29 November 2013

Review: Unspoken by Dee Henderson

Much Better than Expected

Unspoken wasn’t perfect. It is a sequel to Full Disclosure (which I didn't enjoy), and Paul Falcon and Ann Silver do feature, but Ann has mellowed in marriage and is a lot more of a relatable character. I found it odd that we had a romantic suspense novel that didn’t have a single scene from the heroine’s viewpoint. The book was written almost entirely from the male point of view: Bryce Bishop, Paul Falcon and John Key (Charlotte’s bodyguard, not the Prime Minister of New Zealand). It’s possible the book was too long and that there was too much information about antique coins (Bryce is a coin dealer; Charlotte has a collection to sell).

Henderson is still obsessed with writing about uber-rich characters. She might be making the point that no amount of money will fill the God-shaped hole inside us, but the pattern is starting to come across as unrealistic fantasy, in much the same was as Karen Kingsbury’s most recent novels. And I’m not entirely convinced by Charlotte’s about-face at the end. It felt a little as though Henderson had written herself into a corner and didn’t actually have an answer to her central question.

So what did I like about Unspoken?

I liked Charlotte’s central conflict, which takes the “why does God allow bad things to happen” question one step further. Charlotte’s view is that God is too willing to forgive—she doesn’t want anything to do with a God who would give a second chance to the men who hurt her. It’s an intriguing premise. I’m not convinced it was answered satisfactorily, but it’s an excellent question.

I liked the fact that Unspoken didn’t go into any detail about what actually happened during those four missing years, but instead trusted the reader to fill in the blanks.

I liked the writing. There was a poignancy, an almost-unbearable sadness about some of it, and even though we were never inside Charlotte’s head, I could understand her in a way I never understood Full Disclosure'sAnn Silver. Her background meant it made sense that she was insular, reluctant to trust others and had no intention of ever marrying. What would be character faults in anyone else were understandable in Charlotte, given her background.

And I loved Bryce Bishop. I have no idea why this man is still single at forty (except that this is a novel). He’s patient, loving and unselfish—everything a romantic hero should be (his only fault is that he is too perfect). So while I still don’t like Full Disclosure, I very much enjoyed Unspoken and would recommend it.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

27 November 2013

Review: Critical Reaction by Todd M Johnson

Solid Legal Thriller

Attorney Emily Hart is surprised to receive a telephone call from an old college friend requesting her help on a case against his employer—he believes he has been exposed to radioactive materials, a claim his employer denies. It’s more than she can manage, so she asks her father to assist. Ryan Hart is an experienced courtroom attorney who has lost his will to fight since the death of his wife while Emily was in college.

Kieran Mullaney is an employee at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, a site that manufactured plutonium in the days of the cold war. It is now closed, with the only employees involved in monitoring the site and the buildings to ensure they are safe before the entire complex is demolished. But there have been a series of ‘accidents’ at the plant, and it seems there is something more going on…

Critical Reaction is a combination of Karen Silkwood and Erin Brockovich written in the style of John Grisham, with a slight Christian flavour. It’s well-plotted with a (mostly) good cast of characters, and reinforces why I’m glad to live in a country where our natural geography means we don’t need nuclear power plants.

And that was the bug for me in Critical Reaction. There’s a secret project going on at Hanford, and the author took great pains to point out that the person within the plant managing the secret project was a New Zealander. This didn’t ring true on several levels (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a Kiwi), and because I didn't believe it, it took away from the suspense. What didn't I believe?

I don’t understand why a Kiwi would go to America for university when a US college education is so much more expensive than here. I don’t understand how he was allowed to study in America, let alone get a job—it’s hard enough to get an American study visa, let alone a work permit. I don’t understand how someone who was brought up in a nuclear-free country would get a job in the nuclear industry. Between David Lange’s famous speech and watching The Simpsons, we’re grateful for our hydroelectric power schemes.

And no matter how estranged he was from his family, I don’t understand why he’s not in contact with his family when it’s made clear they lived in one of the areas of Christchurch most affected by the 2011 earthquakes (at the time of writing, Manchester Street, where he supposedly grew up, has only just been reopened). It made it difficult for me to take the character seriously.

But if I ignored that, Critical Reaction is a solid legal thriller set in the nuclear industry, underpinned by some good suspense in the form of a secret project the company wants to ensure stays a secret. No matter what.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Todd M Johnson at his website.

25 November 2013

Review: Aloha Rose by Lisa Carter

Missing Something

Laney Carrigan is visiting the Big Island of Hawaii to meet her birth family for the first time. She has come into contact with her Hawaiian family when they recognised a photograph of the quilt she was left wrapped in when she was abandoned as a baby. Her adoptive father was in the military and her adoptive mother is now dead, so she’s never felt at home anywhere, and her career as a travel journalist hasn’t given her the opportunity to set down roots.

Kai Barnes was raised by Laney’s birth family as a foster child, after his mother was murdered. He forms an instant dislike of Laney—he’s convinced she’s simply out to get what she can, and is determined to protect his foster family from this interloper.

Aloha Rose didn’t meet expectations for me. I’m not sure why. It’s the second book I’ve read by Lisa Carter, and all I can say is that something doesn’t gel between the way she writes and the way I read. The beginning was very fast, too many characters were introduced too quickly, and although I got the instant attraction between Laney and Kai, I didn’t see their relationship progress beyond that attraction. I suspect there was too much focus on showing us the interaction between the couple, and too little on showing us their deeper feelings. Good characters and an interesting concept, but something about the writing just didn’t work.

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

22 November 2013

Review: The Church Builder by AL Sheilds

Religious Thriller that ticks all the boxes

Six months ago, Bethany Barclay’s best friend was murdered. Now Bethany comes home to find the body of her ex-boyfriend on her floor, her gun on the floor, and a strange symbol painted on the wall—a symbol that reminds her of something Annabelle said before she died. Are the two deaths related? Bethany believes so, but the police are convinced she’s responsible for Ken’s death. She goes on the run to try and find the link between the two murders, but things get harder when she’s implicated in a bombing as well.

It’s quickly apparent hat Bethany has been set up. It’s also apparent that there is more than one group of people after her. What isn’t immediately not clear is why. What does she know? And who can she trust? Her search leads her first to Chicago, The World Foundation for the Fulfilment of God’s Personal Plan and Martin Potus, another ex-boyfriend who is now leader of God’s Planners, a possible cult.

The Church Builder s the first novel in what promised to be an exciting series from AL Shields (better known as Stephen L Carter, Professor of Law at Yale). It’s tightly-plotted with two secret societies fighting for opposing sides in a religious battle, a range of ambiguous characters (it’s hard to tell who is good and who Bethany needs to be suspicious of) and a fast pace that sometimes makes it even more difficult to keep the characters straight—not to mention their loyalties.

The Church Builder isobeys several 'laws' of modern fiction with its distant POV, switching between past and present tense for no apparent reason and an over-reliance on telling (especially at the beginning), but somehow it works, for me at least (even though my mind says it shouldn’t). It’s the first book in a series, and while the central plot of this book was resolved, the ending also serves as the introduction to the central conflict in the next book.

Recommended for those who like fast-paced thrillers and don’t mind reading a serial.

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

20 November 2013

ACRBA Review: Can God See Me? by Penny Reeve

18 - 22 November

is introducing
Wombat Books Oct 2013
Penny Reeve

About the Book

I read in the Bible, so it must be true, God can see everything that I do. But what might this look like? And how far does God's care reach? Join the wild, hilarious and certainly crazy ride of a young boy who dares to imagine the incredible scope of God's love and care.

About the Author

Penny Reeve grew up as the child of missionary parents in a variety of cross cultural settings. She then went to university, got married and served for several years herself in PNG and Nepal.

She now lives with her family in Western Sydney and is the author of 11 children’s books including the very popular Find the Animal series for young children and the social-justice themed Tania Abbey novels.

