those snippets made the story.

Recommended for those looking for a first-hand look at life in London during the Blitz, life in Colonial India and wartime China.

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

6 March 2017

Author Interview: Judith Rolfs

This week we have a special treat! Author Judith Rolfs has been published in every genre. As an author and professional marriage and family counselor, Judith focuses on motivating people to live their best lives - emotionally, physically and spiritually. In her thirties, she researched the complexity of the natural world and moved from agnosticism to faith in God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today, she talks about her latest novel, Never Tomorrow.

Tell our readers about your new mystery novel Never Tomorrow.

Thanks for asking. It’s like having a new baby - I welcome a chance to talk about Never Tomorrow after literally years in the writing. This is a powerful murder mystery, plus more - a psychological thriller that probes the marriage relationship, infidelity and forgiveness. I use my insights and experiences as a psychotherapist for three decades to instill deep emotions in my characters– the grieving, the loves, and the deep joys, that we all experience in real life. These are integrated with a compelling murder mystery.

This is your seventeenth book but only your third mystery novel. Tell us about your switch to fiction from non-fiction.

My previous books were how-to books about marriage and parenting and family issues, also a devotional and a teen book. Mysteries are a huge change. They are much more difficult to write, but seem to have a greater impact on readers.

Which leads to my next question. I understand your slogan is Mysteries With A Message. Explain please.

My mysteries center on real life family issues while keeping the suspense steaming. Directive 99, my first self- suspense novel is about conflict between a woman’s career vs. family priorities. She makes major life changes when her husband is kidnapped. My next mystery novel Bullet in the Night with Prism Books is about genuine rehabilitation leading to life change and the value of nurturing friendships. I want readers to have a takeaway to ponder that can help them face situations in their own lives with more wisdom and confidence.

Tell us about where you like to write and a bit about your process.

My favorite writing places are my cottage in the woods in Fontana-on-Geneva Lake and a winter beach condo we rent in Venice, FL. I need solitude to create the story and develop my characters, but then I love to edit in coffee shops where I’m immersed in the energy of people. Relationships have always been fascinating to me, which is why I became a psychotherapist. Of course it’s helpful as an author to develop well-rounded characters. I also love to travel. In fact, Never Tomorrow starts out in Ballybunion, Ireland which I researched during a three-week trip there.

How and when did your writing career begin?

My writing career began at age ten creating stories for neighborhood children. I wrote newspaper editorials in high school, and was part of the Superior Student program at Marquette University, which published me in their literary journal. I love everything about writing especially contact with readers and other authors who are so gracious! I recently met Pat Gussin, New York Times Best Selling Author of After the Fall and she offered to read Never Tomorrow prior to publication. She blessed me with an amazing review: “Layer upon layer of intrigue—laced with murder–propels this novel to the pinnacle of suspense. An ingenious plot, dynamic and complex characters, and an insight into the troubled avenues of human behavior rarely exposed make NEVER TOMORROW a stand-out for readers of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense.”

In closing, where can we find your new book baby?

Never Tomorrow is available through Prism Book Group, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and through local libraries. If it’s not at the local library I hope readers will request it. Thank you for featuring me on your blog. It’s been a pleasure.

Visit Judith at http://judithrolfs.com/Dr._Judith_Rolfs/Home.html

A compelling mystery with a powerful theme of forgiveness and healing...

Journalist Whitney Barnes investigates the mysterious death of her mother and three women from Cortland City seeking the thread that links them to an enigmatic killer. Why are women being murdered with no apparent motives for their death? Police are mystified at the lack of clues and a growing sense of fear surrounds the community. Who will be the next victim?

Determined to find the killer, Whitney discovers these women were dealing with wounds from their troubling pasts, but what was their connection? She teams up with Dr. Sarah Stevens, an expert on women's issues, to ferret out information while TV talk show host Rich and real estate broker Jordan vie for Whitney's affection.

Whitney discovers new strength within her, but is it powerful enough to cope with this dark force of evil? Suspense escalates as Whitney becomes the killer's next target.