28 April 2016

Review: Close to You by Kara Isaac

Extremely Biased Review Ahead 

Amazon Description

A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.

Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.

Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.

When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?

My Review

To the best of my knowledge, Close to You by Kara Isaac is the first novel from a New Zealand author contracted and published by a major US Christian publisher. That alone is worth five stars, at least from this parochial Kiwi reader. Those of you who can’t see the appeal of a romance novel set in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and the land of hobbits) should leave now and go back to … I don’t know. What do people who don’t like New Zealand or hobbits read? Do they read? Can they read?.

Anyway, on to the novel.

Allie is short of money, as her funds are currently tied up in a messy divorce. She’s working as a tour guide delivering high-class (i.e. seriously expensive) tours of New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations, making good use of her PhD in English literature. Unfortunately, she now loathes all things Tolkien.

Jackson’s company has just gone bust, and he’s accompanying a long-lost—and rich—uncle on Allie’s Lord of the Rings tour in the hope he can persuade uncle to invest in his next business idea. Unfortunately, he knows nothing about Tolkien, hobbits or Lord of the Rings … despite telling his uncle he’s a die-hard fan.

Naturally, Allie and Jackson start off on the wrong foot and equally naturally (this is Christian romance!), things change as they start to get to know each other. Throw in a tour bus full of seriously eccentric characters, a wily uncle and a weasly almost-ex-husband, and the stage is set for fun and romance.

I loved all the Kiwi touches, from the nail-biting approach to Wellington Airport to the lush greenery of the Waikato, the “scents” of Rotorua, the majesty of Queenstown, and the Tolkien tourist mecca of Hobbiton (which is even better in real life). The writing was good, with a good dose of humour (people actually speak Elvish?) and a subtle underlying Christian theme.

Recommended for fans of Carla Laureano and Susan May Warren. And New Zealand, and Tolkien. So that should cover pretty much everyone.

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

27 April 2016

I'm Reviewing Dressed for Death at Suspense Sisters Reviews

I'm visiting Suspense Sisters Reviews today, reviewing Sins of the Past, a collection of three novellas by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey and Lynette Eason. Click here to read my review.

You can read the preview for Dressed for Death below:

26 April 2016

Review and Giveaway: Sit Stay Love by Dana Mentink

What do you get when you add one abrasive professional athlete, a quirky out-of-work schoolteacher, and an overweight geriatric dog? A lesson in love—Tippy style—in Dana Mentink's new book, Sit, Stay, Love. As Gina travels through Cal’s world with Tippy in tow, she begins to see Cal in a different light. Gina longs to show Cal the God-given blessings in his life that have nothing to do with baseball or fame. When her longing blooms into attraction, Gina does her best to suppress it. But Cal is falling in love with her too. . . .

Join Dana in celebrating the release of Sit, Stay, Love with a blog tour and a Travels with Tippy prize pack giveaway!

sit stay love-400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Sit, Stay, Love
  • A $75 Visa cash card
  • A basket filled with Tippy-themed goodies
    • Travel-themed decorator box
    • Reading dog statue
    • Dog journal
    • Poems for Dog Lovers
    • Snuggle Paws fleece blanket from Animal Rescue Site
    • Pawprint scarf
    • Doxie desk pen
    • Pupmobile auto magnet

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on April 25th. The winner will be announced April 26th on Dana's blog.

sit stay love-enterbanner

My Review
I almost didn’t read Sit Stay Love. I didn’t especially like the title (which was probably a subconscious reaction to it being too close to Eat, Pray, Love, although that was general market memoir and this is Christian fiction). And I didn’t like the cover. It looked boring—I’m a cat person, not a dog person.

But something about those doleful canine eyes must have caught my attention, because I did request a review copy. And I read it.

And it’s excellent.

The writing grabbed me from the very first sentence, then I was engaged with the characters, baseball pitcher Cal Crawford and Tibby, the old mixed-breed dog he inherited when his mother died. As a cat person, I’ve always thought most dogs were a little stupid, and Tibby is no exception (although she’s more eccentric than stupid). But her owner? Definitely had his stupid moments.

Cal has no interest in looking after Tibby, so he hires Gina Palmer to dogsit. Gina is a real people person, but naïve—something she knows and struggles to overcome. But she has a deep Christian faith, and it’s lovely to see the subtle way she influences those around her.

Gina and Cal are a good match—both are able and intelligent in their areas of expertise, but woefully naïve and stupid in other areas, especially when it comes to people. This provided a lot of humour and fun conversation. I especially liked the way Twitter featured as a combination of a plot point and an almost-character—it certainly added a sense of reality to the novel.