Website: http://www.pennyreeve.com/

My Review

A small boy uses his active imagination to consider what God can see ... Can God See Me? is an enjoyable rhyming story with echoes of Dr Seuss, complimented by lovely illustrations that perfectly capture the mood created by the quirky text.

It’s an easy read that would make a good bedtime story (yes, one of those ones adults read so often they know them by heart), and will appeal to boys and girls.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review.

18 November 2013

Indie Review: Winds of Wyoming by Rebecca Carey Lyles

Exciting Romantic Suspense Debut

Kate Neilson has had a hard life. Orphaned at twelve, in and out of foster homes and reform school, and just out of prison after serving a five-year term. Now she’s hoping to start a new life with a new degree, a new job as a marketing intern on a bison ranch in Wyoming, and a new Christian faith.

The Duncan family are immediately welcoming, but Kate isn’t able to settle in to life at Whispering Pines—it seems part of her past has followed her to Wyoming and is determined she won’t succeed in turning her life around.

Winds of Wyoming was very well written, with a convincing cast of characters and a paced and strong (if somewhat harrowing ) plot with plenty of suspense and a budding romance. The presence of the cliché Other Woman was the main failing, as I found the jealous character to be almost psychotic and the story almost descended into melodrama.

However, I did enjoy Winds of Wyoming, especially getting to know Kate, seeing her conquer her fears, and watching her develop relationships with the people on the ranch and in town—especially Dymple-with a y-Louise Forbes, an old woman with a few surprises of her own. Winds of Wyoming is the first in the Kate Neilson series, and I’ll certainly be interested in reading more.

15 November 2013

Review: Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay

Contemporary retelling of an old favourite

Samantha Moore grew up in a variety of foster homes before arriving at Grace House when she was fifteen. Some of the foster homes were good, but most were not and she coped by retreating into a world of classic fiction, from Jane Austen to Dickens to Shakespeare. Whenever she can’t think of something to say, she retreats into fiction (a device which could become tedious but never quite does, thankfully).

She’s now twenty-three, a college graduate who has been let go from her first job because she can’t relate to others. Father John, who runs Grace House, tells her she’s been given an opportunity: an anonymous benefactor will fund postgraduate studies in journalism as long as she writes him letters detailing her progress. She agrees, and decides to address here benefactor as Mr Knightley, for her favourite Jane Austen hero.

Samantha is a damaged character, but as the story progresses she begins to find herself in her studies and her letters to Mr Knightley, and she begins to reach out to others and explore the possibilities of relationships with real people, not just characters in books. It’s a difficult but uplifting journey. I also enjoyed reading about Sam’s journey to faith (which is understated but present, as this is a Christian novel).

Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary retelling of another classic romance novel (one of the few Samantha doesn’t reference). Some of you will already have worked out which one. I have read the ‘original’, and in a way this enhanced the story, but it did mean I knew the identity of the mysterious benefactor from early on, and the ending wasn’t the surprise it was when I read the original (in fact, it felt a little contrived).

I enjoyed the writing and characterisation, and would like to see more from this author—ideally an original story next time.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katherine Reay at her website.

13 November 2013

Giveaway: CrossReads Book Blast: Lisa Belcastro's "Shenandoah Crossings"

Enter to Win a $50 Amazon Gift Card

About the Book
Tess Roberts may live on Martha’s Vineyard, vacation spot for movie stars and presidents, but the Island feels anything but idyllic. Tess has had it with lousy dates, lying, cheating men, and the rules that forbid her from working on her family’s centuries-old schooner, Shenandoah.

Lucky for Tess, she knows a secret—the Shenandoah has magical powers. Her best friend, Rebecca O’Neill, once stayed in Cabin 8 and discovered a time portal that transported her to 1775. A month after Rebecca’s “disappearance,” Tess’s father, brother, and Shenandoah’s annoying first mate, Hawk, plan to shut down the time travel for good by dismantling the cabin. But what if Rebecca might someday need to come home? What if Tess isn’t ready to say goodbye forever?

