25 October 2016

Review: The Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Not Christian Fiction

Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s Amazon biography says she’s the author of The Things We Wish Were True “and five previous novels”. That’s a clue, that The Things We Wish Were True is not like her previous novels, which were all published by CBA (Christian) publishers such as David C Cook and Zondervan.

Instead, The Things We Wish Were True is published by Lake Union Publishing, a general market publisher. And it’s definitely a general market novel. The clues are in the new publisher, the new name (she was previously Marybeth Whalen, no Mayhew), and the disassociation with her previous work.

I’ve read a couple of Marybeth Whalen’s previous novels, including She Makes Things Look Easy (in which the ‘perfect’ titular character turned out to be not nearly as perfect as she looked). The Things We Wish Were True has some of the same ‘feel’, in that it’s a novel about secrets and lies.

It’s told from several points of view—too many, I thought. Most of the novel was written in third person, and I always got the feeling these third-person narrators were hiding something from me, the reader (spoiler: they were). I also got frustrated, because there was no real character change. Instead, the novels were about bringing the character’s secrets into the open and seeing them for who they really were rather than the people they pretended to be (or the people they wished they were).

I also didn’t like their names. 

They were weird, and I know how hypocritical that is, coming from a reviewer named Iola. The viewpoint characters were Bryte (female. It took me a while to be sure), Everett, Jencey (which I thought was a stupid name, until she revealed she’d gone through school as one of two Jen’s in her class, so she was always Jen C.), Lance, and Zell.

The only character I felt was completely honest was Cailey, a child. Cailey was a curious mix of innocent and grown-up, and the only character written in first person. This in itself took a little getting used to, the continual switches between third and first, but they ended up being the best part of the novel for me.

Is The Things We Wish Were True Christian fiction? 

No, not by even the broadest definition. Is it written from a Christian world view? I didn’t think so, for three reasons. First, there was no mention of God or Jesus, no characters of faith (Christian or otherwise). However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the novel isn’t written from a Christian world view, simply that it is Christian fiction (as usually defined).

Second, there was no underlying Christian theme like hope or love or trust or forgiveness. If anything, the theme was ‘fake it until the truth comes out (and the truth always comes out)’. Hardly uplifting, and the ending didn’t satisfy me.

Finally, there were the actions. Several of the characters did several “unchristian” things, like have affairs, and there was no acknowledgement that this might be less than ideal behaviour.

However, I knew going in that this wasn’t a Christian novel, so I shouldn’t discount it simply because it didn’t meet Christian moral standards or include Christian themes.

But I still didn’t like it. 

The names. The points of view. The secrets. The lies. And the writing, frankly, didn’t impress me. It wasn’t bad—and you could argue the way she hid information from the reader was good. But I don’t like unreliable narrators unless they have a reason to be unreliable (like Cailey, who interpreted things from a child’s point of view).

So overall, this didn’t work for me, and I don’t think it’s Whalen’s best work. Ironic, really, as over 3,300+ Amazon reviews shows this has had more commercial success than her previous books (for example, She Makes it Look Easy has a paltry 115 reviews, although both books have the same 4-star average).

Thanks to Lake Union and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

24 October 2016

October Clash of the Titles. Vote Now!

Autumn leaves are falling from the trees, and we've raked in some great books for this month's Clash of the Titles!
Vote for your Fave!

Scroll through these releases and cast your vote for your fave.
It's a tough choice, but it's up to you to determine our Clash Champion!


Love's Faithful Promise  by Susan Anne Mason
Widower Dr. Matthew Clayborne is devoted to two things: his work with wounded soldiers and his four-year-old daughter, Phoebe. When Deirdre O’Leary, a feisty New Yorker, arrives requesting he use his skills to help her stricken mother, he has no idea how his life is about to change.


Feta and Freeways by Susan M. Baganz

Nikolos Action is the lead singer of the band and doesn't realize love is right in front of him until their manager, Tia, is almost killed trying to save his life. After years of ignoring her is it too late to earn her trust...and her love?


Dangerous Alternative by Kelli Hughett

Hollywood grip Levi Boulter unknowingly puts himself in the crosshairs of a murder plot. Now, he'll do anything to keep the woman he loves safe, even if it means losing her forever.


Inconceived by Sharyn Kopf

Realizing you’re a spinster is one thing; understanding what that means and how to handle it is another. And, it would seem, Jolene, Uli and Catie still have a ways to go before they truly comprehend what God is trying to show them not only in their desire to marry but in their longing to have children of their own.


