30 December 2013

Review: True Love Dates by Donna K Fileta

More than True Love Waits ...

I picked up this book for review after reading an interesting article by the author in Relevant magazine. I'm not a singleton looking for love. In fact, I've recently celebrated my twentieth wedding anniversary.

But my marital status doesn’t matter. Although True Love Dates is aimed at singles, I though the advice was relevant for all ages, for anyone who is looking to improve their relationship with a date, fiancĂ© or spouse—or even their child. I had a vision for my life in my teens, but marriage and children have taken over. I know who I am, but do I know who I want to be when I no longer have children at home? And do I know who God wants me to be, now and in the future?

True Love Dates is in four main sections. The first three look at what Fileta sees as the three main stages of dating: inward, outward and upward.

The first section focuses on who I am, where I come from (and how that can impact relationships), and what I want out of life. As she says:
‘In order to proclaim “I do,” one has to know and understand “I.”’

The second section focuses on what to look for in a potential partner (with a focus on the major aspects of character, rather than the external characteristics of looks and money), while the third section focuses on our relationship with God:
“If you desire marriage, seek God. If you desire singleness, seek God. In the end, if you entrust your heart to him, God will use your desires to lead you in the right direction.”

The final section of the book is answers to the questions she hears most frequently in her counselling practice. (I especially liked her comments on ‘biblical dating’: that in Bible times, a woman’s spouse was pretty much chosen by her parents, who then paid the groom a dowry consisting of family treasures and a donkey or two. Should we return to ‘biblical dating’? I think not.)

I like the fact that Fileta is writing from the point of view of a Christian who lives in the real world. I've read Christian self-help books in the past that have been off-putting because the author has written from a Christian bubble where everything is rosy and no one ever has an unkind or impure thought. I find those books impossible to relate to (or recommend), as I live in a world full of sin where I constantly make mistakes (and so do those around me). It was refreshing to see dating examined in a way that is relevant and relatable. Recommended.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Debra K Fileta at the True Love Dates website.

27 December 2013

Review: The 13: The Stand by Robbie Chevront & co

Not thrilling

A thriller should be thrilling. It should keep me turning pages like there’s no tomorrow. It should keep me awake at night, wondering what’s going to happen to the characters (or it should keep me up at night to finish it so I can rest).

A thriller should get my heart rate up.

This didn’t.

I read the first 40%, got bored, so went and read something else (seriously. I’m bored reading a thriller. Doesn’t that tell you something?). By the time I got back to it (two weeks later), I’d forgotten most of what had happened in the first portion but quickly picked it up again. The problem was I still wasn’t engaged with any of the characters. I gave up not long after the halfway point, where two main characters had a gunfight and I realised I just didn’t care who won and who died. Life is too short to read boring books, so I stopped there.

In fairness, The 13: Stand is the second book in a series, and I often find the middle book in a trilogy to be slow, so maybe it’s that. Or maybe there are too many characters (I had trouble keeping the characters, locations and politics straight).

Or maybe it’s the fact that even though I have read the first book in the series (The 13: Fall), it was a year ago and I have forgotten most of the details. The 13: Stand moved straight into the plot, with no recap of what happened in 13: Fall, and that felt as though I’d been dumped in the middle of the story.

I suspect The 13: Stand is written for people who only read a handful of books each year, so have no trouble remembering the plot and characters from a book they read a year ago (several other reviewers have only reviewed this one book. I suspect that’s the camp they fall in to). Unfortunately, that’s not me.

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

25 December 2013

Review: A December Bride by Denise Hunter

Christmas Wishes

I’m not a big fan of novellas. I usually find them too short—I want the full story, and that usually needs a full-length novel to achieve. So I was pleasantly surprised by A December Bride. It didn’t try to achieve too much, and the nature of the story suited the shorter form.

Layla O’Reilly’s engagement to Jack ended when he met her cousin, Jennifer, and now Layla needs a last-minute date to their wedding (because if she doesn’t take a date, everyone will think she’s still in love with Jack). She ends up going with Seth Murphy, Jack’s best friend, who she blames for the whole predicament because he introduced Jack to Jessica. A slight misunderstanding at the wedding gives her family the impression that she’s engaged to Seth. Nothing could be further from the truth, but she needs Seth’s help …

I liked Layla. She’d had a difficult upbringing, but was determined to overcome that by starting her own business (staging houses for sale). And I liked Seth. Strong, honourable, fallible, real. The two had history, but the author did an excellent job of not bogging down the present story with the past history, but allowing it to come out when relevant. All in all, a fun story.

A December Bride is part of the A Year of Weddings series, a set of novellas from a range of contemporary authors such as Denise Hunter, Rachel Hauck and Deborah Raney (I assume there will be twelve, but only six are currently being advertised on Amazon). My sense of order would have preferred the series to begin in January and end in December, but apparently that’s not the case as A December Bride is the first story. It seems that each novella is a standalone story (although A December Bride is effectively a prequel to Hunter’s full-length novel, Barefoot Summer).

An enjoyable, if short, read. Perfect for summer sunbathing (for us in the Southern Hemisphere) or winter snuggling (for the rest of you).