Sneaking onto the ship late at night, Tess slips into Cabin 8 and drifts off to sleep. She wakes anchored off the New England coast amidst the American Revolution in 1776. The British frigate HMS Greyhound has seized Shenandoah and taken the crew, cargo, and all onboard hostage. To make matters worse, Hawk is relentlessly tracking her, determined to bring her back to the twenty-first century against her will. Sparks begin to fly, from more than cannonballs and gunpowder….

Lisa Belcastro

Lisa pictureLisa Belcastro lives with her family on Martha’s Vineyard. She was inspired to write the Winds of Change trilogy while chaperoning two Tisbury School summer sails aboard the schooner Shenandoah with her daughter, Kayla. The weeklong adventure, sans electricity, Game Boys, iPods and modern conveniences, kindled her imagination to dream of an altogether different voyage.

Lisa currently writes the cuisine column for Vineyard Style magazine. She has worked as a staff and freelance reporter and photographer for The Chronicle of the Horse and as assistant editor at The Blue Ridge Leader. She has written articles for USA Today, Dressage (London), USA WEEKEND Magazine, The Blue Ridge Leader and Sidelines. Lisa co-authored and edited two non-fiction books, American Horses in Sport 1987 and American Horses in Sport 1988.

When she’s not at her desk, Lisa is living in paradise, volunteering at her daughter’s school, serving in her church community, planting and weeding her numerous gardens, trying to run a marathon a month or walking the beach with her husband looking for sea glass.

Follow Lisa Belcastro

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11 November 2013

Review: A Man Called Blessed by Ted Dekker

A suspenseful story hiding nuggets of spiritual wisdom


David Ben Solomon has dedicated his life to searching for the Ark of the Covenant in order to restore it to Jerusalem and welcome the Messiah. He has been joined in his quest by his daughter, Rebecca, an archaeologist and assassin. They Raphael Hadane, a Falasha Jew from Ethiopia, who tells them the information they seek is hidden in the Debra Damarro monastery in Ethiopia.

Caleb is twenty-five and has lived almost his whole life in the Debra Damarro monastery, first in the care of Father Matthew, now with his adoptive parents. He, apparently, holds the key to the location of the Ark. But not everyone wants the Ark found, and one man in particular is determined to stop Rebecca and Caleb …

A Man Called Blessed is the second in the Caleb Books series by Ted Dekker and Bill Bright. Dekker is famous for his suspense, and that came through in the novel. Bill Bright is famous for his non-fiction books on spiritual maturity, and that came through as well, with quotes such as these:

“You say that you may not be living up to your beliefs, but by definition, this is impossible. We always live up or down to our beliefs. Beliefs are the rails which govern our lives.”


“In reality, most people who call themselves Christians do not believe in Christ at all. Their train is not on his rails. They do not live what they say they believe, because in reality they don’t believe it.”


What didn’t come through so well, for me, were likeable characters I could believe in and relate to. We didn’t see much of Caleb in the beginning, and it seemed as though he had a personality transplant when he arrived in the desert. It didn’t quite ring true. Equally, Rebecca seemed to morph from a military assassin into a stereotypical brash American tourist when she left the monastery. Neither transformation rang true to the characters as they had been established in this book (although the character of Caleb might have been consistent with the previous book, which I haven’t read).

And I had issues with the plot. Some aspects were incomprehensible (how to you build a crate around an object without ever touching said object?). Others felt contrived. Fiction uses a story to demonstrate truth. But one of the issues with fiction, especially Christian fiction, is that we don’t accept miracles in our novels, even though we know we serve a God of miracles. If you must have a miracle as a key plot point, that miracle must be foreshadowed—it must be signalled from the very beginning. It can’t just come out of nowhere. Otherwise it breaks one of the biggest ‘rules’ of fiction: the injunction against using deus ex machina to solve plot problems.

I also had issues with the writing, particularly the overuse of adverbs and exclamation marks, and the developing relationship between Rebecca and Caleb. I continually felt I was being told how they felt about each other—I never saw it.

