14 July 2017

1,000 Posts

Today I reach a milestone here at Iola’s Christian Reads. Actually, I reach two. I think.


I started Iola’s Christian Reads in September 2011, after winning an ebook in an online giveaway. I’d just bought a Kobo (Kindles weren’t yet available here in New Zealand), and was keen to build my electronic library.

The book was delivered via NetGalley, and I found that I could get free ebooks from many of my favourite authors and publishers if I promised to write a review on a blog, and on sites such as Amazon.

Paperbacks cost around $30 each in New Zealand at the time, so this seemed like a good deal.

Iola’s Christian Reads was born.


This is my 1,000th post at Iola’s Christian Reads. Most of those posts have been book reviews, but there have also been links to reviews on other sites (such as Australasian Christian Writers and Suspense Sisters Reviews).

There have been 39 Friday Fifteen posts, in which authors introduce their fifteen favourite books or authors. There have been 15 Clash of the Titles posts, introducing four books and asking readers to vote for their favourite. There have been posts announcing award winners, and posts announcing new releases in Christian fiction.

My top reviews (in terms of the number of views) have been:



I’ve also shared my reviews on social media: Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, and more recently, Instagram. I’ve started a freelance editing business (Christian Editing Services), and started writing my own Christian fiction (at IolaGoulton.com).

I have this blog, two websites, and a dozen social media profiles. I'm also a regular contributor to two other blogs.


I’m finding it hard to keep up. Something has to give.


So that’s today’s other milestone: as well as being the 1,000th post here at Iola’s Christian Reads, this will be the last.


I think.

It will be the last post for 2017. I will take some time over Christmas to pray and consider my direction for 2018.

I will still be reviewing books. But now I’ll be reviewing at my author website, Iola Goulton. I’d love it if you joined me.

I’ll have a regular blogging schedule:

  • Monday: Bookish Question
  • Tuesday: Review of a new Christian fiction release
  • Wednesday: Author interview or general blog post (I’m still working this out)
  • Thursday: Repost of a review of an older Christian novel
  • Friday: #FirstLineFriday

I’ll tell you a little more about #FirstLineFriday next week, over at www.iolagoulton.com.

Meanwhile, please join me at www.iolagoulton.com to keep reading my reviews. Add me to your blog feed list.


And thank you for all your comments and support over the last six years.

13 July 2017

Book Review: The Wayward Heart by Nerys Leigh

Fun Mail Order Bride Romance


Lizzy Cotton signs up as a mail order bride to marry a handsome cowboy and fall in love. The adventure starts well, when she arrives at her destination with four other mail order briders. Her husband, Richard Shand, is even more handsome in person than in his photograph. But he doesn’t seem at all interested in being a real husband. Instead, he leaves her alone on the ranch all day, with only one of the cowboys for company.


Lizzy was a likeable heroine, if a little na├»ve (delusional?) at the beginning. She was almost annoying in her Pollyanna-like cheerfulness and optimism, and her overly romantic ideas about living in the West, marrying a cowboy, and falling in love. She’s got it all planned out, but you know what they say about plans …

Richard was not nearly so likeable. In fact, he was downright unlikeable in the way he advertised for a mail order bride, married her, then ignored her. And I don't know what else to say about him that wouldn't be a spoiler. Let's just say there was a big twist, and while I knew something was coming, my guess was about 90% wrong.

There was plenty of romance—but the course of true love definitely doesn't run smooth.


There's conflict (plenty of conflict), but also a lot of laughs as Richard and the other cowboys underestimate Lizzy in many ways. Yes, she's way more than a Pollyanna.

The Wayward Heart is the third book in Nerys Leigh’s Escape to the West series, but the books can be read in any order. They all take place in the same town over the same timescale, with each book focusing on one of the mail order brides.

Overall, The Wayward Heart is a Christian Western historical romance that's got everything: intelligent and likeable heroine, intelligent and gentlemanly hero, conflict, laughs, and a thought-provoking Christian theme.

Recommended.


Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Nerys Leigh at her website, and you can read the introduction to The Wayward Heart below:






6 July 2017

Book Review: Out of the Shadows by Emma Carrie

Exciting Start to Series

Teenager Emily Brelin’s adoptive mother has just died, and now Child Protective Services needs to find her a place to live. At least, that’s what they think. Emily needs to stay off the grid, to make sure her past doesn’t find her. That means staying out of the system.

