27 May 2016

Friday Fifteen: Christy and Sarah Newman

Today I'd like to welcome authors Christy and Sarah Newman to Iola's Christian Reads. The sisters have recently published their first novel, Madra Rising, and are here today to share their own favourite authors. Welcome, Christy and Sarah!

1. The Bible authors (first and foremost)

God, speaking through them, gives us endless wisdom, delight, understanding, direction, and the most solid foundation there is.

2. J. R. R. Tolkien 

His writing style encourages us to use our imaginations with honor to the King.

3. Walter Farley 

We love horses, and his writings were fun to read.

4. Robert Frost 

His poetry is so descriptive we can see, feel, smell, and hear his poems come to life. We aim to make our descriptions beautiful.

5. C. S. Lewis 

He is a highly intelligent man, and his writings say much that is important in a manner readily understood by all.

6. Robert Louis Stevenson 

Treasure Island is loved by many and sweeps us away to great adventure.

7. Frank E. Peretti 

Just a gripping and exciting storyteller.

8. William Shakespeare 

Let me count the ways.

9. Erin Hunter 

When I was a child, her stories, brought to life with cats, entertained me and made me want to write.

10. William Goldman 

He brought almost everyone’s favorite, S. Morgenstern’s classic, The Princess Bride, to life. Quotes from his book (and movie) never grow old.

11. Sherri Schoenborn Murray 

Although she is a new author, her books touched us deeply.

12. Edgar Allen Poe 

Although often dark, Poe’s brilliance shines through his work.

13. R. C. Sproul 

He is one of the foremost theologians of our time, making the heaviest and most difficult theological questions understandable to the layman. He has even written beautiful children’s books.

14. Lloyd Alexander 

He wrote books with a standard of excellence in fantasy literature for children. His characters are fun for children while teaching important lessons.

15. T. H. White 

He brought Arthurian legends to life for us.

Cristy and Sarah have recently published Madra Rising, a Christian Fantasy/Romance novel. It is an innocent fantasy romance with Christian undertones which brings together castles, royalty, adventure, and dragons in a way that will satisfy your desire for good and justice to triumph over evil. Nonstop action along with keen humor and fellowship will lead you through this medieval-type world where knights, kingdoms, countrymen, and royalty team up to bring tyranny to a timely end.

The only fantasy element is dragons, but we’re not so sure they are fantasy because they are mentioned in the Bible. It has surprises, humor, and a quick pace. It is clean of foul language, gruesome violence, and sex. You can read the opening below:

About Christy and Sarah Newman

We are sisters and best friends, artists, musicians, and award-winning authors who live, eat, ride horses, sing off key, and work in tandem to produce books for your entertainment and our pleasure. We are teen students living, studying, and writing in the high desert. Our goal is to provide clean, God-honoring fiction with undercurrents of Christian themes and good values.

My sister and I love writing together. We enjoy it so much we don't consider the uncountable hours we spend on our books as work. Life can be difficult, and our books will take you away to another world for a while. -- In His Grip, Christy & Sarah Newman.

Please see our website at https://www.SilverMistBooks.com

Our Social Media Links are:
Silver Mist Books on Facebook
Christy Newman on Amazon
Sarah Newman on Amazon

Contact us at SilverMistBooks@yahoo.com if you have any questions.

26 May 2016

Review: Smoke and Mirrors (multi-author box set)

Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of eight romantic suspense novellas, all of which have characters with hidden identities, to keep them out of danger. Each novella is introduced by the author of the previous novella, which is a nice touch.

THE LONG VIEW by Connie Almony

JT is thrown back together with Destiny, his teenage crush, when his old boss—her father—calls on him to investigate Destiny’s new ‘friend’, a suspected ISIS terrorist.

An excellent story, with a theme it pays to remember: sometimes, we have to take the long-term view in order to succeed. This is the first time I’ve read anything by Connie Almony, but it won’t be the last.

TAKEN by Sally Bradley

Taken follows on from Kept, Sally Bradley’s outstanding debut novel. But Taken is definitely romantic suspense: Cam Winters has feelings for Jordan Foster, his best friend’s much-younger sister. But he also has a secret . . .

I enjoyed Kept, I enjoyed Taken, and I look forward to enjoying many more of Sally Bradley’s novels and novellas in the future. I like her characters (especially her strong and intelligent female characters), her writing, and the way she combines Christian themes and messages into stories that aren’t the Christian norm without ever coming across as preachy.