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

Best wishes to you all for a joyful Christmas, and a blessed year in 2014.

23 December 2013

Review: Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis

A Beautiful Love Story

Pearl Garnet Huckabee (known as Huck), a junior high English teacher, met Gabriel Robert Alexander in 1926, and was immediately attracted to him, even though she was already engaged. Gabe has seen too many relationships disintegrate after marriage (a concept he calls The Long Division), so determines to make sure this never happens to him by writing a poem on a postcard each week, to be delivered on Friday (hence, Forever Friday).

You might think the idea a husband would write his wife a postcard with a poem every Friday for more than sixty years a little corny (I admit. I did). Oddly enough, this part of the story is based on fact—Timothy Lewis, the author, comments at the end of the book that when he was clearing out his great-uncle’s house, he found albums full of weekly postcards with original poems. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Anyway, back to the story. The postcards are discovered in 2006 by Adam Colby, owner of an estate sales business, when he is hired to clear the Alexander home. Divorced Adam is fascinated by the love that lasted a lifetime, and wonders what lesson it has for him.

The bulk of Forever Friday is the story of Huck and Gabe’s relationship: their first meeting, subsequent marriage, and key events in their lives that link to the postcards and teach Adam something more about the nature of love, and the importance of trust and hope. It’s a well-written story with excellent and engaging characters, and a sweet ending. The faith elements are present but very subtle. There is a central method of hope, but it’s hope and trust in people (specifically, your spouse), which makes me think Forever Friday is aimed at the general market (even though it’s from a CBA publisher).

A beautiful love story, recommended for fans of Charles Martin, Marybeth Whalen, and Angela Hunt.

Thanks to WaterBrook Multnomah and BloggingforBooks for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Timothy Lewis at his website or read an interview with him at Novel Crossing.

20 December 2013

Review: Tempest's Course by Lynnette Sowell

An enjoyable light read

Kelly Frost has been hired by the mysterious Mr Chandler of Firstborn Holdings to restore an antique quilt. The catch is that she has to undertake the work on site: in Gray House, New Bedford, the home of 1850’s whaler Hiram Gray and his wife, Mary. Kelly discovers and reads Mary’s diary, and finds a lot of similarities with the woman who stitched the quilt she is now charged with restoring. The diary was an interesting window into a past where women were married off to older men, who expected their wives to uphold standards of fidelity they didn’t hold to themselves.

Kelly is an interesting character who is hiding a lot of secrets. She grew up in foster care and has no contact with any members of her family, which makes her the opposite of Tom Silva, the Gray House gardener, who has a large family that Kelly envies. Kelly also has secrets in her professional past that have forced her to move to New Bedford for this job. Tom doesn’t have secrets in the same way, but has his own issues. He suffers from dyslexia and has always felt he doesn’t measure up to his father’s expectations.

Tempest's Course is part of the Quilts of Love series. However, it is a standalone novel, as there are no linking places or characters between the different books in the series (the link is simply that they all feature quilts—and love). I’ve read several and enjoyed some more than others.
Tempest's Course, with a mix of romance and suspense underpinned by a solid Christian message, is one of the better titles I've read from the series.

Thanks to Abingdon and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

18 December 2013

CrossReads Book Blast: Becca Fisher's Amish Christmas Boxed Set

cover pic
Amish Christmas Boxed Set
By Becca Fisher
About the Book
Four different Amish Christmas stories, plus one bonus novella by Best Selling Amish author, Becca Fisher:
The Christmas Surprise
Joshua Zook and Sadie Miller have been dancing around their feelings for months. But just as Joshua works up the nerve to admit how much he cares for Sadie, he realizes that he may be too late to win Sadie's heart.
The Christmas Miracle
William Bieler just wants a simple Amish Christmas. But with a newborn child at home, nothing is simple. When William's wife falls ill however, it will take a miracle to save Christmas at the Bieler house.
The Christmas Performance
Emma Bieler is chosen to do a solo at the school holiday pageant. But a case of crippling stage fright strikes her just before she's about to go onstage. What happens next will change Emma's life forever.
The Christmas Gift
When Amish widow Hannah King remarries, her daughters do not take well to their new step father. But as the holidays approach, it's make or break time to bring peace back into Hannah's house.

Bonus novella: Clara Bieler's Amish Christmas

Becca Fisher

becca fisherI'm Becca Fisher and I write sweet Amish romances featuring simple people with complex love lives. I'm devout in my faith, relish time with my family, and seek to bring joy to as many lives as possible. I would love to have you as a reader. God bless.

If you would like to be the first to know about my new books, join my mailing list here http://eepurl.com/s3WIT

Everyone that signs up for my mailing list will receive a Free copy of my "Complete Amish Romance Boxed Set."

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This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

16 December 2013

Review: Blowing on Dandelions by Miralee Ferrell

Family Conflict mixed with Romance

Katherine Galloway is the widowed mother of two daughters living in Baker City, Oregon, in 1880. She is managing to make ends meet running a local boarding house when her life is made more complicated as her demanding mother moves in, two new boarders arrive, and she offers rooms to the local blacksmith and his son after the livery burns to the ground. Katherine is attracted to the handsome widowed blacksmith, but even that is complicated: her mother dislikes him, and her daughter appears to be interested in his son.

