30 August 2013

Review: Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Andrea Sullivan may have sabotaged her career with that last potential client. Now, as punishment, she has to convince TV chef James MacDonald, owner of three Michelin-starred London restaurants, that her company is perfect to help him renovate and market the family hotel he has inherited on the Isle of Skye. She has just a few days, and her job is on the line.

There is an immediate attraction when Andrea and James meet, but Andrea wants nothing to do with men, and especially wants nothing to do with a client. James has his own problematic romantic history, not to mention an even more problematic relationship with his brother, who owns one-third of the hotel.

I found all the characters to be intelligent and likeable, and I was especially impressed by the research. I’ve not been to Skye but I’ve lived in London and visited Scotland, and Five Days in Skye made me feel I was there. I had to laugh Andrea’s reaction to James calling her ‘love’. It’s a common term, particularly in the hospitality industry. Right, love?

This is a Christian novel, but the Christian element is somewhat understated. Both Andrea and James come from rural backgrounds where the Christian faith was an integral part of the family. But both have abandoned that faith, yet realise on Skye that perhaps they need to pursue God once more.

Five Days in Skye has it all: an excellent opening, a funny first meeting between Andrea and James, intelligent lead characters who are both successes in their chosen careers, excellent attention to detail, and the Isle of Skye, a beautiful and unique setting. And the last line is a beautiful illustration of the eternal romance between us and God. Recommended for romance lovers.

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

28 August 2013

Review: Mason Wilson and the Dead Bird Debacle by M P Jones

It’s the end of term, and Mason Wilson has been assigned an unusual homework project for the holidays: research a conspiracy theory. Normally he’d just leave it until the last minute then cobble something together from Wikipedia, but this project is different: his teacher will submit the best project to the competition being run by a national newspaper—a competition which has a GBP 20,000 prize, a prize his family needs.

Mason knows that to win the prize he’s going to have to do something special, so he starts researching. Two ideas catch his attention: why do you never see dead birds, and what is the secret ingredient in Coola Cola? He decides that might be too difficult to find out, and when he sees a strange cat in the neighbourhood with a bird in its’ mouth, he decides to follow it …

There were quite a few English jokes that foreigners (or children) might not get, such as Clifford Machs, the public relations guru. I enjoyed the writing style and the characters, there was just the right amount of humour, the plot was well thought through, and the story had a clear Christian message without being preachy.

Children, especially boys, will be intrigued by the mystery of where dead birds go, the idea of the secret ingredient in Coola Cola … and the slightly disturbing way in which the two come together. Mason Wilson & The Dead Bird Debacle has echoes of Roald Dahl and new children’s fiction such as Diary of A Wimpy Kid. It’s enjoyable Christian fiction for 8-12 year olds who enjoy the slightly quirky nature of an English setting.

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

26 August 2013

Review: Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

Doon is apparently based on the well-known musical, Brigadoon, which is so well-known that I’ve never heard of it. Maybe it’s well-known to Americans and Gleeks. I decided not to read the Wikipedia plot summary and to let Doon tell its own story, although that turned out not to matter: Doon bears little resemblance to the musical.

BFFs Veronica and McKenna have travelled to Scotland for a summer vacation following their high school graduation. Veronica keeps having visions of a blonde hottie (her word) in a kilt who introduces himself as Jamie (why are fictional Scots always called Jamie?).

The girls find two rings which transport them to the magical village of Brigadoon, which normally appears for only one day every hundred years. But they arrive two weeks before the bridge is supposed to open, so are imprisoned as witches—by Prince Jamie, the boy in Veronica’s vision. Veronica is confused, as Jamie doesn’t appear to recognise her, and virtually ignores her. McKenna, on the other hand, befriends Duncan, Jamie’s handsome younger brother. They must stay in the village until the bridge opens in two weeks—if they can survive that long.

I’m not sure what Americans find so attractive about Scotsmen. I have bad news: they don’t actually wear kilts any more. And maybe I’m a little too married, but I never noticed any ‘hotties’ on any of my visits (although that could be because everyone was bundled in layers of clothing. Even in summer). Nor did I notice any native Scots who could be described as ‘bronzed’ (not that I could see under their jeans and hoodies). I guess Doon’s bronzed hotties in kilts prove Brigadoon is a magical place.

Doon is told in the first person from the alternating points of view of Veronica and McKenna. First person present tense is pretty normal for YA, but it does rely on having a likeable narrator (and most have a single narrator). Veronica was the main narrator, and I found her much more likeable than McKenna (Sacred Stephen Schwartz!), whose narrative contained constant references to Broadway musicals and current pop culture. It got old fast, and will date almost as quickly.

Parts of the story felt contrived, particularly the final showdown (which, in hindsight, is symbolic of Jesus’s death on the cross for our sins, the final battle of Armageddon, and our ultimate destiny as His bride. If anything, this makes it worse. Making teens figure out the symbolism underlying a piece of writing should be a crime, especially when that writing is supposed to be entertainment).

I initially thought these aspects might have been parts of the plot of the original musical that just hadn’t translated well to 2013, but no. It felt as though the authors had written themselves into a corner, so they invented some new magic to get them out (at least JK Rowling had the skill and foresight to foreshadow her miracle magic. In Doon, it just appears). This shows a lack of concern for world-building (or perhaps a lack of understanding of the importance of good world-building in fantasy).

There are a number of other weaknesses in the writing, like redundancy, repetition, telling rather than showing (particularly with the pages of history of Brigadoon), and insufficient difference between the voices of the two main characters (I kept having to flip back to see who was the current viewpoint character). It’s also annoying (and atypical of YA) that the first half of the book is largely driven by narrative rather than dialogue and action. It drags. However, bad writing hasn’t stopped either Twilight or Fifty Shades from selling stratospheric quantities …

Doon has attracted a lot of attention: it’s the first book in Zondervan’s new crossover Young Adult line, Blink. Will Doon reach secular YA readers? I don’t think so. It’s not edgy enough. What about Christian teens? Will they enjoy Doon? If they’ve been raised on a steady diet of bonnet fiction and Amish romance, then Doon will seem fresh and edgy. But I’m not sure if they’ll get to read it. Those parents who wouldn’t let their children read Harry Potter or Twilight would be advised to avoid Doon for similar reasons.

Yes, there’s no sex in Doon. There’s no sexual abuse, no teen pregnancy scares, no drug-taking, and the only drinking is legal. But there is more to being a Christian than that. There’s stuff like being ‘in the world but not of the world”. And having a personal faith in Jesus. Neither Veronica nor McKenna has any personal faith in anything but themselves, and the Doon villagers sing praises to the Protector, the one who cast the enchantment on the village. It’s implied they are praising God, but it’s not clear. The Protector who can cast stronger spells than the witch could be any witch, wizard or warlock.

"Young Adult fiction isn’t about selling books to teenagers. It’s about writing books that speak to them. And speaking to them means talking about their problems."

I wanted to like Doon. I wanted it to breach the gap between saccharine Christian bonnet novels and edgy YA while still retaining a sense of a Christian world view. It has a fabulous cover. I liked most of the characters; I liked the story well enough. But I didn’t love it. It is let down by the writing, and it didn’t meet my hopes and expectations of what a YA novel should be, let alone a crossover novel. Doon is trying to sell to teens, not speak to them.

Thanks to Blink (Zondervan) and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon at their blog

23 August 2013

Review: The End of Sex by Donna Freitas

The full title is The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy. I read this partly as a warning (I’ve got a teenage daughter), and partly as research (what do young adults really think?). Note that The End of Sex isn’t written from a Christian perspective, and some of the content is pretty edgy.

The End of Sex is based on a survey of 2,500 undergraduate students at seven US colleges, undertaken in 2006, including public, private, Catholic and conservative evangelical Christian colleges. She notes that sexual behaviour is similar at most schools, with the exception being a ‘purity culture’ prevalent at the conservative Christian colleges. As well as the paper survey, the author also undertook personal interviews with several hundred students to provide more in-depth information. The author is unjudgemental in her approach to teens and sex, which was apreciated.

The first thing I learned that was hook-ups are not exclusively sexual. They can be anything from kissing to full sexual intercourse. It seems the key is that it’s a game: the social contract of the hookup is that it is temporary and physical, with no emotional connection and no intention to form any kind of relationship (although the author points out that often backfires when one partner—usually the woman—wants something more). Safe sex, in this context, is when one can walk away without an emotional attachment.

There is also a disturbing view that virginity is an unfortunate barrier to get over as quickly as possible (despite her finding that 21% of college seniors were still virgins—a later section categorised abstinence as Replication, which has the unfortunate implication that no true Democrat would be a virgin). What was sad was the view that virginity was not socially acceptable, and the implication that peer pressure is a major factor driving sexual behaviour. There was also a discussion about ‘technical virginity’, which almost contradicted the discussion on losing virginity. It was interesting to note that many of the students (male and female) claimed to dislike the hookup culture, despite actively participating.

These statistics seem to say either that college students are constantly acting against their own personal beliefs or they are lying about their attitudes and actions. I’m not sure which is more disturbing. Are we raising a generation who are too afraid of peer pressure to act on their beliefs (which doesn’t bode well for their ethics in the workplace). Or are we raising a generation that have no beliefs? There is also a discussion around the virtual absence of dating on many college campuses, and the corresponding lack of relationship skills among students. It struck me that romance is the top-selling fiction genre, yet romance novels are about developing relationships through dating: the very opposite of the hookup culture. I’d be interested in knowing what these college students are reading!

There some issues with The End of Sex. A study of 2,500 students undertaken seven years ago may or may not be representative of the problems. The End of Sex says Christian colleges have a ‘purity’ culture, but then ignores these colleges in the commentary. And it doesn’t address what happens when people graduate from college: do they continue to hook up, or do they learn to develop meaningful romantic relationships?

Who would I recommend The End of Sex to? I honestly think it’s going to tell a lot of people what they already know: college students spend a lot of time at parties, a lot of time having sex, and are losing the concept of relationship as a result. It’s also very American and focuses on those living on campus: those students who live at home during college may have a different experience.

But there are two groups I would recommend The End of Sex to: American who are considering what college to send their kids to (the commentary certainly explains the popularity of Christian colleges among conservative evangelicals), and anyone who feels they need a better understanding of youth culture. The End of Sex certainly provides that.

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

21 August 2013

Review: Why Leadership Sucks by Miles Smith

There are a lot of leadership books out there, a lot of them airport books. You know the kind: you get through check-in, go through security, and there’s a bookshop. It's selling the liquids you couldn’t bring through security, and some light reading for the flight: magazines, some popular fiction, a few children’s books and some grown-up looking books on business. Some of them are by recognised management gurus; others aren’t. Some were rushed through the press in the wake of the latest Enron; others were rewritten to remove all praise for Enron. Most take a top-down approach to leadership.

Smith is one of the few writers I’ve come across who looks at leadership from a servant perspective, a Christian perspective. That’s not to say that the leadership gurus who write airport books aren’t Christian: some of them are, and their ideas often reflect that. But it’s not front-and-centre in the way that Smith’s book is.

He makes a point, then provides a challenge to action that point: it’s like show-don’t-tell in novels. We need leaders who will guide us with less talk and more action. I liked that. Smith is well-read in classic and popular management texts and quotes from a number of well-known managers and leaders, and provides a reading list at the end (including Servant Leadership by Robert K. Greenleaf).

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power
- Abraham Lincoln

I particularly liked his advice on naming your business (“unless you are a personality or public figure, name your business something other than your name”—or, as my bank manager said, use your business name to say what you do not who you are). He also has a list of commonly misspelled idioms, which is O for Awesome (sorry - that's a Kiwi joke).

There was one problem with Why Leadership Sucks: Fundamentals of Level 5 Leadership and Servant Leadership: over-long paragraphs. Many were over a page long on my Kindle, and more paragraphs breaks would help readability. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Miles Anthony Smith at his website.

19 August 2013

Review: The S Factor Diet by Lowri Turner

Lowri Turner, UK TV presenter-turned author, nutritionist and diet expert, has developed The S Factor Diet based on some of the latest scientific research. The idea is that we can change our diets to include more of the foods that make us happier and healthier, and this will help us lose weight. Yes, I could do with losing a bit of weight (and not finding it again), so I liked the concept.

The first section of the book contains an explanation of the effects of four key hormones—serotonin, leptin, dopamine and the adrenals—and a list of foods to eat to boost each hormone. There was also a series of questionnaires to help readers decide which hormone/s they are low in.

The S Factor Diet then moves on to specific meal plans and recipes for the three phases of the diet: fast fat attack, steady weight loss and maintenance, with a different version of the diet and different recipes for each hormone focus area. This, for me, is where the concept falls down.

Many of the recipes are family meals because “dieters are more successful when they can prepare the same meal for everyone”. First, this seems to contradict the idea of focusing on your specific S Factor diet requirements, as mine may not be the same as those of the rest of the family (my husband and I have very different eating preferences, and I’m sure we wouldn’t have the same hormone needs).

And while I don’t feel my family are especially fussy eaters (teenage daughter excepted), there are very few recipes they would all like. No, Lowri. Not everyone likes Chicken Tikka Masala. But what really got me was the preparation and cooking time: one of the breakfast recipes took takes two hours to prepare and cook. I don’t think so …

My final issue was with the maintenance section of the diet. Turner says to aim for 1500-2500 calories per day, but doesn’t give any guidance as to how an individual (me) should determine an appropriate daily calorie intake. This is important: if someone who has a daily calorie requirement of 1500 calories per day eats 2500, they will gain around 1 kg per week.

There were also some issues around formatting, which made some of the recipes impossible to read in my Kindle review copy – I hope the final copy is better. Overall, while I liked the concept, the eating plan and recipes don’t fit my family. I will adopt some of the principles of eating more of my ‘happy’ foods and see if that has an effect.

Thanks to Watkins Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

16 August 2013

Review: Expresso Your Faith by Rhonda Rhea

The author is apparently a well-known radio personality. Well, her personality shines in this book of coffee-themed devotionals. She comes across as intelligent and witty, and I found her musings on her coffee addiction to be eerily familiar.

Espresso Your Faith is a 30-day devotional. Each starts with some musings on coffee and life, then segues into a discussion of some aspect of Christianity and finishes with a short Bible reading. The writing is solid and the author has a definite voice (I imagine if I’d ever heard her on the radio that I’d easily be able to imagine her reading these devotions).

But it just didn’t work for me. I found some of the remarks overly flippant, and while the introductions were enjoyable enough, I found some of them didn’t ring true: the link between the coffee bit and the Christian bit felt strained, as though she was trying too hard. And the devotional section was hard to read - more paragraphing and white space would have helped (no paragraph should be more than a page long, even on a Kindle).

Some of the devotion titles sounded inane and had me wondering if they were typos (e.g. “Alert to a Connection with the Church —Will the Doughnut Be Unbroken?”), and while I enjoyed the froth, I found the meat (coffee?) hard to get in to. Things improved later, but the style was just not my cup of tea. Or coffee.

Thanks to the New Hope and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rhonda Rhea at her website.

14 August 2013

Review: Leading the Way Through Galatians by Michael Youssef

Dr Michael Youssef takes us through the book of Galatians a chapter at a time, discussing in detail what Paul is saying to the Galatian church, then applying that to the church today. His criticisms are generally aimed at the American church, but it’s not just America that is suffering from moral decline and an excess of greed. 

I like his style. The writing is easy to read and accessible – Michael Youssef might have a PhD, but you don’t need one to read it (unlike some Christian non-fiction books I have attempted to read). And he doesn’t confine himself to Galatians, but quotes from other books of the Bible to reinforce the key messages.