On a more practical level, it was interesting to gain insight into the minds of the modern Jew and Muslim, especially Palestinian Muslims. There are serious problems in the Middle East, and A Man Called Blessed illustrated them well.

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

8 November 2013

Review: What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

A Beautiful Story

Christina Willems is the director of a poor farm, the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor in Kansas, having inherited the role from her father. She has dedicated herself to Christian services on behalf of the poor and needy, but finds her world rocked when the farmhouse is badly damaged in a fire. The need to find temporary homes for the twelve residents brings her into contact with local mill owner Levi Johnson.

I have only read one other book by Kim Vogel Sawyer, and What Once Was Lost reminded me why I should seek out more of her titles. Her novels are plainly US Western historical romance, but they have more depth than many of the titles available on the market (not that I have anything against those titles—I enjoy the more lighthearted novels by authors such as Carol Cox, Jen Turano and Karen Wittemeyer. But it’s nice to find something a little different).

Christina is a well-written character. She is strong-willed and wants to take responsibility for all ‘her’ people—the only family she has. But in serving others, she sometimes forgets what she wants, and that what she wants might not be what God wants for her. That’s something many of us can relate to.

I also liked Levi. He’s not a Christian, yet still takes in Tommy, the blind boy no one else wants. He has his own emotional journey throughout the novel, as caring for Tommy forces Levi step outside his solitary existence to interact with Tommy and Christina. He’s also attracted to Christina, and I thought the romantic element of the plot was particularly poignant.

I especially liked one quote from Tommy:

Seems to me that folks with scars [are] the ones who really need someone to treat them like there’s nothing wrong with them. Hard enough to be different without everybody treating you different.

There’s a lesson there. We all have scars, but some are more visible than others. It reminds me that sometimes it’s okay to not mention the elephant in the room.

What Once Was Lost
is recommended for those who enjoy US Western historical romance.

Thanks to WaterBrook Press and Blogging for Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kim Vogel Sawyer at her website.

6 November 2013

ARCBA Review: Faith in the Great Southland by Mary Hawkins

4 - 8 November
(Barbour Books October 1, 2012)

About the Book

Elizabeth Waverly never dreamed that taking a convict transport back to her home in Australia would change her life. But from the moment she lays eyes on John Martin, she cannot resist her growing attraction to him. She knows the man faces a life sentence for murder, but her heart refuses to believe he is guilty of the charges against him. How could someone who so valiantly protects others and accepts another prisoner's punishment be a brutal felon? Yet once the transport ship lands in Australia, their paths are bound to head in very different directions. Is their love destined to become a bittersweet memory of what might have been, or will faith show them another way?


About the Author

Mary is a multi-published Australian romance author with 19 titles. After being published by Harlequin Mills and Boon medicals, Heartsong Presents and Barbour, her most recent single title Bargagula series was published by Ark House Press in Sydney. She is a member of the Society Women Writers Tasmania, Romance Writers of Australia, Omega Writers, Australian Christian Writers Fellowship, American Christian Fiction Writers, Romance Writers America and their Faith Hope Love chapter. Her Heartsong Presents back list titles are being released by Truly Yours Digital Editions. Faith in the Great Southland is now available with the other three in this series to be released June and July. She is available to speak and share what she has learnt about writing novels, her writing journey and faith in our incredible God. For more about Mary, go to her website.

My Review

Faith In The Great Southland is the first of four novels in the Australian Outback collection. I actually purchased this collection years ago, and have read and enjoyed all four of the stories, but I think Faith In The Great Southland, the story of John and Elizabeth, remains my favourite.

Mary Hawkins knows how to create compelling characters and a page-turning plot. She gives readers a clear understanding of the horrors of the criminal transportation system without being overly graphic (and after one character makes an early comment to another that conditions are much better than they used to be). While this story is fiction, transportation was fact and Faith in the Great Southland gives the reader an appreciation for what early Australian settlers—criminal and free—went through in the early years of colonisation. Well worth reading.

You can find out more about Mary Hawkins at her website.

If you’d like to buy the 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.

4 November 2013

Review: Dark Justice by Brandilyn Collins

More ‘Seatbelt Suspense’ from Brandilyn Collins

Hannah Shire and her mother, Carol Ballard, are returning from a weekend away when they come across a car accident. The sole victim, Morton, is injured, mentions his daughter and tells the ladies not to tell anyone—but not to tell them what? Later at home, Hannah finds a flash drive in her pocket, and surmises Morton must have put it there. Later that evening, two FBI agents visit and interview her—but are the really from the FBI? Who can they trust? What follows is a suspenseful chase as the two women, assisted by Hannah’s daughter, Emily, try and find the solution to the puzzle while evading the FBI and the police before the deadline Emily discovers encrypted in the flash drive.

Dark Justice flips back and forth between the action in February 2013 (told in the first person by Hannah) and a subsequent Select Committee Investigation into the events of February 2013. This both adds and removes suspense. It adds suspense because it shows that Hannah, Carol and Emily have been caught up in a major event, but I did feel it also took away from some of the suspense because of the very fact it was in the future.

The scenario presented in Dark Justice isn’t unique (Firestorm and Digital Winter each had a similar premise), but the approach is different. Hannah is an ordinary person. She’s a widow with an adult daughter, and is the primary caregiver for her mother, who suffers from dementia. On the face of things, there is nothing special about her. But she is hard-working, intelligent and brave, and those qualities come to light as the novel progresses. Carol is a sad and stubborn woman who reminds us of how dementia steals people from us, and Emily is an intelligent and useful addition to the plot.

B&H Publishing have announced their intention to withdraw from the Christian fiction market, which leaves authors like Brandilyn Collins without a publisher. I hope she finds one, because I really enjoy her books. On the other hand, B&H pulling out of the fiction market is good news for Kindle owners, because several of their new and recent releases are on sale for $2.99 or $3.99, so it’s a good opportunity to stock up for your summer reading (or winter reading, for those in the Northern Hemisphere).

Dark Justice is a very good read (although I personally preferred Double Blind), and not recommended for when you are alone in the house or have some pressing deadline that’s going to stop you reading right through to the end.

Thanks to B&H Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Brandilyn Collins 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.

1 November 2013

Review: The Crown by Lynne Stringer

Not exactly a review ...

Every now and again I read a book I enjoy so much that I’m apprehensive about reading the next book from the author, especially when it’s a sequel. I often find the second book in a series doesn’t measure up to the first. I thoroughly enjoyed Lynne Stringer’s debut YA novel, The Heir, and I was anxiously waiting for my copy of The Crown to see what was next in the adventures of Sarah and Dan.

But when I got my copy, I found I was reluctant to read it. What if it wasn’t as good?

I had nothing to worry about. I loved it.

My only grouch is the last page, which confirms that I’m going to have to wait six months until the release of The Reign, the final book in the trilogy, when I’ll get to find out what happens in the end. Yes, The Heir and The Crown have that same addictive quality as some other well-known YA series.

I’m not going to give you any information about the plot, because this is a sequel and any information I give will effectively spoil The Heir for those of you who haven’t read it. It’s enough to say that if you’ve read and enjoyed The Heir, you’ll really enjoy The Crown.

I’m even hesitant to tell you about the characters, because one of the features of the two books is that things aren’t exactly what they seem, yet when the truth is revealed it’s a bit like a Miss Marple mystery: the clues were there all along and I wonder how I missed them. There are also other clues which appear to be setting up the plot and conflict in The Reign.

If you haven’t read The Heir and you like YA science fiction with a touch of romance, buy The Crown now. (I’ll even make it easy for you: click this link and you can have the Kindle version in thirty seconds. Or buy the paperback from Light the Dark or Amazon). Please note that while The Heir and The Crown are not classified as Christian fiction, the author is a Christian and the books reflect Christian values.

Recommended for all science fiction fans.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lynne Stringer at her website, or in this interview.