A big part of Blowing on Dandelions was the conflict between Katherine and her mother, Frances, and between Frances and one of the boarders, Wilma Roberts. While this theme of dysfunctional relationships and misunderstandings was central to the novel, I found the character of Frances to be too abrasive, and I didn’t enjoy the scenes she featured in. (That’s funny, because I don’t like novels with no conflict—perhaps the conflict in Blowing on Dandelions was a bit close to home).

This is the first book in the Love Blooms in Oregon series, and while I found reading about the relationship between Katherine and her mother difficult, the writing, plot and characters were all strong, and the Christian element was strong without being preachy. I’m interested in reading the next book in the series, Wishing on Buttercups (to be published in February 2014).

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Miralee Ferrell at her website.

13 December 2013

Indie Review: Angelguard by Ian Acheson

Speculative Thriller

Three bombs go off, in London, Los Angeles and Sydney. Thousands die, and no one claims responsibility. The forces of evil are working behinds the scenes, with a master plan to destroy the governments of the world and it’s up to the Angelguard to protect those who are vital to preventing the plan’s success.

Angelguard follows Jack Haines, an Australian who lost a wife and two children in the Sydney bomb, and Loren Summers, an executive who was caught in the LA bombing. They meet at INSEAD in France, where Jack is a guest lecturer and Loren is a participant on a two-week short course with her employer.

I found the first fifty pages hard reading, partly because of the subject nature (the bombings), but more because we were introduced to a large number of human and angelic characters—more than sixty—and it was hard to keep them all straight and know who was going to be important to the plot. There were also a lot of editing glitches, like rapid shifts in point of view, excess use of adverbs, inconsistent use of dashes and the incorrect capitalisation of INSEAD (it’s INSEAD, not Insead, at least according to their website). All this slowed down my reading and made it hard to engage with the story.

The novel improved dramatically after the first fifty pages, once the central plot started to emerge. It became a tightly-woven plot with lots of important characters and battles operating in the natural and the supernatural. The plot was good, the characters well-drawn and the Christian elements were clear and well-stated. The interplay between the angels and demons reminded me of Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness (although I have to admit it must be close to twenty years since I read them), and the novel contains some important spiritual truths which the author manages to bring out without being preachy.

Recommended for fans of speculative Christian fiction.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ian Acheson at his website.

11 December 2013

Book Launch: Priceless by Lori Ramsey

Priceless Feature by Lori Ramsey
Have you ever wondered if there was any sin that God's grace doesn't cover?  Does a person live who has fallen so deeply in the mire of sin that even God's love and mercy can't reach?  Even when all hope seems lost and you think life is no longer worth living, God's love shines through...somehow...
He works in mysterious ways, even when we make the conscious choice to deny Him.  He wishes for no one to be lost.  No one...
Priceless - Love's True Worth is such a story, a coming of age romance about a young girl faced with almost more than she can handle.  Her life leads her to ill choices that lead her down a dark and unworthy path...until she meets him...until he introduces her to the One who can reach down and save her.  The question remains, will she accept it?  Will she change her ways?
From the back cover...
Of what value is a life?  For some the cost of companionship is a few dollars while to others the cost is a lifetime of commitment to another.  Annequin’s life in Shady Grove begins simply enough, a caricature of the early lives of many young girls who find themselves the victims of circumstance.  Loss and a lack of deep caring in her home eventually drive this beautiful young woman away from her difficult home life to another life that she believes will be her way to happiness.  As far too many in Annequin’s position discover, the road chosen is sometimes paved with pain and disappointment.  With time and the testing of a young heart and soul, the woman from Shady Grove learns the true meaning of love and grace given by others.
Why I Wrote Priceless
I wrote this novel wanting to show that not everyone starts on a pristine path to his or her Christian walk.  Some people may have unfortunate circumstances that lead them down the dark paths of sin and then choose to turn their back on the One who can redeem them.  In Priceless, I show that no matter how dark the night may be, God's light can find a way.

Priceless is available as a digital download on Amazon Kindle, Nook, SmashWords, and soon on Kobo, iTunes, and Sony.  Priceless is available on Amazon as paperback too.
LA Ramsey enjoys writing about her faith in novels from her home with her husband and six children.  Priceless was 19 years in the making.  This is her second novel.  Her first novel is Sunny Beam - The Holy Lion, a Christian romance, available on Amazon. 

Find Lori at:  LA Ramsey, Facebook , Pinterest, and Twitter.

9 December 2013

Review: Rooms by James Rubart

Lives up to the reviews

Micah Taylor’s strange Uncle Archie has built him a house. But not just any house. It's a multi-million dollar mansion on Cannon Beach, on the Oregon coast. It’s literally the house of his dreams. It's also a house that tells a story—the story of Micah's life— and possibly hides a secret as well. How else could the uncle he's never met know everything about him? The catch is that the house is in the one place Micah vowed never to return, but he does.

Once in Cannon Beach, it doesn’t take long before strange things start happening. Micah’s car has an extra 16000miles on the clock. He met someone at a party, but the man doesn't remember meeting Micah. Then things get stranger when rooms start appearing in his house …

I was impressed by Rooms. It is longer than most novels I read, yet the intriguing plot and good pace meant it was easy to read and didn’t drag. There was great scene setting, and Rubart has the ability to convey a lot of information with a commendable economy of words:

“Archie was his great uncle whom he knew less than a paragraph about”

Rooms has been compared to novels such as The Shack. I haven’t read The Shack, so I can’t comment on that, but Rooms reminded me of Illusion by Frank Peretti, with shades of Sliding Doors or The Butterfly Effect in the way that seemingly small decisions can have a big impact on our lives. In terms of theme, Rooms is challenging us to choose God over the things of this world in a similar way to If I Gained the World (by Linda Nicholls), and it achieves this well.

I suspect that many of us are hiding wounds in the same way as Micah is, and these hidden wounds and secrets are affecting the choices and decisions we make on a daily basis. Most of us won't have the external push to solve those problems as Micah does in Rooms, nor, perhaps, the courage to say "have at it" to God the way Micah does, but it’s something to think about. Recommended.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. Find out more about James Rubart at his website.

6 December 2013

Indie Review: The Earth Bleeds Red by Jackson Paul Baer

Thriller Debut

Scott, Jessie and Ashley Miller are the perfect family. Scott loves his wife and eighteen-year-old daughter, and little interrupts their idyllic life … until Ashley disappears one night while visiting her boyfriend, Brandon Johnson and the reader realises the early introduction of an ominous tone was foreshadowing her kidnapping … or her murder.

Miller is Catholic and appears to believe in karma as much as he believes in God. In the beginning, The Earth Bleeds Red isn't so much Christian fiction as relatively clean general market fiction written from a Christian world view, but by the middle we see Scott rediscovering his faith. I haven’t read The Shack, but I suspect there are similar elements in the plot. The difference is The Earth Bleeds Red doesn’t have any of the theological ‘issues’ reviewers reported with The Shack, the faith journey feels real, and the writing is good. Better than good.

I did not see her sleep, or wake, or even fade away. I did not see my girls talking, or keeping to themselves. The things I did not see are all I remember.

The first portion of The Earth Bleeds Red is written in first person, from Scott’s viewpoint, and the writing here is strong and full of imagery:

She dreamed in a world where everything was black and white, and no one carried their own shadow.

The second part of The Earth Bleeds Red was written in third person, and the writing here wasn’t as strong. I think these sections could have been better integrated with the first person section to build suspense (as it was, the third person scenes acted almost as flashbacks, which detracted from the forward motion of the story). While the plot was generally structured well, there were sections in the middle which dragged.

However, I really didn’t like the end of the story. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I’ll try and be vague, but I think there were a couple of a couple of minor plot points that detracted from the overall ending, at least for me. One of these came out of nowhere and (I thought) should have been signalled earlier. In addition, there is some sensuous content and some swearing including use of the ‘f’ word.

Despite this, the story overall was well-plotted and well-written with interesting character who were forced into an impossible situation.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jackson Paul Baer at his website.

4 December 2013

Giveaway and ACRBA Review: A New Resolution by Rose Dee

2 - 6 December 2013

is Introducing
( Even Before Publishers Oct 2012)
By Rose Dee

About the Book:
Resolution Island is a safe haven for Anika Demeur - a chance to fulfil dreams, find her place in the world, and a new life for her and young son, Kye. But her dreams of a future are shattered when her son's security is challenged, and the rich and privileged Texan, Nate Hollingsworth sails into the bay. Now Ani must not only fight for her son, but also a growing attraction she has to the one type of man she loathes.

Nate is on a mission - to fulfill his mother's last wish, and change his life. Dropping anchor in the idyllic Resolution harbor, he didn't anticipate becoming involved in illegal fishing, a murder, or an unexpected attraction to the most exasperating woman he has ever met.

The Australian tropical Island, Resolution, sets the scene again for adventures, dreams, and new beginnings. A New Resolution is the final book in the 'Resolution' trilogy, following Back to Resolution and Beyond Resolution.
About the Author:
Rose Dee was born in Ingham, North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her first novel. Rose, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, decided to try her hand at writing two years ago. The result of that attempt is her first novel, Back to Resolution. Her novels are inspired by the love of her coastal home and desire to produce exciting and contemporary stories of faith for women. Rose's other releases include Beyond Resolution - the second book in the 'Resolution' series. And A New Resolution the final book in the series. Rose has also co-written a novel in conjunction with three other outstanding Australian Authors: The Greenfield Legacy. Rose resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband, young son, and mischievous pup, Noodle.
For all ACRBA members who post the will get an entry into this giveaway. All who leave a comment on any blogs will get an entry into the giveaway. The more blogs you comment on the more entries.
This giveaway is open to Australian readers. To enter you need to answer a question about what part of North Queensland you would like to see or leave a comment with a question for Rose. Comments saying sounds interesting enter me will not be equate to an entry. Also leave a way to contact you if you win (for example myemail at mymail dot com). entries open til Thursday 12 December.
E-Reader (Details below) AND: an e-reader version of each one of my 4 novels – the 3 ‘Resolution’ series novels, and The Greenfield Legacy (gifted via email).

Reader™ with 6.0" paper-like touch screen (Red)
This slim and light Reader with touch screen puts thousands of your favourite stories at your fingertips. Effortlessly turn the page with a swipe of your finger and the glare-free screen reads just like a real book, even under direct sunlight.
6" E-Ink® Pearl is designed to feel like a real book with a glare-free paper-like screen for reading
Battery life of up to 2 months with wireless off and up to 1.5 months with wireless on. Up to 30,000 continuous page turns when reading only
Let your friends and family know what you are reading and share excerpts up to 140 characters with Facebook® built into the Reader™
Store posts, articles, and text-based webpages all in your Reader™ with Evernote’s integrated services
Access public library eBooks and PDF files through the integrated OverDrive® service
eBook purchases will need to be completed via computer

A copy of ‘The Greenfield Legacy’, and a Silver and Amber Grapevine inspired pendant. Really pretty, and ties in nicely with TGL as it is set on a vineyard in the McLaren Vale region. Also the cover is pendant inspired.

A personalised sign copy of each books in my ‘Resolution’ Series. 3 hard copy books in total.


My Review

Anika Demeur has always been determined to escape the curse of teenage pregnancy and solo parenthood, but still finds she is repeating her mother’s mistakes. Together with her son, Kye, she accepts a job on Resolution Island on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Life is good, until a letter—and the arrival of a rich Texan—threaten everything.
Nate is on a mission to fulfil his mother’s last wish. But he didn’t anticipate that keeping this promise would mean getting involved in illegal fishing, a murder—and an unexpected attraction to an exasperating woman who doesn’t want anything to do with him.
Now, there is a small chance I’m biased here (because I worked with Rose Dee on the editing), but I really enjoyed A New Resolution.  The characters are strong, the plot interesting, and I especially like the way the Christian elements were integrated into the story, in a way that felt quite realistic, without preaching or moralising.
I also enjoyed the developing relationship between Ani and Nate, the way the attraction was developed into a friendly relationship before either of them acknowledged that there might be something more than mere attraction. And the first kiss was great.
Australian Christian fiction isn’t perhaps as polished as the American novels coming out of the major Christian publishing houses, but this (at least to me) seems more real. In real life, things aren’t always perfect and people are a little rough around the edges, and A New Resolution reflects the Australian spirit well. It is an enjoyable and original novel, with a unique and beautiful setting.
A New Resolution is the final book in the Resolution trilogy, following Back to Resolution and Beyond Resolution. However, it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Recommended.

2 December 2013

Review: Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish

Outstanding Christian Literary Novel

Liesl McNamara is the owner of Wild Rise, a specialty bakery in a small town in Vermont. The story is told on three different levels. This should be distracting, but somehow it isn’t (that could be because I’m a fact and history nut). The main story is that of Liesl, an only child who has inherited a love of breadmaking from her German mother and Oma (grandmother).

This main story of Stones for Breadis interspersed with stories from Liesl’s past—happy stories about her learning the art of breadmaking, and sadder stories of grief and loss. The third story is the place of bread in history—the labour required to produce a single loaf of bread is astounding, as is the role of bread in history. All are written in the first person, from Liesl’s viewpoint. There are also recipes linking to the story.

Our initial impression of Liesl is of a competent professional woman, but as the stories progress, we start to see her as a damaged individual with deep issues. She makes bread, in part, because that’s something she is able to control—unlike life. There are some painful and poignant insights into Liesl, into humanity, and into why we find it difficult to submit to God.

Christian fiction mostly stays within strict genre definitions. A novel might be a romance or romantic suspense or a thriller or Amish, but it’s definable. This is less so, and with a focus more on the internal journey of Liesl. This, combined with the threefold plot, the recipes and the beautiful use of language is why Stones for Bread doesn’t sit comfortably in any genre.

It is not romance, although there is a romantic element. It is not action or suspense. The closest definition is women’s fiction, but even that runs the risk of missing something. Sure, this is the story of one woman and there are elements all women will find familiar, but there is something more, and it’s that something that raises this book above average, above what I normally find in Christian fiction.

I didn’t read the recipes. I read the first one and thank God I don’t have to put this level of effort into putting bread on the table for my family. Sure, even the fresh baked in-store bread from my local supermarket or bakery doesn’t match up to what Liesl sells at Wild Rise, but I know I’m never going to put that level of effort into baking a loaf of bread. Maybe that’s my loss. Recommended.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Booksneeze for providing a free ebook for review. You can find more about Christa Parrish at her website.

29 November 2013

Review: Unspoken by Dee Henderson

Much Better than Expected

Unspoken wasn’t perfect. It is a sequel to Full Disclosure (which I didn't enjoy), and Paul Falcon and Ann Silver do feature, but Ann has mellowed in marriage and is a lot more of a relatable character. I found it odd that we had a romantic suspense novel that didn’t have a single scene from the heroine’s viewpoint. The book was written almost entirely from the male point of view: Bryce Bishop, Paul Falcon and John Key (Charlotte’s bodyguard, not the Prime Minister of New Zealand). It’s possible the book was too long and that there was too much information about antique coins (Bryce is a coin dealer; Charlotte has a collection to sell).