ON THE ROPES by Hallee Bridgeman

Victor is a pro boxer and member of a Russian mob family, but a strong Christian and faithful boyfriend, even in the face of distance and danger. But will Ruth believe that, or will she believe what everyone else believes?

On the Ropes is a dual timeline story, slipping between the present and the recent past. I initially found this a little distracting, but it worked once I got into the flow of the story, and On the Ropes turned into an excellent short suspense novel with a strong Christian message (although perhaps a little too heavy on the suspense and a little too light on the romance? Oh, well, we can’t have everything).

OUT OF CIRCULATION by Heather Day Gilbert

Out of Circulation also has Russian mobsters, this time threatening small-town librarian Katie McClure. She seeks protection from Manhattan bodyguard Ace Calhoun who just “happens” to be in town. I didn’t enjoy Out of Circulation as much as the previous three novellas, mainly because I didn’t like Ace’s prehistoric attitude towards women, and couldn’t understand what Katie (and her sister, and her mother) saw in him. It’s hard to love a romance when you don’t like the hero.


Hollywood grip Levi Boulter is an undercover FBI agent, and when his ‘other’ job catches up with his day job he finds himself forced to dump Mahari, the love of his life, for her own protection. But his noble gesture soon puts both of them in danger.

While Dangerous Alternative had excellent potential as a romantic suspense novella, I did feel the plot got a little lost in the pro-alternative medicine theme. I was taken aback by Mahari’s profession as an acupuncturist and herbalist, as her belief in and reliance on these alternative medicines seemed to contradict both her Indian heritage and her Christian faith. It also bothered me that the Christian characters were more willing to seek healing through alternative medicine (on which Christian opinion is divided, to say the least) than through prayer (I know not all Christians believe in the power of prayer to heal, but surely it should at least be considered? Or is this my needle phobia talking?).


Jo aka Lacy is finally moving on four years after losing her fiancé and entering the witness protection program. Alaskan state trooper Kurtis would like to marry Lacy, but is she ready?

I felt this novella was mistitled: there was no identity theft (where one person steals the identity of someone else and passes him or herself off as that person especially in regard to financial fraud). I also got confused over the details of the witness protection program, as one of the details in this contradicted a detail in On the Ropes. Yes, I get they are both fiction and both use an element of artistic license. But reading them so close together highlighted the inconsistencies to the detriment of this story.

OBSESSION by Rachel Trautmiller

Two pregnant homeless women are dead, and Detective Amanda Nettles is horrified to find that not only has her mother escaped from her Alzheimer’s care home, but she’s found at the scene of the second crime holding a bloody knife. Factor in a pregnant teen, an unhelpful colleague and an obstructive doctor, and there are a lot of problems to solve.

Obsession is obviously part of a series, and I found it difficult to get into at first, because it felt like I was dropped in the middle of a story without knowing any of the characters (not helped by the fact there were a lot of characters, most of whom were referred to by several different names). The plot was also more complex than normally found in a novella, with a couple of significant subplots which only came together in the closing pages.

Once I sorted out all the characters, Obsession turned into a well-written and fast-paced thriller, one of my favourite in the collection. I suspect it would have been better as a full novel so all the subplots could have been given the attention they deserved.

SCENT OF DANGER by Alexa Verde

Small-town cop Maya Hutchinson risks her life to find her missing twin sister by posing as her (now this one could have been called Identity Theft!). She is helped by dashing senator's son and cop-turned-PI Connor McNamara, but he’s keeping a secret from Maya as well . . .

Scent of Danger was an excellent finish to the Smoke and Mirrors collection, with solid writing, great characters and a plot that was exactly the right mix: straightforward enough to follow, but with enough twists and turns to keep me guessing. Another author I’ll watch out for.

Any novella collection has some stories which are outstanding (Taken), some which are average, and most of which are in between. And a lot of this will be down to personal taste: I find it hard to like a story about a character I can’t relate to or like, but that’s often a matter of different life experience. Overall, Smoke and Mirrors is a very good collection and one which has added some authors to my to-watch list. As though it’s not long enough already.

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

24 May 2016

Review: Think & Eat Yourself Smart by Dr Caroline Leaf

MAD Scary

Think and Eat Yourself Smart is a new direction for Dr Leaf, better known for books about the mind, such as Switch on Your Brain. In Think and Eat Yourself Smart, she looks at the relationship between what we eat and our general health, including brain health—as nutrition affects the way we think.

She goes on to a detailed discussion of the problems associated with the Modern American Diet (which gives us a convenient and descriptive acronym, MAD), characterised by fast food, processed food, and cheap genetically modified food.

