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20 April 2015

Review: Remember Me by Lara Van Hulzen

Unexpected Twist


It’s been a long shift in ER for Tess Jansenn. It gets longer when her last patient is her ex-fiance, the man who left her a week before their wedding, leaving only a note to explain his reasons. Now he’s back, but he’s got amnesia and can’t remember anything, not even his own name. Ben is frustrated that he can’t remember anything, but is attracted to the tiny nurse, and overcome with the desire to protect her after an accident—or was it?

There were plenty of secrets, which always make for a good plot. Tess is obviously keeping one huge secret from Ben: that she knows who he is. Amnesiac Ben obviously isn’t keeping any secrets, because he has no memories, but hidden behind the amnesia is the real Ben, who does have secrets … like why he left Tess, and why he now seems to have a different name. One thing neither of them can hide is their chemistry, but that’s not enough to base a relationship on, especially when Tess knows she’s hiding Ben’s past from him.

I started Remember Me thinking it was going to be a straightforward romance, but was pleased to find it turn into more of a romantic suspense plot as we learn why Ben abandoned Tess (after all, I’m a romantic suspense fan). The plot was well-constructed with good pacing with several excellent plot twists, and the writing was very good—more than good enough to keep me engaged throughout.

I liked all the characters including the minor characters of Aimee (Tess’s sister) and Dane (Ben’s best friend), who were nicely set up to be the lead couple in Get To Me, the second book in the Men of Honor series, published on 14 April. It looks just as good!

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

17 April 2015

Review: A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Puzzling


A Sparrow in Terezin is the sequel to The Butterfly and the Violin, and the two books do need to be read in order. Both books are written in two separate timelines, with the contemporary story in both books following the story of art gallery owner Sera James and business mogul William Hanover. As with the first book, the historical section of the novel followed the story of a woman in World War Two Europe, following her from Prague to London and back to Europe over the course of three years.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Butterfly and the Violin. Some readers didn’t like the way it skipped between two timelines or didn’t like the Sera/William subplot, but it was original and I thought it worked. I’d been looking forward to the sequel, so started reading it as soon as the review copy was available (it wasn’t like I had anything better to do on Christmas Eve when I was hosting the family for Christmas Day …. Yes, I'm aware that's five months ago. It just shows how keen I was to read this).

But while A Sparrow in Terezin is a good novel, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected, as I didn’t think the two timelines worked as well. I found the present-day timeline frustrating, as it didn’t seem to be moving the story forward and the link between present and past seemed contrived (I can only assume the minor character linking the stories will actually turn out to be a major character in a later book).

It didn’t help that the past plot took a long time to get to the point—it’s not until two-thirds of the way through the book that Kaja arrives in Terezin, by which time I’d been so involved in her London story that I’d forgotten the implications of the title. The sequence of events which lands her in Terezin, a ghetto/concentration camp, seems unlikely and her motivation for taking those steps is noble, I didn't think it fitted with her character as it had been shown.

The writing and research were excellent, although the Christian aspects were too oblique for my taste. I thoroughly enjoyed Kaja’s story for the first two-thirds of the book, but I found the last third seemed disconnected, and I didn’t get into Sera and William’s story at all. The result was a novel that didn’t meet my expectations, and left me feeling “meh” in the end.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

15 April 2015

Review: Finding Me by Kathryn Cushman

2015 Reading Challenge: Based on a True Story



When Kelli Huddleston’s father and stepmother die in an accident, she is left with nothing and no one—or so she thinks. When cleaning out the house before it sell, she finds an old envelope containing newspaper clippings about the presumed drowning of David Waters and his infant daughter, Darcy, from the small town of Shoal Creek, Tennessee. But the photo is of her…

Kelli travels from California to Tennessee to see if she can meet the surviving members of the Waters family, Alison and her two children, Max and Beth. She wants to know if there’s a reason her father left—and decide whether she introduces herself as their long-lost sister/daughter, or whether she leaves them to go on with their lives. She also meets her father’s ex business partner, Ken Moore, and his son, but finds the trip raises more questions than answers, and forces her to re-evaluate her life in more ways than one.

Finding Me is the first novel I’ve read by Kathryn Cushman, but it won’t be the last. I liked her writing, especially the subtle way she wove Christianity into the plot in a way that made it central and realistic without being intruding. I thought the plot was an excellent combination of mystery and romance, and the subplots did an excellent job of supporting the main story, Kelli’s dilemma.

Kelli was faced with a difficult decision where there was no right choice, which made her a fascinating character. I thought it was a convincing portrayal of how someone would act in such a situation, where everything they’ve been told while growing up turns out to be a lie, creating huge cracks in the memory of a perfect childhood. Going deeper, it also shows us how difficult it is to break those beliefs we are raised with—and the need for forgiveness. Recommended.

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

Finding Me counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book based on a true story: Kathryn Cushman says at the end it is actually inspired by two separate true stories. I don't know what's inspired by truth and what is purely fiction, but the result is an excellent novel. Recommended. 