Henderson is still obsessed with writing about uber-rich characters. She might be making the point that no amount of money will fill the God-shaped hole inside us, but the pattern is starting to come across as unrealistic fantasy, in much the same was as Karen Kingsbury’s most recent novels. And I’m not entirely convinced by Charlotte’s about-face at the end. It felt a little as though Henderson had written herself into a corner and didn’t actually have an answer to her central question.

So what did I like about Unspoken?

I liked Charlotte’s central conflict, which takes the “why does God allow bad things to happen” question one step further. Charlotte’s view is that God is too willing to forgive—she doesn’t want anything to do with a God who would give a second chance to the men who hurt her. It’s an intriguing premise. I’m not convinced it was answered satisfactorily, but it’s an excellent question.

I liked the fact that Unspoken didn’t go into any detail about what actually happened during those four missing years, but instead trusted the reader to fill in the blanks.

I liked the writing. There was a poignancy, an almost-unbearable sadness about some of it, and even though we were never inside Charlotte’s head, I could understand her in a way I never understood Full Disclosure'sAnn Silver. Her background meant it made sense that she was insular, reluctant to trust others and had no intention of ever marrying. What would be character faults in anyone else were understandable in Charlotte, given her background.

And I loved Bryce Bishop. I have no idea why this man is still single at forty (except that this is a novel). He’s patient, loving and unselfish—everything a romantic hero should be (his only fault is that he is too perfect). So while I still don’t like Full Disclosure, I very much enjoyed Unspoken and would recommend it.

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

27 November 2013

Review: Critical Reaction by Todd M Johnson

Solid Legal Thriller

Attorney Emily Hart is surprised to receive a telephone call from an old college friend requesting her help on a case against his employer—he believes he has been exposed to radioactive materials, a claim his employer denies. It’s more than she can manage, so she asks her father to assist. Ryan Hart is an experienced courtroom attorney who has lost his will to fight since the death of his wife while Emily was in college.

Kieran Mullaney is an employee at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a site that manufactured plutonium in the days of the cold war. It is now closed, with the only employees involved in monitoring the site and the buildings to ensure they are safe before the entire complex is demolished. But there have been a series of ‘accidents’ at the plant, and it seems there is something more going on…

Critical Reaction is a combination of Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich written in the style of John Grisham, with a slight Christian flavour. It’s well-plotted with a (mostly) good cast of characters, and reinforces why I’m glad to live in a country where our natural geography means we don’t need nuclear power plants.

And that was the bug for me in Critical Reaction. There’s a secret project going on at Hanford, and the author took great pains to point out that the person within the plant managing the secret project was a New Zealander. This didn’t ring true on several levels (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Kiwi), and because I didn't believe it, it took away from the suspense. What didn't I believe?

I don’t understand why a Kiwi would go to America for university when a US college education is so much more expensive than here. I don’t understand how he was allowed to study in America, let alone get a job—it’s hard enough to get an American study visa, let alone a work permit. I don’t understand how someone who was brought up in a nuclear-free country would get a job in the nuclear industry. Between David Lange’s famous speech and watching The Simpsons, we’re grateful for our hydroelectric power schemes.

And no matter how estranged he was from his family, I don’t understand why he’s not in contact with his family when it’s made clear they lived in one of the areas of Christchurch most affected by the 2011 earthquakes (at the time of writing, Manchester Street, where he supposedly grew up, has only just been reopened). It made it difficult for me to take the character seriously.

But if I ignored that, Critical Reaction is a solid legal thriller set in the nuclear industry, underpinned by some good suspense in the form of a secret project the company wants to ensure stays a secret. No matter what.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Todd M Johnson at his website.

25 November 2013

Review: Aloha Rose by Lisa Carter

Missing Something

Laney Carrigan is visiting the Big Island of Hawaii to meet her birth family for the first time. She has come into contact with her Hawaiian family when they recognised a photograph of the quilt she was left wrapped in when she was abandoned as a baby. Her adoptive father was in the military and her adoptive mother is now dead, so she’s never felt at home anywhere, and her career as a travel journalist hasn’t given her the opportunity to set down roots.

Kai Barnes was raised by Laney’s birth family as a foster child, after his mother was murdered. He forms an instant dislike of Laney—he’s convinced she’s simply out to get what she can, and is determined to protect his foster family from this interloper.

Aloha Rose didn’t meet expectations for me. I’m not sure why. It’s the second book I’ve read by Lisa Carter, and all I can say is that something doesn’t gel between the way she writes and the way I read. The beginning was very fast, too many characters were introduced too quickly, and although I got the instant attraction between Laney and Kai, I didn’t see their relationship progress beyond that attraction. I suspect there was too much focus on showing us the interaction between the couple, and too little on showing us their deeper feelings. Good characters and an interesting concept, but something about the writing just didn’t work.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lisa Carter at her website.

22 November 2013

Review: The Church Builder by AL Sheilds

Religious Thriller that ticks all the boxes

Six months ago, Bethany Barclay’s best friend was murdered. Now Bethany comes home to find the body of her ex-boyfriend on her floor, her gun on the floor, and a strange symbol painted on the wall—a symbol that reminds her of something Annabelle said before she died. Are the two deaths related? Bethany believes so, but the police are convinced she’s responsible for Ken’s death. She goes on the run to try and find the link between the two murders, but things get harder when she’s implicated in a bombing as well.