I live in New Zealand, and a book like this makes me doubly thankful, because many of her complaints either don’t apply here, or apply to a lesser degree. For example, New Zealand doesn’t currently produce any genetically modified food crops, so her concerns about introducing GM crops into the food chain needn’t affect the way I shop or eat as long as I’m buying local products. (Then I looked at the canola oil my husband bought which is made in NZ "from local and imported ingredients". Hmm. That could mean anything.)

I’d never thought too much about the “evils” of GM food before this, but now I’m convinced I don’t want to eat GM foods, I don’t want the meat I eat to have eaten GM foods, and I want New Zealand to remain committed to GM free horticulture and agriculture (although I’m less fussed about GM pine trees. I don’t eat pine trees).

As another example, our cows and sheep live in paddocks and eat grass. Dr Leaf has numerous reasons as to why grass-feed milk and beef are healthier alternatives than the “conventional” US grain-fed diet—much of which is genetically modified grain. Yes, our food is more expensive than food in the US, but reading this makes me happier about paying for that quality.

Dr Leaf talks about food deserts (areas where there is no fresh fruit and vegetables available to buy), battery farms, and food that has been manufactured to be cheap and addictive, not nutricious. I can see this is a huge social problem: how can parents think and eat themselves and their children smart if they can’t actually access healthy food?

This is where the “thinking” ourselves smart comes in: we have to retrain our minds to believe the truth about food, so that we can actually change our eating habits to feed our bodies and our brains the way we were meant to.

In a nutshell, Dr Leaf is a firm believer in the value of “real” food—basically, cooking using seasonal local ingredients, as so many of the processed options available today consist of “empty” calories which send the wrong messages to our brain and can result in a multitude of health problems, not least weight problems.

Dr Leaf writes from a Christian point of view and backs up many of her opinions with quotes from the Bible. But even an atheist would benefit from reading this book: ignore the Bible quotes and focus on the science and the common sense.

We are what we eat, and a lot of the “food” available to eat isn’t what our ancestors would recognise as food. And the science backs this up: too much American food has been processed to the point where many of the nutrients aren’t there any more, and this affects the way our bodies and brains process the food.

Recommended for anyone concerned about what they eat.

Thanks to Baker Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dr Caroline Leaf at her website (http://drleaf.com/), and you can read the introduction to Think and Eat Yourself Smart here:

20 May 2016

For my African Friends (whether you live in Africa or not!)

This isn't a typical Iola's Christian Reads post. But it's a post about something I believe is important, and I wanted to share it with you—to share with your friends, with your fellowship, and to pray about (or even contribute towards via the Kickstarter campaign, which you can find here: Africa Study Bible Kickstarter Campaign).

Introducing the Africa Study Bible from Oasis International and partners.

From the press release:

Millions of English-speaking Africans know and love Christ, but for many, God’s word is hard to grasp. With nearly every full evangelical study Bible written from the viewpoint of the United States and United Kingdom, Africans have lacked a resource that connects with their unique experience, hindering discipleship.

But that is about to change as major Christian organizations, led by Oasis International, are joining together to launch the Africa Study Bible (ASB), a six-year, cross-continental effort that has produced the first study Bible developed by Africans for Africans.

“With the ASB, we’re bringing the power of Scripture to Africa in a new and culturally relevant way,” says Dr. Matthew Elliott, president of Oasis, publisher of the ASB.
“Under the leadership of an 11-member editorial board of scholars from across Africa, we’ve brought together 350 writers and editors from over 40 African countries, representing 50 denominations. This is an unprecedented project that will impact the global church.”
With the editorial nearly complete, Oasis, with the support of its partners, is inviting fellow Christians to join with them in helping get the ASB into the hands of Africans. With a goal of raising one million dollars to print the first 100,000 copies, Oasis is seeking private donors as well as launching a Kickstarter campaign, which begins April 18 and runs through June 16.

Contributors to the Kickstarter campaign have the opportunity to receive incentives ranging from artwork prints to limited Italian leather editions of the ASB as well as all-expense paid trips to the launch of the ASB in the United States and in Africa.
“Our goal is to have the first run of the ASB available in Africa by the end of 2016,” says Elliott. “We already know of more than 100 million people in denominations and movements in Africa whose leaders want to use the ASB for discipleship so there is a lot of anticipation throughout the continent.” 
Designed to grow the faith of African church members, teach them to evangelize their communities, and apply a biblical worldview to their society, the ASB uses the New Living Translation and includes 2,400 plus features such as application notes, stories and proverbs, touchpoints that link Africa and the Bible, learn notes that explain basic theology, and major theme articles that apply the Bible to key issues. Oasis plans to initially release the ASB in English with French and Portuguese translations in development. Oasis is also developing a full-featured app of the study Bible.