13 April 2015

Review: In Tune with Love by Amy Mateyo

Fun New Adult Romance


April Quinn’s sister is getting married, and when the wedding coordinator quits with a week to go, she ropes April in to finish the job. What Bridezilla hasn’t told April is that the wedding singer is none other than country music star Jack Vaughan, the guy who gained national fame with April’s lyrics. April’s unacknowledged lyrics. April hasn’t forgiven him … but the sparks flying between them are more than just old hurts.

Jack is sorry for what he did, but he has no idea how to fix the problem … until April’s sister asks him to be her wedding singer. He agrees, as a personal favour to April. Not that she seems to appreciate the gesture. And she’s as cute as ever … maybe the wedding will give him the opportunity to make things right.

Apart from Jack, April’s other problem is that her family don’t appreciate her and don’t respect her career choices, calling her tunes and lyrics “jingles” (I probably wouldn’t be happy either if April was my daughter. But she’s only twenty-two. She’s got time to grow up).

This pretty much encapsulates my problem with April: she’s earnest and hardworking, but she’s young and more naïve than I would have expected, given her history with Jack and the fact she works in a bar surrounded by musicians and people who want to be musicians. She’s still writing lyrics on receipt backs: three years, and she’s never thought to buy a pad of paper to carry around? Or even to write on the back of her bar order pad?

The writing was good, the cover gorgeous, the story fun (if a bit over-the-top), and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. April was lacking in maturity, and the whole wedding scenario was completely over-the-top, which made In Tune with Love seem more young adult than real adult.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amy Mateo at her website.

10 April 2015

Audiobook Review and Giveaway: How A Star Falls by Amber Stokes

Something New …


This review is something new for Iola’s Christian Reads, because How a Star Falls isn't actually a read. It’s a listen: an audiobook, courtesy of Rivershore Books Book Tours and Amber Stokes.

I know a lot of people rave about audiobooks, but I’ve never seen the appeal. The audiobook that’s twelve hours of listening time is probably only four to six hours of reading time, and I’d rather read the book (especially when I can read it on my Kindle). But I’ve recently started a new job which involves two three-hour drives each week, so the idea of using audiobooks to help pass the time and reduce the monotony has a certain appeal. So I was pleased when I was invited to participate in this audiobook blog tour.

Apart from the time commitment, my other issue with audiobooks is the importance of the narrator. A good story can be ruined by bad or indifferent narration, something I have experienced with my previous ventures into audiobooks. Sometimes it’s narrators who try too hard to make their voices different for different characters, to the point where it’s off-putting. Other times it’s narrators whose voices are so monotone, I can’t tell the difference between the characters, which can make for confusing listening.

In the same way, a good narrator can make a story better. That was the case for me with How a Star Falls, narrated by Patrick Wilson Mahaney. Although it’s a romance, most of the novella is from Derek’s point of view, which made a male narrator the logical choice, and Mr Mahaney was excellent—clear and full of expression, with a slightly dreamy quality appropriate for a romance.

The other thing I particularly enjoyed was that How a Star Falls is a novella, so the entire recording is a little under two hours—something I could easily listen to while driving and finish all in one journey (and downloading from Audible onto my phone so I could listen was a breeze). I did notice one curious thing while I was listening: some words and phrases which might have annoyed me in the written book (like too many dialogue tags) worked just fine in an audiobook. I suspect this is a testament to the talent of the narrator.

But what did I think of the story?

Lovely.

Derek isn’t living the dream. He believed “them” when they said he’d have a better career and earn more if he went to college, so why is he now working a low-wage job as a sales clerk in a music store and paying off student loans? He’s musing about the injustice of it all while taking one of his favourite walks … where he comes across a woman in a wedding dress, sleeping on a bench at the top of the hill.

He wakes her because it’s about to get dark, and she says she’s a fallen star, from the edge of the constellation of Orion. Derek doesn’t exactly believe her, but it’s getting dark and she doesn’t have anywhere to go, so he does the gentlemanly thing and offers to take her home. Derek shows himself to be a nice guy who deserves more. Brielle (as he calls her) is naïve and imaginative, loves dancing, and helps Derek to reconsider how he thinks about his “career” and his family.

How a Star Falls is a gorgeous romance reminding us that we are responsible for our own choices, and that the life we are living doesn’t have to be the life we live. We can change things. And I liked and appreciated that reminder.

A lovely story that left me with a smile on my face even in rush-hour traffic.

You can find out more about Amber Stokes at her website, Seasons of Humility.

Giveaway!

Experience How a Star Falls as you’ve never heard it before! Enter to win one of three digital audiobook copies of the novella using the Rafflecopter form below. Open to anyone who can access Audible.com. (Prizes will be distributed using promo codes through that site.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

There are also ebook and paperback versions available: Click here to go to Amazon