30 September 2013

Review: Dangerous Passage by Lisa Harris

Exciting Romantic Suspense - 5 Stars

Atlanta Detective Avery North has just been called in from her day off to investigate a murder. The victim was a young Asian female with a magnolia tattoo, similar to a recent unsolved crime, and Avery is motivated to solve this murder before another girl suffers the same fate.

She is assisted by her partner, Mitch, and by Jackson Bryant, the associate medical examiner for the force. Avery and Jackson have recently started dating— he’s the first man she’s had more than one date with since her husband died three years ago, leaving her with a daughter. Avery also has family issues. Her father has recently retired from the police force, her brother was murdered on the job four months earlier, and his killer is still at large. She struggles to balance the competing demands of God, family, a full-time job and now dating, and this felt very real.

Dangerous Passage is the first book in the new Southern Crimes series, and I’ll certainly be keen to read more in the series. It’s got everything I look for in Christian romantic suspense: intelligent and likeable yet imperfect characters, a strong plot with plenty of suspense and a developing romantic subplot, good writing, and an underlying Christian theme. It’s dealing with some big issues—modern slavery—but manages to do it without getting too graphic. Recommended.

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

27 September 2013

Review: Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

A Christian Classic: Recommended

I discovered the music of Rich Mullins on Christian radio in the early 1990’s through a song called Allrightokuhuhamen. In 1993 he released an album called A Liturgy, A Legacy and A Ragamuffin Band. I’ve only now, twenty years later, understood the reference: to The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, by Brennan Manning, first published in 1990.

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Manning speaks of God’s amazing grace, of how God loves us based on His standards not our own, about how Christianity is a grace-laden mystery. Manning’s theme is that we underestimate grace, we fail to understand that God loves us no matter what. It’s The Ragamuffin Gospel, “written for the bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out”, for those who are weary and discouraged.

Manning’s message hasn’t been universally accepted. Many churches preach what has been called a “Jesus-Plus” gospel: to be a proper Christian, you have to have Jesus and tithe your 10%. To be a proper Christian, you have to have Jesus and attend church three nights a week and twice on Sunday. To be a proper Christian, you have to have Jesus and pray for an hour a day. This is wrong.

This is a church that preaches the grace of Jesus but doesn’t always practice it, and it’s bringing Christians under condemnation for never being good enough. That’s what Manning is saying: we will never be good enough on our own, but we are all good enough in Jesus. All we need is to accept God’s grace. It’s not that tithing, attending church or praying are bad—they’re not—but they don’t affect our salvation. God loves us unconditionally, and can’t love us any more or any less.

And that’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. Jesus, and his grace extended to me and you. It’s not what you do; it’s Who you know. Recommended.

Thanks to Blogging for Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Brennan Manning at his website.

25 September 2013

ACRBA Review: Streets on a Map by Dale Harcombe

23 - 27 September
(Ark House Press December 2010)
Dale Harcombe

About the Book
Every choice carries a price as Abby discovers when she marries Joel. If she had known when Joel first walked into Clancy’s what lay in store, she would have stopped the relationship before it got started. However, by the time she found out it was too late. The choice was made. Or so she thought.

But then between her and her one friend in Astley, Laila, they arrive at solution that could benefit Abby and the small county town. A deliberately lit fire and an unplanned pregnancy threaten to bring their carefully laid plans and Abby's dreams undone. Problems of some newcomers to the town impinge on Abby's life too, but it is the arrival of an old resident of Astley that could end up destroying everything and not just for Abby.

Who else's lives will be affected and changed forever. Will the unwelcome arrivals in Astley destroy everything Abby and Laila have worked to achieve? What is the secret that will have all of Astley reeling?

About the Author
Streets on a Map, was published by Ark House Press. Prior to that Dale has had seven children’s books and Kaleidoscope a collection of poetry published. Many poems in Kaleidoscope have been previously published in Australia’s literary magazines. She has won prizes for her poetry and has been published in several anthologies.
Along with her husband, Dale was for a time houseparent for a family of twelve boys. She has also been a manuscript assessor and book reviewer and run creative writing classes. She has also written bible studies and Sunday school lessons. For several years she wrote about Christian living, marriage and home related topics for www.families.com. She has a BA in Literary and Australian studies. More information about Dale can be found at www.daleharcombe.com or on her Write and Read with Dale blog


My Review

Abby and Joel Donovan have recently moved to Joel’s home town of Astley, near Bathurst. They are renovating Joel’s childhood home, and Abby is having trouble fitting in to the close-knit community, especially as the move has meant she has had to give up her career as a singer. She feels alone, as the only friend she’s made is Laila, an older woman. Laila is probably the best character in the book—a spunky older woman who has made it through many life trials with her sense of humour and faith intact.

This is supposed to be a book review, not a critique. Unfortunately, it’s more like a critique because I found the story difficult to get in to, easy to put down, and marred by distracting writing and punctuation. The story is written in the third person, mostly from Abby’s point of view. The viewpoint is consistent in that there is no head-hopping, but it would have been better to have scenes from the viewpoints of more than one character (we do eventually get some scenes from Laila’s viewpoint, but not until almost halfway through the book. Unfortunately, we then get the viewpoints of several minor characters, including some head-hopping).

Joel and Abby have been married less than a year but I only saw the immaturity of their relationship and their struggles, not the reason they fell in love and married in the first place. I also felt that I was being shown what happened—she did this, he said that—rather than getting an insight into the reactions of the characters, the choices they made, and why they made those choices. I found Abby difficult to relate to and never got to know Joel well enough to decide whether or not I liked him (I’m leaning towards not).

There were several flashbacks in the story, which had a negative effect on the pacing. It’s one thing to have an occasional flashback to a point in time before the story began in order to show us something about a character that is relevant to their current situation—if it’s actually relevant (which was debatable). What were more annoying were the flashbacks to incidents within the timeline of Streets on a Map, which just made it feel as though the story was being told out of sequence.

My other major complaint was that there was very little Christian content, despite Streets on a Map originally being published by a Christian publishing house and now being offered as part of a blog tour for Christian novels. Laila was a strong Christian, and I kept waiting for something to happen that would draw Abby towards God. I’m still waiting. I can only assume the theme of the novel was the uselessness of life without God, because what came through was a series of experiences with very little in the way of character reaction or personal growth. There was the potential for a good story here, but it didn’t eventuate.

Thanks to Dale Harcombe and ACRBA for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dale Harcombe at her website.

23 September 2013

Review: When the Clouds Roll By by Myra Johnson

Bittersweet Christian Romance: Recommended

It’s November 1918, and Annemarie Kendall works for her father as the bookkeeper at his pottery works in Hot Springs, Arkansas, while she waits for the war to end and her fiancé, Gilbert Ballard, to come home. She keeps herself busy designing beautiful one-off pieces of pottery—something she knows she won’t be able to do when she marries.

But when the war ends and Gilbert returns to Hot Springs with his friend, Army Chaplain Samuel Vickery, Gilbert isn’t the man Annemarie once knew. He’s suffering shellshock, recovering from losing a leg, and will barely speak to her. Annemarie is left to find out about his progress from Samuel, who is becoming a good friend. But it’s not just Gilbert who is carrying scars from the war. Samuel is as well, only his wounds are less obvious.

When the Clouds Roll By is Myra Johnson’s first full-length romance novel, and I think she’s done a great job. It’s not a typical romance with an ending that’s obvious from the first page, and I liked that unpredictability. There were times when I got frustrated with Gilbert for doing stupid things, but at the same time I realised that was how he would behave.

It was still definitely a romance, with two strong male leads vying for Annemarie’s attention. But it was something more as well, with strong subplots around recovering from shellshock, and the use and abuse of prescription medicines. When the Clouds Roll By is the first book in the Till We Meet Again series, and I’m certainly keen to return to Hot Springs, because there are a few minor characters I’d like to see more of. Recommended.

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

20 September 2013

ACRBA Review: What Would Jesus Drive? by Paul Clark

September 16 - 20


(Even Before Publishing March 2012)

Paul Clark 

About the Author:

Paul Clark is married with two kids. He has nearly 20 years experience in children's and youth ministry having worked in both the city and rural areas. Paul has a knack of sharing the gospel message, simply and profoundly through story - something he is very passionate about. With 10 titles to his name, and more on the way, his resources are down to earth, Australian, and to be watched!

About the Book:

It is Palm Sunday in the Church Car Park and Jesus is riding into Jerusalem. The only problem is deciding what Jesus would have driven into Jerusalem if there had been cars in his time. Was it a motorbike because Jesus was a rebel? Was it a truck so he could stand on the back and teach the crowd? Was it a bus because he was a man of the people and he could have brought his friends along? Find out what the cars think! Part of the Australian Car Park Parables series.

My Review

It’s Palm Sunday, and the cars are wondering what it’s all about. Mr T tells them the church is celebrating the morning Jesus rode into Jerusalem, which starts a debate: what would Jesus drive? Each vehicle has their own view, from a motorcycle to a tank, with each vehicle telling the reader a little more about Jesus and his mission and an end that reminds children and adults of what Jesus did.

What Would Jesus Drive? is the eighth book in the Car Park Parables series, each of which takes a well-known bible story and retells it for primary school-aged children using a cast of motor vehicles. The books are illustrated by Graham Preston with appealing colour pencil drawings. Recommended for car-loving children and their parents.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about the Car Park Parables series at their website.

18 September 2013

Review: Fired Up by Mary Connealy

Glynna Greer has just been widowed for the second time, and is determined not to marry again. But that means finding an honest way to support herself and her two children, Paul and Janny. Dare Riker, the town doctor, is interested in Glynna, but there’s not only Glynna’s resistance to another relationship: there’s Paul, who is hostile at the idea of his mother marrying another no-hoper. So Dare will have to prove himself …

Dare is one of the Regulators, a group of men imprisoned together during the War. They help each other, and it seems Dare needs a lot of help. First he is caught in a major rockfall in a canyon, then his house is burned down around him. The doctor needs doctoring, and Glynna is the only person to do it.

Fired Up is the sequel to Swept Away, which I have also reviewed. There’s enough recap of the Swept Away story for Fired Up to be read as a stand-alone novel, although it’s more enjoyable read as part of a series (it’s possible there was too much recap, but I could hardly remember the first story so it was welcome).

Fired Up has solid characters, an adventure-filled plot, a strong Christian message and is an easy if lightweight read from the Queen of the Christian Western. Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Mary Connealy at her website.

16 September 2013

Review: Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

Ten years ago, Susannah Smith was rather rude towards cordwainer’s son Benjamin Ross, but now he’s a Harvard-qualified lawyer and eligible bachelor—eligible in the opinion of almost everyone. But not her mother. Susannah’s sister, Mary, is courting Benjamin’s best friend, which brings the four of them together and Susannah discovers there is more to the adult Benjamin than her childhood self knew.

Rebellious Heart starts in 1763, as the American colonists are beginning to rebel against their English rulers, and their harsh taxes, used to fund foreign wars. They also object to the presence of the Redcoats, for whom they have to provide free accommodation on request, despite struggling to feed their own families. Benjamin and Susannah’s relationship is originally rocky, as they have contrasting opinions on the role of the English and the morality of issues such as smuggling.

There is also an underlying mystery: Rebellious Heart opens at the trial of Hermit Crab Joe for the vicious murder of an unknown young woman. Benjamin Ross is speaking in his defence, convinced Joe isn’t the real murderer. But if he isn’t, who is? And when Susannah discovers a runaway, a mistreated indentured servant, she knows Benjamin is the person who will be able to help.

I liked both Benjamin and Susannah as characters. They were intelligent, opinionated and committed to doing what they believed was right. One character I didn’t related to was Susannah’s mother: I didn’t really understand why the wife of a pastor, a woman who spent a lot of her time helping the poor widows of the parish, would be so against her daughter marrying Benjamin Ross (and how she could be so unlike her own mother, Susannah's grandmother). After all, he’s a lawyer. Ross might not have a lot to offer now, but his future looks secure. (And, as this story is loosely based on the courtship of President John Adams and his wife, Abigail, he turns out very well indeed).

Some of the language is very formal (e.g. “But inexplicably she couldn’t maintain her feelings of insult,”). I can see it's attempting to portray the formality of life and speech in 1763 but I prefer the style of Hedlund's earlier novels. However, there were also words of wisdom from several of the characters, including this gem from Susannah’s Grandmother:

’Tis exceedingly easy to get caught up in the way things have always been done and never question if that’s the way they should continue.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as Unending Devotion, but it’s still one I’d recommend for lovers of historical fiction and historical romance.

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

13 September 2013

Review: Critical Pursuit by Janice Cantiore

Police Office Brinna Caruso is a dog handler in Long Beach (it’s a strange name, but the character does tell us the origin of the name, which illustrates a lot about her relationship with her parents). Her passion is finding kidnapped children—because she once was a kidnap victim. But Brinna’s role is placed under review when an arrest goes wrong, a suspect ends up dead and her name is plastered all over the newspapers.

She is partnered with Detective Jack O’Reilly, coming back to work for the first time since his wife died a year ago. He can’t face homicide—he can barely face life—so he is put out on patrol with Brinna. They are both initially uncertain about their new partners, as their reputations have preceeded them, but they will have to work out how to work together.

The first couple of chapters of Critical Pursuit are a bit slow, but the pace soon picks up when the reader realises that Brinna’s kidnapper is back in Long Beach, and is searching for his next ‘Special Girl’ to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Brinna’s rescue. We can see what is going to happen, but Brinna, Jack and the rest of the police force are oblivious, as records show the culprit died ten years ago. They think the messages left for Brinna at crime scenes are from a copycat killer, or perhaps a local paedophile who knows about Brinna’s Wall of Slime… This was a really good technique, as it really ramped up the tension and made the second half of the book a real page-turner.

Critical Pursuit is Christian fiction, and while it’s more gritty than most, it still manages to convey the damage done to Brinna all those years ago without getting into detail, and I appreciated that. The characters were strong, the writing was excellent, and the Christian aspects of the story were handled well. Recommended for those who enjoy a good thriller. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what’s next in store for Brinna and Jack.

Critical Pursuit was first published by OakTara as The Kevlar Heart in 2007. Thanks to Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Janice Cantore at her website.

11 September 2013

Review: Stranded by Dani Pettrey

If you like classic Dee Henderson (the True Devotion and O’Malley series), then you’ll love Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series—Submerged, Shattered and Stranded. I’ve read all three, and really enjoyed them all. Stranded is the third in a series, but you don’t have to read the other two first (although that might help you sort out all the characters—the McKenna family is large and growing).

When Darcy St James gets a call from her college roommate asking for help, she’s immediately packed and up to Alaska, taking an undercover job as a journalist on the cruise ship Bering. Abby has arranged to meet her on board, but is nowhere to be found. Darcy thinks the crew members are hiding something, because no one wants to mention Abby—it seems that single women disappear from the ship all the time with no explanation.

Darcy’s both relieved and apprehensive when she finds her new job involves working with Gage McKenna, who she met last winter on a journalism assignment in his home town (in Shattered). She’s attracted to Gage, but he’s not a Christian—but he is trustworthy, and she doesn’t know who to trust on the Bering.

Stranded is well-put together, and is a real page-turner, as a romantic suspense novel should be. There are plenty of characters with secrets (always a good sign), and there are some good hints of what might be coming in future books in the series. The characters are all realistic, intelligent and have some personal depth, and the romance between Darcy and Gage is well-played. Pettrey has that enviable skill of making the feelings bounce off the page without specifically telling the reader what is happening. I think that romantic subtext is one of the things that all romance writers should aspire to.

One thing I think is weird: Darcy St James is also the name of the heroine in one of Dee Henderson’s books, and Dani Pettrey thanks ‘Dee’ at the end of the book (this might be a random Dee, not Dee Henderson, but Dee Henderson has blurbed Stranded, so it probably is her). It’s weird enough to use the name of a character from another well-known book in the same genre; it’s very weird if that person is your mentor. I found this jarring, and that’s why I haven’t rated Stranded five stars.

Especially as Stranded is miles better than Dee Henderson’s recent release, Full Disclosure. I’ve got a review copy of Henderson’s next book, Unspoken, and I’m nervous about reading it in case it’s like Full Disclosure.

Recommended for those who like romantic suspense from authors such as Susan May Warren, Lynette Eason, Irene Hannon or Diann Mills. Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dani Pettrey at her website.

9 September 2013

Review: Planet Willie by Josh Shoemake

Willie Lee is a member of “an elite unit of highly bored individuals”, better known as angels. He’s been an angel since he got topped by the guy in the pink paisley shirt four years ago, but sometimes gets sent back to Texas to answer someone’s prayers (which is funny in itself: it seems Willie’s ‘friends’ don’t know he’s supposed to be dead). He’s a detective with the Lost Souls department.

His case this time is Harry Shore, who is concerned about his daughter, Fernanda—mostly because he thinks she’s stolen his million-dollar Botticelli painting of the Madonna. Willie travels to New York to find Fernanda, and runs into a group of Albanians calling themselves the Art Liberation Front, and their current project: to devalue Shore’s Botticelli. This sets Willie (and the ALF) off on a cross-country chase to track down the original painting (which is reminiscent of the 1980’s British comedy, 'Allo 'Allo, and their perpetual search for the painting of the Fallen Madonna with the Big you-know-whats).

Willie’s a great first-person narrator. He has a very healthy self-image, particularly when it comes to his opinion of how he is seen by the ladies (he has a collection of smiles he gives the ladies, and has names for them all. What does that tell you?). His narration is rather stream-of-consciousness which is usually a criticism, but Willie’s voice is strong and engaging enough that it works. He also has great collection of one line jokes.

But hidden in the comedy are some thought-provoking lines:

“If you keep thinking about what you want to do or what you hope will happen, you won’t do it, and it won’t happen.”

That’s good advice—thinking too much is a recipe for procrastination. We need to do things, not think about them.

Planet Willie is an irreverent comedy that’s a lot of fun. It can be hard to read on the Kindle—the paragraphs are too long—and the plot sometimes disappears in the comedy, but I enjoyed it. There is the occasional use of bad language and the plotline isn’t exactly the standard Christian fiction I normally review, but I enjoyed it. A good read for those who don’t take life (or death) too seriously.

Thanks to Opium Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Josh Shoemake at his website.

6 September 2013

Review: All God's Children by Anna Schmidt

Warning: This is a long review. But it’s shorter than if Winston Churchill had written it. And a little less opinionated.

There were less than two hundred members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Germany at the outbreak of World War Two, and they managed to save over 1000 lives. The American and British Friends were awarded the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in post-war Germany. There are some fascinating stories about the actions of Quakers in Hitler’s Germany, but All God's Children is not one of them.

There are advantages and disadvantages to receiving advance copies of books to review. The advantage is free ebooks and the chance to discover and recommend new (and new-to-me) authors. The disadvantage is that I only have the book cover and publisher’s blurb on which to base my decision: I don’t have the opportunity to browse the first few pages and decide if it’s going to be something I’ll enjoy.

I was attracted by the blurb to All God’s Children:

As World War II erupts, Beth Bridgewater, a Quaker pacifist, and Josef Buch, a passionate German Patriot, join together in nonviolent resistance of the Nazis—and in love. Does their love stand a chance in the midst of such evil. . .if they even survive at all?

“As World War II erupts …”. England declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, after Germany’s invasion of Poland. This was followed by Germany’s stampede across Western Europe, invading neutral Holland before driving the retreating Allied forces into the sea at Dunkirk. Hitler then turned his attentions to Crete, Russia and Africa before the Americans finally joined the fight after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

Yet All God's Children opens in Munich, Germany, in July 1942, almost three years after the outbreak of war (which the 1939 German Quaker meeting had predicted ). Then why had Beth not returned home to American in 1939? She originally arrived in Germany in 1934 to care for her young cousin, as her aunt was too frail after the birth. Apparently, she was still too frail in 1939, and is not yet recovered when the story opens in 1942. I just wanted to shake Beth’s aunt and uncle for their self-centredness (in contrast to their stated Quaker beliefs) and for their complete lack of attention to national events. If Aunt Isle really was so frail, why did the family not use the Quaker networks to leave Germany before the outbreak of war?

I could go on. I found a lot of inconsistencies and unanswered questions, but to include them would both make this review longer than it is already, and would give spoilers (feel free to leave a comment if you want to ask what REALLY annoyed me). Suffice to say that while All God's Children is full of internal and external conflict, I thought it all seemed contrived for the purposes of a story. It didn’t grab me, and I never felt these could be real people (which is a common factor in books I enjoy). I didn’t care at all what happened to any of these characters, and I only finished the book because I had to. If I had been able to browse before downloading it for review, then I don’t think I’d have got past the opening paragraph.

Anna Schmidt’s previous books have been Amish romance, and Beth is reminiscent of a stereotypical Amish heroine: loyal and Godly, but entirely wilful, naïve about life outside her immediate family, and entirely unengaging. Because I couldn’t bring myself to like Beth, I couldn’t see why Josef was interested in her. I’m not sure if All God's Children is supposed to be historical romance or historical fiction—I certainly didn’t feel it succeeded as a romance.

I liked Josef: he was intelligent, brave and loyal. But I couldn’t see that he had any religious faith or belief: it seemed his faith was in the Germany he grew up in. And even Josef, my favourite character, was rather two-dimensional. The only character I was interested in learning more about was Josef’s father, a high ranking member of the Gestapo. Why were the beliefs of father and son so different? Or were they? I got the impression that Herr Buch was hiding a secret, and that would make an interesting story... This is the first book in a trilogy, so a later story will probably focus on Herr Buch. But, based on this, I won't be reading it.

Having said all that, the writing was strong and there was a tangible sense of the fear and tension those living in Germany during the war were subject to. For those of you who are interested in this period, or who like your historical fiction to be based on historical fact, I recommend the Secret of the Rose series by Michael Phillips or the Zion Chronicles by Bodie and Brock Thone (the writing style of both series is a bit dated, but the characters and storytelling are excellent).

Thanks to the Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Anna Schmidt at her website.

4 September 2013

ARCBA Review: An Unholy Communion by Donna Fletcher Crowe

2 - 6 September 2013

Lion Hudson (1 April 2013)

Donna Fletcher Crow

About the Author

"Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries." - Kate Charles, author of Deep Waters

First light, Ascension morning. From the top of the tower at the College of Transfiguration, voices rise in song.

Felicity's delight turns to horror when a black-robed body hurtles over the precipice and lands at her feet. Her fiancé, Father Antony, recognizes the corpse as Hwyl Pendry, a former student, who has been serving as Deliverance Minister in a Welsh diocese. The police ignore the strange emblem of a double-headed snake clutched in the dead man's hand, labelling the death a suicide. But Hwyl's widow is convinced otherwise, and pleads for Felicity and Antony to help her uncover the truth.

Matters grow murkier as Felicity and Antony, leading a youth pilgrimage through rural Wales, encounter the same sinister symbol as they travel. Lurking figures follow them. Then a body is found face-down in a well …

"Donna Fletcher Crow gives us, in three extremely persuasive dimensions, the world that Dan Brown merely sketches." - Timothy Hallinan, author of The Queen of Patpong

About the Book

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 40 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning Glastonbury, A Novel of the Holy Grail, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. She is also the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries. Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.

To read more about all of Donna's books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/ You can follow her on Facebook at: http://ning.it/OHi0MY

My Review

While attending the dawn service of Ascension, Felicity is horrified to see someone fall from the tower and land at her feet. It seems there is another mystery when she picks up a piece of paper with a strange symbol that dropped from the victim’s fingers and it bursts into flame as she opens it. Although it looks like an accident or suicide, it’s obviously a murder (otherwise why is it the opening scene in a book series called The Monastery Murders?).

Felicity agrees to accompany her fiancé, Antony, to supervise a pilgrimage to Wales for teenagers as a way to get her mind off the fatal fall, but that’s not easy with her dreams. And when she finds the strange symbol represents an ancient heretical society, it seems escaping might be harder than she thought.

An Unholy Communion is a murder mystery, and starts well with a body appearing almost immediately. But the mystery of poor Hwyl’s death is then ignored as Antony and Felicity go walking in Wales, and apart from the obvious fact that Hwyl is Welsh, this has no apparent relevance to the mystery. In fact, I was about 75% of the way through the novel before they started to address the mystery at all, and then it was quickly apparent (to me at least) who was behind it.

The walk, as described, was much like I imagine a real walk across Wales would be: long and boring, with occasional short bursts of action. It was supposed to be ecumenical (i.e. representing all the Christian world), but was actually Anglican—and high Anglican at that, complete with bells and smells, praying exclusively out of the prayer book, and saying the Stations of the Cross at regular intervals. This wouldn’t have bothered me except the characters made a point of saying the walk was ecumenical, and it detracted from what was supposed to be the mystery of Hywl’s death.

An Unholy Communion made a lot of references to deliverance, exorcism and demonic powers working against Christianity. While this was relatively well explained, I didn’t feel either of the main characters had real understanding. Antony displayed a solid practical understanding (e.g. knowing which prayers to pray), but didn’t seem to see the bigger picture linkages (like wondering if two teenagers who wear black decorated with black and constantly quote Twilight are actually Christians). And Felicity seemed to be entirely ignorant of the dark side—she reminded me a little of some of Dr Who’s companions from the 1960’s.

One bugbear I constantly have with American authors setting books in Britain is their research and language. I was happy to find the research in An Unholy Communion was excellent (as I expected it to be. I’ve read several of her historical fiction epics, and they were outstanding). Given all the excellent research, it was distracting to see language issues: the reference to Cwm Rhondda spelled incorrectly, and the very English Antony using several Americanisms (gotten, granola bar, grill).

An Unholy Communion is the third in The Monastery Murders series, the first one I’ve read and probably the last. It didn’t work for me as a murder mystery, and I didn’t like the characters sufficiently to care what happens next.

Thanks to ARCBA, Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Donna Fletcher Crowe at her website.

2 September 2013

Review: An Accidental Life by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Rebecca Downer Jacobs is about to be one of the first women admitted into partnership of her prominent New Orleans law firm. She’s happily married with an exciting career, when something happens that’s going to change everything. Meanwhile, Peter, her husband and senior district attorney, is in charge of a complex case with far-reaching legal consequences and moral implications for his Christian faith.

An Accidental Life is billed as the story of a legal case regarding the right to life of a baby accidentally born alive after a late-term abortion (the author calls this America’s best-kept secret). It’s set in 1982, just nine years after the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade legalised abortion, and the tension surrounding the case and the time setting are strengths of the novel.

The weakness is that it takes too long to get going. The prologue and first chapter are, I’m sorry to say, boring. They are little more than five years of backstory, explaining what has happened to Amalise and Rebecca since the conclusion of Chasing the Wind (which was a rare five-star read for me). This backstory is unnecessary, as An Accidental Life works well as a stand-alone story.

An Accidental Life might have been stronger if it focused more on the case and less on the challenges Rebecca and Amalise faced as female lawyers in the early 1980’s. It isn’t that I’m unsympathetic to their challenges—I’m fascinated by them, as it’s women like this in real life that paved the way for women like me to combine work and family. I suspect An Accidental Life was trying to do too much. And it’s possible this is more the fault of the publisher than the author—B&H announced earlier this year that they are withdrawing from the fiction market. It could well be that the author didn’t get the editorial support the novel required.

Despite these problems, An Accidental Life is a solid read. The characters are faced with difficult yet realistic choices, the plot is certainly original, and the Christian element, while present, wasn’t overbearing. And although the last third of the novel—the legal case— was outstanding, the excellent premise didn’t quite deliver as a whole novel.

Thanks to B&H Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Pamela Binnings Ewen at her website.