It’s quickly apparent hat Bethany has been set up. It’s also apparent that there is more than one group of people after her. What isn’t immediately not clear is why. What does she know? And who can she trust? Her search leads her first to Chicago, The World Foundation for the Fulfilment of God’s Personal Plan and Martin Potus, another ex-boyfriend who is now leader of God’s Planners, a possible cult.

The Church Builder s the first novel in what promised to be an exciting series from AL Shields (better known as Stephen L Carter, Professor of Law at Yale). It’s tightly-plotted with two secret societies fighting for opposing sides in a religious battle, a range of ambiguous characters (it’s hard to tell who is good and who Bethany needs to be suspicious of) and a fast pace that sometimes makes it even more difficult to keep the characters straight—not to mention their loyalties.

The Church Builder isobeys several 'laws' of modern fiction with its distant POV, switching between past and present tense for no apparent reason and an over-reliance on telling (especially at the beginning), but somehow it works, for me at least (even though my mind says it shouldn’t). It’s the first book in a series, and while the central plot of this book was resolved, the ending also serves as the introduction to the central conflict in the next book.

Recommended for those who like fast-paced thrillers and don’t mind reading a serial.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

20 November 2013

ACRBA Review: Can God See Me? by Penny Reeve

18 - 22 November

is introducing
Wombat Books Oct 2013
Penny Reeve

About the Book

I read in the Bible, so it must be true, God can see everything that I do. But what might this look like? And how far does God's care reach? Join the wild, hilarious and certainly crazy ride of a young boy who dares to imagine the incredible scope of God's love and care.

About the Author

Penny Reeve grew up as the child of missionary parents in a variety of cross cultural settings. She then went to university, got married and served for several years herself in PNG and Nepal.

She now lives with her family in Western Sydney and is the author of 11 children’s books including the very popular Find the Animal series for young children and the social-justice themed Tania Abbey novels.

Website: http://www.pennyreeve.com/

My Review

A small boy uses his active imagination to consider what God can see ... Can God See Me? is an enjoyable rhyming story with echoes of Dr Seuss, complimented by lovely illustrations that perfectly capture the mood created by the quirky text.

It’s an easy read that would make a good bedtime story (yes, one of those ones adults read so often they know them by heart), and will appeal to boys and girls.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review.

18 November 2013

Indie Review: Winds of Wyoming by Rebecca Carey Lyles

Exciting Romantic Suspense Debut

Kate Neilson has had a hard life. Orphaned at twelve, in and out of foster homes and reform school, and just out of prison after serving a five-year term. Now she’s hoping to start a new life with a new degree, a new job as a marketing intern on a bison ranch in Wyoming, and a new Christian faith.

The Duncan family are immediately welcoming, but Kate isn’t able to settle in to life at Whispering Pines—it seems part of her past has followed her to Wyoming and is determined she won’t succeed in turning her life around.

Winds of Wyoming was very well written, with a convincing cast of characters and a paced and strong (if somewhat harrowing ) plot with plenty of suspense and a budding romance. The presence of the cliché Other Woman was the main failing, as I found the jealous character to be almost psychotic and the story almost descended into melodrama.

However, I did enjoy Winds of Wyoming, especially getting to know Kate, seeing her conquer her fears, and watching her develop relationships with the people on the ranch and in town—especially Dymple-with a y-Louise Forbes, an old woman with a few surprises of her own. Winds of Wyoming is the first in the Kate Neilson series, and I’ll certainly be interested in reading more.

15 November 2013

Review: Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

Contemporary retelling of an old favourite

Samantha Moore grew up in a variety of foster homes before arriving at Grace House when she was fifteen. Some of the foster homes were good, but most were not and she coped by retreating into a world of classic fiction, from Jane Austen to Dickens to Shakespeare. Whenever she can’t think of something to say, she retreats into fiction (a device which could become tedious but never quite does, thankfully).

She’s now twenty-three, a college graduate who has been let go from her first job because she can’t relate to others. Father John, who runs Grace House, tells her she’s been given an opportunity: an anonymous benefactor will fund postgraduate studies in journalism as long as she writes him letters detailing her progress. She agrees, and decides to address here benefactor as Mr Knightley, for her favourite Jane Austen hero.

Samantha is a damaged character, but as the story progresses she begins to find herself in her studies and her letters to Mr Knightley, and she begins to reach out to others and explore the possibilities of relationships with real people, not just characters in books. It’s a difficult but uplifting journey. I also enjoyed reading about Sam’s journey to faith (which is understated but present, as this is a Christian novel).

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary retelling of another classic romance novel (one of the few Samantha doesn’t reference). Some of you will already have worked out which one. I have read the ‘original’, and in a way this enhanced the story, but it did mean I knew the identity of the mysterious benefactor from early on, and the ending wasn’t the surprise it was when I read the original (in fact, it felt a little contrived).

