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.

5 May 2017

ACRBA Tour and Review: Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman


1 - 5 May 2017


is Introducing 
(Waterfall Press, 2 May 2017)
By Varina Denman



About the Book:
A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations.

For most of her adult life, Cecily Ross has compared herself to other women—and come up short. After a painful divorce from her emotionally abusive husband, Cecily returns to her hometown of Canyon, Texas, looking to heal.

But coming home isn’t what she expects. In a town as small as Canyon, her pain is difficult to escape—especially with her model-perfect ex–sister-in-law working at the town’s popular coffee-shop hangout. With help from her father, a support group, and an old friend who guides her to see her own strengths, Cecily may have a shot at overcoming her insecurities and learning to love again.

The true test comes when tragedy strikes, opening Cecily’s eyes to the harmfulness of her distorted views on beauty—and giving her the perfect opportunity to find peace at last.




About the Author:
Varina Denman enjoys writing fiction about women and the unique struggles they face. Her novels include the Mended Hearts trilogy: JadedJustified, and Jilted, as well as her latest release, Looking Glass Lies. She seems to have a knack for describing small town life, and her debut novel, Jaded, won the ACFW Genesis Contest, the BRMCWC Selah Award, and the INSPYs Bloggers’ Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature.
Varina attended three universities over a span of five years, majoring in four subjects and earning zero degrees. However, she can now boast sixteen years as a home educator, volunteering in her local cooperative where she has taught numerous subjects including creative writing and literature. Varina lives in North Texas where she volunteers in local marriage and family ministry. She is represented by Jessica Kirkland of Kirkland Media Management.
More information:
https://varinadenman.com/




Interview Questions

In Looking Glass Lies as well as the Mended Hearts series, you touch on subjects that are not often talked-about. How do you choose your topics, and what is your motivation? In all my books, my goal is to help women deal with issues in their lives, and generally the issues we women need the most help with are the ones we keep hidden, the secret ones that nobody likes to talk about. Those are the subjects I want to crack open, so that my readers and I can poke them with a stick, see what’s really happening in our lives … and heal a little.
All your books deal with female leads who are struggling with unique issues, but they seem to portrayed from the heart. How much of the plots come from your own life experience? Each book is different, but generally my books begin with a nugget of my own life story, or maybe just a feeling or an impression, and then I completely blow it up into an elaborate, exaggerated story. So I guess you could say, each plot line comes from my own life … but just barely.
Could your writing best be described as women’s fiction or romance? Why? It’s taken me a while to learn about myself as an author. At first, I thought I was a romance writer, but now I’m confident my books fit neatly into women’s fiction. All those issues I pile into the plots just don’t lend themselves to the romance genre, but I always add a touch of romance just for fun.
So far, all of your books are set in Texas. Do you have plans to pursue other settings in the future? Not yet, but I’m not limiting  myself either. As for now, my next book will be set in Texas, but after that, I’m not sure where my stories will take me.

What is your background, and how did you end up writing novels? When I was young, I never dreamed I’d be a writer when I grew up. In school, writing assignments were drudgery, but then again, most of my papers were research not creative writing. My lifelong goal was to marry an awesome guy, settle down, and have a bunch of kiddos. Once I did all that, I surprised myself by developing an increased interest in books which led to an interest in writing. Now I’m having the time of my life.


My Review

The book opens with Cecily married and sleeping in the walk-in closet, and by the end of the first chapter I was frustrated with her for staying married to such a life-sucking object lesson in how not to be a man or a husband. (In case you think I’m being unfair, I disliked him even more by the end.)

Fortunately, Chapter Two started with Cecily newly divorced and returning to her home town where she meets up with the new town hero, football star Michael Devins (who owns a coffee shop), and an old friend Graham Harper (who is now a therapist). It’s a book full of broken characters, and there are no easy answers in the journey to healing.

Looking Glass Lies isn’t Christian fiction, and there were a few times where I just wanted to shout at the characters and tell them to get to a church, or to start praying (especially given Varina Denman’s earlier books, which were based around a church community).

But I can see why it’s been written from a general market point of view, because the book touches on several issues that affect many people: pornography (although this was understated in comparison to, say, One Last Thing by Nancy Rue), and a range of mental health issues including self-harm. And these are issues that touch many women, Christian and non-Christian.

The main issue was around body image and body shaming—especially the way we judge others based on their looks at the same time as feeling bad about the way we look. It’s an intensely personal book, both in the way it was written and in the way different people will read it.

This makes it a difficult book to read, and to review. I didn’t connect with any of the characters (in this case, that’s probably a good thing), and there were some writing glitches which caught my attention once too often. It’s definitely worth reading, but it’s a long way from light and entertaining.

Thanks to ARCBA and Waterfall Press for providing a free ebook for review.

2 May 2017

Cynthia Ruchti's 'A Fragile Hope' Giveaway and Review

When your life's work revolves around repairing other people's marriages, what happens when your own marriage begins to fall apart? Find out what happens to Josiah Chamberlain in Cynthia Ruchti's new book, A Fragile Hope.

Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what's left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?

Celebrate the release of A Fragile Hope by entering to win Cynthia's Sign of Hope Giveaway!


One grand prize winner will receive:
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on May 3. The winner will be announced May 4 on the Litfuse blog.




My Review



One of my ‘rules’ for reading and reviewing is that I have to like the main character—it’s hard to like a book (especially a romance) if you can’t stand the hero.

A Fragile Hope is the exception to that rule.

Josiah Chamberlain is one of the most self-absorbed men you could ever hope to meet. He’s a Christian relationship counsellor who has given up counselling in favour of writing best-selling self-help books while his wife dabbles in some little hobby ‘business’, selling home-made greeting cards. But he’s forced to re-evaluate his life when Karin is involved in a fatal car accident, and ends up in ICU, unconscious. And she’s apparently pregnant … after they’ve been told Josiah can’t have children. This is the slightly frustrating cause of the Big Misundertanding, something that could have been sorted out early in the novel. But Josiah is the man who always has the right answer so it never occurs to him that he hasn’t.

I didn’t like Josiah, but I kept reading out of some kind of macabre fascination. Would Mr Intelligent get a clue? And when?

The other reason I kept reading was because of the writing. There were so much great writing, so many great lines. I appreciated the way the Christian themes were woven in, strong but not overwhelming or out of place. Overall, recommended for the outstanding writing, thought-provoking Christian themes, and a great character-driven story. Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read more about Cynthia Ruchti at her website. Ruchti pin1Cynthia Ruchti's 'A Fragile Hope' Giveaway