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22 December 2014

Review: The Fruitcake Challenge by Carrie Fancett Pagels

Jo Christy is a cook in her family’s logging camp in 1890 Michigan, and wants to get away … and perhaps be courted. She’s not impressed when she finds out the reason none of the loggers have approached her over the years is because her brothers have warned them off, and is even less impressed with the new man in camp, Tom Jeffries, starts paying her attention.

Tom wants to catch the attention of the pretty young cook, so issues the fruitcake challenge: he’ll marry the woman who can bake a Christmas fruitcake as good as his mother’s cake. Several other bachelor loggers take up the idea, but Jo’s having none of it. She wants to leave the camp, no matter what.

The Fruitcake Challenge is a short but enjoyable Christmas novella that manages to pack a lot into a small space. The plot is original, the characters are fun, and there is an underlying Christian theme. All that’s missing is the recipes!

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find more about Carrie Fancett Pagels at her website.

19 December 2014

Review: Promise to Cherish by Elizabeth Byler Younts

Compelling Historical Romance

I’m going to start by saying I’ve read quite a bit of Amish and Mennonite romance in the past, and haven’t enjoyed most of it. I find the heroines are generally immature, probably a result of young age and a lack of education. I find the books are often full of too-perfect characters living a romanticised a lifestyle that seems to value obedience to rules rather than salvation by grace. The fact the rules seem to differ between communities points to rules made by men rather than by God, and I’m sceptical any time a religion puts the rule of man above the Word of God. I’ve also been disappointed by the quality of writing in some of the books.

However, I get annoyed by readers and critics who write off an entire genre (e.g. Christian fiction) because of a few bad reads, so I do continue to read Amish fiction from time to time, although I tend to pick titles that look a little different than the standard romance—generally titles which include some non-Amish characters.

Promise to Cherish is one of these. It’s the second title in The Promise of Sunrise series (although it can easily be read as a standalone novel), and follows the stories of Christine Freeman, a nurse in a mental hospital in World War II America, and Eli Brenneman, a Conscientious Objector serving in the same hospital as part of the Civilian Public Service camp scheme.

The two meet and become friends, and when the war ends and Christine needs a place to live, Eli invites her back to Sunrise—which causes it’s own set of problems.

I liked the way that none of the characters were too-perfect caricatures, even the Amish. All the characters felt like real people facing difficult decisions that challenged their personal beliefs, and even though several of the characters had conflicting beliefs, both sides were examined respectfully.

I didn’t like the descriptions of the mental hospital, or the fact that not all the patients had psychiatric problems: one was a Down’s syndrome man, and another was a deaf-mute. Although unpleasant, the scenes were written sympathetically and I’m sure they were representative of conditions in a time where mental illness wasn’t so well understood by the medical profession or the general public, and where there simply wasn’t the manpower to give the people the care they deserved.

Overall, Promise to Cherish isn’t the standard wishy-washy Amish romance, but a novel raising some important issues, and one I certainly enjoyed reading.

One warning: don’t read the Amazon book description, or the book description on the author’s own website. Both give away significant plot details, one of which only happens at the climax of the novel. I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed this book nearly as much if I’d known what was coming.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Elizabeth Byler Younts at her website.

18 December 2014

Review and Giveaway: Beyond I Do by Jennifer Slattery

Christian Fiction at a Different Level

Beyond I Do is more overtly Christian than most novels I read, even though most of them are marketed as Christian fiction! The characters quote Bible verses (well, some of them do), although it is a little strange seeing the references in brackets, and are actively pursuing their Christian walk. Well, most of them. But that’s the basis of the story …

Ainsley Meadows has always dreamed of helping less fortunate women—women like her mother, perhaps—but instead she has settled for security: a secure job as a pharmaceutical sales representative, and a safe relationship with Dr Richard Hollis, a psychiatrist with plans to publish the next breakthrough bestseller in his field. But a few chance remarks from Richard and she’s starting to wonder if she’s made the right decision: is he really a Christian? It’s a big question, and certainly one which has to be answered before any marriage can take place.