I enjoyed the writing and characterisation, and would like to see more from this author—ideally an original story next time.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katherine Reay at her website.

13 November 2013

Giveaway: CrossReads Book Blast: Lisa Belcastro's "Shenandoah Crossings"

Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card

About the Book
Tess Roberts may live on Martha’s Vineyard, vacation spot for movie stars and presidents, but the Island feels anything but idyllic. Tess has had it with lousy dates, lying, cheating men, and the rules that forbid her from working on her family’s centuries-old schooner, Shenandoah.

Lucky for Tess, she knows a secret—the Shenandoah has magical powers. Her best friend, Rebecca O’Neill, once stayed in Cabin 8 and discovered a time portal that transported her to 1775. A month after Rebecca’s “disappearance,” Tess’s father, brother, and Shenandoah’s annoying first mate, Hawk, plan to shut down the time travel for good by dismantling the cabin. But what if Rebecca might someday need to come home? What if Tess isn’t ready to say goodbye forever?

Sneaking onto the ship late at night, Tess slips into Cabin 8 and drifts off to sleep. She wakes anchored off the New England coast amidst the American Revolution in 1776. The British frigate HMS Greyhound has seized Shenandoah and taken the crew, cargo, and all onboard hostage. To make matters worse, Hawk is relentlessly tracking her, determined to bring her back to the twenty-first century against her will. Sparks begin to fly, from more than cannonballs and gunpowder….

Lisa Belcastro

Lisa pictureLisa Belcastro lives with her family on Martha’s Vineyard. She was inspired to write the Winds of Change trilogy while chaperoning two Tisbury School summer sails aboard the schooner Shenandoah with her daughter, Kayla. The weeklong adventure, sans electricity, Game Boys, iPods and modern conveniences, kindled her imagination to dream of an altogether different voyage.

Lisa currently writes the cuisine column for Vineyard Style magazine. She has worked as a staff and freelance reporter and photographer for The Chronicle of the Horse and as assistant editor at The Blue Ridge Leader. She has written articles for USA Today, Dressage (London), USA WEEKEND Magazine, The Blue Ridge Leader and Sidelines. Lisa co-authored and edited two non-fiction books, American Horses in Sport 1987 and American Horses in Sport 1988.

When she’s not at her desk, Lisa is living in paradise, volunteering at her daughter’s school, serving in her church community, planting and weeding her numerous gardens, trying to run a marathon a month or walking the beach with her husband looking for sea glass.

Follow Lisa Belcastro

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11 November 2013

Review: A Man Called Blessed by Ted Dekker

A suspenseful story hiding nuggets of spiritual wisdom


David Ben Solomon has dedicated his life to searching for the Ark of the Covenant in order to restore it to Jerusalem and welcome the Messiah. He has been joined in his quest by his daughter, Rebecca, an archaeologist and assassin. They Raphael Hadane, a Falasha Jew from Ethiopia, who tells them the information they seek is hidden in the Debra Damarro monastery in Ethiopia.

Caleb is twenty-five and has lived almost his whole life in the Debra Damarro monastery, first in the care of Father Matthew, now with his adoptive parents. He, apparently, holds the key to the location of the Ark. But not everyone wants the Ark found, and one man in particular is determined to stop Rebecca and Caleb …

A Man Called Blessed is the second in the Caleb Books series by Ted Dekker and Bill Bright. Dekker is famous for his suspense, and that came through in the novel. Bill Bright is famous for his non-fiction books on spiritual maturity, and that came through as well, with quotes such as these:

“You say that you may not be living up to your beliefs, but by definition, this is impossible. We always live up or down to our beliefs. Beliefs are the rails which govern our lives.”


“In reality, most people who call themselves Christians do not believe in Christ at all. Their train is not on his rails. They do not live what they say they believe, because in reality they don’t believe it.”


What didn’t come through so well, for me, were likeable characters I could believe in and relate to. We didn’t see much of Caleb in the beginning, and it seemed as though he had a personality transplant when he arrived in the desert. It didn’t quite ring true. Equally, Rebecca seemed to morph from a military assassin into a stereotypical brash American tourist when she left the monastery. Neither transformation rang true to the characters as they had been established in this book (although the character of Caleb might have been consistent with the previous book, which I haven’t read).

And I had issues with the plot. Some aspects were incomprehensible (how to you build a crate around an object without ever touching said object?). Others felt contrived. Fiction uses a story to demonstrate truth. But one of the issues with fiction, especially Christian fiction, is that we don’t accept miracles in our novels, even though we know we serve a God of miracles. If you must have a miracle as a key plot point, that miracle must be foreshadowed—it must be signalled from the very beginning. It can’t just come out of nowhere. Otherwise it breaks one of the biggest ‘rules’ of fiction: the injunction against using deus ex machina to solve plot problems.

I also had issues with the writing, particularly the overuse of adverbs and exclamation marks, and the developing relationship between Rebecca and Caleb. I continually felt I was being told how they felt about each other—I never saw it.

On a more practical level, it was interesting to gain insight into the minds of the modern Jew and Muslim, especially Palestinian Muslims. There are serious problems in the Middle East, and A Man Called Blessed illustrated them well.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Booksneeze® for providing a free ebook for review.