30 January 2013

Review: Waiting for Spring by Amanda Cabot

Charlotte Harding is the dressmaker/proprietor of Elan, the most fashionable shop in 1880’s Cheyenne, Wyoming. She is also the widow of First Lieutenant Jeffrey Crowley who died a year ago in mysterious circumstances, and left her running in fear of the unknown ‘baron’ who was responsible for his death. Her only wish is to live a quiet life and protect her blind son with the help of her housekeeper, Gwen Amos.

Barrett Landry is a successful ranch owner who is considering entering politics, but his advisors, Richard Eberhart and Warren Duncan, tell him he needs a wife. He has found the perfect candidate: Miriam Taggert, the daughter of a prominent local businessman. Although Miriam would be the perfect wife, he’s not in love with her and he can’t help being attracted to her dressmaker, despite the fact that Charlotte is not on the same social level as him.

I really enjoyed Waiting for Spring, and didn’t miss anything by not having read the first book in the series, Summer of Promise.This is frontier fiction at its best, with a strong hero, a likeable heroine who has to come to terms with the fact that hiding her history means she is living a lie, and a strong cast of supporting characters, particularly Gwen, Miriam and David (Charlotte’s blind son). The Christian elements are present but not overwhelming, and there was just the right mix of romance and suspense, and (almost) everyone gets what they deserve. Amanda Cabot at her best.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Cabot at her website.

28 January 2013

Review: Ashton Park by Murray Pura

Ashton Park, the first in The Danforths of Lancashire series, is being marketed as for those who watch Downton Abbey (isn't that everyone?). It is written by a Canadian author and published by an American company. I had a natural fear that it would be full of illogical Americanisms which I find very annoying in books written by Americans but set in England (although it is always a relief to find books that set somewhere other than in the US). Sadly, my fears were soon confirmed.

Things don’t start well, when my advance copy shows map of the Danforth estate with it situated on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean when the estate is supposed to be in Lancashire. Modern maps show that Lancashire borders the Irish Sea, not the Atlantic Ocean (if this wasn’t the case in 1916, then this would have been an ideal fact to include in an introductory ‘note from the author’).

We then have an overwhelming two-page list of characters. This is too many for one novel, even if it is intended to be the beginning of a series. It also contains a reference to the Royal Air Force, which wasn’t formed until 1918 (the novel starts in 1916 but covers several years). The opening chapters have far too many characters and too much information. It makes it hard, as a reader, to know who or what is important.

Our first introduction is to Victoria, one of the Danforth daughters, who comes across as spirited if somewhat unappealing. In this, she reminds me of Lady Mary, my least favourite character from Downton Abbey. Unfortunately, while Lady Mary has improved with age, I am unable to say the same for Victoria. Overall, the characters are lifeless, missing the acerbic wit of the Dowager Duchess, and the dry wit of Carson, the butler at Downton.

In some respects, Pura has captured the English essence, like putting up bunting for a celebration. In others, he has failed miserably. There was the patronising spelling of English words like ‘Leftenant’ and ma’arm (which is spelt ‘ma’am’, despite being pronounced as rhyming with ‘arm’, not ‘ham’). There were factual errors, like references to Northern Ireland (which didn’t exist until 1921. Prior to this, it was either Ulster or northern Ireland). There is a reference to Christchurch, Oxford. Christchurch is a city in New Zealand, while Christ Church is the college from the University of Oxford.

There was a conversation about passing notes to girls in school, at a time when only the lower classes attended mixed schools (the upper classes were either tutored at home or attended single-sex boarding schools). At one point, Kipp couldn’t seem to remember ‘what little French he knew’, where most boys of his social class would have received extensive schooling in both French and Latin. And, as a single man in April 1916, Ben Whitecross should already have been conscripted (under the Military Service Act), so shouldn’t have been at Ashton to woo Victoria. I’m also not convinced that a Conservative would have been in favour of Home Rule for Ireland, given that Conservative voters were the landowners who had the most to lose.

And then we have the Americanisms – quit (resigned in this context), gotten (received – the English don’t use gotten as the past participle of ‘get’), two hundred and thirty pounds of weight (the English weigh in stone and pounds), calling people ‘cute’, meaning attractive (it meant ‘shrewd’ in England at this time), eating oatmeal (porridge), cables (telegrams), and May thirty-first (the thirty-first of May).

There were also issues with the writing, like head-hopping and point of view issues, creative speaker attributions (“flared Emma”), and some sentences that were so complex that they were almost incomprehensible (e.g. “Despite the devastating news she awoke to, Lady Elizabeth greeted them with warmth and grace, clever work with cosmetics by her maid, Cynthia, disguising the redness and swollenness under her eyes.” Technically, this is correct. It just would have been easier to read as two sentences).

You may think I'm being dreadfully picky, and maybe I am. But by 10% of the way through Ashton Park, nothing had happened in the plot to gain or maintain my interest. Sure, Robbie had been captured by the Irish, Emma had cancelled her wedding and Ben has been asked to leave for romancing with Miss Victoria. So it wans’t as though nothing happened. It's just that it was all been very hurried, and the conflict was all very passive and distant. It just didn’t engage me, and I tend to notice these things when I’m not engaged.

Then, at the 27% mark, the book turned interesting for all the wrong reasons. There was a comment to 'Murray' (the author), presumably from the editor. There were another six comments, asking for additional content to fill up plot holes, and asking for facts to be checked or passages to be changed because they were factually incorrect. From an editorial point of view, comments like these are educational and enlightening, but they also raise questions. What version of the book is this? Is the editing almost complete or has it only just begun? Why are they concerned about the correct use of the French language when they haven't even got the English right?

The beginning of Ashton Park has the usual disclaimer that “Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to events or locales, is entirely coincidental.” Yet this is historical fiction. It is supposed to contain deliberate and accurate references to relevant historical events (although that disclaimer accurately describes the contents, based on the 27% I managed to read properly. I skipped through the rest, but only found more faults, so finishing the book wouldn’t have improved my review).

I don’t mind receiving an unproofed manuscript for review (as long as this is disclosed at the beginning, as it was), but I don’t think it’s fair to either reviewers or the author to present an unfinished manuscript. I contacted the publisher and received a very prompt and polite reply from the publicist thanking me for my detailed comments, confirming this was not the final version of the book and continuing, “Hopefully, many of the items you listed will no longer be present in the final edited version of the book”. Yet a quick search through the ‘Look Inside’ version on Amazon shows that all the errors I note above are still there in the published version.

I haven't read any previous books by Murray Pura, because the ones I've seen have been Amish, a genre I don't particularly care for. Based on Ashton Park, I don’t think I will read any of his future books either. Please, authors, if you are going to set books in England, make sure the facts are correct and make sure your historical English characters don’t sound like contemporary Americans.

Not recommended for those who like their historical fiction to be historically and culturally accurate. Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Murray Pura at his website.

25 January 2013

Review: Leading with Heart

Leading with Heart: Faith-Filled Thoughts on Leadership is compiled from a series of blog posts, generally beginning with a brief quote either from the Bible or from a well-known person, followed by a brief (or not-so-brief) discussion inspired by the quote. This gives the impression of it being more like a daily devotional than a serious book on leadership. Chapters are snippets of information rather than an in-depth discussion of a subject, and there is no overarching theme or argument as I usually expect in non-fiction.

I have read other books that are a compilation of blog posts and they also had this choppy feel, one chapter (day) being brief and the next more in-depth, one day being very conversational, the next being more a mini-sermon, and with no real links between topics. Some of the posts were related to what was in the news that day, so are very time-sensitive. A date would have helped place the events in context (particularly for us non-Americans).

It's an eclectic style that is very easy to read, but can take a bit of getting used to. There is also an issue with proportion--in books, authors tend to spend a lot of time on things that are important and gloss over things that they perceive as less important. On the other hand, brief blog posts may be something important that the writer wants us to ponder for the day. But in a book, we tend to read on without introspection, which is a mistake with a book like this.

Hensley is a good writer, with a welcoming and conversational style. He provides many nuggets on Christian leadership, both within the church and in daily life (and this is something that is often missing in Christian writing—a recognition that most of us don’t work in the church). Leading with Heart is worth reading, but not in one sitting.

Thanks to Ken Hensley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ken Hensley at his website.

23 January 2013

ARCBA Review: God's Poetry by Anne Hamilton

21 - 25 January

is introducing
(Even Before Publishing 1 September 2012)
Anne Hamilton

About the Author:
Anne Hamilton, a longtime writer and mathematician, has a number of publications to her name. Anne has a trilogy of short books about how maths integrates with God’s great creation called The Singing Silence, The Winging Word and The Listening Land. She has just had published her 27 year project, a young adult fantasy Many-Coloured Realm.

Short Book Description:
What’s in a name? Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But is that true? Are names simply labels to be swapped around indiscriminately? Or are they more significant? God’s Poetry is about identity and destiny as well as the ancient concept of the power of names to body forth purpose and meaning. It’s also about why most of us never come into the calling prophetically breathed into what we are called.

Genre: Non Fiction

My Review
God's Poetry isn’t a book of poems, but is about the identity and destiny encoded in your name. It’s not a traditional book of baby names either – it’s more a combination of poetry, literary fantasy, linguistic and mathematical concepts underlying the meaning and origin of words, especially names, and how these can have an unknowing impact on our personal dreams and destinies.

It’s worth making the point, even in a review, that Anne Hamilton makes several times in God's Poetry: while our names have a meaning, we are not bound to that destiny. We have a choice. And seeking understanding of the destiny implied in our name (given names and surname) can help us to pursue or change that destiny.

As you’ve probably guessed, God's Poetry is a complex book. It’s a symphony rather than a three-minute pop song (like Your Secret Name, which is a twenty-minute sermon lengthened into a lightweight 200-page book with the addition of some amusing and occasionally relevant anecdotes).

God's Poetry is the opposite – a 200-page book filled with seemingly irrelevant anecdotes that suddenly become important (much like some of the seemingly irrelevant asides in the Bible). The stories seem to be going off on tangents, yet come together to make her point. Names have been a passion of Anne’s, and the years of research and thought that have gone into God's Poetryare evident in her writing.

She incorporates a huge variety of ancient and modern languages and cultures into her research, to the point where I can see I will have to read it again to really understand some of the nuances. It’s well-written, and the ideas resonate with me as truth. It's definitely a book I will reread, as one reading just isn't enough to fully comprehend everything that was covered. Recommended.

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

21 January 2013

Review: Archetypes by Caroline Myss

I’ve always been interested in the way different personalities and types react to things in different ways, and I downloaded Archetypes: Who Are You? because I thought would provide a psychologically-based analysis of personality types (in a similar vein to the populist literature about the MBTI, for example), which would be useful for author friends in developing personalities, motivations and conflicts for their characters. And, I admit, there was a slight interest in wondering what archetype I might be, and what insight the author had to offer.

Well, for me, the book failed on both counts. The first quarter was background information that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me, as someone who hasn’t read any of Myss’s previous books or looked at her website. Archetypes then went into some detail about ten female archetypes (making it irrelevant to half the world’s population), and made fleeting references to other archetypes that weren’t explained, which was frustrating. She claimed that the purpose of the book was to answer the ultimate questions we all ask ourselves: Who am I? For what reason was I born? As a Christian, I believe this is a question of fundamental importance, but you are only going to find the answer within the pages of the Bible.

Myss’s archetypes are partially based in Jungian psychology but she has renamed some of the concepts. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that the basis of the Archetypes was based on new age thinking rather than any academic discipline. I was looking for technical awareness not cosmic intelligence (and it truly strikes me as odd that otherwise rational and intelligent people dismiss the notion of a creator God but are happy to embrace a “cosmic intelligence”).

Her choice of vocabulary is interesting, and perhaps gives the reader an insight into the author. She continually uses the word 'myth' to describe the stories and archetypes people ascribe to themselves. Yet one meaning of myth is a commonly held yet false belief. Is she saying that many of us hold false beliefs about ourselves? Or is she showing that her own beliefs, in the value and power of archetypes, are ultimately false beliefs?

As a Christian, I had a different interpretation to some of the material presented. For example, the author says:

“The lesson for the Spiritual Seeker is that truth will set you free… You were born knowing truth. Connecting with it starts with listening to your inner voice… But nothing can silence intuition forever because nothing can silence truth.”

I agree with these statements. We are born knowing the truth, and as a Christian, I now believe that truth is Jesus. The problem is, as a Christian, my intuition is telling me that while the basic facts of this book are sound, the underlying spiritual themes are not truth. And the author can't argue this. Either truth is relative (in which case we are both right) or truth is absolute (in which case Jesus is the Truth and this author is not, because Jesus said “I am the truth”. When Jesus says “the truth will set you free”, he was talking about himself and his teaching).

The author seems to have some misguided ideas about Christianity, illustrated in this quote: "We were taught that if we’re good and obey God, then nothing bad will happen to us because God is a just god who protects good people." If this is the god she was taught about, then can perhaps understand why she now appears to be a Buddhist. This is not the God of the Bible, although it is what many churches, ancient and modern, have preached.

However, Myss makes the valid point that “the name of this archetype is Spiritual Seeker, not Spiritual Finder. A Spiritual Seeker is, by definition, always looking for something more”. This is the basis for the entire self-help industry, and probably explains why I have an innate distrust of self-help, even in its Christian guises. Yet this is a self-help book. Go figure.

The quote that was laugh-out-loud funny from a self-help book was this:
“I rely on the guidance of my intuition, not on whichever self-help author I happen to be reading.”

So even the author doesn’t know why anyone should read this book. At the end, I'm still not sure what Archetypes is supposed to have achieved. Am I supposed to have on archetype or many? Can I change archetypes or do I need to embrace a 'true' archetype to 'find my destiny'? And what is the relevance of the list of additional archetypes at the end of the book? Even without the reservations outlined previously, I don't think I could categorise this book as great. It has some interesting ideas and could spark some great debates, but at the end of the day, it doesn't answer the fundamental question it started with: for what reason was I born? It tries to tell readers how to live based on their self-diagnosed archetype, but it doesn't answer why.

Overall, Archetypes was well-written and thought-provoking but ultimately unsatisfying. Thanks to Hay House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

18 January 2013

Review: Falling for Your Madness by Katharine Grubb

Laura Adamsky is introduced to Professor David Julius Arthur Bowles, a lecturer in English at Boston College with and attractive British accent, an unusual set of dating rules and a very dictatorial chauffeur. David proposes that he and Laura become friends, which will entail meeting at specific times each week. The relationship may then progress to courting, if Laura chooses, which will allow weekend dates as well.

As the relationship progresses, we realise there is more to David than his strange set of rules, and what follows is an intriguing and unusual story. I have to admit that I found David and his rules quite controlling at first, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that he is practicing his own version of 21st Century chivalry, which gives the lady the power in the relationship.

My anti-David bias meant I’m still not entirely convinced that he doesn’t have mental problems (well, the book is called Falling For Your Madness) and I don’t really understand why Laura agreed to his rules (although, having lived in England, I see a British accent as normal, not necessarily sexy). But by the end, I could see the point of it, and while there isn’t a strong Christian component to the plot, it poses some interesting questions about how we act impacting on how we are treated in dating and relationships.

As Falling For Your Madnessis a self-published novel, readers will want to know about the style and editing. It is written in the first person from Laura's viewpoint. The style is clear and engaging, with no noticeable grammatical errors and I only found one typo (which is excellent – I found three in the traditionally-published novel I read after this). An intriguing and thought-provoking novel.

Thanks to Katharine Grubb and Plume of Doom Publishing for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katharine Grubb at her website.

16 January 2013

Review: Not A Fan (Teen Edition) by Kyle Idleman

This is the Teen Edition of Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, which was first published in 2011. I don't know how different it is from the adult edition, but it's easy to read and has some amusing asides that will appeal to teenage readers (well, they appeal to me, so I hope they appeal to teens as well).

There are some negative reviews for the adult version of Not a Fan, criticising the way it seems to promote two 'classes' of Christian and even going so far as to suggest that these second-class Christians might not actually be saved. But I think this is a valid question for teens. How many teens are in church because that's what their family does on Sunday? And how many are there because their friends are? How many are actually in church because they want to be?

We sometimes talk about how “God wants your time,” or “God wants your money,” or “God wants your worship.” But do you understand why we talk about those things? It’s not because God needs your time. He has always been and always will be. It’s not because he needs your money. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. If God needed your money he could take it. It’s not that God needs your worship. If you don’t worship, the Bible says that the rocks and trees will cry out. The reason we talk about those things is not because God needs or wants those things; it’s because he wants only you. He wants your love. He longs for you to passionately pursue him, and all those things are come after indicators. They are outer signs that point to an inner reality that you love Jesus more than anything else.

Several of the books I've read recently have had an underlying theme of the importance of the language we use, and this is not exception. I've sat in church many times and listened to a preacher exhort the congregation to “make a decison for Jesus”. Some will acknowledge that this is just the first step in a long journey. But few call it a commitment to Jesus. In this, it seems that the church itself is seeking fans, not followers. Reading this, it also strikes me that many Christian novels feature fans, not followers. Those novels that do have followers as major characters are often criticised for being 'too preachy'.

I liked the start of Not A Fan. Idleman not putting himself up there as some almost-perfect paragon that we should all follow, but as a fallible man who has learnt some things he would like to share. There are many nuggets of truth, such as “the one thing we are most reluctant to give up is the one thing that has the most potential to become a substitute for him” (being Jesus). However, I thought that the last quarter was pretty repetitive and didn’t add anything new.

The author is not afraid to laugh at himself and has that rare gift of writing humour without descending into cliche or cringe. Although I'm much older than the target age group, the message came through loud and strong. It was challenging, but it was also encouraging. Overall, a challenging and encouraging read.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kyle Idleman at the Not A Fan website, or his church website.

14 January 2013

Review: Path of Freedom by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Bruce Millikan has just returned home after an eight month mission working with the Underground Railroad in Indiana, and yet again, he has managed to say the wrong thing to Flora Saferight. Flora and her sister Irene are planning a train journey to Charlottesville, and are asked to change their plans so they can travel with two escaped slaves with them - escorted by Bruce Milliken. Neither Bruce nor Flora are happy with the proposal, but Flora has experience as a midwife, which will be necessary for the journey, and Bruce is the best choice, so the two are forced to work together.

There is a good mix of internal and external conflict, with Flora and Bruce's longstanding antipathy towards one another and the need to keep the escaped slaves safe. They are two flawed but likeable characters--many Christian novels, especially historicals, have such perfect Christians that they just aren't believable. Bruce and Flora are very believable as they travel together and begin to acknowledge their growing feelings for each other.

Path of Freedom got off to a good start with a two page explanation of the (disputed) history of underground code quilts, and the involvement of Quakers in the Underground Railroad (a national network of safe houses for escaped slaves seeking freedom in the North and later in Canada). I like this kind of discussion, because it shows the author has done her research. Sadly, it seems that historical accuracy is not a prerequisite to getting published, but it makes reading so much more pleasurable (and makes writing a positive review much easier).

Path of Freedomis the third book in the Quilts of Love series that I have read and reviewed, and the first historical. The novels are all stand-alone stories by a range of authors, but all have a real or fictional quilt as a central part of the story. I think this is my favourite so far, and I will certainly keep my eyes open for more books in this series, and more novels by Jennifer Hudson Taylor.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jennifer Hudson Taylor at her website and blog.

11 January 2013

Review: Under the Summer Sky by Lori Copeland

Trinity Rose Franklin has returned to Piedmont, South Dakota following the death of her brother, her last family member. At just nineteen, she is alone in the world, or so she thinks. Her aim in returning is to sell the family farm to the railroad so she can return to her life in Sioux Falls, but a bunch of ruffians, a trip down a waterfall in a barrel, a plague of grasshoppers and a crusty old-timer change her plans.

Penniless, she heads to Dwaldo, South Dakota, where her aged great-aunt might still be living. She finds a friend in Meg, in the town store, who knows her great-aunt, who is still alive at 94, but a bit under the weather some days. Meg also suggests somewhere for Trinity to stay, and introduces her to Jones—coincidentally, the man who sent her over the waterfall in that barrel.

Under the Summer Sky had a great opening hook with the initial meeting of Trinity and Jones, but the next few chapters felt a bit convoluted as the author manipulated her characters. However, everyone was in Dwadlo and we were introduced to the key characters, the plot settled into itself, revealing a well-crafted plot, well-established and likeable characters, and two rather sweet romances.

Under the Summer Sky is the second book in the Dakota Diaries series, the sequel to Love Blooms in Winter. The reader was provided with sufficient back story to understand the plot without being bogged down in unnecessary detail or retelling of what came in the first book. At the same time, Under the Summer Sky reads well as a stand-alone story. Enjoyable.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lori Copeland at her website.

9 January 2013

ACRBA Review: A Simple Mistake by Andrea Grigg

7 – 11 January
is introducing


Andrea Grigg
(Wombat Books 1 April 2012)

About the Author:
Andrea Grigg grew up in Auckland, New Zealand, but has lived most of her life in Australia. She lives with her husband on Queensland's Gold Coast, where they have raised their three adult children – two daughters and a son. If she isn't teaching ten-year-olds, being a domestic executive or socialising, Andrea can be found in her cave, writing stories.

Short Book Description:
When Nick and Lainey meet again after 10 years so much has changed. Nick is now a famous celebrity and Lainey is the girl he left behind. As a member of a highly successful band and with an emerging acting career Nick can have any girl he wants. Now he wants Lainey back.
They had been so close when growing up, but after Nick left to seek fame and fortune, Lainey had never heard from him again. Now she has moved on from what she felt for Nick as a teenager. Or has she?
After discovering what kept them apart for so long, they tentatively rekindle their past romance. The feelings are just as strong as before but can Lainey accept Nick's lack of faith? And can their new relationship survive Lainey's secret?

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

My Review (previously posted):

Lainey Sullivan is happy with her life as a schoolteacher, going to church and playing at weddings as part of a string quartet. But one wedding changes everything, because the best man is Nick Cusack, and she’s the girl he left behind in his search for pop stardom.
Nick is thrilled to reconnect with Lainey, and can’t believe that a simple mistake like the wrong address has kept them apart for the last ten years. His band, The Mavericks, have reached the peak and he has an emerging acting career. As they begin dating, they both find that all the feelings are still there. And so is the thing that has the potential to part them: Lainey’s Christian faith, and Nick’s unbelief.
A Simple Mistake is the debut novel from Australian author Andrea Griggs. It’s a sweet tale of love lost and love rediscovered, but it’s much more than that. The old saying is that the path of true love never did run smooth, and that is certainly the case for Lainey and Nick. Lainey has a secret that she is afraid will destroy the relationship, and there are other forces that might keep them apart. While A Simple Mistake follows the conventions of the romance genre, it doesn’t do it the easy way. Both Lainey and Nick have a road to travel before then end. They each have decisions to make, decisions that aren’t made overnight.
Australian Christian fiction isn’t quite as sophisticated as American Christian fiction, but that means it has a realism that is often missing in the highly- polished American offerings. And that realism is why I found it so enjoyable. This was one of my top reads for 2012, and I'll look forward to more books from Andrea Grigg.
Thanks to Andrea Grigg for providing a free book for review.

7 January 2013

Review: Secretly Smitten by Various

Last year's Smitten collection from bestselling Christian authors Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter was about finding love in the small town of Smitten, the self-proclaimed romance capital of America, Vermont. Secretly Smitten is set in the same town, but with a different set of characters, so there is no need to have read Smitten first.

These four novellas centre around the Wood sisters, Tess, Zoe, and Clare, and their mother, Anna. In the background, the family are unravelling the mystery of a set of Korean War dog tags found in their attic, and trying to get RailAmerica to stop in Smitten and help boost their fledgling tourism industry.

The four stories in Secretly Smitten are:

Love Between the Lines by Colleen Coble

The story of bookshop owner Tess Wood, and Ryan, the handsome widower whose house might hold the answer to the mystery of the dog tags;

Make Me a Match by Kristen Billerbeck

Zoe running into trouble with William, the new city manager, with her new matchmaking business;

Knit One, Love Two by Diann Hunt

Anna tries to expand her business with a little help from Michael; and

Love Blooms by Denise Hunter 

Clare steps out of her comfort zone and hires Ethan, a drifter, to work in the garden centre she manages.

I thought the first and last novellas were excellent, but didn’t like the middle two as much. I found it difficult to relate to the characters, because I didn’t see the connection between Zoe and William, and Anna’s character was inconsistent with her portrayal in the earlier stories. Enjoyable but not outstanding.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and BookSneeze® for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about the authors at Girls Write Out, the website they share with half of ‘Hannah Alexander’.

4 January 2013

Review: The Tutor's Daughter by Julie Klassen

It is 1816, and Emma Smallwood accompanies her father to Ebbington Manor in Cornwall, where he is to act as tutor for a year for Sir Giles Weston's twin teenage sons, to prepare them for Oxford. Emma has fond memories of their brother, Phillip, attending Smallwood Academy, her father's small Devonshire boarding school, but her memories of Henry, the oldest Weston brother, are less pleasant.

Their arrival at the manor is unwelcoming, but Emma is soon befriended by Miss Lizzie Henshaw, who is the teenage ward of Lady Weston. She also meets Henry again, and finds him as intimidating as an adult as he was when he attended her father’s school. There is an air of mystery about Ebbington. Emma hears music at night when others say no one was playing. She smells a masculine scent outside her room, and finds a tin soldier on her floor. People stop their conversations when she comes near, as though they have something to hide. And she has been warned to stay out of the north wing of the house.

As with all the Julie Klassen books I have read, The Tutor's Daughter is beautifully written and impeccably researched, with likeable yet flawed characters. What I most admire about her is her ability to find a unique angle for her Regency stories, whether it is the unwed mother (Lady of Milkweed Manor), the woman working in a profession that is closed to females (The Apothecary's Daughter) or the woman who has made a mistake and is trying to rebuild her life (The Girl in the Gatehouse). This time, it is the bluestocking in an area that was well-known for shipwrecks and free traders.

Overall, The Tutor's Daughter is an excellent Christian Regency with a dash of Jane Eyre, a sprinkle of Pride and Prejudice and a touch of gothic romance a la Mrs Radcliffe and The Mysteries of Udolpho (which is quoted in a chapter headings, along with other period literature). Recommended.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Julie Klassen at her website.

2 January 2013

Review: Vanished by Irene Hannon

Journalist Moira Harrison is driving home from an interview along a strange road in a storm when she hits a woman standing in the path of her car. She spins off the road and almost immediately a man comes to check she is all right and says he will call 911. But she loses consciousness and when she wakes, the man and the woman have both Vanished.

Worried, she enlists the help of private detective Cal Burke, of Phoenix Inc., to help her find the woman. Cal is a widower who, five years after the death of his wife, is still having trouble moving on. He is no longer mourning, but doesn't seem to know how to move forward. Moira is man-shy after finding her fiancé was cheating on her. So although they are attracted to each other, they both have histories to get past before thinking of a relationship.

Although we don’t know exactly what happened, the villain is identified fairly early on in Vanished, so much of the suspense is drawn from the reader knowing some of what he is thinking and doing, and wondering whether Moira and Cal will find him.

One ongoing annoyance was the way Cal decided Moira was a serious journalist with a good reputation because she’d been “nominated for a Pulitzer”. There’s an internet joke that anyone can be nominated for the Pulitzer – all you have to do is pay the $50 entry fee. A quick online check found that this isn’t far from the truth. Technically, anyone who has paid the $50 is a Pulitzer entry, and a jury then nominate three entries as finalists. But Wikipedia has examples of journalists referring to themselves as “nominees” when they were, in fact, only entrants. It’s not a major issue, it’s just one of those annoying little glitches that pulled me up every time I read it.

Vanished is the first book in Irene Hannon’s new Private Justice series. I really enjoyed her Heroes of Quantico trilogy, but found the Guardians of Duty trilogy to be very much the same. I was hoping that Vanished and Private Justice will see Hannon return to form. It’s better, but the romance has an air of predictability about it and the Christian elements are very understated, which combine to make Vanished good, but not great. Anyone looking for a light, clean romantic suspense should enjoy Vanished.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Irene Hannon at her website.