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1 July 2015

Review: Hidden Identity by Carol J Post

2015 Reading Challenge: Mystery or Thriller


I’m always a fan of a good romantic suspense story, and this one ticks all the boxes: intelligent heroine with a secret, handsome and godly cop, and more twists than I usually find in a full-length novel, let alone a shorter Love Inspired Suspense. Even better, I didn’t see the twists coming …

Meagan Berry faked her own death and moved to Cedar Key, Florida, to escape her ex-fiancé. But then her face makes the news after she rescues a man from a plane crashed in the water … a man who turns out to be a senator. Now strange things are happening, she’s convinced her ex is here to get her, and she doesn’t want to end up like his last fiancé.

Police Office Hunter Kingston is attracted to the town’s pretty new resident, but he’s soon convinced she’s hiding something (duh). And she’s not a Christian. But that doesn’t stop him wanting to protect her … especially when it seems someone is after her.

Meagan and Hunter were both excellent characters. Hunter’s only problem was that he was perhaps too larger than life, too perfect, but that fault is easy to forgive in a romance novel. Meagan was a more complex character as we didn’t find her secrets all out at once, which added to the tension. She had plenty of struggles, both personal and spiritual – growing up surrounded by abusive men meant she found it hard to trust men at all—even the almost-perfect Hunter—and she found it even harder to trust God. If He's really on her side, why do all the bad things happen?

Anyway, Hunter was the perfect hero for a woman with issues about trusting men and trusting God, and I enjoyed getting to know him and see the way he was able to both keep Meagan safe and show her that not all men were abusive. There was also one powerful scene where he did show himself as less than perfect, and I liked the way that threw even more conflict into his relationship with Meagan.

This is the second book in the Cedar Key series (following Deadly Getaway), but can easily be read as a standalone novel. It sounds like a great location for a holiday, as long as you don't mind all the murderous crazies the town seems to attract!

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

29 June 2015

Review: Firefly Summer by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Excellent Contemporary Romance!



This is the third Kathleen Y’Barbo book I’ve read, and it’s taken me a while to try again after I didn’t enjoy the first two. One was the last book in a series, which made it harder to pick up. The other was the first book in a series, but I didn’t like it because the back cover copy gave away two major plot points within the book, and I found it difficult to engage with parts of the plot. They felt a little ‘off’ to me (I later found out it was badly-marketed—it wasn’t historical romance, as I’d thought, but steampunk, which explained those aspects I felt were ‘off’). I also read hints that Y’Barbo herself hadn’t been pleased with the way the book was marketed, which inspired me to try her writing again. She’s now changed publisher and moved to contemporary fiction, a move which can only be for the better given her previous publishers substandard effort on the earlier book.

What about Firefly Summer?

Excellent.

The story starts shortly after Sessa Lee Chambers’s husband dies, leaving her distraught and with a five-year-old son to raise alone. It then moves forward in time by a couple of decades to mature Sessa, who now has a successful business restoring wooden carousel horses, a dream she’d shared with her husband. But life takes a few unexpected turns and she finds herself caring for her infant granddaughter … and befriending the man who killed her son.

Sessa is a fabulous character. She’s gone from the so-distraught-she’s-good-for-nothing widow to the strong woman with a healthy social life and thriving business. It’s also good to see a character who’s had a less-than-perfect life: her son rejected his Christian upbringing and his mother, which is something Sessa blames herself for. That’s rare in Christian romance, probably because most novels don’t feature characters old enough to have adult children, or grandchildren. It was especially good to see a romance featuring a mature couple—a reminder that romance isn’t just for the young.

Both Sessa and Trey had issues with the perceived and actual sins in their past, and with forgiveness for both themselves and each other. This aspect of the plot had the potential to be awkward and cringe-inducing, but Y’Barbo’s writing prowess shone through and it was excellent. The one thing missing was tying up the loose end about the red cowboy hat (you’ll have to read it to know what I mean).

Overall, an excellent novel and I’ll look forward to reading more from Kathleen Y’Barbo in the future.

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

26 June 2015

Review: A Heart's Betrayal by Colleen Coble

Emmie finds shelter in the arms of a soldier in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, but will her big secret drive them apart? Find out in book four, A Heart's Betrayal, of Colleen Coble's A Journey of the Heart series. Suddenly displaced, powerless, and ashamed, Emmie can’t stay in Wabash, Indiana. She makes a hopeful start for Fort Laramie to find her friend Sarah Montgomery and a new beginning. But when she arrives, she discovers she’s pregnant—and without a husband. The new start she’d hoped for slips from her fingers.

Melt into summer with a new giveaway from Colleen: four books (books one–four in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series) and a box of chocolates to pair with your new books!


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One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Heart's Betrayal
  • A box of Colleen's favorite chocolate truffles from DeBrand Fine Chocolates
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession
  • A copy of A Heart's Danger
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on June 30th. Winner will be announced July 1st on Colleen's website.


heartsbetrayal-enterbanner


Spoilers in the Book Description. Again.



Well done, Thomas Nelson (and Litfuse Publicity). Yet again you’ve done Colleen Coble the huge disservice of giving away the key plot twist in the book description. I understand that writing these advertising blurbs is hard, but let me give you a hint: the objective is to hook the reader into buying and reading the book, not give them a plot synopsis. Here's the Amazon Book Description:

Emmie finds shelter in the arms of a soldier, but her secret could drive them apart.
When Emmie Croftner answered the door to her late husband’s home, she discovered an awful truth: her deceased husband was a bigamist. And what’s more, the home she thought she inherited never belonged to her at all.
Suddenly displaced, powerless, and ashamed, Emmie can’t stay in Wabash, Indiana. She makes a hopeful start for Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to find her friend Sarah Montgomery and a new beginning. But when she arrives, she discovers she’s pregnant—and without a husband. The new start she’d hoped for slips from her fingers.

But then she meets Isaac Liddle, a handsome soldier with a kind heart. When he begins to court her, Emmie wonders whether she could ever really be his—and whether she dares to tell him she is carrying another man’s baby.

No, Emmie doesn't find shelter in the arms of a soldier, at least not in this novella. She's not also worried about any secret which cold drive them apart—she doesn’t discover she’s pregnant until the final chapter of this novella. Despite the book description, she meets Isaac when she arrives in Indiana, weeks before she discovers she's pregnant.

The writing is good, the characters are interesting, and I have to say I’m interested in the story of Emmie Munroe/Croftner. This is partly because I’m interested in her dilemma as the pregnant non-wife of a bigamist, and I want to know why she is so different from her rotten brother, Ben, who persecuted Sarah and Rand in the first three novellas in this collection. But I should have listened to my own advice (in my review to the first novella, A Heart’s Disguise) not to read the book descriptions. Because I’m now afraid I already know everything important that happens in these three novellas, which takes away any possibility of suspense (which Coble is known for) or even surprise.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

24 June 2015

Review: SPLASH! by Various Authors

2015 Reading Challenge – Short Stories


SPLASH! is a compilation of nine faith-filled romance novellas by indie authors from around the world. Yes, I know novellas aren’t exactly short stories, but I haven’t read short stories in years and Amazon had this listed in the Christian Short Stories category. I figure that means it counts.

It’s hard to review nine different stories by nine different authors. I’ve and enjoyed read previous books by the first three authors, but the other six were new to me. No matter. My previous knowledge of the first three set high expectations I hoped the others would match.

Overall my expectations were met. Yes, the writing and editing was better in some stories than others. Yes, I liked some of the stories better than others (with nine stories there is always going to be a couple I like more or less than the others, for whatever reason). Yes, the Christian element was stronger in some stories than others. But all nine had a solid Christian message, and it was good to see (read?).

I’m sure you don’t want to read my extended views of each novella, so I’m going to give you a whistle-stop tour of all nine, prefaced by one simple statement: this is a great light read, and you might just find a new favourite author.

His Perfect Catch by Narelle Atkins, set on the beaches of New South Wales, Australia. Mia is escaping Sydney—and her ex-boyfriend—and finds hew new next-door neighbour is Pete, her teenage crush. There’s a heap of attraction, but is Pete planning to move back to Sydney? I edited this story which means I’m naturally biased towards it, but I did enjoy Mia and Pete’s story, especially the location (it’s not New Zealand, but it’s close), and the fishing scenes (Mia might not be as high maintenance as Pete thinks, but flat shoes are still a stretch for this city girl).

Sweet Serenade by Valerie Comer, set in the wilds of Canada, in which outgoing tour guide Carly finds she is attracted to the brooding Reed, despite her cousin’s assertion that he’s a standoffish ice man. A fun story, and I especially liked the way Carly and Reed were able to stand up for themselves and their beliefs in a lake of lukewarm churchgoers. This is one of those novellas I’d like to have been longer, so we could see more of Carly and Reed sharing their faith as they fall in love. It’s the third novella in a series, but works just fine as a standalone story.

More than Friends by Autumn Macarthur, set near Edinburgh, as Catriona is desperate for a man to chaperone a church trip to the beach with her and a minibus full of disabled children. She turns to Alistair Murray, her brother’s best friend, a work colleague … and the teenage crush she never quite got over. Friends to more-than-friends is one of my favourite plot devices, and this one had me smiling as Ally and Cat worked things out.