Detective Victoria Tacket didn’t even know her friend Dr Jennifer Brelin was ill, let alone that she’d adopted a teenager. And why has Jen nominated her as guardian? She’s not fit to be a parent—which she tells CPS. But then Emily disappears, and Vick knows she has to find the missing teen.

Emily is a fascinating character, with more skills that people would expect for her age—including the ability to lip-read. She takes the lead in this game of hide and seek, and her willingness to run away and disappear introduce a lot of questions. Who is Emily? Why is it so important she stays out of the system? Who is looking for her … and what will happen if they find her?

This is the first book in a series—thank goodness, because I want to know what happens next! It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but the end definitely leaves some unanswered questions for future books. (Cliffhanger endings too often give me the impression the author didn’t know how to finish the book, which breaks the illusion that it’s real).

Out of the Shadows is a fast-paced read with plenty of suspense. The plot and writing are solid, and the characters are excellent. If there was a failing, it was that it was too quick to read (I read it in a single sitting, because I couldn’t put it down). Not a novel to start late in the evening …

Recommended for those looking for Young Adult suspense (and especially for those looking for Young Adult books with no romance).

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Emma Carrie at her website, and you can read the introduction to Out of the Shadows below:



5 July 2017

ACRBA Blog Tour: My Brother Tom by Michelle Worthington


3 - 7 July 2017


is Introducing 
(By Wombat Books, 1 April, 2017)
By 
Michelle Worthington


About the Book:




Tom was born earlier than expected and had the doctors worried. His big brother wasn't worried though, he saw angels outside his window and knew everything would be okay.
My Brother Tom is a story for older siblings of premature babies to help them make sense of what is happening at a difficult time.


About the Author:
Michelle is an author of children’s books, who is also available for workshops on writing for children, book signings and school readings.
Michelle Worthington was born in Brisbane, Queensland and currently works and lives in the Redlands. She enjoys travelling and has spent time studying in France where she lived for a year. 
Winner of the 1988 Little Swaggie Award and other Australian poetry competitions, she has been published in numerous Australian and International poetry anthologies. Since a very early age, Michelle has shown a love of words and rhyme, and has always excelled at English and Creative Writing. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from University of Queensland in 1996, Michelle is currently undergoing studies to further her career as a published author and book publisher.
Australian publisher, Wombat Books has released her first children’s picture book titled The Bedtime Band. It is the story of what the animals in the Australian bush get up to when children are at home asleep in their beds. Michelle has two sons, Jordan and Cody, who she has read to every day since they were born, as she believes in the importance of fostering a love of books in children. Her books encourage children to use their imagination and dare to dream big. Michelle’s other titles are available at www.michelleworthington.com.

I don't have a review of My Brother Tom ... because I forgot to request a review copy. My bad. If you'd like to read a review, click here to check out Beth's review.

4 July 2017

Book Review: Restoring Love by Jennifer Slattery

A Real Story of Messed-Up People


Angela has just moved into the neighbourhood. She’s in her mid-forties, and is just starting to get her life straightened out. She’s graduated college, become a Christian, and is about to start her first job in a new town. Mitch is a house-flipper currently restoring a house across the street. And Bianca is another neighbour—one with no patience for do-gooders—but whose life gradually becomes more and more connected with Mitch and Angela.

I’ve read several of Jennifer Slattery’s books, and have enjoyed some more than others. This is definitely one I’ve enjoyed more, both for the realism of the characters and for their spiritual journeys.

Restoring Love has a cast of imperfect characters (on that note, I have to disagree with the reviewer who compared Jennifer Slattery’s writing to that of Karen Kingsbury. Karen’s characters are all too close to perfect for my taste, and I find her writing melodramatic. I prefer Slattery's broken world). Mitch is a Christian, but someone who became a Christian well into his adult years and who still faces challenges from decisions made before he became a Christian.


Angela is a new Christian with a lot to learn, and we see her change as she grows up throughout the course of the novel. Yes, she’s about to become a grandmother, but there are ways in which her daughter is more mature than she is. And then there are the non-Christian characters who … but that would be telling.

I did get frustrated with Angela and her inappropriate wardrobe choices. Even without getting into the whole ‘Christian modesty’ argument, I thought someone could have taken her aside and said the 1980's are over, and the styles look even worse on a middle-aged woman. Someone, anyone. Her daughter, a work colleague, a teacher, a church member … someone. But someone who could say it in love, not in judgement (I remember 1980's fashion. It hasn't aged well).

One thing that impressed me was the way Christian love was shown. When one minor character did act in a judgemental manner towards Angela, it was shown as inappropriate—even though many Christians might not see it as such. I was also intrigued by the relationship between Mitch and his business partner, which showed another side to the old Christian adage about not being unequally yoked with unbelievers.

The one thing that didn’t quite fit was, oddly, the title. I suppose “restoring” is partly a reference to Mitch’s occupation of restoring and flipping old houses, and love is obviously finding love (yes, there are romantic elements). But I thought the book was going to be about restoring an old relationship, whereas it was more creating new relationships, with God and with people. No matter. That didn't affect my enjoyment of the novel.

Recommended for those looking for Christian fiction with a heavy dose of real life.

Thanks to New Hope Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jennifer Slattery at her website, and you can read the introduction to Restoring Love below:

30 June 2017

Friday Fifteen: Carolyn Miller

Today I'd like to welcome Carolyn Miller to Iola's Christian Reads. to share her Friday Fifteen: fifteen authors who have influenced her life and writing. Except she's cheated, and given us sixteen!

She is also here to introduce her new release, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, the second book in the A Legacy of Grace series. I read and enjoyed the first book, The Elusive Miss Ellison, and I'm looking forward to reading about Lady Charlotte ... and Miss DeLancey (which releases in October)

Welcome, Carolyn!



1. Jane Austen 

Who can surpass the Queen of English literature? Her wit and observations of early 1800s English society have given us such memorable novels as Pride and Prejudice, and the countless TV and film adaptations have caused many a heart to flutter faster, thanks to such characters as Mr. Darcy. (Thank you, Jane!)

My favourite: Persuasion beats Pride and Prejudice due to its heartbreaking poignancy - but only just!

2. Georgette Heyer

Considered by many to have established the historical romance genre, whose witty novels and extraordinary degree of research (she once bought a letter by the Duke of Wellington to emulate his style of phrasing!) are so inspiring to this author. My favourites: The Unknown Ajax, The Nonesuch, Frederica, Arabella, Venetia, (the list goes on…)

Having read The Elusive Miss Ellison, it doesn't surprise me that Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer top your list!

3. LM Montgomery

The Canadian author of Anne of Green Gables (one of my favourite novels when I was growing up) also wrote the poignant and wonderfully evocative The Blue Castle. One of my top five novels of all time!

4. Jean Webster

Another classic author whose work I enjoy is Jean Webster, author of Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. These stories of spirited, likeable young females overcoming hardships of birth and prejudice also possess heart, wit and satirical social commentary that ensure a good read.

I've read both, but have to admit I prefer Daddy Long Legs to Dear Enemy.

5. Agatha Christie

Speaking of classics, I love to read Agatha Christie. I enjoy the depiction of England in a time when manners mattered, and those responsible for crime were always guaranteed to be brought to justice.

Miss Marple or Poirot? I preferred Miss Marple, but I've just bought an audio version of the Bible narrated by David Suchet, who played Poirot. Lovely voice!

6.Janet Evanovich

A far more contemporary crime series I enjoy reading is that created by Janet Evanovich, whose main character, Stephanie Plum, has all the sass and wit I can ask for (even if some of the later novels aren’t nearly as good as the first ten)

7. Mary Grant Bruce

I’m Australian, so it’s my patriotic duty to ensure that Mary Grant Bruce gets a mention. Her Billabong series of children’s stories depicted life in the Australian bush in the early 1900s, and featured vivid descriptions of country life, humorous colloquialisms, slow burning romance, and were considered to help shape a sense of Australian identity, particularly in regards to patriotism and ideas about the bush.

I remember reading stories of Blinky Bill, but never Mary Grant Bruce.

8. Kate Morton

Continuing the Australian theme, I’m a more recent convert to the writing of Kate Morton. Her haunting stories of family and tragedy shift between the present and the past, and the poignant, evocative prose in novels such as The Lake House is guaranteed to stir the soul.

9. Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is another Aussie author I’ve recently come to enjoy. Her bestselling contemporary fiction show aspects of life I can relate to, such as the challenges faced by school parents depicted in Big Little Lies. Funny, incisive, insightful writing.

10. Melina Marchetta

Another author of Australian fiction I enjoy is Melina Marchetta, whose novel Looking for Alibrandi was on the High School Certificate English course for very good reason. Her insights into teen angst, and the challenges faced by migrants in urban Australia are heart-breakingly good.

11. John Marsden 

John Marsen is another Aussie author whose Tomorrow When the War Began series is exciting, tense, and teen-true. A great, though slightly unnerving, read, especially for young adults.

So many Australian authors I've never read!

12. William Shakespeare

I love some of the plays and poems by William Shakespeare, so I’m going to include him here too, due to his keen use of drama, romance, wit, and perceptive social observations. Twelfth Night is one of my favourites.

13. Marina Fiorato

Marina Fiorato is an author who used the story of Much Ado About Nothing in her lovely novel Beatrice and Benedick. Gorgeous writing!

And what a fabulous book cover!

14. Roseanna M White

A Christian historical author I enjoy is Roseanna M. White. I recently read her novel The Reluctant Duchess and loved it. Powerfully intense, yet threaded by wit and a sense of God’s grace.

Roseanna M White is one of my favourite Christian historical authors. 

15. Becky Wade

A Christian contemporary author I enjoy is Becky Wade. My ultimate favourite Christian novel is My Stubborn Heart, as much for the realism of its flawed main characters, as the wit and banter found within. Oh, and the ice hockey hero. I’ll always love an ice hockey hero J.

Yes, I definitely vote for Becky Wade!


16. God

Can I add the ultimate Author? The book that has influenced me more than any other is, of course, The Bible. So let’s include God – definitely leaving the best for last!

Yes, you can add a #16!

About Carolyn Miller

Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked part-time as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher.

A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her debut Regency The Elusive Miss Ellison released in February 2017, and her next, The Captivating Lady Charlotte released June 27. Both are available from Amazon, Book Depository, Koorong and more.

Connect with her:
www.carolynmillerauthor.com
www.pinterest.com/camillering
www.facebook.com/CarolynMillerAuthor/
www.twitter.com/CarolynMAuthor

About The Captivating Lady Charlotte

Responsibility, romanticism, and true love...

As the daughter of the Marquess of Exeter, Lady Charlotte Featherington always knew she was destined for great things on the marriage mart. Little did she imagine falling in love with a man on the eve of her parents announcing her betrothal - to someone else.

William Hartwell might be a Duke, but he suspects neither his title nor wealth will prove enough to hold the heart of the young lady who has captured his. The scandal surrounding his first wife's death makes trusting again difficult, while the mysterious happenings at his ancestral home, Hartwell Abbey, seek to separate before they are wed.

How can a young Lady negotiate her future when her heart demands the opposite of duty? Can they both learn to truly love from the legacy of Grace?

Now available from these leading retailers: Amazon.com, Amazon.com.au, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Christian Book, Book Depository and Koorong


29 June 2017

Book Review: You'll Think of Me by Robin Lee Hatcher

A Great Christian Romance



Eighteen-year-old Brooklyn Myers left her home town of Thunder Creek, Idaho, to marry Chad Hallston—who left her just months later, when she announced she was pregnant. She’s spent the last ten years trying to raise Alycia on her own, with the help of the neighbour who introduced her to a loving God:

A God who loved her, a Savior who had willingly died for her, a Spirit who renewed her mind and gave her strength.

Now Esther, her babysitter and best friend, is leaving town and Brooklyn has no idea how she’ll juggle working with caring for Alycia. Until she finds Chad is dead, and she’s been left the Hallston property back in Thunder Creek.

 Derek Johnston is looking forward to buying the ten-acre Hallston property from Chad, to expand his organic farm. He isn’t pleased when he finds Chad, his best friend, is dead and has left the land and house to Brooklyn. To complicate matters, Chad has also asked that Derek be the father Chad never was …

Yes, it’s a great set-up. And it’s a great novel.


I loved all the characters, even while they struggled to love themselves and each other. I loved the developing relationships, the witty dialogue:
“Don’t ask what I think of that oversight. I might tell you.” 
Or
“I’ve hardly seen you lately. When would I have had the chance to tell you?”
“Ever heard of a telephone?” 
That sounds like something my grandmother would have said. I also loved the way Brooklyn’s Christian faith was woven into the story:

She unfurled her hands, turning them palms up. Hands empty and open. And suddenly she understood that open hands were the only way she could receive anything new.

And I loved the way we discovered more about the histories of each character—Brooklyn, Derek, and Chad—as the story progressed, and the way those character histories explained and deepened their present journey.

Because this is a romance, and romance is all about the journey. 


 A great story of love and second chances. Recommended for contemporary romance fans.

 Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

22 June 2017

Book Review: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber

The Hunger Games meets V Meets …


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

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

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


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

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

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

There were a couple of things which bugged me. 


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

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

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


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

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

20 June 2017

Review: Dark Deception by Nancy Mehl

Playing dead was harder than she ever could have imagined.



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


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

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

Overall, the plot was best described by Kate:

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


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

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

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

16 June 2017

Book Giveaway: Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Introducing Then There Was You


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


15 June 2017

Book Review: Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

Discovering Unconditional Love


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

13 June 2017

9 June 2017

ACRBA Tour and Review: Unnoticed by Amanda Deed



5 - 9 May 2017


is Introducing 
(from Rhiza Press, 1 March, 2017)

By 

Amanda Deed

About the Book:


Plain Jane O’Reilly is good at being unnoticed. Detested by her stepmother and teased by her stepsisters, Jane has learned the art of avoiding attention. That is until Price Moreland, an American with big dreams, arrives in her small town.
Does she dare to hope someone might notice her?
However, Price Moreland may not be the prince that the whole town thinks him to be. Was his desire to be a missionary a God-given call, or just a good excuse to run from his past?
Complete with an evil stepmother, a missing shoe and a grand ball, Unnoticed takes the time-old Cinderella fairy tale and gives it an Australian twist.


About the Author:

Amanda Deed has penned several Australian Historical Romances, including The Game, winner of the CALEB Prize for Fiction in 2010. She resides in the South Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne with her family, where she works full-time in her local church office.

Outside of work and family, Amanda loves to write stories filled with intrigue and adventure using her favourite themes as a backdrop: Australia, heritage, romance and faith. Her books include UnnoticedEllenvale GoldBlack Forest Redemption and Henry's Run. For more information, go to www.amandadeed.com.au.





My Review: An Excellent Australian Historical Cinderella Story


Unnoticed is a Cinderella story, although there were also hints of Pride and Prejudice in the characterisation of Mr and Mrs O’Reilly—at times, Mrs O’Reilly made Mrs Bennett seem astute and intelligent, and Mr O’Reilly made Mr Bennett seem like an attentive father.

Jane O’Reilly is our Cinderella figure, the unloved daughter forced to take second place to her stepmother and stepsisters—all ugly in attitude if not in looks. The description of Jane brings to mind a young Nicole Kidman, so she’s far from the Plain Jane people call her. But she doesn’t see that. She also doesn’t see that beauty is as much about who we are on the inside as on the outside, nor does she understand that God sees her and loves her for who she is. She doesn’t have to be beautiful.

Prince Charming is Price Moreland, an American who has left the country of his birth with noble intentions to bring the gospel to Australia. At least, that’s what he tells himself. But he’s soon distracted by Jane, who he thinks of as anything but plain. It’s good to see a romance where the hero and heroine both have personal faith journeys.

What raised Unnoticed above other fairytale retellings was the way the character histories were woven in. Not just for Jane and Price, but for Mrs O’Reilly (and her sister, the family cook), and Mr O’Reilly. It showed their neglect and mistreatment of Jane wasn’t because of any wrongdoing by Jane, but was a product of their own backgrounds. I especially liked the way I didn’t feel manipulated into feeling sorry for Jane’s parents.

The writing was solid, although there were a few places where it wasn’t as strong. But these are insignificant in the face of an excellent fairytale retelling with a unique historical Australian setting.

Thanks to ACRBA and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Deed at her website, and you can read the introduction to Unnoticed below:




6 June 2017

Book Review: Fatal Mistake by Susan Sleeman

He was coming for her, and he was close.


Great opening line. Tara Parrish is visiting her aunt, and checks the outbuilding Aunt June rents to Oren Keeler, Tara’s childhood friend. Only the building is full of bomb-making materials and plans. Oren is the Lone Wolf Bomber the FBI are chasing. And she’s just heard his car pull up …

The front of the book had glowing endorsements from several of my favourite authors. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as they did. 


The first chapter promised non-stop thrills from Tara, a translator with the State Department, and Cal Riggins, an FBI agent on the team tracking the Lone Wolf bomber. Her occupation interested me, but it was barely mentioned.

The opening chapter also promised Tara was a Christian—and she was, but her faith seemed to be more of a foxhole faith—she called out to God when trapped and said she trusted Him, but spent most of the novel trying to survive on her own strength. It was as though the spiritual thread was more of an afterthought. Based on the opening chapter, I’d expected it to be woven in more organically.

Once the opening sequence ended, the plot jumped three months into the future.

That took something away from the suspense.


What followed was a cat-and-mouse chase of Cal trying to protect Tara from Oren. It was solid. It just didn’t live up to the level of suspense promised in the opening chapter. I also found the writing a little simplistic. There were no ‘wow’ lines—my only highlights are things that came across as plot glitches (can an FBI agent really afford tailormade business shirts? It’s more common to read novels where money is a problem for the characters.)

Oren was a great character—driven and talented, the evildoer who is the hero in his own eyes. His character was revealed layer by layer as the novel progressed, and we were able to unpeel his particular brand of mental instability. I liked that the author didn’t try and manipulate my emotions to paint Oren as some kind of victim (other than as a victim of his own misguided thinking). He was evil, pure and simple, but didn’t see that himself.

Overall, Fatal Mistake was a miss for me because it didn’t deliver on the outstanding opening.

Thanks to Faithwords and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

1 June 2017

Book Review: Time Sniffers by CS Lakin

A YA Sci-Fi Adventure Romp that Delivers


A great first line. The first-person narrator is Bria, a science geek who is the daughter of two scientists—Dad designs parts for the Mars Rover (they’re up to the 2055 model), and Mum is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who works at the Greenfield National Laboratory undertaking laser experiments for the Department of Energy.

And one of those experiments apparently killed Mom—the entire lab disappeared. But Bria has her mother’s notes and is trying to recreate some of her experiments in their basement laboratory. (I’m thinking as I write this that this should be unbelievable, that Bria has the knowledge and equipment to undertake top secret research in her basement. But I believed it. It works.)

Anyway, Bria’s experiment works, and she creates a singularity. But there are consequences, and soon Bria is on a big adventure to find her mother and save the world. She is accompanied by her autistic younger brother, Dylan, Debby (Dylan’s babysitter), and three friends from school: Ryan, Jace, and Lauren. And it is an adventure.

I thought Time Sniffers was excellent. Okay, it may have benefitted by comparison to the book I read immediately before—a Christian speculative young adult novel, but one with no Christian content, a trying-too-hard element to the world building, a big reveal that should have been obvious to anyone who has ever read a sci-fi novel or seen a sci-fi movie, and a cliffhanger ending—the wrong kind, where the story feels like it’s finishing in the middle.

In comparison, Time Sniffers was brilliant. It’s not Christian fiction (and not advertised as such), although there is a clear theme of the battle between good and evil. The world-building was excellent and flowed nicely out of the story. The things which were obvious were meant to be obvious, and there were no major surprises—it’s a sci-fic adventure romp and the focus is on the journey. It even has a cliffhanger ending—but the right kind, where the story finishes, and the cliffhanger is of more a teaser for the next adventure.

This is the first book in the Shadow World series. It’s a young adult novel, but the presence (and importance) of Dylan means advanced middle grade readers could also read and enjoy it (as long as they can overlook the innocent romantic subplot). Recommended for sci-fi fans, and those looking for a good adventure story.


Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Time Sniffers below:

25 May 2017

Book Review: All of You by Sarah Monzon

Great Dual-Timeline Story!


All of You is book two in Sarah Monzon’s Carrington Family series, following Finders Keepers. I haven’t read the first book, but it didn’t matter—this worked well as a standalone novel.

It’s set in two separate timelines. In the present day, ex-Navy pilot Michael Carrington is trying to rebuild his life after losing two limbs in a freak accident. He’s promised to look out for his friend’s baby sister. Vintage airplane restorer Jacqueline Rogers doesn’t want or need his help, but sees he might need hers.

The past story is set in England, in 1944, where American Alice Galloway has joined the Air Transport Auxiliiary, ferrying military aircraft around England and occasionally beyond. Flying planes is dangerous, but that’s not the most dangerous thing …

I enjoyed both timelines, although it did take a while for me to work out the link between them (logic said there has to be a link, right?). Anyway, I figured it out in the end, and it made perfect sense. But I think I enjoyed the contemporary story more, because I liked those characters best.

I thought Jack’s occupation was fascinating. I’ve visited more than my share of airplane museums, and while my husband and son might like the modern fighters, I’m more like Jack—interested in the older planes and the history that goes with them. I’m also fascinated by the varied and dangerous roles women have held over the years, so Alice’s story was interesting as well.

Michael was a great character. His accident has left him having to completely rethink his life and career, and that gives him a great character arc. It’s not so much that he’s mad at God. More than he’s wondering why God allowed this to happen. But it does mean he’s still in Maryland and can watch out for Jack. Because she needs it, whether she acknowledges it or not.

I read an early draft (thanks for the shout-out, Sarah!). I’m looking forward to rereading it as the final version—although maybe this time I’ll read Finders Keepers first. Recommended for contemporary Christian romance fans, military heroes, and those who like dual timeline stories.

You can find out more about Sarah Monzon at her website, and you can read the introduction to All of You below:


23 May 2017

Book Review: Swazi Sunrise by Donna Chapman Gilbert

Amazing True-Life Story

Swazi Sunrise is the story of missionaries Lula Glatzel and Harmon Schmelzenbach. They left America in 1907, bound for southern Africa on what must have felt like a one-way trip into the great unknown. But they both believed God had called them to minister to the African people, despite the distance and the likely hardships.

The first quarter of the story follows their sea journey to Africa via Southampton, England, and the development of their relationship. I knew from the Acknowledgements before Chapter One that Lula and Harmon were going to get married, and that they were pioneering missionaries to Swaziland (a small African kingdom just north of South Africa). This meant the first quarter was a little slow, as I was waiting for what I knew would happen (and I say that as someone who loves a good romance novel).

The pace picked up in the second quarter as Lula and Harmon arrive in Africa, marry, and journey to what will become their African home. Aspects of their story weren’t unlike stories of pioneers in America or other countries—endless travel in a covered wagon, geographic isolation, food shortages, lack of medical care, and general deprivation. Lula and Harmon bore all their hardships with good grace, knowing they were doing the work they had been called to.

The best part of this story is that it’s based on fact.


Lula and Harmon were real people, and their faith and legacy is inspiring. They toiled tirelessly, through threats and turmoil, including attacks on their property. The insight into Swazi culture was fascinating, especially the parallels between their beliefs and the Christian faith.

I was saddened when I read about some of the African customs, like not breastfeeding a baby for the first four days of life—we now know that’s the most important time, because the milk is full of antibodies and essential nutrients.

But I laughed when Harmon was complaining about “those awful avocado pears.” I love avocado, although I know they are an acquired taste, and would have been even more so when Harmon was in Swaziland (and they are also full of important nutrients).

The writing wasn’t necessarily as strong as in some novels I read, but this was more than made up for by the compelling true-life story. Recommended.


Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Swazi Sunrise below:


18 May 2017

Book Review: A Love So True by Melissa Jagears

A Historical Romance with an Edge

If David Kingsman had any chance of making his father proud, this next decision would be it.
David Kingsman is in Teaville, Kansas, to sell the A. K. Glass factory on behalf of his father. But he soon decides the business has more potential than his father realises, and that it would be better for them to build the business up before selling. Meeting Evelyn Wisely may or may not have anything to do with his desire to stay longer in Teaville …

Evelyn Wisely is not interested in men. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to working with her parents in the town orphanage, and to working with the children of the red light district. She’d like to reach out to their mothers as well, to give them a way to escape, but she can’t do that alone. She needs the help of local businessmen. Men like Mr Kingsman.

A Love So True is the third book in the Teaville Moral Society series, following Engaging the Competition (a novella, which I haven't read), and A Heart Most Certain (a novel, which I have read and reviewed). However, A Love So True can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel. Even if you have read A Heart Most Certain, you’ll find a lot has changed in Teaville, as A Love So True is set three years later.

I thought A Heart Most Certain was excellent, and A Love So True is just as good. It’s historical romance, but historical romance with a difference. It’s not the rosy version of history painted by many Christian fiction authors. This version has all too many fallible characters, especially those stuck in the red light district. But it’s also an illustration of Christianity, of the need for Christians to shine God’s light into those dark places. As Evelyn comments, many people are only a couple of bad choices away from such a fate.

Recommended for those who like historical romance, and for those who like their fiction to have an edge of reality while still reflecting and reinforcing the Bible’s teaching.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Melissa Jagears at her website, and you can read the introduction to A Heart Most Certain below:

11 May 2017

Book Review: The Long Highway Home by Elizabeth Musser

An Outstanding Story of Christian Faith


The Long Highway Home is the story of Bobbie, an ex-missionary who has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer at the age of 39. It’s the story of Tracie, Bobbie’s niece, who accompanies her to Europe, to visit the missionaries she used to serve with before tragedy sent her back to the US. It’s the story of Hamid, a devout Muslim who is forced to flee Iran after a well-meaning missionary gives his six-year-old daughter a New Testament. But my favourite character is Rasa, the child with a faith that puts mine to shame.

The structure of The Long Highway Home is more like a thriller novel than the women’s fiction and romance I’m more used to reading. There are a lot of viewpoint characters spanning the US, Holland, France, Austria, and Iran. Unlike most thrillers, it’s always obvious who the characters are and how they are related, which kept me turning pages to find out how they’d eventually be brought together.

The author has drawn on her own missionary experiences in writing this excellent novel.


This shines through in both the story of Hamid and his family, and in the advice from some of the minor characters (e.g. Peggy, the elderly prayer warrior who supports Bobbie). These sound like real conversations Ms Musser has had in her years as a missionary—stories of the refugees who survived the refugee highway and made it to The Oasis in Austria.

It’s a story of human courage in the face of adversity, persecution, and possible death. 


It’s a story of hope, of perfect love driving out fear. It challenges our views of refugees by introducing us to real refugees—we know Hamid and Rasheed and Rasa and Omid aren’t real people, but at the same time their stories have that ring of truth, of authenticity. They could be real stories. They may well be.

After all, significant elements of the story are real. 


The Oasis is a real place, and welcomes volunteers and short-term missionaries (and long-term missionaries!) to support its outreach to refugees in Austria. Elizabeth Musser is a missionary with International Teams, an organisation dedicated to helping those who survive the refugee highway. World Wide Radio was inspired by the real-life work of Trans World Radio, which broadcasts in 230 languages to reach listeners in 160 countries.

It’s inspiring and humbling to read about people like this—missionaries who are risking their lives to bring the gospel to others. Refugees who are risking their lives to escape a government that wants them dead. Normal, everyday people who are doing extraordinary things every day.

Recommended.


Thanks to Elizabeth Musser for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Elizabeth Musser at her website, and you can read her Friday Fifteen here.

You can read the introduction to The Long Highway Home below:

9 May 2017

Review: Broken Like Glass by E J McKay

Outstanding from Beginning to End


There are not many novels that manage to grip me from the very first line, but this was one:

“Lillian. Lillian? Can you hear me, Lillian?” My therapist’s voice grates on my. I’d say like nails on a chalkboard, but that wouldn’t accurately describe just how much I hate her voice.

By the end of the first page, we know Lillian is in court-ordered therapy. By the end of the second page, we know why:

“Help me understand why you stabbed your dad with a knife in the middle of the grocery store, and then went home and smashed everything.”

“Some people deserve a little knifing every once in a while and his furniture was a hundred years past vintage. I’d say I did him a favor.”

So Lillian is stuck in her home town for six months until she can explain why … which isn’t so easy. As the novel progresses, we see more and more glimpses of Lillian’s broken past as she opens herself up to Uriah, her teenage crush, to her therapist, and to Jesus—who she refers to as Papa. The title implies we’re going to see a broken person, and we do, but we also strength and character.

Lillian is a strong main character, although some people won’t be able to related to the writing—first person present tense—but I thought it was the perfect choice. It gave us an insight into Lillian, and the present tense gave the story the necessary sense of immediacy.

Reading a first person story narrated by a character who has secrets and hides them from the reader can be frustrating. I always feel that if the character knows the truth about a matter, the reader should know that truth as well. And that’s why I think first person worked so well in Broken Like Glass, because Lillian didn’t know. Her secrets were so deep, she hid them from herself.


Broken Like Glass combined some of the freshest writing I’ve read in ages. The use of first person present tense was inspired. The plot was layered, complex, and never predictable (the couple of minor plot points I almost predicted were minor in comparison to the major twists I ever saw coming).

But the true triumph of Broken Like Glass is Lilly’s relationship with Papa, something her therapist, Chrissy, sees as Lilly's strength:

“But this relationship you have. It’s so … tangible. I want that.”
“Then have it.”
Chrissy looks at me funny. “But how? How did you do it?”
“I clung to the only thing I could. He’s all I had. He’s all I ever had … my only friend was Papa.”

Lilly is the perfect embodiment of the Christian faith as a relationship with Jesus. The scenes where Papa talks and Lilly listens remind me of God speaking in The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. The themes and writing reminded me of Christa Allen and Varina Denman and Amy Matayo, and other newer writers in Christian fiction. But the most important thing is that Broken Like Glass makes me want to know Papa in the way Lilly does. And shouldn’t that be the aim of Christian fiction?

Recommended.

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