Child of Dust by Shoba Sadler

After the sudden death of her parents, Vietnamese socialite Cao Kim Lye steps out of a world of crystal and chandelier to enter the dust and chaos of working-class Hanoi when she goes to live with her Amerasian chauffeur and his adoptive family at a shop cum living quarters.


If you have trouble viewing the entire survey, CLICK HERE to load a dedicated page to the survey.

21 October 2016

Friday Fifteen: Kelley Rose Waller

Today I'd like to introduce author Kelley Rose Waller. I recently reviewed her debut novel over at Suspense Sisters Reviews (click here to read my review), and was impressed and a little frightened by her vision of a future dystopian USA.

Welcome, Kelley!

1. Everything by Francine Rivers

Francine Rivers is the master. Everything she's written would be on my list. And the Shofar Blew would rank as my personal #1. But I could never discount The Scarlet Thread, Redeeming Love, The Atonement Child, The Mark of the Lion series, The Lineage of Grace series, and all the rest. Moving, captivating, romantic, inspired.

I have to agree!

2. Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

I don't know how anyone could read this series and not list it among their favorites. It's the most riveting series I've ever read, hands-down. I am personal friends with all of the characters because they are 100% real.

You'd get on well with my teenage daughter ... who is currently watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

3. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

This masterpiece is revolutionary. Dagny Taggart is completely brilliant.

4. On Writing by Stephen King

Aside from being slightly pretentious about how much all aspiring authors must read and write (the rest of us still have full-time jobs and families, Mr. King!), this is a must-read for anyone who wants to write. Also, it's heart-warming and hilarious.

Yes, but I did find his quotes from his own work scary enough that I don't actually want to read the full novels!

5. Everything by Sandra Boynton

I'm a mother of three young boys, and some children's books make me cringe. But Sandra Boynton is hilarious, fresh, rhythmic, and charming. Each one of her stories is a national treasure. I have The Going To Bed Book and Barnyard Dance memorized and recite them when my kids are ancy.

6. The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

This series is fabulous, the characters are great, and the world is incredibly rich and immersive. Katniss is one of the inspirations behind Brenna, the protagonist in my novel The Senator's Youngest Daughter.

7. Invasion of Privacy by Christopher Reich

A crime/political thriller with a strong, female protagonist who's stronger and more capable than she thinks. Mary Grant's journey also contributed to my character Brenna.

8. Masquerade by Gayle Lynds

A groundbreaking work that's still hugely relevant. The worldwide scope is enormous. Lots of twists!

9. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones

You can't read this book without getting misty, and if you're reading it to your children, you'll probably cry. Stunning. Unlike anything I've ever read.

One of my favourites as well. 

10. The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This was a unique read, and it makes my list for the simple, beautiful fact that Ms. King makes something new and awesome from something old and awesome. (Here, a young woman apprentices with an aging Sherlock Holmes.)

11. The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis

Amazing and inspired. My personal favorite is The Magician's Nephew, watching Aslan speak Narnia into existence.

12. Everything by Janette Oke and Gilbert Morris

If my church library kept the old 3 x 5 cards from their book pockets, there would be a shoebox full of cards from Janette Oke and Gilbert Morris books with my junior-high handwritten name on every other line.

Pretty sure this one is cheating ... but I can't disagree with you.

13. One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

This is my only non-fiction choice. I often find non-fiction books to be preachy, but this one invited me in and let me choose to change my own perspective.

If you enjoyed this, you need to read Made Well by Jenny Simmons. 

14. The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond

Don't laugh that a cookbook is on my list! Ree knows how to tell a story. She shares very short but transformational glimpses into her farm and country life that connected with me as a wife and mother. As an added bonus, the recipes are oh-so-delicious.

15. Myst series by David Wingrove with Rand and Robyn Miller

I am a proud nerd, and this is a book series based on a video game. Frankly, the game was awesome and so is the series. Compelling and epic. This concept particularly connects with me as an author, because the concept is a race of beings who can write entire worlds into existence and then travel into their books.

This sounds fascinating! Thanks for visiting, Kelly. 

About Kelley Rose Waller

Kelley writes fiction to imagine new life experiences. Her debut novel, The Senator's Youngest Daughter, was released on October 1, 2016. This conservative political thriller pits a young woman and her family against a media tycoon backed by the president of a very different United States.