Meanwhile, Ainsley has a new next-door neighbour, Chris, who has bought a local cafĂ© and wants to be able to share his faith with the customers. However, it seems the existing staff and customers aren’t so keen on the idea. Meanwhile he’s getting pestered by his sister, who doesn’t want to move their mother to a home which will offer better care, and he’s attracted to his pretty neighbour. The one with the rich boyfriend …

Beyond I Do forces readers to ask some tough questions about our own faith and priorities. Sure, Ainsley doesn’t always have a choice in her situations, but she shows us the importance of seeking God first, and being obedient to His will. A solid first novel.

Thanks to Jennifer Slattery and New Hope Publishers for providing a free book for review. They posted me a paperback (thank you, New Hope!), which means I have one gently-used paperback book to give away to a New Zealand mailing address. Leave a comment if you’d like to be in to win.

If you'd like to find out more about Jennifer, click here to visit her website.

17 December 2014

Release Day Blitz: Revenge by Paula Rose

Revenge by Paula Rose
Anaiah Romance

As a job coach, it’s up to Olivia Foster to ensure her clients work in a safe environment, understand their positions, and serve their employer’s mission. The death of her brother drives her career choice, and she loves her job. It remains her only focus until one of her autistic clients goes missing. Then Olivia’s employer ends her position and adds her to the suspect list, but she makes plans to bring the missing young man home.

Meanwhile, Detective Lt. Phillip Landon is deep into second-guessing his career choice, but his well-honed instincts see major flaws inside this missing person’s case. Surprising contacts, mysterious happenings, and threats can turn deadly. Can he keep Olivia safe, protect his heart, remove the job coach from someone’s target list, and adopt a faith he never knew all while adjusting to the new lives of his old family?

Release Date: 
December 16, 2014

Author Bio:

Paula Rose provides inspiration through Christian romantic suspense stories where "average" families come into extraordinary situations, brushed with life-size strokes of reality and a touch of humor. Born in Philadelphia, she lives in Southern New Jersey with her husband and rescue kitty but often plays amateur photographer in both states.

Author Links:


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16 December 2014

Review: Revenge by Paula Rose

Showed Promise

Olivia Foster is a job coach for an organisation working with adults with autism or Asperger’s. She arrives at work one morning to find the police swarming the place: one of her clients, Bobby, is missing—kidnapped? Lt. Phillip Landon is in charge of the case, and finds himself with two problems: his attraction to the job coach, and his worry that Bobby might be the bait rather than the target—with Olivia the kidnapper’s true target.

Revenge was a fast-paced romantic suspense novel with plenty of romantic tension tension between Olivia and Phillip, and plenty of external tension as they seek to locate Bobby and “Jerry” before something worse happens. Unfortunately, the tension was often let down by the writing (or perhaps by insufficient editing): bad sentence structure, missing words, incorrect words, and excessive repetition. I often found myself rereading passages to try and work out what had been said or what was meant. This disrupts the flow of the story and breaks the suspension of disbelief necessary to really enjoy a novel.

As an example:
“The full implement of manpower wasn’t able to stay on this case without something to go on.” 
For starters, “implement” should be “complement" (implement a noun is a tool or other piece of equipment used for a particular purpose, while implement as a verb means to put a plan or decision into effect). Also, “wasn’t” is the incorrect word: it’s past tense. Better choices would be “isn’t” (present tense, which is correct in character’s dialogue) or “won’t be” (future tense, given they are talking about a decision to be made). Another example:

"The open display of grief from the executive director coupled with the facts only persona in the human resources department framed Olivia Foster’s normal reaction in the situation.”

I can kind of see what this is trying to say (kind of), but it sounds like something my management consulting colleagues would write--when they didn’t want the client to understand something. It also sounds like there some wrong words, and a few words missing. This example is typical of the writing in Revenge, especially in the interior monologue, and it really gets in the way of the story.

Overall, Revenge had the potential to be a good story, but it didn't make the grade for me.

Thanks to Anaiah Press for providing a free Advance Review Copy for review (they say it was unproofed, which could explain errors such as manor/manner and reign/rein, but proofreading is unlikely to fix sentences such as those quoted above. That's line editing, a much earlier stage in the book production process. And the Kindle sample is still showing the mistakes).