Love Flies In by Heidi McCahan, set in Alaska as new Christian Tisha McDowell reconnects with her college nemesis Chase Binford, the guy she used to hassle for his Christian faith … and apparently kissed. Once. I always enjoy stories set in Alaksa—it’s the US with a twist—and this novella showcased the setting well. And, yes, there was some romance once Chase worked a few things out. Men. Eternally frustrating, but you can’t have a Christian romance without one.

Testing the Waters by Lesley Ann McDaniel, set in Crescent Cove, Oregon, where Curt Mason is working as a waiter to help out a friend, and meets the gorgeous and glamourous Theresé from Paris. Except she’s actually plain Theresa Reynolds from Portland. I was initially hesitant about this—I’m not a fan of lying heroines or heroes—but the author redeemed the plot and wove in an important point about being who we are meant to be in God, so I was more than pleased with the end.

The Lifeguards the Swim Team and Frozen Custard by Carol Moncado has an intriguing and potentially amusing title, but the story didn’t live up to the promise, partly because I never got a fix on where it was set, and I had some initial confusion about a couple of the characters. But it was fun once it got going, and my lasting complaint was it ended too quickly (an unfortunate side-effect of the novella!).

Time and Tide by Lynette Sowell, set in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, where fashion writer Karyn Lewis has retreated following the loss of her job. She reconnects with high school friend Brodie … but gets a shock when she meets his daughter. This wasn’t one of my favourite stories—I didn’t see enough chemistry between Karyn and Brodie, and the plot seemed too detailed for the novella format. It’s ironic, because Lynette Sowell is probably the best-known author in this set, but I found the other stories featured stronger, fresher writing.

Draw You Near by Jan Thompson is set in Savannah, Georgia, where Londoner Lars Cargill has come to find the mysterious woman in a painting by Abilene Dupree. This had potential, and parts of the story were really sweet, but Lars came across as more American than British (perhaps he’s really from New England). On the plus side, there was plenty of chemistry and a shared faith between Lars and Abilene, but that came to a head too quickly and the last quarter of the story dragged. A lot.

Orphaned Hearts by Marion Ueckermann, set in Zambia near the mighty Zambezi River and Victoria Falls. I’m a sucker for exotic locations, and my only experience of Africa is Egypt, so this story really attracted me. Lady Abigail goes to Africa to spend a year teaching in an orphanage … and to get away from an ex-fiancé she can’t ever see herself marrying. She meets handsome widower Simon, who runs a different kind of orphanage—an elephant sanctuary—but who has given up on God since the death of his wife in childbirth. No, the plot isn’t exactly unique, but the setting is and that made what could have been a ho-hum story rather special.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading these novellas, and have certainly found some more authors to add to my to-watch list. My ever-longer to-watch list. Some of these novels are part of a series of novels or novellas, but they can all be read as standalone stories.

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

I do have one free copy of the SPLASH! Kindle ebook to give away—leave a comment to be in the draw to win (winner drawn one week from the publication of this post).


22 June 2015

Review: A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

Larger than Life


A Worthy Pursuit is larger than life in more ways than one. Miss Charlotte Atherton is happy in her role as headmistress of Sullivan’s Academy for Exceptional Youths in Austin, Texas—at least until Dr Sullivan announces the school is closing. The students will be returned to their families … including Lily Dorchester, an orphan for whom Charlotte is the legal guardian. So she does what any sensible 28-year-old woman would to in 1891: she kidnaps Lily and two other parentless students and takes them to a remote farm where she hopes they won’t be found.

Stone Hammond is the best retriever in Texas—he always gets his man. Or, in this case, his girl. He’s been hired to find little Lily Dorchester, who was kidnapped by her teacher. Only when he finds her, he finds the teacher claims she is Lily’s legal guardian, and she has the papers to prove it. Awkward. The two settle on an uneasy truce while Stone looks into Charlotte’s claim, and he finds the whole experience unexpected: the relationship Charlotte has with the children, the unique talents each child has, and his reaction to Charlotte. Especially his reaction to Charlotte.

I’ve enjoyed every single Karen Witemeyer book I’ve read, and this one is no exception. The only problem with her books is that she doesn’t write them fast enough – it’s usually the best part of a year between releases. Her plots and characters are both excellent, and she manages to inject a lot of humour into her novels without ever going over-the-top or descending into cliché or cringe. His is illustrated by one of my favourite lines out of A Worthy Pursuit:
Shoot. He could fit what he knew about women in a bullet casing and still have room for the gunpowder.
Despite the light humour, this was also a story of two wounded adults doing their best to follow God and protect the children in their charge from similar wounds. While the Christian aspects of the novel weren’t overpowering, they were powerful:
There are few guarantees in this life. The few that do exist come from God.

Overall, an excellent novel. Recommended for fans of historical fiction from authors such as Jen Turano and Carol Cox.

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