Kelley's day job as a marketing strategist offers her the opportunity to write and plan for clients in diverse fields. Kelley and her husband are Pennsylvania foster parents. Kelley lives and writes to uplift and glorify the name of Jesus Christ.

Kelley is a ridiculous fan of science fiction and board games. She has a B.A. in English and lives in Lancaster, PA, with her husband, three sons, and their dog.

20 October 2016

Review: Aboard Providence by Keely Brooke Keith

Much better than some other famous prequels ...

Aboard Providence is the first book in a series of prequels to Keely Brooke Keith's Land Uncharted series. If you've read one or all of the books in that series (three novels and a Christmas novella), then you'll absolutely want to read Aboard Providence - no matter what I have to say about it. Spoiler: I thought it was excellent!

If you haven't read any of the Land Uncharted series, you have a treat in store. I don't want to tell you anything more about the series because that might be a spoiler for this novel (kind of like if you'd never seen The Empire Strikes Back, you wouldn't get the significance of the bratty Anakin Skywalker character in the first movie in the Star Wars saga).
Aboard Providence starts in 1861, and Jonah Ashton's father has just ordered him home to Virginia from medical school in Philadelphia. Dr Joseph Ashton has a long-held dream of emigrating to South America, to escape the trouble he believes is coming to Virginia (and as readers, we know he is right. Trouble is coming, in the form of the Civil War). Dr Ashton has assembled eight families for the trip, and he insists Jonah come with them.

Jonah isn't so sure--there are accusations against him at college, and he's only months away from achieving his lifelong dream of graduating from medical school. He wants to stay and fight the accusations and finish school, not be seen as a runaway. But he's also intrigue by his childhood schoolmate Marian Foster, who has grown into a lovely young lady, one he'd like to know better.

Marian is looking forward to this new adventure (as are all the other immigrants). Her hobby is botany, and she is looking forward to finding new plants to study, and especially to see if any can be used for medicinal purposes.

Reading this novel as someone who has read the Land Uncharted series, I felt some of the information at the beginning was unnecessary. I didn't much care whether Jonah wanted to go on the voyage or not; I just wanted them all to get underway because ... can't give a spoiler ... because I know Anakin Skywalker is going to turn out to be Darth Vader and I wanted to know how it happened (apologies to anyone who hasn't seen Star Wars). But I'm sure that anyone who hasn't read the earlier stories will enjoy this part and not be so impatient!

I was impressed with Dr Ashton and the level of planning he put into his scheme. He was far better prepared than, say, the Mayflower immigrants in their overcroweded ship with too few resources. His fellow immigrants were carefully selected to have the range of skills the new community would need, and - most importantly - to have a shared faith.

Overall, I very much enjoyed Aboard Providence, and now I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Thanks to Keely Brooke Keith for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Keely Brooke Keith at her website.

18 October 2016

Review: Made Well by Jenny Simmons

Jenny Simmons is apparently most famous as the lead singer in Christian contemporary music band Addison Road, and singer of the song Hope Now. At the risk of stereotyping myself, I’d never heard of the band or the song before I picked up this book.

Okay, I see the appeal.

But that’s not what Made Well is about. Made Well is challenging our views on healing, pointing out that healing is often a process rather than an act, and that it can come in many forms. It’s not one of those self-help books promising health or wealth or happiness if you follow the author’s formula. Rather, it’s an exploration of the healing journey. She quotes Becca Stevens as saying:
My healing journey has taken thousands of prayers, countless small bits of bread, and gallons of wine one sip at a time.
And Simmons says:
Some of the world’s greatest miracles happen because doctors and nurses show up and do their jobs well.

She doesn’t discount the possibility of instantaneous miraculous healing, although she says she hasn’t experienced it for herself. That may be true, but I’d say that she’s been used in the miraculous healing of others, and she’s learned many things about healing that those who are intent on seeking the instant will miss out on:

Perhaps in our zealous quests to live long and prosper, we have confused Jesus’ invitation to be made well with our own desire for fully cured bodies [and minds?], and in doing so, we have altogether missed a deeper knowing of what it means to be healed by the Savior.
It’s a valid point: Jesus said to seek him, to seek the Kingdom of God. Not to seek healing. Do we make healing into an idol?
Healing is a prolonged process, not an instant, magical fix. It’s a book with many chapters. The road towards wholeness is long and winding.
One review I read of Made Well recommended it to fans of Ann Voskamp. That may well fit, but I personally didn’t get in to Ann Voskamp’s style. But I still found Made Well to be well worth reading - thought provoking, and written from the heart. Recommended.

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