Overall, Sit Stay Love is a lovely story, one of the best contemporary romances I’ve read. It’s not a fast-paced thriller by any means, but still managed to grab me and keep me turning pages to find out what happens. Recommended for dog lovers and romance lovers.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about author Dana Mentink at her website. 

22 April 2016

Review: On the Edge by Theresa Santy

Simply Outstanding

On the Edge is one of the best debut novels I’ve read in a long time. Okay, it takes a while to find itself at the beginning and not everyone will enjoy the first person present tense narration (and that could by why I found the beginning difficult), but it’s worth the effort.

Kristen Craemer is an LA interior designer who is running. She can no longer run in real life, so now she runs in her dreams, and the dreams always turn into nightmares and they always lead her to water—the magnificent Pacific Ocean. Her life is slowly unravelling: she’s making mistakes at work, therapy isn’t helping, and nor is the liquid diet of drugs and alcohol.

Then she meets Jesus-freak Ethan Adams, and soon finds two awkward things: she likes him (as in, really likes him) even though he’s a Jesus-freak, and their mothers are in the same addiction therapy group. So this is a story of a woman whose messed-up childhood is still affecting her adult life, and meeting a guy with a messed-up childhood who seems to have it all together.

One of the difficult parts of writing a review of a book isn't what you put in to the review, but what you leave out. Readers and authors, quite understandably, don't want book reviews to include plot spoilers. But some readers also want to be warned about certain aspects of the book they might not want to read. Some reviewers call these trigger warnings: content that might act as a trigger for some readers.

And here's the problem. I want (need?) to include some trigger warnings for On the Edge, but to tell you any more would act as a spoiler. So be warned: if you read reviews to find out if there's anything in the book you want to avoid, you might be best avoiding On the Edge.

But you’d be missing out. The plot and characters are outstanding. The writing is outstanding—I loved lines like this:
This Kierkegaard writes so deep, he makes my brain ache.
It’s not typical Christian fiction (too much alcohol, too many drugs), but I think this is what Christian fiction should be: real. Telling difficult stories, and showing Jesus in the lives of characters. Not preaching. Basically, the whole book was outstanding, and you should read it. Unless the triggers . . .

Thanks to Breath of Fresh Air Press for providing a free ebook for review. Although I’ve now bought the paperback as well. Yes, it was that good.

You can find out more about Theresa Santy at her website: http://www.theresasanty.com/

21 April 2016

Demon Whispers by Phillip Cook

Demon Whispers is the sequel to Dead Man's Journey, and I had the privilege of working with Phillip to edit both novels.

In Dead Man's Journey, scientists discover a form of transporter technology which had unintended side-effects: it transported people into the spirit realm, the realm of angels and demons. Demon Whispers has a similar theme, in that the characters are looking for the answers to the puzzles of the universe through science—this time, through plants.

Here is the slightly creepy book description from Amazon:
Whisperers, spectators of our lives until they gain access.

For Madeleine Perdu, access was granted. Gentle whispers, subliminal messages came, and then the darkness.

Why, Madeleine, why? Her mother, Ava Perdu, asked. The whisperers blew thoughts into Ava’s head. People will pay for this. And so they did.

Ava, a mysterious and dangerous woman, never stopped to question the accuracy of those whispers. But she had no choice when a stranger entered her life and identified the whisperers.

Things are not as they seem.
Demon Whispers isn’t your typical Christian novel. It’s speculative fiction (a growing genre in the Christian market, but still not one that’s considered mainstream). It’s set in the near future. It’s written by an Australian and set in Australia (and although I’m not Australian, I do enjoy reading about somewhat familiar locations).

And it’s Christian fiction that is unashamedly Christian (although there aren’t as many angels and demons in Demon Whispers as in the first in the series, Dead Man’s Journey, there is still ample acknowledgement of the spirit realm, and the fact that not all angels are good).

In terms of writing craft, Phillip Cook is still learning and is improving with each book. But he’s got a strong sense of plot and has created excellent characters: the heroes aren’t perfect, and the villains aren’t all evil, and each of the characters has clear goals and motivations. I look forward to reading (and editing) his next novel.

I do recommend reading Dead Man's Journey first—while Demon Whispers works as a standalone novel, you'll get more out of it if you start the story at the beginning.

You can find out more about Phillip Cook at his website (Phillip-Cook.com), and you can read the beginning of Demon Whispers here: