30 October 2013

CrossReads Book Blast: Here Today Gone Tomorrow by Carlene Havel

By Carlene Havel

About the Book

Disappointed, dumped, divorced. Everything Casey Slaughter counted on is gone. While contemporaries start their families, Casey works two jobs to haul herself out of debt. Friends and family recommend a new husband to solve all her problems, but Casey resists their well-intentioned advice. Although she longs for a soul mate, the last thing her flattened self-esteem needs is more rejection—and comparisons to her beautiful, talented older sister do nothing to enhance Casey’s confidence. Unable to have children, she feels she has nothing to offer in marriage. Will bitterness and insecurity destroy her, or can renewed faith in God provide some measure of comfort for this wounded heart? Can Casey ever find love again, or will a string of disasters keep her forever on the run?

Carleen picCarlene Havel has lived in numerous US states, the Philippines, and Turkey. Like most writers, Carlene has always loved to read, and her taste is eclectic. Her other hobbies include sewing, knitting, crochet and embroidery. She especially enjoys Bible study, normally devoting one day each week delving into the scriptures with a small focus group. The Havels make their home in San Antonio, Texas, in the midst of a big, extended family.

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28 October 2013

Review: Severed Trust by Margaret Daley

Exciting Christian Romantic Suspense

High school football star Jared Montgomery is found drowned in his car, and it looks like foul play. Texas Ranger Ethan Stone joins local chief of police Cord Thompson in unravelling a case that involves prescription drug abuse at teenage ‘pill parties’ and an attempted murder in a case that is too close for comfort for Ethan and Cord, especially when it becomes apparent that Ethan’s niece and Cord’s sister might be at risk.

Severed Trust was a fast-paced and exciting read, and once I’d started reading I didn’t want to put it down (always a good sign). There was a complex plot, with a combination of suspense (prescription drug abuse and murder), relationship issues (between friends, and father-daughter), and a little romance. The Christian aspect was understated and not at all preachy. There were a good set of characters, all of whom felt very real and not at all stereotypical.

Despite all these good things, I had two problems with Severed Trust. First, there were a lot of characters, and I had trouble keeping them all straight at times. This is partly my own fault. I read fast anyway, and I read especially quickly when the book is as fast-paced and exciting as this. My second problem was at the end, when it seemed that a character was added out of nowhere.

Severed Trust is the fourth book in Margaret Daley’s Texas Ranger series, and can easily be read as a standalone as the series is related by theme rather than by characters. Each story features a Texas Ranger (surprise!) facing a challenging criminal case, and hopefully finding a little love. The other similarity is the cases: each book deals with an issue facing modern teens, and I think this is a particular strength of the series. Well worth reading.

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

If you’d like to buy the book or Kindle edition, you can follow the links above to purchase at Severed Trust. Those Down Under can buy from Koorong (Australia) or Soul Inspirationz (New Zealand). Koorong also sells epub editions.

25 October 2013

Review: The Celtic Stone by Nick Hawkes

Warning: Biased review ahead

(I edited The Celtic Stone.)

Chris Norman finds himself in possession of a strange object after almost losing his life in an airplane crash. It’s a celtic cross, and this leads Chris on a journey to the Isle of Skye, where he has inherited the croft his forebears farmed, and where he still has one distant relation. That relation is a small boy, Ruan, and Chris arrives on Skye to find himself the next-of-kin to a complete stranger.

Morag Daniel has retreated to her family home on the Isle of Skye after being blinded four years ago. She has taken Ruan in following the death of his father, and is suspicious of this newcomer, but finds herself drawn to him as they work together to keep Ruan in his home community, find the story behind The Celtic Stone, and fight for their island family.

The twisting and turning plot is one of the strengths of The Celtic Stone. The other is the characters. These are, without exception, well-drawn with real personalities: likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. The plot has complexity not always found in Christian fiction, and the writing is strong and occasionally beautiful. Nick Hawkes has a background as a research scientist and a pastor, and both come through in his writing. The Christian aspects have the ring of a pastor and teacher, and there is a real gentleness in the way different characters experience and present their faith journeys.

The Celtic Stone is the first book I have edited by Nick Hawkes, and you’ll have to believe me when I say the next two have equally compelling characters, with strong suspense plots, a solid Christian message and a touch of romance.

There seems to be a small but growing readership for Christian novels with unique settings, and I consider The Celtic Stone to be a valuable addition to that genre. Of course, I worked with the author on the editing, so there is the slightest chance I'm biased ...

You can find out more about Dr Nick Hawkes at his website.

23 October 2013

Indie Review: The Maze by Jason Brannon

Christian Allegory in the style of Pilgrim's Progress

Jamie Burroughs is a family man, happily married with a young son. But one day he is faced with temptation in the form of a very attractive ex-girlfriend, and he somehow finds himself in a supernatural maze that’s a manifestation of his life, complete with monsters and a dawning realisation that he’s not going to get out of this alive.

It is significant (although not stated) that Jamie’s life is symbolised by a maze, not a labyrinth. A labyrinth has only one path (unlike in the movie) and can be seen as symbolic of some spiritual journey. A maze has multiple paths, many of which lead to dead ends. Jamie is most definitely in a maze, one that he may never escape.

Jamie is a man who has made many mistakes in his life (so he’s pretty normal) and The Maze is designed so he can see the consequences of these sins and iniquities. He wasn’t a likeable or sympathetic character, which made it hard to care about his predicament. This wasn’t helped by a plot that moved from the realm of fantasy into the downright unbelievable and meant I was never able to forget that this was just a story.

While there was good use of language, the writing could have been stronger. Jamie talks to himself (which I found annoying), there was a lot of redundant language, I wasn’t comfortable with the reference to karma in a story from a Christian publisher, and I found the shifts between first person and third person took me out of the story. This made it difficult to believe The Maze was real (I suspected it might have been a dream), and meant I wasn’t convinced Jamie was in real peril.

The Maze was full of Christian symbolism and allegory in the same way as classic novels such as The Pilgrim's Progress and Hinds Feet on High Places. But neither of those novels attracted me as stories, and I had the same problem with The Maze. In addition, I never engaged with Jamie as a character, and that made it hard to empathise with his situation.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jason Brannon at his website.

21 October 2013

Review: The Disillusioned by DJ Williams

I wanted to like it, but …

Danny Armstrong resisted his ‘destiny’ as the pastor of the California megachurch planted by his famous father. His brother Sam also walked away from the church, and is building a rising career as a producer of up-and-coming musical talent. When their mother commits suicide, Danny and Sam find a portion of the estate has been left to a woman in Zambia, a complete stranger.

And if they don’t find her, the whole estate will go to the church. They need to find her and claim their inheritance, or the ambitious new pastor will make public information that will damage their father’s reputation. But Zambia holds its own perils …

Disillusioned was well-plotted, but the plotting was at the expense of characterisation. It seemed that characters were introduced to and discarded from the book as required by the plot, rather than showing the progression of one or two characters through a series of events to achieve a final victory.

The main characters in The Disillusioned were strong, but their portrayal was uneven, with the story switching focus from Danny to Sam as the story progressed. New characters kept being introduced, and some minor characters were ignored, making me feel there were too many characters. I got mixed up with who was who several times (although this may be related to the point of view—it was not always clear who the viewpoint character was, and there were many examples of confusing head-hopping).

And there were a range of other editing issues, including punctuation errors, typos, excessive adverbs, strange dialogue attributions and (most curiously) the constant use of “he thought to himself” to indicate interior monologue. Well, who else would he be thinking to? This is a Christian thriller, not some mind-reading paranormal romance. The Disillusioned had the potential to be a great story. But first Williams needs to learn the basics of point of view, and to hire a competent editor. Then, maybe, the story will be able to shine.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Derek Williams at his website.

19 October 2013

Review and Author Interview: The Governess of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky

For fans of Downton Abbey (isn’t that everyone?)

Illness has forced the Foster family to return to England from their missionary school and orphanage in India. Julia gains employment at Highland House, the home of Sir William Ramsay, as governess to his children, Andrew and Millicent, and to his teenage cousins and wards, Katharine and Penelope.

Sir William is looking for a governess who won’t mind staying in the country, because he has only recently inherited Highland Hall, and the death duties are placing a lot of financial pressure on him. Julia hasn’t told him she plans on returning to India with her family as soon as her father is well again, and as she spends more time at Highland Hall, getting to know Sir William and his family, she has to rethink her future plans.

The story and characters captured my attention from the start. I like an intelligent heroine who isn’t afraid to have her own opinions, so I liked Julia. William was a man with many troubles, but made a fitting hero. I liked the romantic subplot featuring Sarah, William’s sister, and I liked the Christian aspect of the story—Julia, especially, has a strong Christian faith (she’s partly modelled on Amy Carmichael, a real-life missionary to India).

The novel combines elements of classic British fiction like Jane Eyre with the Edwardian era, currently made fashionable by the TV series Downton Abbey. I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey and fiction set in England, and it always bugs me when I’m pulled out of the story by silly factual errors, or by English characters using American vocabulary (like fall or pavement). Carrie Turansky contacted me to ask if I’d read her draft to find any such errors. I was pleased to help, and can only hope I found them all!

The Governess of Highland Hall is the first of a trilogy, and I look forward to reading the next in the series. Recommended.

Author Interview

Carrie was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the background to The Governess of Highland Hall:

First, congratulations on the publication of The Governess of Highland Hall, the first in your Edwardian Brides series. What was the inspiration behind that?

Thank you! Like many viewers, I fell in love with Edwardian culture when I watched the British series “Downton Abbey.” That prompted me to think about writing a novel set during that time period and also to visit England in 2012 as part of my research. The beautiful countryside and lovely historic homes captured my imagination, and the story and characters came to life in my mind. And I’ve always admired the English missionary Amy Carmichael who travelled to India during that time same time period. Reading her biography gave me several ideas to help me create the background for my heroine, Julia Foster. My research led me to a beautiful country estate near called Tyntesfield, and I used that as my setting. Tyntesfield is actually pictured on the cover.

What was the best part about writing The Governess of Highland Hall?

Most of the books I’ve written in the past have been shorter contemporary novels or novellas, but I’ve always wanted to write a longer historical novel set in England. After I submerged myself in the research for a few months, the story seemed to pour out of my heart, and I felt like I found my writer’s voice as I typed out this novel. That is a wonderful feeling!

And what was the hardest part?

The hardest part was the rush to finish at the end. There was a bit of confusion about the date I needed to turn the book in, and it turned out that the editor needed it two weeks early to stay on schedule. So I was working long hours those last few weeks to finish it up so I could turn it in on time.

Some of your novels have been historical fiction, others have been contemporary. Which do you prefer to write? Why?

I enjoy writing both, but for now I am very happy to have the opportunity to write historical novels. At first I was hesitant to write a historical novel, especially one set in another country, but as I did the research I fell in love with the Edwardian Era and the story and characters rose up out of the research.

It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

I agree! That’s great advice as I mentioned above. I enjoy reading both contemporary and historical novels. When I find an author I like, I don’t really care what genre it is, I will follow them and keep reading whatever they write. Some of my favorite historical authors are Cathy Gohlke (Promise Me This and Band of Sisters) Laura Frantz (The Colonel’s Lady, and Love’s Reckoning). Some of my favorite contemporary authors are Becky Wade (My Stubborn Heart and Undeniably Yours) and Katie Ganshert (Wishing on Willows).

What was the last novel you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

I just finished Burning Sky, which is Lori Benton’s debut novel, and I loved it! She is such a gifted writer. I hated to see this book end. It’s one of the very best novels I’ve read all year and I highly recommend it!

Thank you, Iola, for your help with The Governess of Highland Hall! I appreciate you being one of my early readers and your help catching some of the phrases that sounded too American.

You can find more about Carrie Turansky at ber website.

18 October 2013

CrossReads Book Blast: Looking for a free book?

Take the 21 Day Challenge!
Get 5 FREE eBooks - 2 Days Only
17 and 18 October 2013
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Why 21 Days?
It’s a commonly known fact that it takes 21 days to form a new habit. You may spend 21 days trying to form a good exercise routine or kick a bad habit, but what about taking 21 days to form a new spiritual habit? .
That’s the reason for the 21 days series - to provide you with 21 days worth of biblical devotions to help you form new habits that draw you closer to Christ. And for two days only (October 17th-18th, 2013) we're giving all 5 books away for free. After that, they will be available for only 99 cents each.

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generosity challenge
Living a Life of Generosity: 21 Days of Generosity Challenge
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faith challenge
Living a Life of Faith: 21 Days of Faith Challenge

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If so, consider embarking on this 21 Days of Faith Challenge through this short but powerful eBook.

gratitude challenge
During a season of transition in my life, I found myself overwhelmed with negative emotions like self-pity and a complaining spirit. It was as if a dark cloud had descended over me. I prayed and asked God for wisdom on how to overcome these negative emotions. And I sensed Him leading me to do this 21 days of gratitude challenge.
Over the course of the 21 days, God began to change me as I spent intentional time being grateful for all I have been given. I did this through writing in my journal each day and also sending a hand-written thank you note to someone different each day.
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teen devotionals for girls

Our lives are ruled by habits. We are defined by them. How our days play out, how we act and react, and even how we eat, sleep and talk are all affected by our habits - for better or for worse. It's said that it takes 21 days to form a new habit or break an old one, so why not spend the next 21 days forming a habit of spending time with God? If you've got 21 days, we've got 21 devotions specifically written for today's teen girls.
Are you up for forming a habit of spending time with your Creator? If so, download this book and get started on these devotionals!

teen devotionals for guys
Teen Devotionals… for Guys!, brought to you by FindYourTrueStrength.com, are written for teen guys who want to find their true strength in Christ, these devotions designed to be read, pondered on and applied to daily life.

We want you to know that the Bible isn't just a book that’s over 2000 years old. It’s completely applicable to our lives today – even as teenagers. We know that girls and guys don't face the same issues in high school – not even close. So these devotions were written with today's teen guys in mind.

Go ahead. Dig in. Find your true strength in Christ.

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16 October 2013

Indie Review: Spiralling Out of Control by Michelle Dennis Evans

Stephanie’s family have moved from Sydney to Toowomba, a move that forces her to leave her best friend, her school and her passion in life: dance lessons. While the rest of the family settle easily into their new lives, Stephanie is teased and has trouble fitting in to her new school until Jason, one of the senior boys, asks her out. Stephanie falls in love with Jason, and doesn’t see the way he is manipulating her to the point where she has turned her back on everything she once valued. Her descent is not helped by her parents, who seem to have little time for her and no appreciation of the difficulties she is facing.

Spiralling Out of Control is a well-written but challenging read. I think the strong and consistent third-person point of view has captured Stephanie’s descent into mistreatment and exploitation very clearly, as well as detailing the consequences of her decisions. It’s an interesting story, because although Stephanie was forced in some respects, this was still clearly a consequence of the decisions she made, a series of seemingly-insignificant decisions that compound in an almost-ruined life. And she loved him, which was her excuse for going along with everything he wanted. I don’t entirely understand this mindset, but I know it exists, and Stephanie illustrates it well.

Spiralling Out of Control is not a pretty story, nor is it an easy read. There are several unsavoury characters and a number of scenes where Stephanie, Jason and others are falling headlong into sin (to use Christianese—a trap Spiralling Out of Control does not fall into). It’s not graphically portrayed in that there is little or no description. But the images are still there. In fact, parts of Spiralling Out of Control are a study in how much can be implied with a few well-chosen words.

Stephanie’s descent is very well portrayed. But what is missing for me, as a reader, is Stephanie’s change of heart. But this is the first book in a series, so I'll have to keep reading to find the end of the story ... Well worth reading.

14 October 2013

Review: Gunpowder Tea by Margaret Brownley

Romance, mystery and more - total enjoyment

Miranda Hunt, an agent for the famous Pinkerton Detective Agency, is sent to the town of Cactus Patch in Arizona territory to attempt to identify the Phantom, the leader of a well-known band of bank robbers. Her cover identity is Miss Annie Beckman, applicant for the position of heiress of the Last Chance ranch. She’s sure the new ranch hand, Branch, is involved, but there are complications: she’s housebound, looking after Miss Walker, and she’s strangely attracted to Branch …

Jeremy Taggert, currently known as David Branch, is an undercover Wells Fargo agent also hunting the Phantom. He’s suspicious of Annie, because he’s convinced she’s hiding something (well, she is), and he decides she’s a member of the Phantom’s gang.

I really enjoyed Gunpowder Tea, the final book in the Last Chance trilogy. I read and reviewed the first (Dawn Comes Early) but not the second (Waiting for Morning), and Gunpowder Tea can easily be read as a stand-alone. It’s an enjoyable mix of mystery and romance set in the old West, and features some of my favourite historical Christian fiction staples: intelligent heroine with an unusual occupation, handsome and gentlemanly hero hiding his true self, and a plot that’s a comfortable mix of romance and suspense. No, it’s not going to win the Booker Prize, but it’s an enjoyable read (which is probably more than can be said for most Booker Prize winners). Recommended.

Thanks to for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Margaret Brownley at her website.

If you’d like to buy the book or Kindle edition, you can follow the links above to purchase at Amazon.com. Those Down Under can buy from Koorong (Australia) or Soul Inspirationz (New Zealand). Koorong also sells epub editions.

11 October 2013

Review: Trapped by Irene Hannon

Slow start but an excellent finish

Laura Griffith hires private investigator James Devlin of Protection Inc. to find her sixteen-year-old half-sister, who has run away in the middle of a St Louis blizzard. The weather has shut down transport, so they know she is still in the city, but the race is on to find her before it’s too late.

I found the first half of Trapped a real struggle to engage with. I didn’t connect with any of the main characters—Laura came across as boring (and not because she’s a librarian. I thought she was boring before that even came up). Dev seemed to be more interested in checking out Laura’s legs than thinking about how to find Darcy (the teens I know don’t phone their friends. They text, email, Facebook and FaceTime them, yet all Dev did was check Darcy’s call records). Darcy, while self-absorbed and unappreciative, at least seemed to think and act like a typical teenage girl (self-absorbed and unappreciative). I didn’t like her, but at least I could understand her.

I also found the story predictable, a problem I’ve had with several recent Irene Hannon romantic suspense novels. I keep hoping she’ll rediscover whatever it was that I so enjoyed about her Heroes of Quantico trilogy, and I keep being disappointed. The writing in Trapped was good, but good writing isn’t enough to overcome lacklustre characters and a been-there plot.

Overall, while I finished Trapped, the first half was a chore and I don’t like it when reading becomes a chore. The second half was fast-paced and exciting, but it was a real struggle to get there. I almost gave up, and that doesn’t happen often. When I want to give up but persevere I usually find the second half even more boring than the first, which makes Trapped the exception that proves my rule.

Trapped is the second in the Private Justice series, but can easily be read as a stand-alone novel.

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

If you’d like to buy the book or Kindle edition, you can follow the links above to purchase at Amazon. Those Down Under can buy from Koorong (Australia) or Soul Inspirationz (New Zealand). Koorong also sells epub editions.

9 October 2013

ARCBA Review: The Inheritance by Jo-Anne Berthelsen

7 - 11 October
(Even Before Publishing September 2013)
Jo-Anne Berthelsen

About the Book:

Michael Trevelyan is determined to claim his inheritance at all costs. Bitterness consumes him and he refuses to forgive those who have betrayed him. Yet, when he meets Alexandra Hope, things begin to change. She challenges his views but also listens while he shares his pain. Can Michael move on from the past and learn to forgive? Can Alexandra hold onto her faith in God as she deals with their deepening relationship? Can they both learn to trust each other - and God? The Inheritance is a stirring story of family secrets, forgiveness and faith - of leaving behind a dark, painful legacy and walking into the light of God's eternal inheritance. 

About the Author:

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

For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com or www.soulfriend.com.au.


My Review

Michael Trevelyan is thirty-four and a successful orthopaedic surgeon, but still hasn’t forgiven his mother (or himself) for the accident that killed his sister when he was a teenager, and his mother’s deathbed revelation makes forgiveness even less likely. He will inherit Whitecross, the family estate near Winchester, England, but if he doesn’t live there, it will go to his younger brother, Geoffrey, a Christian do-gooder who will turn it into a half-way house.

Dr Alexandra Hope is the locum GP for Cranton while her father takes a holiday and she waits for her Ethiopian visa to arrive—she’s planning on being a medical missionary. She meets Justine Trevelyan and her son, and develops relationships with both as the story progresses.

While the story and characters in The Inheritance had potential, I don’t entirely think they delivered on that promise. I didn’t ever get the sense that Michael had fully come to grips with the implications of his mother’s revelation, and while his character underwent a great deal of emotional and spiritual change and maturation during the story, I never saw it happening. Rather, it simply appeared at some point as having happened.

I also found Alexandra’s story was missing something, particularly in the later portions of the book where she disappeared entirely. This was a shame, as she was a strong and likeable character who had a great impact on others. There were some factual errors and timing inconsistencies that I found distracting, as well as some annoying creative dialogue tags and excessive punctuation (I don’t like the use of italics for emphasis, and exclamation marks only make it worse!).

Thanks to Even Before for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jo-Anne Berthelsen at her website.

If you’d like to buy the book or Kindle edition, you can follow the links above to purchase at Amazon.com. Those Down Under can buy from Koorong (Australia) or Soul Inspirationz (New Zealand). Koorong also sells epub editions.

7 October 2013

Review: A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears

Not the normal marriage of convenience ...

Salt Flatts, Kansas, Spring 1876, and the train has just arrived in town with another mail-order bride for Everett Cline, only he didn’t order this one. He wants a wife, but he’s given up hope of finding one after one jilted him, one arrived dead, one arrived married and the fourth left him for a farmer with a bigger spread before they got married.

Julia Lockwood is from a well-to-do Boston family, but has run away to be Everett Cline’s mail-order bride on the advice of her pen-pal. But when she arrives, she finds Everett isn’t exactly pleased to see her—it’s as though he knows nothing about her…

I really enjoyed A Bride for Keeps. I’m always a sucker for a good marriage-of-convenience story, and this one was well done. Both Everett and Julia were hiding secrets, and that’s always a good source of conflict for a novel. What made this interesting is that we know Everett’s secret almost from the outset, and that provides some good comic moments as it seems that every female Julia meets in Salt Flatts was at one time engaged to her husband.

I also enjoyed the Christian aspects of the story. Everett is a strong Christian, but marriage to Julia reminds him of his responsibility to be the spiritual head of the house, even when he’s married someone who doesn’t share his beliefs (and while I don’t normally support this, I think A Bride for Keeps handles it well).

The writing is good, the characters are likeable but not perfect, the plot is an original take on an old staple, and it meets all the expectations of a lightweight Christian historical romance. Perfect entertainment.

Recommended for those who enjoy western historical romance from authors such as Karen Witemeyer, Carol Cox, Jen Turano and Mary Conneally. I’ll look forward to reading the next in the series.

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

4 October 2013

Review: A Talent for Trouble by Jen Turano

Miss Felicia Murdock is distinctly put out with God, because it seems they’ve had a slight misunderstanding. She was of the impression that she could best live out her Christian faith as the wife of Reverend Fraser—who is about to marry someone else. Despite her expectations, God doesn’t stop the wedding with a bolt of lightning, forcing Felicia to reconsider God’s plan for her life. As she is now twenty-four, that future obviously doesn’t include a husband.

Her manipulative mother has other ideas (and it’s so nice to see a manipulative mother who actually has the best interests of their child at heart, and who isn’t simply following her own agenda). She is thrown into the company of Mr Grayson Sumner, who is actually Lord Sumner. He’s in New York in an attempt to escape his heritage, and provide a home for Ming, his adopted daughter.

What follows is an amusing and exciting romp through 1881 New York society. Although she appears a bit of an airhead, Felicia actually does a lot of good work among the poor of the city, which leads her into trouble on more than one occasion, and gives Grayson the opportunity to rescue her. Unfortunately, this brings him to the attention of the owners of the Chinese opium dens, which puts him in danger as well.

I very much enjoyed A Talent for Trouble. It was an original plot with a group of likeable yet imperfect characters, and an underlying theme of God’s willingness to forgive anyone, no matter what they’ve done. It was well-written, and I especially like the way the author uses humour to soften what can be difficult issues.

A Talent for Trouble follows on from A Change of Fortune, A Most Peculiar Circumstance and the novella Gentleman of Her Dreams (currently free on Kindle). It can be read as a stand-alone story, but it does feature many characters from the earlier books and it will be easier to understand the back story if you have read the earlier books.

Recommended for those who enjoy witty historical romance from authors such as Karen Wittemeyer, Mary Connealy and Carol Cox. Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jen Turano at her website.

2 October 2013

Review: Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

When it was good …

Like the old nursery rhyme, when Born of Persuasion was good, it was very very good. But when it was bad, it was horrid.

Julia Elliston is seventeen, recently orphaned, and about to be sent to Scotland against her will to become a lady’s companion. In order to escape this fate dictated by her unknown guardian, she goes to visit her old friends in Am Meer, in the hopes of reconnecting with Edward, son of Lord Auburn, to whom she is secretly engaged. But Julia is the daughter of England’s most famous atheist, and Edward is now an ordained Anglican minister. Compelled (for no known reason) to resist her guardian’s plan, she enlists the help of Lady Foxmore in finding her a husband, and they are soon en route to Bedfordshire, to the estate of Mr Chance Macy.

Born of Persuasion is written in the first person, and it took a long time before we actually found out the name of the narrator (which annoyed me) or where she is (beyond being somewhere in England). It’s clear from Julia’s personal interjections that she’s telling the story from the future, and she assumes knowledge the reader doesn’t have (such as “I scarce have need to describe Mr Forrester, as his notoriety continues to this day”. It is several more chapters before we find out why Mr Forrester is notorious). I had the continual feeling of only having part of the story, as though there was a first book I’d missed (there isn’t).

While first person isn’t unusual in gothic fiction, it is also something that annoys many readers. For me, it depends on whether I like the narrator. I found Julia to be an annoying narrator. I was never sure if she was naïve and innocent, or simply stupid (it would be useful to know if she’s writing from the near or distant future. If she’s writing only a couple of years in her own future, I’d be inclined to see her as naïve. As it is, she comes across as inconsistent, unreliable and unlikeable, so I’m more inclined to go with stupid).

Endorsements for Born of Persuasion compare Jessica Dotta to authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant. Yes there were echoes of Austen in the unlikeable characters, except that Austen wrote characters like Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins as jokes. There were echoes of the Bronte sisters in the gothic suspense, and there were echoes Dickens in the length and the way it took a lot of words to say not very much. I’ve not read Sarah Dunant, so can’t comment except to say that based on the titles, I doubt Tyndale, the Christian publisher of Born of Persuasion, would publish Dunant's books.

And the comparison to Philippa Gregory, a novelist famous for her historical sex romps? What was Tyndale thinking? Are they going to be comparing their authors to EL James next? Because anyone who enjoyed Wideacre or The Other Boleyn Girl is going to be dreadfully disappointed at the lack of explicit sex in Born of Persuasion. I’d compare it more to the gothic romances of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, except that I have actually enjoyed books by those authors.

While I was relieved at the lack of explicit sex, I wasn’t impressed by the lack of Christian content. Edward, the only Christian character in the book, spends the first part of the book being totally unpleasant. He improves, but only because his character has an inexplicable personality transplant. Julia loathes the very concept of God because of the way her family was treated by the village priest.

Another problem was the moral ambiguity. I like books where the hero and heroine are good, and the villain is bad. In Born of Persuasion, I couldn’t tell. This is ambiguous to the point that I'm not convinced, even at the end, that Julia is close to the truth. I didn’t agree. This leads into the final problem: the ending. While it’s not a cliffhanger ending, it’s clear the story isn’t yet complete. This is the first book in a trilogy, so I guess it’s going to take all three books before all the questions about Julia, Edward and Macy are answered, not to mention the fate of minor characters such as Elizabeth and Henry. Will I be reading the sequel? I doubt it. And I certainly wouldn’t buy it.

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