27 February 2013

Review: Congo Dawn by Jeanette Windle

Robin Duncan is an ex-marine turned linguist mercenary, hired for a translation job in the Congo with private security firm Ares, a subsidiary of multinational corporation Earth Resources. The operation doesn’t start well: Trevor Mulroney, a self-made billionaire and head of Earth Resources, expected a man. Pieter Krueger, head of the mercenary team, doesn’t like the public rebuff Robin gives him. And she’s on the same plane as Michael, the man she holds responsible for the death of her younger brother.

Dr Michael Stewart is on assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières in the Congalese village his parents also served in before they were brutally murdered. He isn’t pleased when Robin turns up with wounded from the mine her team are based at, and even less pleased when their hunt for a dangerous insurgent leads to the establishment of a large military camp less than a kilometre from the medical mission.

Congo Dawn opened with a gripping prologue, but early chapters of the book had a lot of detail about the political history of the Congo (formerly Zaire) and neighbouring countries. It was slow reading, and not her best writing, but I slogged through, thinking it would be important to the plot. Some of it was necessary, but I do think it was far too long and detailed. But I persevered, and was rewarded when the story finally found its feet.

Jeanette Windle doesn’t write typical Christian fiction, and Congo Dawn is no exception. She writes about familiar people in unfamiliar settings, including South America, Afghanistan and now central Africa. While this is fiction, the violence, government corruption and human rights abuses are all too real in this part of the world, and what seems right might, in fact, be wrong.

Windle uses the situation to explore the age-old question: how can a good God allow such evil? As circumstances force Robin to explore this question, her beliefs about Michael, about God and about her role with Ares Solutions are challenged. This is clearly a Christian novel, with a clear gospel message and a depth of understanding of the nature of suffering and character that few authors can demonstrate. Recommended.

Thanks to Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jeanette Windle at her website.

25 February 2013

Review: Flora's Wish by Kathleen Y'Barbo

Fatal Flora Brimm has buried four fiancés, and is waiting for Will Tucker, fiancé number five, to join her in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, for their wedding. But the arrival of Pinkerton detective Lucas McMinn (and his case full of clever gadgets) might place her plans in jeopardy. McMinn is planning to arrest Tucker for theft, and threatens to arrest Flora as an accessory if she doesn't cooperate with his investigation. While Flora has no feelings for her fiancé, she is sure he is innocent, so agrees to help McMinn. After all, she stands to lose her home if she doesn't marry and beget an heir--and soon.

This mysterious Mr Tucker is very much an offstage character, with the plot being driven by Flora and McMinn and their developing relationship. It is fast-paced and sometimes amusing, with an underlying hint of mystery and an interesting twist revealed at the halfway point. But I found the faith aspects very understated for a Christian novel, I never really understood how old Flora was, and I found her to be rather irritating in the blind trust she had in Tucker, a man she barely knew.

I did have an issue with the product description provided by the publisher, which says “Pinkerton detective Lucas McMinn is hot on the trail of Will Tucker, the thief who broke his sister's heart”. I’m of the opinion that the book blurb shouldn’t disclose anything that isn’t in the opening chapters of the book (with the exception, in historical fiction, of famous historical events. The Titanic sank. We know, so that’s not a spoiler. Anyway, back to Flora's Wish).

Will's sister isn't mentioned well in to the story, and we don’t actually find out about the link between Lucas and Tucker until almost the end. So while Flora is busy worrying about the identity of the mysterious Mary-Margaret, the reader already knows she’s Lucas’s sister, because the blurb told us.

This is the first book in a new series, The Secret Lives of Will Tucker. That, in itself, is annoying because it must be another spoiler. If the series is about Will Tucker… then he’s hardly going to be found guilty of theft and thrown in jail, is he? (I’m writing this after reading only the first third of the book, so this is purely assumption.) But having the title character in jail doesn’t generally make for a convincing Christian historical romance. (Although I’ve just watched the first episode of Downton Abbey Season 3, and aren’t those scenes of Anna visiting her prisoner husband, Bates, sweet?) And I have read some very enjoyable series where the villain in the first book becomes the hero by the third, so who knows?

There was also an amusing scene where Flora and Lucas are discussing her love of detective novels, particularly The Female Detective series, first published in 1864. Lucas says “the books were written a full fifty years before the London police force admitted women” (which is mostly correct--according to Wikipedia, London's volunteer Woman's Police Service was founded in 1914, and women were first admitted into the Metropolitan Police Service in 1919). But Flora's Wish is set in 1887, so how does Lucas know London will have women police in 1914? Is one of his secret inventions a TARDIS? Hopefully this will be corrected before publication.

The cover is lovely, the writing is good and I really liked Lucas McMinn, but overall, Flora's Wish was only okay. Not bad, but just not that enjoyable. It would have been better without the spoilers in the blurb and the series title. And without the time travel.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kathleen Y’Barbo at his/her website

22 February 2013

Review: Yellowstone Memories by Jennifer Rogers Spinola

Most Romancing America novella collections are a set of four short romance stories set in the same place. Some are contemporary and feature friends or siblings, others are a combination of historical and contemporary, moving through time to the present day. Many have a common theme, and all have a sweet romance ending with a tidy happy-ever-after for the two main characters.

Not Yellowstone Memories.

The first story, Black Widow, is set 1891 in Yellowstone National Park, where Collette Moreau is trying to find hidden gold to support herself since the death of her husband—a death she has been blamed for. But she hasn’t counted on Wyatt Kelly, who has also heard about the hidden treasure and wants to claim it for himself.

In Finding Yesterday, Justin Fairbanks is trying to escape his past in 1937 in a CCC camp in Yellowstone when his past catches up with him—with unexpected results.

Alicia Sanchez is fighting both the 1988 Yellowstone fires and her own history in After the Ashes. Thomas Walks-with-Eagles is there to help—but her abusive ex-boyfriend has also appeared.

Kamakaze introduces Jersey Peterson as a Yellowstone Park Ranger who has trouble forgetting her past sins until an encounter with researcher Taka Shimamori shows her that God really is in control, and they make an unexpected discovery.

The teasers sound as though the stories are going to be fairly predictable, but only one of the four is (well, in my opinion), and I think they get progressively better throughout the book, although After the Ashes is my favourite, probably because the ending was totally different to what I would have predicted, yet totally believable for those characters.

The whole Yellowstone Memories series has been very well researched (the story of Ezra Kind and the Thoen Stone is true, even if its accuracy is disputed), and there was a definite sense of time and place, particularly in the later stories (oh, those ’80’s memories!). Overall, this was a well-written and thought-provoking collection with a strong Christian message of sacrifice and forgiveness. But I can’t say any more without giving away spoilers! Recommended.

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

20 February 2013

ARCBA Review: Soul Friend by JoAnne Berthelsen

acrba button1

18 - 22 February 2013

Is Introducing
(Even Before Publishing October 2012)


Jo-Anne Berthelsen

About the Book:


Soul Friend is an honest and intimate portrayal of the author's own journey with her wise, spiritual mentor and the warm, life-giving relationship that developed between them during their fifteen years of meeting together. This story is written in the hope that it will inspire many not only to seek out such a spiritual friendship for themselves but also to provide such a friendship for another.
Beautifully written, this honest and insightful memoir is an inspiring celebration of the ancient art of spiritual companionship. Dr Rick Lewis
Soul friendship is a very under-emphasised resource of Christian discipleship, particularly for Christian leaders. Jo-Anne has written honestly, beautifully, sensitively and powerfully. Dr Keith Farmer

About the Author
3975230Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of five published novels – Heléna, All the Days of My Life, Laura, Jenna andHeléna’s Legacy, with a sixth, The Inheritance, due for release in 2013. Her first non-fiction work Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey was released in October 2012. Jo-Anne loves music, reading, mentoring younger women, and sharing with community groups about writing. She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren.


My Review

In reading this review, there are two things you need to know about me as a reviewer. The first is that I am very stingy with five-star ratings. I don’t give them out easily. The second is that I don’t read memoir or biographies of ‘ordinary people’, because I usually find they are boring and filled with irrelevant details that don’t contribute to the bigger picture. So the fact that I have given Soul Friend, a memoir, a five-star rating means that I was impressed. Really impressed.

Soul Friend: The Story of a Shared Spiritual Journey is (as the title suggests) a memoir detailing the friendship between Jo-Anne and Joy that began when Jo-Anne was undertaking studies in ministry and needed a spiritual mentor for the year. However, the relationship has lasted many years beyond that, and in this memoir Jo-Anne details her own spiritual struggles and shares how Joy has been instrumental in encouraging and advising her.

The early chapters see Jo-Anne struggling with questions around the role of women in Christian ministry, an issue many women and churches) grapple with. Like many of us, she has also struggled with juggling too many roles at once and not wanting to burden others by stepping down. Her writing is clear and honest, and she isn't afraid to reveal things that don't always paint her in the most positive light (or perhaps she is afraid, but she doesn't let that stop her).

Overall, Soul Friend encourages us to both have a spiritual mentor and to be a spiritual mentor to others, as demonstrated in the Bible by Barnabas with Saul, then Paul with Timothy and others (I don’t believe in coincidence, but this was the subject of the sermon the day after I finished reading this. Same message from two totally unrelated sources – do you think God’s trying to say something here?).

It is a beautiful testament to Joy and the thousands of hours she and her husband spent ministering into the lives of many others, not just Jo-Anne. I particularly liked the way Jo-Anne talked about her writing journey, and the struggle she had for others to see writing as a ministry. Recommended.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jo-Anne Berthelsen at her website, or visit the Soul Friend website for more information about mentoring and spiritual direction (including a training manual).

18 February 2013

Review: Shattered by Dani Pettrey

I recently purchased Dani Pettrey’s first book, Submerged, from Amazon. I really enjoyed it, so I was very pleased to find a review copy of Shattered, the second in the Alaskan Courage series. I really enjoy Christian Romantic Suspense, and think the Alaskan Courage series is as good as anything else available today.

The books deal with the McKenna siblings from the (fictional) small town of Yancey, Alaska. Submerged was the story of Cole, the oldest McKenna brother, and Bailey Craig, an expert in Russian history and antiques who returns to the island after her aunt is murdered. Shattered follows Piper McKenna as she works to prove that Reef, the youngest brother, is innocent of murder.

Things aren’t looking good for Reef: there are two witnesses who saw him holding the knife over the victim, and the District Attorney has a particular grudge against the McKenna family. Piper is determined Reef is innocent, and soon drags Deputy Sheriff and long-time family friend, Landon Grainger, into her investigation. Landon isn’t so sure about Reef’s innocence… and is struggling to come to terms with his changing feelings for Piper.

I really liked the way the Shattered followed on so well from Submerged in terms of taking the Landon/Piper subplot and turning it into the main plot. I can also see how Shattered has set up future books in the series, which I will certainly want to read. The novel was well-written, with a fast-paced and exciting murder plot, a really sweet romance subplot, and a cast of interesting characters. I was particularly impressed (especially in Submerged, but also in Shattered) with the way the Christian elements were integrated into the plot. These characters face the same questions and temptations as we face in real life, and they respond in realistic (if sometimes flawed) ways.

Shattered can be read as a standalone novel, but readers will enjoy it more if they read Submerged first. Recommended for fans of Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon, Diann Mills, Susan Page Davis and Susan May Warren.

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

15 February 2013

Review: A Plain Scandal by Amanda Flower

A Plain Scandal is the second Appleseed Creek Mystery, following A Plain Death, in which Chloe Humphrey investigated the death of the local Amish bishop, developed a crush in the handsome Timothy Troyer, and gained a new housemate, Becky, Timothy's sister.

In this sequel, the Amish of Appleseed Creek, Ohio, have appointed a new, stricter, bishop, the two hooligans who caused the trouble that led to the first bishop's death are in the area again, and four Amish girls have been attacked and had their long braids cut off, a potential religious hate crime but one the local police can do nothing about, because the Amish 'want to settle the case within the district'.

Chloe has a new landlord, a professor from the college where she works, who has plans to renovate and sell the period house and who disproves of the free maintenance Timothy has been doing. There is also conflict between the Troyer family and the new Bishop, partly because of their friendship with Becky, which causes her some anguish as she doesn’t want her new friends to be rejected because of her.

A Plain Scandal was very good. It is a solid murder mystery, with intelligent and realistic characters (not something I can say about many Amish novels), a couple of red herrings, a twist, and all the loose ends tied up by the last page, and some nice progress in the romance between Becky and Timothy. I will certainly be looking forward to reading the next Appleseed Creek mystery.

Thanks to B&H Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Flower at her website.

13 February 2013

Review: One Sunday by Carrie Gerlach Cecil

Alice is a hard-boiled tabloid reporter who runs a website called ‘Trashville’. She has just married Dr Burton Banister III in a 2005 version of a shotgun wedding due to her pregnancy after a one-night stand. His family is visibly displeased with the match – he family isn’t even in the picture. Having moved from LA to Nashville to marry Burton, her only friends are the African-American couple next door, Pastor Tim Jackson and his wife, LeChelle, who try to model the love and truth of God to a resistant Alice. Their friendship and her pregnancy force her to re-evaluate her own personal history, with some poignant scenes from her teenage years in particular.

One Sunday tells the story of her marriage, pregnancy and ... interspersed with flashbacks that show us how Alice got where she is. The story is told by Alice in the first person and in the present tense, which makes it feel like a stream-of-consciousness narrative, yet with an open and compelling voice with a high level of self-awareness and no sign of subterfuge or dishonesty.

There is an underlying humour and a sparseness of narrative that makes the less savoury parts of Alice’s personal history easy to read. Cecil doesn’t feel the need to bash the reader over the head with the gospel message, preferring a more subtle approach which is even more effective. Stormie Omartian says “I couldn’t put this book down”. I’m a bit jaded about celebrity endorsements, even in the Christian realm, but in this case, the celebrity is not overstating anything. One Sunday really is that good. Recommended.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carrie Gerlach Cecil at her website.

11 February 2013

Review: Right Where I Belong by Krista McGee

This is the third and final book in Krista McGee’s series for teenage girls (following First Date and Starring Me), and I’ve enjoyed all of them (even though I’m a more than a little out of the target age range). There are some references to the earlier books, but this is easily read as a stand-alone story.

The books are well-written, with interesting characters and a solid Christian message. The first two books were quite focused on the modern celebrity culture, but Right Where I Belong has more of a focus on day-to-day life, albeit in the cultural test-tube of an American Christian high school (which isn’t exactly representative of normal life for most of us, any more than reality TV is).

Right Where I Belong is loosely based on the biblical story of Ruth, which is immediately obvious when Natalia decides to go with her stepmother from Spain to Florida when her womanising father divorces Maureen to run off with a younger model. Maureen is bitter and depressed by the failure of her marriage, and is embarrassed to have to return to her home town, divorced and unemployed.

Natalia is thrilled to be going to a Christian school so she can learn more about her new faith, but is challenged in her personal resolution not to date, especially when she attracts the attention of the most popular boy in school—but she is more attracted by Brian, the pastor’s son…

A possible criticism is that Natalia is too perfect a character for teens to relate to, but (parent that I am) I prefer to see this as a positive role model for teenage girls to aspire to. And I know teenagers like this. It’s not an impossible ideal – working hard in school and trying to maintain purity in a fallen world is difficult, but it can be done.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Booksneeze® for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Krista McGee at her website.

8 February 2013

Review: Rosa's Land by Gilbert Morris

Twenty-year-old artist Lafayette Riordan, known as Faye, decides to leave New York and become a marshal in Indian territory after a failed love affair. The Amazon blurb then says, “When faced with the opportunity to realize his dream, can he summon the courage to hunt down the outlaws? Or will one headstrong female rancher capture his heart first?”. Well, this is Christian historical romance, so you can probably work out the answers yourself without actually reading the book.

I found Rosa's Land very hard to get in to, which was a surprise as I’ve never had a problem with other books from Gilbert Morris. The opening scene focused on Faye’s father and brothers, yet Faye is supposed to be the main character. Rosa, the titular character, didn’t even appear until one-quarter of the way through the book, and she didn’t meet Faye until a lot later. The writing style felt as though it was targeting young readers, not adults. I also thought there was too much back story and repetition (particularly in the first half), and there were a number of distracting continuity errors.

On the plus side, the second half of the book was much better than the first, because it was here that we finally got into the story, where Faye finally gets a chance to prove to himself that he is a man. And the spelling and grammar were excellent throughout.

If this were a first novel by a self-published author, I might find it easier to overlook consistency errors, distant point of view, repetition, telling-not-showing, all of which are symptoms of an old-fashioned writing style. After all, I’d reason, a new author is still learning the craft. If they have the basic foundations of plot and character, their writing will improve in time. But Gilbert Morris isn’t a new author, which is why I expected better. According to Wikipedia, he’s been publishing since 1984 and has close to 230 published novels to his credit, including forty in his House of Winslow series, and more than eighty youth novels.

Perhaps that’s just the problem: with an average of over eight books published each year, that’s six weeks to write each book, which is an impressive output for anyone, let alone a man in his eighties. It just doesn’t allow time for revising and editing, for making sure that the facts are correct and the story hangs together logically.

And, in Rosa's Land, it shows. One comment on his website describes his work as having ‘an old-fashioned flair’. Well, his writing style is certainly stuck in the 1990’s, but personally, I didn’t see the flair. It took too long to get into the story, and there was too much information given at the beginning that was not relevant at the end of the story (although this is the first book in the series, so it is possible that the red herrings are foreshadowing future books). I expected better.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Gilbert Morris at his website.

6 February 2013

ACRBA Review: The Greenfield Legacy

4 - 8 February, 2013

is introducing
(Even Before Publishing October 2012)
Rose Dee, Amanda Deed, Meredith Resce and Paula Vince
Available from Light the Dark With a contest which ends
14 February 2013.

About the Book:

Mattie was in love with Billy, but she was too young to wed. When Billy was conscripted to fight in Vietnam, they made a decision that affected their lives and their future. But so much pain resulted that Mattie never really healed. Every turn Mattie made affected her daughter and her granddaughter in ways she didn't even realise. But forty-six years later, is it time for things to be set right?

Navy is a young woman who has never known her family. But what could be a wonderful opportunity is met with jealousy and apprehension from her cousin Brooke and her aunt Connie, especially with handsome Aidan around. Each must look past their struggles and find forgiveness and trust and perhaps even love.

This absorbing family drama, set in South Australia's beautiful McLaren Vale wine region, is written by four of Australia's outstanding Christian fiction authors who have brought you best-selling and award-winning novels.

About the Authors

Left to Right: Rose, Meredith, Paula, Amanda.
Award winning Australian author, PAULA VINCE, loves to evoke tears and laughter through writing fiction. She has a passion to provide inspiring stories that highlight her own beautiful country. http://www.appleleafbooks.com
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. 'Beyond Resolution', and ‘A New Resolution’ are the second and third books in the 'Resolution' series. Rose resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband, young son, and mischievous pup, Noodle. http://rosedee.com
AMANDA DEED grew up in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne in a Christian home, and found faith at an early age. She has followed her passion to serve the Lord through music and literature since her teen years. Now married, with three children, Amanda enjoys the variety of being a mother, finance administrator, musician and historical romance writer. Her debut novel, The Game, won the 2010 CALEB Prize for fiction, and Ellenvale Gold was a finalist for the same prize in 2012.http://www.amandadeed.com.au
South Australian Author, MEREDITH RESCE, has been writing since 1991, and has had books in the Australian market since 1997. Following the Australian success of her “Heart of Green Valley” series, an English Publisher has taken the first three books in this series, and has released them to the British and American markets. ‘The Greenfield Legacy’ is her 15th novel published. Apart from writing, Meredith also takes the opportunity to speak to groups on issues relevant to relationships and emotional and spiritual growth. Meredith has also been co-writer and co-producer in the 2007 feature film production, “Twin Rivers”. With her husband, Nick, Meredith has worked in the ministry since 1983. Meredith and Nick have one daughter and two sons.

My Review:

Mattie’s life changed when her fiancé didn’t come back from Vietnam. She was forced to give up their baby daughter for adoption, and has never forgotten that despite her marriage to (and divorce from) Doug, the birth of her second daughter, Connie, and her successful management of the family vineyard, the Greenfield Estate. But now she has been contacted by the daughter she gave up.
Connie has always resented her mother for breaking up their family, but neither her husband, Dennis, nor her daughter, Brooke, understand her drive to succeed. When her mother calls and asks her to visit, she resists but goes at the insistence of Dennis and Brooke. But when Connie arrives, she finds more than she expected.
Brooke is currently studying fashion design, and it looks like this will be the fourth course she drops out of. She jumps at the chance to visit Grandma Mattie and the Greenfield Estate—and to reconnect with Aiden, the boy she left behind. But will their history be too much to get over?
Navy is Annette’s daughter, but hasn’t seen her mother since she abandoned their family years ago. Now Annette is ill and has asked to see Navy again, to reconnect with her daughter. When Navy arrives, she meets the grandmother she never knew she had—and a new aunt and cousin who are not pleased to meet her.
Four women, with four very different backgrounds, all related in some way to Annette, and all struggling to understand what those relationships mean. Will they be able to move past their issues to restore broken relationships and find love? The Greenfield Legacy is a fascinating mix of relationships and romance, with an underlying Christian message, and its’ share of humour.
At first I thought The Greenfield Legacy was going to be a four-in-one novella collection, but it isn’t. It’s a single novel, with each of the four points of view written by a well-known Australian Christian fiction author. I have to really congratulate them on how well the stories fit together – I was able to pick who wrote which bit (will you?), but if I hadn’t known, I would have thought it was all written by one person. Recommended.
Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free ebook for review, and for asking me to be one of the proofreaders.

4 February 2013

Review: I'm Too Young To Be This Old by Poppy Smith

I'm Too Young to Be This Old is aimed at older women who want to rediscover their purpose in God in mid-life. I think that I might be a little younger than the target age group for this book, because while some of it resonated, other parts were less relevant. Perhaps we all adjust to mid-life in different ways or perhaps I'm not quite there yet (please, let that be so!).

As with any good self-help book, each chapter of I'm Too Young to Be This Old finishes with a series of questions. Readers will no doubt benefit from looking up the related Bible verses and answering the questions honestly. But many readers, myself included, are still in denial regarding the possibility of aging, so happily disregard these opportunities for personal reflection.

There is a lot of useful information in I'm Too Young to Be This Old, including a potentially useful list of the symptoms of menopause, along with a suggestion that a woman suffering these symptoms should consult their doctor, as many symptoms can be managed and aren’t simply an inevitable sign of aging that can’t be helped.

While I'm Too Young to Be This Old is a good book for Christian women in this empty-nester age group, it is a reprint of the book originally published in 1997. It has been revised and updated, so it now suggests maintaining relationships with distant grandchildren via Skype, for example. However, other areas could have benefited from more revision. For example, the humorous discussion about cosmetic surgery completely ignores Botox. She also mentions the smoking section of an airplane. Was it that recently that people could smoke on planes?

Thanks to Harvest House and Netgalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Poppy Smith at her website.

1 February 2013

New Releases: February 2013

I will be reviewing these new releases in February:


Other new releases for February are below. What are you waiting to read?