There is a lot of sense and wisdom in here, and I particularly like his approach to Christian self-help books: you don’t need them. Instead, he calls us to invest in a stronger faith by going deeper into God’s word, the Bible, and to be on our guard against anyone who preaches a gospel other than salvation through Jesus.

Michael Youssef has written three other books: Leading the Way Through Joshua, Daniel
and Ephesians. If Leading the Way Through Galatians is typical of his writing, I’d recommend any of them.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Michael Youssef at his website.

12 August 2013

Review and Giveaway: Carolina Reckoning by Lisa Carter

Alison Monaghan has just found proof of her husband’s infidelity. She hasn’t loved him for a long time, and this is the end. But instead of confronting the controlling fault-finder, she is awakened to the news Frank has been murdered, leaving her an almost-destitute widow with two teenage children.

Detective Sergeant Mike Barefoot is in charge of the murder investigation, but finds himself more interested in the beautiful widow and her growing Christian faith, a faith he rejected years ago. He finds himself competing for her affections with a mature Christian—and protecting her from an unknown threat.

While I found the book easy to get in to, I did feel it was let down by the writing. Too many characters were introduced in too short a time, and it seemed most of them had red hair. It was difficult to keep them all straight—a particular problem in a mystery, where one of the characters is likely to be the murderer (and others may well be additional victims). And Alison suffered from TSTL syndrome (too stupid to live). I know conflict is the essence of good fiction, but when the 911 operator says stay outside away from the intruder, why did she have to go inside?

I’m not convinced Carolina Reckoning knew what it was doing. At first it seemed to be a mystery, with a dead body and a cast of interesting characters, many of whom were hiding secrets. But at times it seemed to be more of a romantic suspense, as it didn’t follow some of the conventions of the mystery genre and the love triangle seemed to take on more importance than the underlying mystery.

The Christian aspect of the novel was strong and generally well-presented. Frank’s murder challenged several characters to reconsider their faith. A solid debut in Christian mystery, an under-represented genre.

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


Abingdon Press have kindly offered a free paperback copy of Carolina Reckoning for one of my blog readers. The only catch is they can only post to US addresses. So, if you live in the US, leave a comment below with a contact email address before midnight on 18 August to be in with a chance to win. I can't accept entries without a contact email address because otherwise I have no way to contact the winner (which is what happened with my last giveaway).

9 August 2013

Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Drew Fathering has returned home to the family estate in Hampshire, England, and finds his mother and stepfather are hosting a house party, and the ‘odious David Lincoln’ has been given his room. But other guests are more pleasant, particularly Miss Madeline Parker, his stepfather’s attractive American niece. Drew finds he and Madeline share a common interest in reading detective stories: Drew’s current favourite author is Ronald Knox, a Roman Catholic priest who postulated Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction (hence the book's title, Rules of Murder).

So, this is a murder mystery, and the party gives Deering a good opportunity to introduce the reader to the house guests, and to the victim. Someone dies (that’s not a spoiler. It’s a murder mystery. Someone has to die – see the above commandments), and Drew attempts to solve the murder with the help of Madeline, and his good friend, Nick Dennison (son of the Fathering Place butler).

The writing was solid, and I particularly liked the occasional injection of dry humour, as in this conversation between the Fathering Place gardener and the police detective, discussing what the gardener might have seen while pruning the roses:

“And did you see anything during that time?”
“I seen some of them has aphids.”
“I mean anything unusual,” Birdsong pressed.
“That is unusual for my roses.”

It’s been years since I read a Miss Marple novel or even one of Georgette Heyer’s contemporary detective stories (contemporary in that they were set in the 1930’s, when they were written). Rules of Murder is Christian fiction, so part of the story is Drew’s faith journey as well as his desire to solve the mystery.

The author has a strong voice and makes good use of vocabulary and word order to indicate the working class accent, and has a good grip on the vocabulary of the time (although I still noticed a couple of Americanisms, like a quarter after eight and inviting most everyone). But Julianna Deering has captured the essence of the genre, and I’ll look forward to reading more of the Drew Fathering Mysteries.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. Julianna Deering is the pen name of multi-published author DeAnna Julie Dodson. You can find out more about Julianna Deering at her website.

7 August 2013

ACRBA Review: Captured by Moonlight by Christine Lindsay

5 - 9 August
is introducing
(WhiteFire Publishing May 15, 2013)
About the Author:
Christine Lindsay writes historical inspirational novels with strong love stories, and she takes pride in her Irish roots. Her great grandfather and grandfather worked as riveters in the Belfast shipyard, one of those ships her ancestors helped build was the Titanic. On her mother’s side it was stories of ancestors who served in the British Cavalry in India that seeded Christine’s long-time fascination with the British Raj and became the stimulus for her Twilight of the British Raj series.

The Pacific coast of Canada, about 200 miles north of Seattle, is Christine’s home where she lives with her husband, David, and they enjoy the visits from their adult children and grandchildren. Like a lot of authors, Christine’s chief editor is her cat.
About the Book
Prisoners to their own broken dreams…

After a daring rescue goes awry, the parched north of India grows too hot for nurse Laine Harkness and her friend Eshana. The women flee to the tropical south…and run headlong into their respective pasts.

Laine takes a new nursing position at a plantation in the jungle, only to discover that her former fiancĂ© is the owner…and that Adam has no more to say to her now than he did when he crushed her years ago. Why, then, is she still drawn to him, and to the tiger cub he is raising?

Eshana, captured by her traditional uncle and forced once more into the harsh Hindu customs of mourning, doubts whether freedom will ever again be in her future, much less the forbidden love that had begun to whisper to her. Is faith enough to live on? Or is her Savior calling her home?

Amid cyclones and epidemics, clashing faiths and consequences of the war, will the love of the True Master give hope to these searching hearts?

My Review
It is 1921, and Laine Harkness is an Army nurse stationed in Amritsar, India, where she works at the Queen Alexandra hospital and assists at the a local Christian mission. Laine assists Eshana to rescue a 14-year-old temple prostitute who is unlikely to survive labour without professional medical care. They save the girl, with the assistance of the handsome Dr Jai Kaur, but the women have been identified and the mob is out for vengeance to those who dare to disrespect Hindi beliefs.

The women flee: Eshana takes their recovering patient to the Ramabai Mukti Mission in Madras. Here she comes face to face with her past, in the form of the uncle who abandoned her in an ashram as a grieving 13-year-old widow. Laine is assigned to a remote medical outpost where she is reintroduced to Adam Brand, who forbids her from visiting his estate and refuses to give any explanation for the letter he wrote breaking their engagement.

One ongoing thread through Captured by Moonlight is Laine’s lack of faith. It’s not made clear why an English woman with no personal faith would assist at a Christian mission run by and for Hindi child widows. The question of Laine’s faith is, in my opinion, never satisfactorily resolved, and I also wasn't convinced by her relationship with Adam. This is a weakness made even more obvious by the strength of the Eshana/Jai relationship.

The other weakness was minor, and had to do with the editing. At first I was impressed by the use of vocabulary and word order to show the different accents of the English, Indian and American characters. Then I realised there were no American characters, despite the use of Americanisms such as ‘gotten’. Oops (but the Indian characters were still well-portrayed, in both speech and deed). There were also a small number of irritating typos and homonym errors.

Apart from that, the research and writing in Captured by Moonlight was excellent. The author managed to give a real sense of time and place with only a few well-chosen words. I could easily believe I had been transported to 1920’s India, and was especially impressed the way contemporary events (such as Ghandi’s peaceful protests) were woven into the conversations between the characters.

Captured by Moonlight has everything: a unique plot, an exotic location, two heroines from two very different backgrounds and cultures, and a hero with a secret, and a second hero who must abandon everything he holds dear in order to win the woman he loves. Recommended for those who want something a little different from the standard American Christian romance.

Thanks to the author and ACRBA for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Christine Lindsay at her website.

5 August 2013

Review: Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Mollie Knox is the owner of the 57th Illinois Watch Company, designers and manufacturers of exclusive hand-made watches Hartman’s, the elite Chicago department store. Zack Kazmarek is the son of Polish immigrants who has risen to be the lawyer for Hartman’s. He meets Mollie every three months to approve her designs and he has fallen hard for her unique combination of passion and business sense.

Mollie is suspicious when Zack presents an offer from Hartman to purchase her business outright, especially as the offer price is more than she thinks the business is worth. She doesn’t trust Zack, so wonders what he knows that she doesn’t, because he has a reputation for not always operating within the black and white of the law. Frank Spencer, her company lawyer and a second father to her, is especially distrustful of Zack.

Into the Whirlwind kicks straight in to the action, showing Mollie and Zack trying to escape the fire, before taking us back six days to the morning where Zack presents his offer. We are introduced to some of the employees of the 57th, named for the regiment Mollie’s father fought for in the war—the small business employs fifteen veterans from the 57th, all disabled in one way or another, and all who rely on Mollie for a livelihood.

After the fire, Mollie is struggling to re-establish the business when help arrives from General Richard Lowe, the handsome commander of the 57th, who held the company together during their most difficult battle. Neither Richard nor Zack make any secret of their feelings towards Mollie. Two very different men—who will she choose?

Mollie, Richard and Zack were all likeable characters, backed up by a strong cast of supporting characters, especially Zack’s mother and some of the employees of the 57th. The plot was excellent—very fast-paced, with a high level of tension in the scenes between Mollie and the two very different me, but particularly in the scenes during the fire. While it is Christian fiction, the faith elements were very low-key, and I think anyone who enjoys historical romance with a high level of drama would enjoy Into the Whirlwind. One of the best books I’ve read this year—recommended.

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

2 August 2013

Review: Whispers from the Shadows by Roseanna M White

Gwyneth Fairchild has been sent by her father, Isaac, to stay with his old friends from America, Winter and Bennet Lane. Never mind that it’s 1814 and England is at war with America, and never mind that she doesn’t want to go. As she is leaving, she is intercepted with a marriage proposal from the handsome Sir Arthur, but when she goes back inside to speak to her father, she unwittingly witnesses his murder at the hands of her Uncle Gates, so she knows she must leave, immediately, before her uncle realises what she has seen.

She suffers from dreadful seasickness on the voyage, and doesn’t improve even after arriving at the Baltimore home of Thaddeus Lane, son of Winter and Bennet. But they are determined to care for her, even without knowing why she is so afraid. When they find out, they are even more determined to protect her, especially Thad, who finds himself falling for the beautiful artist.

I didn’t enjoy Whispers from the Shadows as much as Ring of Secrets or Fairchild's Lady (a novella), because the focus was more on the relationship and the suspense around Gates and Sir Arthur, rather than on the activities of the Culper Ring, which were much more a focus of Ring of Secrets. This could be because it was rather slow to get going. Gwyneth sees her father murdered, falls to pieces mentally, and doesn’t really recover until almost the halfway point. Yet Thad falls for her almost immediately, despite the fact that she’s just not herself.

And Thad is hiding his own secrets. He’s been married before, but no one talks about it, which seems very strange. We realise why when there is a huge argument at the halfway point, and it’s at this point that Whispers from the Shadows really starts to get going and pile on the suspense. Danger is coming, both from the inevitable war with the British, and from Uncle Gates. The second half of the novel is excellent, as is the unexpected finish, and I was impressed by the historical research and the way the historical events make the war between the North and the South inevitable.

Although this is part of a series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel—the parts of the story that are confusing in the first half are confusing even to me, and I've read the previous books—and the questions are answered in the second half. I will look forward to the next in the series, but I hope it returns to more of a focus on the Culpers, and maintains the pace all the way through.

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