31 July 2013

New Releases: August 2013

New releases I am planning to review this month include:

August is the middle of summer for the northern hemisphere, and that certainly shows - there are fewer new releases this month. Are there any new releases you are looking forward to?

29 July 2013

Indie Review: Pursued by Kristen Vayden

Abigail Wains is married with two small sons when her husband ups and leaves. As the story progresses, we realise Jack was very controlling and a long way from the perfect Christian husband he seems to think he is. Fortunately, Abby has family living close by and good friends to support her in her time of trial. I can’t really say anything more without giving away the plot, so I’ll just say Pursued is a sweet romance with a strong Christian message of forgiveness, respect and love.

Pursued was written entirely in the first person, from Abby’s viewpoint, which should have meant that we really got to experience everything with her. I certainly saw her anguish and struggle with feelings of unworthiness when Jack left, and I enjoyed her happy ending, but the middle bit was lacking. Despite what the blurb promised, I don’t feel I saw God at work inside her life. I saw the external changes, but the internal changes like her spiritual journey to forgiveness or her growing self-confidence didn’t come through for me, and this was a weakness. If I had seen it, it would have taken the story up a level.

I don’t think the cover really suits the story, and the text could have done with a bit more on the editing side (there were too many run-on sentences), but the story was strong enough to make up for those slight niggles, and I especially enjoyed some of the more comedic moments, like with Abby’s sister, Willow.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kristen Vayden at her website.

26 July 2013

Review: Raider's Vendetta by Karen Armpriester

Charley (a strong Christian woman) is the victim of a bank robbery gone wrong, and finds herself offering herself as a hostage to ensure the safety of the other victims. She forms a relationship of sorts with Raider (who she names based on the logo on the cap he wears). Charley allows Raider to take her as a hostage, at which point the book takes on more of a speculative nature, while still being grounded in the real world.

Charley is a great character. She’s older (her age isn’t given, but she’s had over thirty years of marriage, so must be around sixty). She’s a Christian with a strong personal faith, but one that has been challenged and grown through hardship—something Raider doesn’t understand, and he taunts her for her faith. But Charley’s not afraid to take it. She’s the antithesis of many heroines in Christian fiction—she’s got guts, has a wicked sense of humour, calls a spade a spade, and isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. I really liked her.

Raider has his own history, including the abusive Aunt Rose, who used to lock him in the vegetable box and make him pray for forgiveness. Aunt Rose is the primary reason why Raider doesn’t have any time for God, or for old ladies who pray. It’s quite easy to feel sympathy for Raider, and that’s important: few authors can write a convincing sympathetic villain.

Raider's Vendetta has a number of editing issues, including point of view violations, tense shifts, run on sentences, redundancy, thinker attributions, incorrect grammar and a relatively unsophisticated writing style. It has been proofread well, but would benefit from thorough copyediting. But the story was interesting enough that while I could see the editing problems, I was able to ignore them, and that doesn’t often happen.

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

24 July 2013

ARCBA Review: An Heiress at Heart by Jennifer Delamare

July 22 - 26
is Introducing
(Grand Central Publishing)
Jennifer Delamere
About the Author:
The youngest child of a Navy pilot and a journalist, Jennifer acquired a love of adventure and an excitement for learning that continues to this day. She’s lived in three countries and traveled throughout the United States. An avid reader of classics and historical fiction, she also enjoys biographies and histories, which she mines for the vivid details to bring to life the characters and places in her books. Her debut novel An Heiress at Heart was chosen by Grand Central Publishing to be the first inspirational romance for their Forever imprint. She resides with her husband in the southeastern United States--where, when not writing or dreaming up romantic adventures for her characters, she can be found fantasizing about her next ski trip or international vacation.

About the Book:
A youthful indiscretion has cost Lizzie Poole more than just her honor. After five years living in exile, she's finally returning home, but she's still living a secret life. Her best friend Ria's dying wish was for Lizzie to assume her identity, return to London, and make amends that Ria herself would never live to make. Bearing a striking resemblance to her friend, and harboring more secrets than ever before, Lizzie embarks on a journey that tempts her reckless heart once again . . .

A committed clergyman, Geoffrey Somerville's world is upended when he suddenly inherits the title of Lord Somerville. Now he's invited to every ball and sought after by the matchmaking mothers of London society. Yet the only woman to capture his heart is the one he cannot have: his brother's young widow, Ria. Duty demands he deny his feelings, but his heart longs for the mysterious beauty. With both their futures at stake, will Lizzie be able to keep up her fa├žade? Or will she find the strength to share her secret and put her faith in true love?

My Review

In 1846, Lizzie Poole and her brother, Tom, escape England for Australia. Lizzie is escaping an inappropriate romantic relationship, and Tom is escaping a murder charge, from duelling to defend his sister. In Australia they meet Edward Thornborough and his wife Ria—who is the spitting image of Lizzie.

Five years later, Lizzie Poole is back in London, masquerading as the widowed Victoria Thornborough, hoping to reconcile with Lady Thornborough, Ria’s grandmother on her behalf, and hoping to find the letters that will prove she is half-sister to Ria.

But Lizzie hasn’t counted on falling for Geoffrey, Lord Thornborough, Ria’s brother-in-law and a man Ria is forbidden by law to marry. If she were to reclaim her true identity as Lizzie, she would be free to develop a relationship with Geoffrey, except for her unfortunate history with Freddie Highfield—a history that Geoffrey, an ex-vicar and committed Christian, is unlikely to be able to forgive. Things get even more complicated when she is recognised as Lizzie Poole by a face from her past …

An Heiress at Heart was set mostly in Victorian London, and the author appears to have researched the time and location well, particularly around conveying the attitudes and manners of the time. I found both Geoffrey and Lizzie/Ria to be highly likeable characters, and spent most of the novel wondering how they were going to be able to overcome their (assumed) formal relationship. As it happens, I think the author managed this very well. There is also a twist at the end which sets the story up nicely for a sequel.

An Heiress at Heart has been nominated for the 2013 RITA Awards for Inspirational Fiction. Will it win? It’s hard to say. The other finalists include a variety of long and short historical and contemporary novels. I’ve only read one other finalist in the Inspirational category, a contemporary novel that is quite different in style but equally good.

While this is a Christian novel, the faith elements were understated and not at all preachy. Recommended for Regency Romance fans (even though this is Victorian), and fans of authors like Kaye Dacus. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jennifer Delamare at her website.

23 July 2013

Author Interview: Katya Cole

Today we have an interview with Katya Cole, author of Embracing My Father's Shadow: Beauty from the Ruins of Sexual Abuse, currently available at Amazon for $3.99 on Kindle, or $10.76 paperback.

Katya, thank you so much for joining us.

What prompted you to write Embracing My Father's Shadow?
I’ve found research on the topic of sexual abuse to be helpful and short accounts to be useful, but I think what I’ve needed more is to hear a woman’s story—the ups, the downs, the turns. I wanted to give other women what I didn’t have. There are few books that incorporate the devastation of sexual abuse, the support of research, the hope of encouraging moments, and the promise of God’s saving grace in one message. I wanted to share my testimony, emphasize that healing is a journey, and stress that God is the answer all in one.

What was the easiest thing about writing it? What was the hardest?
The writing itself came easy to me. At the age of twelve, I believe God had already placed it in my heart to write. I began writing about the night that changed my life. Out of shame, fear, and insecurity, I threw those initial pages away. But God retrieved them in a sense and brought them to me, making it clear to me that He wanted me to write. Many of those initial thoughts made their way into my book. The easiest part about writing it was being confident that God wanted it from me. Furthermore, I’d always loved writing and seemed to have a talent for it in school. That’s how I didn’t give up when things got tough.

I initially chose to publish my book through a Christian publisher. After reviewing the first three chapters of my manuscript, the publisher was rather hesitant. Ultimately, the publisher preferred not to have any discussion around some sensitive topics, namely sins that I struggled with and fought to overcome. Removing these pieces of my story felt fraudulent to me. I wanted to be honest about every part of my story, the good and the bad—that included the sin I brought to the table. No woman is ever to be blamed for her abuse, but we’re all sinners, and sinful reactions to ugly abuse are still sin (i.e. promiscuity, etc.). The most difficult part about writing was choosing to take the hard road and self-publish for the sake of my story and the message I wanted to deliver to readers.

One of your reviews on Amazon is from your mother. How did she find out about what happened? How did she react?
For this one, I decided to ask my mom. This was her response:

“I found out what happened to Katya by her telling me. Believe me; it took some time to get the 'details' out of her. Katya and I both knew that something happened but until she confided what actually took place I couldn't do anything. When the details came out, which was unbelievably difficult, we proceeded with going to the authorities. I knew I would do anything to support her at this point. There was only one choice, to prosecute. I wanted to send a message to Katya that I believed her and she was unbelievably brave for taking a stand.

As Katya could probably tell you this hit me pretty hard. My faith and confidence suffered the most. I love my kids more than anything and would do it all over again if I had to. Healing comes gradually, but it comes.”

In short, I’d say that my mother was devastated but more than determined to stick up for me. I am extremely grateful for that.

Your abuser was your father. How do you forgive that?

The ability to forgive comes only from God because He first forgives us. As a young child, God loved on me and helped me to see that He wouldn’t waste my pain. I forgave my father almost immediately, probably in part because I still loved my father very much. But forgiveness isn’t a one-time event! Forgiveness is iteration after iteration of releasing control. I’ve learned to define forgiveness as the act of letting go and placing all hope in God…over and over again. Have I raised a fist to the air in tears? Yes. Have I had to forgive more than once? Yes.

I’ve had to grieve that my father not only abused me, but also has made it difficult for me to see God as a father. With each of these realizations, I’ve needed to practice forgiveness.

I’ve also learned than any lack of forgiveness hurts me more than it hurts my father. By harboring un-forgiveness, I am not binding him; I am binding only myself. Finally, forgiveness is a way by which I help show the world that Jesus is real and Jesus forgives. Mark Twain has said, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Forgiveness is unnatural. The world knows this. So I can’t think of a better way to show the world that while I am in the world I am no longer of the world, that Christ lives in me.

What advice do you have for women - young or old - who have been through an experience like this?
Healing is a process. It isn’t a destination. However, I do believe there is a difference between being in complete debilitating bondage to one’s past and finding freedom in continuing on that healing trajectory. God has healed a great deal of me and my past, but I still deal with some of the effects. For example, my history with abuse presents different struggles in my marriage.

But do not be discouraged by the struggles you may still face! We have something to look forward to, a restoration that's coming. It's a restoration that will be made complete when you see him face to face.  "Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2). You can't expect to attain perfection in this lifetime, not that you shouldn't strive for it with all your might. There is great joy to be had on this ultimate healing trajectory.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I’m working on my next book, entitled Deathbed Beauty. Deathbed Beauty will share my stories of insecurity and take a look at what I like to call beauty insecurity. The book will be released on October 4, 2013. Below is an excerpt from the Introduction.

“The nature of sexual abuse is devastating. Sexually abused children are taught early on that their sexuality defines their worth. At the same time, what was done to them makes them feel dirty and disgusting. These children, me being one of them, are presented with a challenge that they seemingly cannot win. Sex, beauty, and a bombshell body bring worth, but dirt-covered bodies don’t. That’s quite the absurdity. It’s like clipping the wings of bird and then tossing off the edge of a cliff with the hope that it’s going to fly. She’s convinced she’s dirty and defiled, but she may also be determined to earn her importance through the only means she (or he) knows how.

To feel like the ugliest person on the planet and simultaneously be convinced that beauty and sex determine worth is without a doubt overwhelming and heart-breaking. This coming together of two very opposite poles—this performance-based paradox—is poison to her very soul.”

A big thank you to Katya Cole and her mom for answering my questions.

22 July 2013

Guest Review: Embracing My Father's Shadow by Katya Cole

This is a very special review: it's my first post by a guest reviewer. When Katya Cole approached me to review her memoir, Embracing My Father's Shadow: Beauty from the Ruins of Sexual Abuse, I wanted to say yes, because this is such an important subject. But I didn't want to have to read the book (yes, I'm a wimp). I asked members of an online writing group if anyone would be interested in reviewing it, and was delighted when Kay Marks agreed. As you will see from her biography (below), Kay is the perfect person to review Katya's memoir.

And tomorrow I have an additional post: an interview with Katya Cole.


I am honoured to be asked to write a review about this book as it reflects not only, in part some of my own journey, but also, it offers hope that with time there is healing.

Sexual abuse is evil in nature. It ruins innocence of children and robs them of soul life. It is insidious and the effects can take a lifetime to overcome. Secrets are not easily revealed and it takes courage to step out of the grasp of fear and shame.

Embracing My Father's Shadow gives poignant insight into Katya’s life of pornography, sexual abuse and secrets. She also reveals her search for healing and acknowledges the source of this as Jesus. It is a ‘no holds barred’ book which means that Katya is often brutally honest about her life and struggles both inner and outward.

The abuser in this case was her father. Can you imagine what that would be like? Or have you too had this experience? The person who is supposed to give love, nurture and offer guidance through life has not only betrayed you but has taken the very thing from you that matters most. Your innocence. You are robbed of everything that gives meaning to being female especially in relationships with men. Katya’s never-ending search for love is often found with other men who never satisfy the deep longing in her soul.

This book is not only about sexual abuse. It is a book about a young woman’s journey throughout her life to find meaning and resolve some very deep personal issues. It is a book that relates to Christian women who are also searching for their own truth in a world that often portrays women in a negative light.

As Christian women we can believe that we have it all together and life is perfect. Like Katya, if you choose to go beneath the masks we wear, you might find that this belief is a lie. There is more to find about our lives than you may have imagined. Katya challenges us to pursue this and look deeper into our lives so that we can truly find ourselves.

About Kay Marks

I am a Christian who has been happily married for 38 years and together my husband and I have three children and four grandchildren. I am also a Qualified and Professional Counsellor with my own counselling business called Unshackled. Personally speaking, I am also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and having walked this path I have known fear, rejection, hopelessness, insecurity and rebellion like they were familiar friends. However, I also know that there is freedom from these devastating and confusing emotions that seek to rob you of life.

My passion as a counsellor is to offer hope and encourage others in their journey. Becoming unshackled is a process that at times requires the assistance of a counsellor. I offer a non-judgemental and safe environment where empathy, respect and confidentiality are paramount.
I trained in Newcastle, Australia with the Australian Institute of Family Counselling where I attained my Advanced Diploma in Counselling and have been counselling for 10 years.  I also have my Certificate IV in Assessment & Workplace Training along with Child Protection Awareness and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

You can read my professional blogs at www.unshackled.com.au and my personal one is found at www.kaymarks.wordpress.com.
I hope I can be of assistance in your journey.


19 July 2013

Review: Bride for All Seasons (Novella Collection)

A Bride for All Seasons is a compilation of four novellas from well-known Christian authors of western romances. Each follows a mail-order bride in 1870, as she meets the man she has been introduced to through the Hitching Post Mail-Order Bride Catalogue. Things don’t go quite as planned, as each couple find out that Melvin Hitchcock has altered their letters…

And Then Came Spring by Margaret Brownley is the story of Mary-Jo Parker, who arrives in Kansas just as her betrothed is being buried, leaving behind an orphaned son in the care of her almost brother-in-law, the handsome and unmarried town Sheriff.

An Ever After Summer by Debra Clopton sees murdering Melvina Eldora Smith moving to Texas, in search of love and family, but finds herself married to Mathew McConnell who is still in love with his dead wife. I think this was the weakest story, possibly because Clopton usually writes contemporary romance.

Autumn’s Angel by Robin Lee Hatcher has Clay Birch seeking a bride with no children to help him open an Opera House in his small western town. He’s less than impressed when Luvena Abbott arrives with her orphaned nieces and nephew.

In Winter Wedding Bells by Mary Connealy, David Laramie’s doctor has told him he will die within months, so he is marrying Megan McBride to give his boys a mother and a home after he passes. Love wasn’t meant to be part of the marriage…

The stories were a pleasant, easy read, although each had a completely different setting and no characters in common except for reference to Mr Hitchcock. They are romance novellas, which means the ending is pretty predictable and there’s no space to introduce or resolve more than the central conflict: two seemingly-incompatible people joined in marriage through the machinations of a less-than-honest publisher of a mail-order bride catalogue.

It appears that the authors are planning another compilation, Four Weddings and a Kiss. If so, I hope they won’t be using The Hitching Post. While A Bride for All Seasons was an amusing collection, I found myself getting bored with the central plot device by the end. I wouldn’t be interested in reading more, even from authors such as these who I usually enjoy. I’d much rather read their full-length novels where I can see more character development and revisit favourite characters in later stories.

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

17 July 2013

ACRBA Blog Tour: All In2Night by Lynne Burgess

15 - 19 July

is Introducing

(Even Before Publishing March 2013)

Lynne Burgess

About the Author

Lynne and Chris have raised five children who are now adults. Lynne's practical experience comes from the quality time spent with her own children. She successfully implemented her All-In Night for over 16 years using simple yet productive activities that included the whole family. She now shares these ideas at speaking events and through her book.


About the book

All-In Night is a family routine. For one night of the week everyone stays home. By spending ten to twenty minutes together, you can learn and talk about the things that matter. Following on from Lynne's original book this set of new activities is designed especially with Christian families in mind. An activity or discussion point each week. The book includes 40 weeks of activities, designed as 1 per week of the school year. Activities include love languages, listening for God, self-esteem, the fruits of the spirit and many more. These fun and simple family activities provide an opportunity to grow values, goals, hopes, feelings and the foundation for a Christ led life. All-in Night works with two kids or ten. Let it become the heart of your family's life.

15 July 2013

Review: Dreamlander by KM Weiland

Chris Redston has dreams. Everyone dreams, but not everyone has dreams where a beautiful woman on a warhorse sits astride a warhorse and points a firearm at him. One night, Chris’s dream becomes real, and he finds himself in the land of Lael, given with a stone called the Orimere, and charged with protecting the lives of thousands.

Allara Katadin is the Searcher, the person in Lael with a mental connection with the Gifted, the one who can cross into Lael from our world in their dreams, the one who is called into Lael with a destiny to launch and end epochs. It’s a huge responsibility for both the Gifted and the Searcher, and the last Gifted, Harrison Garnett, turned traitor.

Every time Chris falls asleep he swaps worlds, between Lael and his normal life in Chicago. Yet is seems others know about the dual worlds, because all of a sudden normal Chicago life has got a lot more dangerous. Things are going wrong in both worlds, and it’s all Chris’s fault.

This was a complex plot, with a whole new world to understand, including the tradition of the Searcher and the Gifted, the politics, kindgoms and races of Lael, and the relationship between Chris and Allara. As a result it took a while to get into the story as a reader, but the effort was worth it and the author did an excellent job of introducing the information about Lael so as not to overwhelm the reader. The writing was very good, the plot tight and fast-paced, and Lael was populated with realistic and likeable characters.

Dreamlander was longer than most books I read, and while I enjoyed seeing Chris in Lael, I felt the Chicago scenes slowed down the action. It also seemed that Chris never got any sleep – his bodies did, but his mind was always active and continually had to switch between worlds. This didn’t quite ring true for me.

In terms of genre, Dreamlander is epic fantasy with a very slight steampunk feel, in that Lael has some steam technology not typically found in fantasy novels (at least not in my experience). It was a well-thought out world and one that was well-described without that description becoming overwhelming, and this was a real strength. Recommended for fantasy fans.

Thanks to KM Weiland and StoryCartel for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about KM Weiland at her website.

12 July 2013

Review: Anomoly by Krista McGee

Seventeen-year-old Thalli has been scheduled for annihilation. She is the Musician for her pod, her group of peers, and she feels emotions, something the post-apocalyptic society she lives in has attempted to remove through genetic engineering. Berk, her childhood friend, is now a Scientist and persuades his colleagues to save her for study. She is given a reprieve, but as the experiments start, she soon starts to wonder what is real and what is not. 

Krista McGee’s last three books were contemporary YA chick-lit romances, stories of young women finding God and finding love in the hot-house of reality television (so perhaps they were actually fantasy?). Anomaly is YA Christian sci-fi, which is both a dramatic departure from her earlier books, and a small but growing niche in Christian fiction. That was a surprise: not only that an author with a following in YA romance would move into such a different genre, but that she’d do it so well. This is good. Really good. Read-in-one-sitting good.

Anomaly has similarities to many other sci-fi classics I read as a teenager or as an adult (most of which I can’t remember the names of but The Giver, TV shows such as Jeramiah, and movies like Logan's Run do spring to mind). Anomaly paid homage to some of these classics with its post-apocalyptic emotionless society living deep in the mountains of Colorado, a society that assigns children into roles at birth and terminates those who don’t fit in. It has a definite Christian take on that future society, from John as the remnant to the concept of a Designer.

It wasn’t perfect: I do have some questions, like why a small science-driven society that genetically engineers people to serve a specific purpose saw the need for a Musician, and how John’s son has such different values and beliefs to those of his parents. But these are small niggles. The sequel (Luminary) is due out in January 2014, and I’ll be looking forward to it.

Recommended for those who enjoyed books like The Giver and The Hunger Games. Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Krista McGee at her website.

10 July 2013

Review: Fear Has A Name by Creston Mapes

Jack Crittendon’s family has been targeted. An unknown man breaks into their house but steals only some jewellery and a Bible. His wife is almost run off the road by an unknown assailant, and he is accused of possessing child pornography. At the same time, he is investigating the disappearance and possible suicide of a local pastor, Evan McDaniel, whose wife is convinced he is still alive, even though his colleagues appear equally convinced he isn’t. Jack slowly uncovers information that suggests things were not as they first appeared. What follows is a fast-paced action novel as Jack tries to protect his family and solve the mystery of the pastor’s disappearance.

I found Fear Has a Name difficult to get in to. There was a lot happening, and I didn’t find Pam Crittendon to be a compelling character. That might be a little unfair, as she’d just been the victim of a home invasion, so we were seeing her at her worst, but I found her difficult to like or even to empathise with. Jack wasn’t much better, because he seemed to be back and forth between the McDaniel investigation and his own family problems. It seemed that he was the only person investigating the pastor’s disappearance, and while the plotting was solid, it didn’t strike me as realistic that people would give all this information to a reporter rather than the police, and I felt there were times when the McDaniel subplot detracted from the main plot.

However, things improved dramatically around a quarter of the way when we began to get the point of view of the stalker. I’ve read advice to novelists that the antagonist should have a motive, something in his personal history that makes him act the way he does. I read too many novels where the author has taken this advice but it feels to me, as a reader, as though that history has just been tacked on the end and feels more like an excuse than a motivation.

Fear Has a Name was different. By giving us the point of view of the stalker, Mapes has managed to integrate his personal history and give me a real sense of compassion for him, to see him as a real person (albeit one with a difficult background and an inappropriate way of acting on his feelings). This is a real strength in his writing, as is his seamless integration of Christianity. This is Christian fiction, complete with sermons, prayers and a gospel message, but it manages to achieve all this without coming across as preachy.

Fear Has a Name is full of flawed characters who have something in their personal history that causes them to act the way they do, from the stalker to Evan McDaniel to Margaret, Pam’s neurotic mother. Once we see and understand the circumstances that made the people who they are, we are better able to relate and empathise with them, whether they are the ‘goodies’ or not. Recommended. Just not if you’re alone in the house.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Creston Mapes at his website.

8 July 2013

Review: Gone South by Meg Moseley

Tish makes an impuse decision to leave her home in Michigan and buy the old McComb house in Noble, Alabama, the house the original Leticia McComb lived in with her husband in the 1870’s. But she hasn’t bargained on being the town pariah the minute she arrives—it seems that her father’s telling of the family history has missed a few things out. And things get more difficult when she takes in the homeless Mel Hamilton, the town bad girl who has been kicked out by her parents. Tish soon meets George Zorbas, owner of the town antique store and a dog who believes she still lives at the McComb house.

There is a romance, but it’s slow and not the main focus of the story, which is the relationship between Tish and Meg, who both felt ostracised and alone in their growing-up years and are both now struggling to be accepted in a town that doesn’t want them (it seems that the idea of the ‘welcoming South’ only goes so far).

While Gone South is published by WaterBrook Multnomah, a Christian publisher, the story isn’t outwardly Christian. Meg and Tish pray occasionally, neither go to church (and the churchgoing townspeople could do with learning a little about the concept of Christian forgiveness). I usually like my Christian fiction to be a little more Christian, but this worked for me.

I liked the fact that the characters were real people with faults and worries (including financial worries). I liked the fact that the romance took a back seat to the other relationships: Tish and Meg, Meg and George, George and Stu. I especially liked the fact that although Gone South wasn’t overtly Christian, the underlying prodigal son theme was definitely Christian. Recommended.

Thanks to the WaterBrook Multnomah and Blogging for Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Meg Moseley at her website.

5 July 2013

Giveaway and Review: Mistaken by Karen Barnett

Laurie’s brother is involved in a local gang running illegal booze from Canada during Prohibition, and the new man in town, Daniel Shepherd is involved as well. Laurie hates the business the effect alcohol has had on her family, and the fact that all the men in her life seem to be controlled by it, one way or another. Yet she finds herself attracted to Daniel.

Things get complicated when another new face arrives in town: Samuel Brown, a handsome federal agent working to eliminate the illegal trade in alcohol, who is also interested in Laurie. Although her head says Samuel is the better choice, her feelings are conflicted, not least because of her brother’s involvement in rum-running.

We get a hint of one of the main plot conflicts in Mistaken’s subtitle: First Impressions Are Never What They Seem. Literary buffs may recall that the original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions, and there is something of the Lizzie Bennett in Laurie Burke (not merely the initials). Like Lizzie Bennett, Laurie is embarrassed by her family: in her case, by her alcoholic father. Her initial impressions of people are incorrect, and she makes other errors of character judgement in the same way as Lizzie did. I’ll let you figure out the other similarities yourself.

Mistaken is Karen Barnett’s debut novel, and it’s excellent. I find that a lot of Christian fiction, especially historical fiction, starts to get repetitive in the themes, plots, characters and settings. Mistaken is set in a small coastal town about twenty miles south of the Canadian border during the Prohibition era, and alcohol plays a major role in the story. It’s an original time setting, and an original plot, and I liked that.

And the author doesn’t shy away from the problems alcohol causes and the effect it has on family members. Her writing is more challenging than most Christian fiction, as Laurie has to negotiate some difficult moral choices with no black and white answer. The characters are real, facing problems in a world where the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do. And while this is Christian fiction and Laurie’s faith ultimately helps her in finding the answer to her conundrum, the Christian aspect is very understated. Recommended.

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

It’s time for a giveaway!

Abingdon Press are offering a signed copy of Mistaken for one lucky US reader. Leave a comment below to go in the draw, and check back next week when I’ll announce the winner. Please note that Abingdon can only mail to a US address – sorry, Aussies, Kiwis and others.

3 July 2013

ARCBA Review: No Substitute by Susan Diane Johnson

1 - 5 July
is introducing

No Substitute
( Pelican Book Group November 30, 2012)

Susan Diane Johnson
The Book Depository

About the Author
Susan Diane Johnson aka Suzie Johnson

I live on an island in Northwest Washington. A writer of Christian Fiction, my debut novel, No Substitute, is now available from Pelican Book Groups. During the day I work at my local hospital as a cancer registrar. During the evenings and on weekends, I write novels that I hope will bring joy and uplift the hearts of readers. I am married and have one grown son. I love to travel and see new places - especially by train. My favorite destinations are Victoria, B.C.; Williamsburg, Virginia; Disneyland; and Avila Beach in California. I love to read, write, go to baseball games, and ride roller coasters with my son. I am a member of American Christian Fiction Writers; Romance Writers of America; Faith, Hope and Love; National Cancer Registrars Association; and Washington State Tumor Registrars Association. You can find me on Inkwell Inspirations, a daily Christian Women's blog where I am a regular contributor. You can also find me on my personal blog, Suzie's Writing Place where I share my faith, my writing, and my love for books. I'm also onFacebook and Pinterest where I can explore my love of beautiful historical clothing, the South of France, beaches, and certain television shows.

About the Book:
Amy Welsh knew when she came back to the small Washington town of Goose Bay she'd eventually run into her high school sweetheart—the one who broke her heart seventeen years ago. Only Quentin Macmillan isn’t the boy she remembered. He could potentially be everything she's ever dreamed of. But remembering the past reminds Amy that she and Quentin aren't a pair of teenagers in the bloom of first love. Letting him into her life resurfaces all the hurt she's tried to ignore. Forgiveness isn't as simple—or easy—as it sounds, especially after Quentin and Amy discover his teenage daughter has been manipulating their feelings. If Amy can open her heart to healing, she’ll find the future God prepared for her.

My Review

Don’t you love it when the blurb gives away half the plot? I actually hadn’t read the blurb before reading the book, so I thought best part about the novel was trying to work out the motivation for Shayna’s actions, because they didn’t seem in character. When the big reveal came at the end, it was a surprise to me, and it explained Shayna’s actions nicely. But it won’t be a surprise to anyone who’s read the blurb.

Amy is thirty-four going on eighteen, and I’m wasn’t convinced she had the emotional distance to see Quentin as the man he is today rather than the boy he was seventeen years ago. One minute she’s determined never to trust a man or let Quentin anywhere near her heart, the next she's flirting, going on a date with him or kissing him (and not just a peck on the cheek). Even when she was convinced she was seeing the man, not the boy, I felt she was being led by her teenage emotional self, not her adult self.

But Amy wants to know why Quentin never turned up that last night, and it seems that every time they are about to have ‘the conversation’, they put it off (and those plans kept going awry). Why not just say it?

I was expecting a different reason, so No Substitute scores a plus for the element of surprise, but when the Big Reveal came, I wasn’t convinced. It didn’t seem logical. I didn’t find it realistic that a man who is supposed to be intelligent couldn’t come up with another solution. I understand that it was supposed to cement him in our minds as being noble and loyal, but it came across to me as controlling, because that is how I had seen him acting throughout the novel, particularly in relation to his daughter. He certainly wasn’t an example of Christian forgiveness in action.

On the plus side, the writing was good and the minor characters, Shayna and Brandon, were excellent—real teenagers who I could believe. Amy, Quentin and Shayna are all Christians, and I thought the spiritual aspects and the underlying theme of forgiveness were handled well, without being preachy. A solid debut novel with several layers and a nice mix of funny and serious.

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

1 July 2013

New Releases: July 2013

New releases for July include:

Jungle Fire will appeal to fans of Jeanette Windle, and Frame 232 looks especially interesting - it's a fictional look back at the assasination of JFK.