To support the effort, Oasis is partnering with Tyndale House Publishers to create the study Bible. Other participants include Campus Crusade for Christ, International, Willow Creek and Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit, IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students), Scripture Union, Africa Leadership, TransWorld Radio, Moody Broadcasting, Center for Early African Christianity, PJA (Publications pour la Jeunesse Africane), MMD Global, The Livingstone Corporation, InSight Books, Urban Ministries Inc., and the Association of Evangelicals in Africa, with additional participants being added on a regular basis.
“We have seen the hand of God in amazing ways throughout the development of this project,” says Elliott. “In the words of our supervising editor, Dr. John Jusu, the content of the ASB is bubbling up from the cultures of Africa. The biblical truth is percolating through our own cultures and stories to create a rich and textured tapestry that Africans can claim as their own.”

This video introduces the project, and why it's important:

The Kickstarter Campaign:

The English translation is done, and now Oasis International are seeking donations to fund the printing of the first 100,000 Bibles. French and Portuguese translations will follow, and these will enable 70% of literate Africans to read the Africa Study Bible.

Campaign pledges start at USD 5 (for which pledgers receive a social media shout-out and access to the online version of the Book of Genesis), to USD 10,000, which includes an all-expenses-paid trip to Kenya for the launch of the Africa Study Bible. Yes, I'd love to, but unfortunately, the higher rewards are only available to residents of Canada and the US (rewards up to USD 500 are available for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the European Union).

You can out more information about the project and the rewards at the Kickstarter Campaign page: Africa Study Bible Kickstarter Campaign

From Iola:

While the Bible isn't yet ready for production and there are no reviewer copies available, Oasis International have provided me with a link to the front matter and the Book of Genesis, and I'm impressed.

It's obvious a huge amount of work has gone into this project. There are contributions from hundreds of African pastors, and traditional sayings and stories from across the continent are used to illustrate the Biblical principles. I can see this project will be of huge benefit to Christians across Africa—and to Christians outside Africa who'd like to learn more about the similarities and differences in African cultures.

I might just have to pledge the USD 50 that will get me the paper version . . .

19 May 2016

Review: The Reluctant Duchess by Roseanna M White

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Reluctant Duchess is the sequel to The Lost Heiress, and has all the same strengths—and weaknesses.

Americans don’t seem to understand that a title is a title, not a first name. I found the continual use of “Duke” and “Duchess” as names to be annoying and disrespectful—I know teenagers go through school calling their teachers “Sir” and “Miss” (regardless of age or marital status), but an adult wouldn’t call President Obama “Pres”, although he might be called Mr President. Nor would we refer to Prince Harry as “Prince”, partly because Prince refers to The Artist who recently died. (Also, the architecture of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton isn’t Russian. At least, not according to the guide book I bought when I visited the Pavilion a few years back. Or Wikipedia).

Leaving that aside, The Reluctant Duchess was very good. I love Roseanna White’s writing, especially her clever turns of phrase:
The smile one wore in company. The way one spoke, laughed, connived. Lessons no one had bothered teaching Lady Rowena Kinnaird.
It’s a twist on the marriage of convenience plot, with Brice, the Duke of Nottingham, offering to marry Lady Rowena Kinnaird after she is threatened by a “suitor”, and because God told him to. Lady Rowena knows she has to marry, and soon, but can’t stomach the thought of what goes with marriage—not after her recent attack by her “suitor” (which, of course, Brice knows nothing about). This is a picture of God’s love in action, and it’s refreshing to see Christian fiction which is actually Christian. More, please!

So there is the married-strangers plot and the jealous-ex subplot. There is also a subplot which follows over from the first book around some missing jewels. Both Brice and Rowena find themselves in the middle of a plot to locate and steal the jewels . . . only Brice has them very well hidden. This provides an excellent suspense plot to go along with the developing relationship between Brice and Rowena.

The Reluctant Duchess can easily be read as a standalone novel. Recommended for historical romance fans, especially those who enjoy novels set in the Edwardian era (aka when Downton Abbey is set).

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Roseanna M White at her website (http://roseannawhite.com/wordpress/), and you can read the introduction to The Reluctant Duchess here: