31 January 2014

Review: Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell

Sequel, but works as a standalone

Beth Roberts lives with her aunt in a boarding house in Baker City, Oregon, in 1880. Her aunt wants her to marry well, but she’s happiest when drawing the local scenery—and even more happy when she sells her drawings to a prominent women’s magazine. She has secrets in her past that mean she believes no one would want to marry her. If she could ever trust a man anyway, after what happened before …

Jeffrey Tucker lives in the same boarding house. He’s been a mystery to the other guests, but it now comes out that he’s writing a novel set in a boarding house in the American West … a fact which causes consternation among the residents. Jeffrey is interested in Beth, but finds it difficult to get to know her—something that’s made even more difficult when a handsome stranger arrives in town. And then another one …

Wishing on Buttercups is the second book in the Love Blooms in Oregon series, following Blowing on Dandelions. I read the two books back-to-back, but I think they could easily be read as standalone novels—Blowing on Dandelions introduced Jeffrey, Beth and Aunt Wilma, but the main character was Katherine Galloway, the owner of the boarding house where they live.

I thought Wishing on Buttercups was excellent. I liked the characters, especially the way we got to know some familiar characters in a deeper way. I liked the way the Christian elements of the plot were dealt with (although this was less pronounced than in Blowing on Dandelions). I liked the element of suspense provided by the flashes to Steven and Isabella in Kansas, and I especially liked the end. Almost perfect.

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

30 January 2014

Review: A February Bride by Besty St Amant

“Break their heart before they can break yours”

It’s been the motto of the Andrews women for three generations, so it makes perfect sense for Allie Andrews to abandon her fiancé, Marcus Hall, at the altar on their wedding day. But then she is asked to be maid of honour for Hannah, her best friend—and Marcus's sister. Continuing to avoid Marcus is going to be impossible, so what to do?

One of the key issues with a novella is not to clutter it with too much extraneous plot or too many unnecessary characters. February Bride kept the balance just right. It took a simple conflict: a woman who believes she’s going to fulfil the family curse of a string of failed marriages, and decides the best way to break the curse is not to marry at all.

She still loves Marcus—that, in her roundabout thinking, is why she shouldn’t marry him. And she comes to see that Marcus still loves her, even though she abandoned him at the worst possible time. She slowly comes to understand that as a Christian, her destiny is determined by God, not the ‘family curse’, and I think the way this was brought through without reverting to preachiness was one of the strengths of the story.

A February Bride is an excellent novella, and I’m certainly interested in reading more from Betsy St Amant. Recommended for romance lovers.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Betsy St Amant at her website.

29 January 2014

BookBlast and Giveaway: Deep in the Heart by Staci Stallings

by: Staci Stallings

Only 99 Cents... 
January 28 & 29th!

About the Book

Just out of college and completely alone in the world, Maggie Montgomery has one shot left to save her life from an abyss of poverty and hopelessness. Clinging to the last shred of fuel and hope, she arrives at the mansion of Texas billionaire Conrad Ayer. Although Maggie is clearly not what Mr. Ayer and his wife have in mind for a nanny, they agree to hire her temporarily until they can find someone more appropriate to fill the position. However, Maggie's whole world is about to be up-ended by two way-over-scheduled children and one incredibly handsome hired hand. As she struggles to fit into a world she was never made to fit in, Maggie wonders if she can ever learn to become a perfect version of herself so she can keep the job, or is she doomed to always be searching for a life she can never quite grasp?

Keith Ayer despises his life. As the son of Texas billionaire Conrad Ayer and the fiance to a Senator from Texas' daughter, it looks great on the outside, but inside, he is dying. He would vastly prefer to manage and train his father's racehorses. However, everyone else thinks that is beneath him. He needs to get into industry and build on his father's success. Suffocating under the constrictions of his life, he meets Maggie, and she begins to teach him that wealth and power is not everything in this life. But can Keith defy the two most powerful men in Texas to follow his heart?
"Staci Stallings... Christian fiction at its best!"


Staci Stallings
Staci Stallings New Headshot 1
A stay-at-home mom with a husband, three kids and a writing addiction on the side, Staci Stallings has numerous titles for readers to choose from. Not content to stay in one genre and write it to death, Staci’s stories run the gamut from young adult to adult, from motivational and inspirational to full-out Christian and back again. Every title is a new adventure! That’s what keeps Staci writing and you reading. Staci touches the lives of people across the globe every week with her various Internet endeavors including being the co-founder of CrossReads.com and the founder of Grace & Faith Connection.

Follow Staci Stallings

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Enter to Win a Kindle, 6" E Ink Display, Wi-Fi


a $50 Amazon Gift Card!

(That's two separate prizes, given to two separate winners!)

Enter below, sponsored by author Staci Stallings!
Drawing on February 4, 2014
This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

28 January 2014

Review: True North by Susan Johnson

Poignant Tale of Loss and Love

Lisa and Joe Kendall’s marriage falls apart after their ten year old son dies in a car accident. Joe spends all his time at work and is considering a divorce so Lisa can move on with her life. Lisa wants to save their marriage, so convinces Joe to take the Alaskan cruise they had booked and paid for as a treat for Cody, who loved orcas. Joe agrees, on condition that Lisa doesn’t come too. But she does …

True North is a poignant and bittersweet story of two people lost in grief. Not only of their inability to share and work through their grief and how that has destroying their relationship, but how their loss has also affected their relationship with God.

Losing a child must be one of the toughest challenges a parent ever has to face, and True North shows that anguish well. It’s a different kind of romance, the story of two damaged people learning how to cope, how to reconnect.

It’s a difficult subject, and one that is handled well. The two main characters are frustrating in how believable they are, while the minor characters provide both some light relief and impetus for some decisions. The writing is very good, and while this isn’t a subject everyone is going to be comfortable with, True North is worth reading.

Thanks to Susie Johnson for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Suzie at her website

27 January 2014

Author Interview: Rosanne Hawkes

Author Interview: 

Rosanne Hawke

I met Australian author Roseanne Hawke at the Omega Writers Conference in Brisbane in October 2013. She gave a fascinating keynote speech, so I've invited her onto the blog today to introduce you to her.


Welcome, Rosanne. First, can you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? What motivated you to start writing? What kind of books do you write? Where are they set?


I’m from South Australia and was born in Penola. I lived on a sheep farm until I was six. I grew up in Central Queensland near Banana where my father was a grazier. My eldest daughter Lenore motivated me to write when we lived in Pakistan as aid workers because I told her a story that she liked. She had the vision of walking into a bookshop and buying a book that her mother had written just for her. Jihad was that story. 

I write for children and young adults and have tried different genres within those fields but I mostly write realism and often in a different cultural context from my own. Most of my books are set in Australia (The Messenger Bird is even set in my house) but some are set in Pakistan or Azad Kashmir. Parts of Jihad are even set in Afghanistan.


You are a Christian but write books aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?


I wanted any young person to be able to have access to my books. I actually felt ‘called’ to write for all young people, not just Christian ones.


Have people suggested you should write for the Christian market? What is your reaction?


Yes, it has been suggested to me to write for the Christian market, and I may one day. One lady said she hoped I’d write a book for God but I don’t see a difference between my spiritual life and secular life. Nor do I think we should divide ourselves that way. If I create a work I do it for God whether it mentions him or not. Creating a beautiful work of art is giving glory to God, and that is what I hope to do.


You choose topics and titles that could be seen as provoking or controversial, such as arranged marriages, modern slavery and teenage sex. What attracts you to these topics?


It’s strange, I don’t set out to write what some call an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ novel, yet a character’s story will move me and I start writing her or his story. The character always comes first and if my character is going to be forced into marriage, then I write that. 

Because I have lived in the Middle East for ten years I have some background to write novels like Mountain Wolf. I was crossing the border into Azad Kashmir when I got the idea to write Marrying Ameera; that was when I heard about forced underage marriages happening there. I suppose it is compassion that attracts me and moves me to write to give such young people a voice.


What kind of feedback do you get from readers? From their parents? From teens?


One parent told me that Zenna Dare got her daughter off drugs. I’m not sure how that happened but it is amazing how a book will affect different readers. Pakistani-Australian girls and boys thank me for writing about their culture. One girl said I got Marrying Ameera just right – she was surprised her name wasn’t on the cover. One boy told me he read Taj and the great Camel Trek three times. A teen reviewer said she didn’t realise a book could change her point of view on asylum seekers like Soraya, the Storyteller did. 

I am some people’s favourite author so that’s nice. I even got a package of letters from a class of 4-5s in Kazakhstan. They were so shocked about the ending of Soraya, the Storyteller that they each wrote me an epilogue. I don’t blame them as I also find it difficult to understand what our government is doing to asylum seekers.


There is a view that Christians shouldn’t write novels: they should write non-fiction, because this is truth while fiction, made up stories, are lies. What is your opinion of this?


I think this may involve a misconception of what fiction is. I think there is probably more truth that matters in fiction. There is a great writing book called The Lie that Tells the Truth by John Defresne. This title sums it up well: Fiction shows the trueness of human nature and lets us explore our human condition. We are not only entertained but we are moved, and learn more about life and ourselves than we may think possible.


I like that idea. I've read similar quotes from other authors, and I believe novels can speak to people in a way non-fiction sometimes can't. Now, which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?


This is always a difficult question as with over twenty books there will be reasons why each one is special. But I’ll say Zenna Dare here because when I finished writing it I can remember thinking that if I died in the night I knew I had left something worthwhile. The story echoes some of my personal journey and has much in it that means a lot to me: inspiration from my husband’s and my family history, Cornish themes (we are both fourth-generation Cornish), a setting that we subsequently moved to, local history, secrets, mystery, music. And perhaps the most important thing to me of all: that of relationship and reconciliation, not only on a human and cultural level but spiritual as well.


What was the last novel you read? Would you recommend it? What do you like to read for recreation? What author do you recommend, and why?


My son Michael gave me The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton for my birthday. It was shortlisted in practically every award at the time. It has over 800 pages so I kept it to read over Christmas. Yes, I recommend it for its innovation and writing style. It’s about a crime on the goldfields in New Zealand in 1865. Usually long books could be cut, but I didn’t think that about this one. It was written so well that you could see the twenty characters (!) It was very clever. Our writing improves if we stretch ourselves and read the Miles Franklin shortlist, for example.

I’m often reading YA or children’s books. I think Kate Di Camillo is an author whose writing is beautiful and her stories move me; I loved her Because of Wynne Dixie. We have so many good Australian authors too. When you say ‘recreation’, I find it difficult now to keep reading a book that has not been carefully crafted and is really an early draft. I find a well written story that moves me is true recreation for me. 


Where can people find out more about you and your books?


My books are available in any bookshop even if they are not on the shelves. Just order them, though a few older ones are out of print. My latest books from 2010 onwards are also available as e-books. One of my books is available now in the U.S. Its title there is Spirit of a Mountain Wolf.

You can also find me at my website (www.rosannehawke.com), on Facebook (www.facebook.com/RosanneHawkeAuthor) and follow me on twitter (@rhawke53).

24 January 2014

Review: Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron

Well-written Romantic Suspense

Tess Villanova is a Detective with the St Augustine police force, and has just been assigned a new partner, Chicago import Logan McMillan. I really liked both Tess and Logan as characters. They are both competent professionals, both Christians, and have both been forced to confront the age-old question of why bad things happen. Tess’s questions began in her final year of high school, when her best friend was murdered at the prom. Samantha was the first victim of a serial killer, and when another body is found, Tess and Logan are assigned to lead the investigation.

As they pursue the mystery of the latest death, they also discover a mutual attraction—a complication, as they work together. So Scraps of Evidence is a mystery combined with a romance, and although the book is shorter (only 240 pages), it is an exciting and satisfying plot. My only complaint was that I began to suspect the identity of the serial killer around a quarter of the way through the book, and that kind of spoiled the mystery. On the other hand, it did add an additional layer of suspense which kept me turning the pages.

Scraps of Evidence is a departure from Cameron’s normal genre of Amish fiction. There are similarities: Tess and her Aunty Kathy are both keen quilters, and Tess has lived almost her whole life in the community of St Augustine, so Scraps of Evidence has that community feel that often typifies Amish fiction. There are also differences: the Christian aspect of Scraps of Evidence was present but understated, and the characters are intelligent and likeable (as you can tell, I’m not a fan of Amish fiction).

Scraps of Evidence is part of the Quilts of Love series of books, featuring titles by a range of different authors. Each novel is a stand-alone romance with uniting theme of quilts or quilting. I’ve read several and enjoyed them, and I very much enjoyed Scraps of Evidence. I might even be persuaded to give some of Cameron’s Amish fiction a try.

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

23 January 2014

Review: No One to Trust by Lynette Eason

First in a new Romantic Suspense Series

Summer Abernathy is happily married to Kyle after a whirlwind romance. He’d never lie to her, or so she thinks until she wakes up with three strange men standing over her, asking for Kyle’s laptop. But Kyle has disappeared … Kyle is really David Hackett, part of the witness protection programme, and his past has just caught up to him.

Summer has just had her trust broken in the biggest way. She’s married a man whose whole life is a lie, and she has no idea how to cope with that. But that worry soon becomes secondary to a more important objective—staying alive when the people out to get them seem to know their every move.

Kyle/David has his own problems. He does love his wife: he didn’t just marry her to throw his enemies off his trail (as they’d be looking for a single man, not a married man with a mortgage). But now he has to try to stay alive long enough to convince Summer.

No One to Trust is a fast-paced thriller, full of unpredictable plot twists and curve balls. The pace means it’s probably lacking a little in character development, the Christian aspect is also secondary to the suspense, and the romance isn’t really there (as they are already married). However, No One to Trust is still an excellent read for fans of romantic suspense, and I’ll certainly be looking out for the next book in this new series.

Recommended for fans of Brandilyn Collins, Irene Hannon, Dee Henderson, Ronie Kendig, Diann Mills and Dani Pettrey. Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lynette Eason at her website.

21 January 2014

Indie Blog Tour and Giveaway: Sixteen by Emily Rachelle

Today I'd like to introduce you to Emily Rachelle, author of Sixteen, as a guest. Born in Panama, Emily Rachelle has traveled throughout the country and the world with her Air Force family. Currently, she lives with her parents and three brothers in middle Georgia. 

While Emily enjoyed reading as far back as she remembers, writing didn't come to her until she learned the forms of poetry and the basics of story in fourth grade. Since then, she's written scripts for homeschool dramas, poems for birthday presents, and stories for friends and family to enjoy. Sixteen is her debut into the professional world of words. You can find Emily at her blog, Emily Rachelle Writes, http://emilyrachellewrites.blogspot.com.

Sixteen Facts About Sixteen

By Emily Rachelle

1.The main character, Nikki, and her best friend, Christy, were both based in part off myself and my best friend, Mikaela.

2.Speaking of Mikaela, Nikki and Claire share a birthday with her! March 29 is both characters’ birthday, and I chose it because it was Mikaela’s.

3.Sixteen was originally set in modern times, with Nicole and Claire’s scenes set in the future. I even made up new car brands and restaurants for this near-future of mine. Ultimately, though, I decided my future sounded really lame, and then discovered researching the nineties was a lot easier and more fun than I’d thought.

4.Christy has gone from blonde, to brunette, back to blonde, until I finally settled on auburn.

5.Matt and Claire are the only characters I’ve written so far with green eyes. I’ve since learned how rare green eyes are in real life, and how cliched they’ve become in fiction.

6.Sixteen is the only book without a minority-race character. Honestly, the book’s a bit whitewashed, but that fits the small-town setting a lot better than the larger settings of my other books.

7.Christy was named after two of my favorite literary characters - Robin Jones Gunn’s modern teen Christy Miller and Catherine Marshall’s 1900s missionary Christy. Both were Christians like my Christy. After writing the character, I discovered two more similarities: all three Christys have a brother, and all three have gentle spirits (quite a contrast to Nikki!)

8.I still have the first draft of Sixteen saved on my computer.

9.After many temporary titles, this story was called Sweet Seventeenth. That was going to be its published title, but it felt just a bit off. Not until I decided on Sixteen did the title feel like the perfect fit.

10.During the opening scene, we meet a character with very few parts - Claire Monroe. This girl is a college-bound rebel, with short purple hair, a tank top, and very holey jeans. But in the first draft, Claire was introduced as a closet hopeless romantic with brown hair and a t-shirt -- not at all her style, I realized later, and way too much like her mom.

11.If I could change any one thing about this story, I would give a character more “screen time.” Whether that character would be Claire Monroe, Matt’s sister Abigail, or Matt himself, I’ve never decided.

12.My first rejection letter was from an agent whom I queried concerning Sixteen. I don’t plan to seek representation or traditional publishing again at this point - I’ve discovered that the control and freedom (yes, even the smaller fanbase) of indie publishing suits me much better.

13.Sixteen was the first story I wrote in the YA genre, and the last story I wrote in third person past. Before Sixteen, I wrote kids’ stories in third person past. Now I always write YA in first person present.

14.I chose January 18 for Sixteen’s release date before I finished editing the manuscript. At that time, the pro-life message was still the book’s theme, and January 18 is a national pro-life holiday. Since finishing edits, the theme of the book has switched to focus solely on mother-daughter relationships, but I kept that release date as a nod to the original story.

15.If Matt were an animal, he’d be a fish. A colorful fish, but still a fish. His laidback manner balances Nikki’s wild nature.

16.Sixteen was inspired in part by a lack of Mother’s Day gift ideas.


You can connect with Emily a number of ways:

Sixteen is available to buy at:

... and will be available in paperback from Amazon after 29 March.


Emily is offering a Kindle giftcard and ebook as part of a giveaway on her blog, so make sure you enter at http://emilyrachellewrites.blogspot.co.nz/2014/01/sixteen-blog-tour-kick-off-giveaway.html. And visit more of the 16 stops on the Sixteen tour!

My Review

Teenager Claire Monroe is anxious to graduate, leave home and be free of what she sees as restrictive parents. Her mom, Nicole, doesn’t want Claire making the same mistakes she made …

It’s 1995, and Nikki Johnson is sixteen, working part-time as a ballet instructor. She meets Mark, the 23-year-old uncle of one of her pupils, and a friendship develops that gradually changes into something more …

The story moves back and forth between the present (2014, with Nicole telling her story to her daughter) and the past (1995, Nikki’s story). As I was reading, I was thinking, “This isn’t going to end well.” I’m not going to tell you how it did end (obviously), but it was a satisfying combination of expected and unpredictable.

Sixteen is a very good fiction debut. The writing is strong, the characters realistic and the situation all too believable. What is especially good is the way the author has got into the mind of Nicole, showing that teenagers haven’t changed (and their parents really do understand them).

Overall, this was a well-written story, with the main issue that it was a bit on the short side. I would have liked to have seen more of Mark, to understand his thought processes, and I thought there could have been more emphasis on Nikki’s motivation and reactions, especially with the dress scene (I don’t want to say more, for fear I’ll give away the story, but you’ll know what I mean if you read it).

Sixteen is written by a teenager, and while it’s aimed at teens, older readers will still enjoy it. This is an excellent first novel, and I’ll look forward to seeing what Emily Rachelle can produce next.

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

20 January 2014

ACRBA Blog Tour: Firelight of Heaven by Lizabeth Klein

20 - 24 January 2014
is introducing

Firelight of Heaven

Wombat Books Oct 2013

Lizabeth Klein

About the Book

While he searches for the last king to gain total control, two orphaned brothers and an Elf girl begin a quest to locate the seven lost crystals of the Morning Star. This jewel alone holds the key to Morgran's overthrow. Their journey leads them through the perilous land of Gardenia, where their friendship is tested. But one dark secret threatens to tear them apart altogether ... 

Firelight of Heaven is the first volume in the Bethloria fantasy series. Greenheart of the Forest, Book 2 is due for release 2014.

About the Author

Hi, I’m Elizabeth (Lizbeth) Klein and I live in the Sutherland Shire with my husband, Malcolm. I have over 19 years experience in the classroom and 6 years as Tutor of English for both Primary and High School students. Four of my students have completed actual novels (unpublished).

I have published several stories for the Yellow Box, a reading kit for early readers in Primary School. I have also had many on-line Educational articles and lessons published as well as poetry and stories in two anthologies. Currently I am writing a fantasy series and have almost completed the fourth book. There are three to go in the Bethloria series.

My website is: Bethloria.com.au
I'd like to welcome a guest reviewer to Iola's Christian Reads today. Catriona McKeown is a freelance writer, teacher and student of this Art we call Writing. She lives on the Fraser Coast in Queensland with her husband, three daughters and a cat who boasts having visited all the mainland states of this great country.

Cate's Review

Firelight of Heaven is a fantasy novel written with a teenage audience in mind. However, as an adult, I readily enjoyed the book.

Firelight is full of action, mixed in with suspense, with a few surprises along the way. The two male teenage characters, Robbie and Dougray, are likeable and believable. As brothers, they treat each other as many brothers do; there is an element of angst between them, stemming from a history that is unknown to the reader but hints of mystery and intrigue. Yet at the same time they are fiercely protective and care deeply for each other. Their journey away from their home toward the hope of safety is rife with disappointment and danger.

The addition of the Elf girl, Belle, later in the novel adds appeal for a female audience. Her appearance allows the reader to understand how little the brothers, and therefore the reader, know about the strange lands they are encountering, and the beasts that lie within them. Belle is a strong and capable character, caught up in the boys' journey and saving their lives on many occasions.

Other than some aspects of the writing being a little overly described, this first novel in the Bethloria series is an excellent beginning to the age-old saga of good against evil and is well worth the read.

17 January 2014

Review and Giveaway: The Headmistress of Rosemere by Sarah Ladd

School Your Desk 12-Day Kindle Giveaway!

Enter Today - 1/17 - 1/28!
Sarah Ladd The Headmistress of Rosemere

My Review

Regency romance is one of my favourite genres, and one (I feel) is under-represented in Christian fiction. My favourite authors in the genre are Kaye Dacus (who also writes contemporary romance), Jane Orcutt (who has gone on to her eternal reward) and Julie Klassen (Laurie Alice Eakes and Ruth Axtell are on my to-read pile).

I was pleased to read and recommend Sarah E Ladd’s first book, The Heiress of Winterwood, and am even more pleased to read The Headmistress of Rosemere. In this, Ladd secures her place in the top tier of Christian Regency romance authors. My only reservation is that reference to God or faith was absent for much of the novel, to the point where I started wondering if this was Christian Regency or merely ‘clean’.

Miss Patience Creighton has been managing Rosemere, a boarding school for girls in the grounds of Eastmore Hall, since her father died six months ago. Her older brother disappeared off to London shortly after the funeral and hasn’t been heard from since, and her mother has taken to her bed suffering grief and depression, leaving Patience in sole charge of the school, servants, and over twenty students.

William Sterling has returned to his home at Eastmore Hall hoping to somehow raise the money necessary to pay off his gambling debts. It’s not made clear what has changed his mind, but Ladd does a commendable job in redeeming the reprobate and turning him into a hero worthy of Patience.

Patience was a very good character, although patience was not one of her character traits. She was intelligent and educated in a time when this wasn’t the norm for women, and believed that love had passed her by at the grand old age of twenty-five. As a result, she’s not quite sure what to do about the handsome William Sterling. And, of course, she’s dedicated to her students …

The Headmistress of Rosemere is recommended for fans of Julie Klassen and Regency romance. There will be a third book in this series, and I’ll be looking out for it.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Sarah Ladd at her website.

16 January 2014

Review: Her Good Name by Ruth Axtell

Thought-provoking Historical Romance

Espy Estrada is the oldest of the town drunk’s eleven children. She left school early to get a job in the cannery to support her family. She and her next-oldest sister shoulder a lot of the burden of raising their younger siblings, as well as working alternating shifts so there is always someone home to look after the babies.

Warren Brentwood has had every advantage money can bring: an education, and a job in the family firm. But he find’s he’s boss in name only: his father still wants to make all the decisions, including who he should be seen with socially. Espy and Warren are thrown together when the pastor asks them to participate in a project to entice young people back into church, and they both find themselves looking forward to the meetings for more than the project …

I liked both Espy and Warren as characters. I often find the male lead character in a romance is less well-developed than the female, so it was good to meet a hero with a mind of his own, who faced his own set of internal and external conflicts rather than merely providing a foil for the heroine. That’s not to say Espy was weak; quite the opposite. Her background has given her a strong personality and the ability to weather the storms of life. Well, most of them.

Her Good Name is a Christian novel, and I thought the faith elements were particularly well done. At the beginning, it seemed that Espy and Warren attended church more out of habit than personal faith (especially with Warren, as church attendance was clearly an expectation in his social circle). But both characters grew spiritually as the novel progressed, in a way that felt natural for their characters.

Every now and again I read a book which is more than the sum of its parts. Her Good Name was one such book. While it was set in Maine in the 1890’s, there were several themes that resonated today: the tendency for people to not believe the victim, especially if she is poor and female. The difficulty of reaching out to minister to people from the ‘other’ side of the tracks (I suspect many contemporary mission efforts fail for much the same reasons). And the attitude to women in the workplace that still persists with some people (as though there was ever a time when women didn’t work). This novel made me think about some of these deeper issues without resorting to sermonizing. Well done.

You can find out more about Ruth Axtell (who is also published as Ruth Axtell Morren) at her website.

14 January 2014

Review: Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman

Recommended for Historical Fiction Fans

Rachel Justice is about to cross the Atlantic on HMS Queen Mary, bound for war-torn Europe, to photograph the fighting as America liberates Italy from the Germans. Her real motivation isn't to bring the war to the minds of her US readers--although that is part of it. She's going to Italy, in search of the father she never knew. Rachel needs to find her father because her mother is suffering from tuberculosis, and is likely to die soon without more medical treatment—treatment Rachel is hoping her father can help pay for.

Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom is an officer in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Division, better known as the Monuments Men. I’d never heard of them, so this was a pleasant surprise which elevated the novel from interesting into something more original, which I like. (The division will also be the subject of an upcoming film, The Monuments Men, starring Mat Damon and Cate Blanchett, which was based on this book. After reading Shadowed by Grace, I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.)

Rachel and Scott meet when he is assigned to show her around. Fate keeps throwing them together as the fighting moves north, closer to Tuscany, where Rachel believes her father lives. The plot works well on several levels, with the romance between Rachel and Scott developing as they spent more time together, supported by subplots of war, missing artefacts and Rachel’s search for her father, and for faith. Overall, the book flowed well, and presented an original plot, likeable and interesting characters and an underlying Christian message.

The one thing that annoyed me was when a minor British character introduced himself as “Leftenant Alistair Barkley”. Yes, I understand they are trying to show us the different accent, but in that case, why not introduce the Americans as Lootenant? And wouldn’t a Southerner pronounce words differently than someone from Los Angeles or Boston? So why weren’t these words spelled differently? (And why was Barkley referred to as Indian? The British ran India in 1944, and Barkley’s family was from England, so surely he would have considered himself British or English, not Indian.)

I have read a couple of Cara Putman’s contemporary novellas, and while they were solid, they weren’t special in the way Shadowed by Grace is. I just hope we see more in this series—Shadowed by Grace is published by B&H, who announced last year they were closing their fiction line. It would be a shame if this were Putman’s only novel in this vein.

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

13 January 2014

New Releases in Category Romance: January 2014

PictureHere are the January releases from Heartsong Presents, Love Inspired (contemporary romance), Love Inspired Historical (historical romance) and Love Inspired Suspense (contemporary romantic suspense). Category romances are shorter titles - the perfect read for lazing in the sun or snuggling by the fire.

For more information and a giveaway, visit Ellie Whyte at Soul Inspirationz.

10 January 2014

Review: The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

Missing Something

A city boy with a passion for dance moves with his mother to a small country town with a powerful moral leader who banned dancing following the tragic death of a young man many years ago. The leader has a rebellious daughter who seeks out the company of inappropriate young men, including the new boy in town, who wants to reintroduce the townsfolk to dance.

Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the plot of Footloose, the 1984 movie starring Kevin Bacon. It’s also the plot of The Dancing Master.

Miss Julia Midwinter lives in Buckleigh Manor, Bedworth, Devon, the only child of Lady Amelia Midwinter, the local matriarch who has forbidden dancing in the village since the death of her beloved brother. Alec Valcourt has moved to the small village of Beaworthy with his sister and widowed mother, hoping to gain employment as a dancing master and fencing instructor.

Parts of The Dancing Master were very good. Klassen’s writing was, as always, excellent, with a use of language and evidence of extensive research. I appreciated the attention to detail. The passages regarding the Bryanites were especially interesting, because it provided a unique insight into another form of worship—the Bryanites were an offshoot of the Wesleyan who worshipped God through song and (ironically) dance. This was an interesting piece of research that could have been developed into a fascinating subplot, but it was almost totally ignored.

Klassen seems to be following the trend of having a greater proportion of the story from the male point of view (as Dee Henderson CID with Unspoken), and I’m still in two minds about the effectiveness of this. It feels as through the story turned from focussing on Julia, to focusing on Alec (and the Allen and Thorne families), which meant we didn’t get to see what Julia was thinking. The result is the romance wasn’t convincing.

I could see why Julia was attracted to Alec: he personified everything her mother despised, the typical good girl/bad boy pairing (except Alec isn’t actually a bad boy, and her mother didn’t actually despise him—it was just a reaction to a situation she faced in her youth). I couldn’t see what attracted Alec to Julia, because she came across as spoiled and self-centred. Yes, I could see that she was that way because her father never loved here (leading into the spiritual application of our heavenly Father loving us despite the actions of our earthly parents, another subplot that would have benefited from more attention).

I had high expectations for The Dancing Master, because I’ve read and enjoyed several of Julie Klassen’s earlier novels. I was expecting to be wowed, in the way I was when I first read Lady of Milkweed Manor
. But I wasn’t. The subplots were more interesting than the main plot, the minor characters (the Allens, the Bryanites and Mr Desmond) were more interesting than the relationship between Alec and Julia and the conflict between Julia and her mother, and there wasn’t enough development in the main characters. And there was no spiritual development in either of the main characters, yet this should be a central feature of a Christian novel.

The Dancing Master was missing that originality of plot and character demonstrated in her earlier novels. I found it slow to read and difficult to finish. I hope her next novel returns to the combination of strong characters and excellent writing that made her earlier novels so good.

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

9 January 2014

Review: Beowolf by Ronie Kendig

Strong Romantic Suspense

I don’t know why I requested a review copy of Beowulf, as I didn’t particularly enjoy the last Ronie Kendig book I reviewed. Perhaps I thought I should give Ronie Kendig another chance. I’m glad I did.

Timbrel Hogan is a dog handler with private firm A Breed Apart, working with Beowulf (surprise!), an explosives detection dog. James Anthony “Candyman” VanAllen is more than half in love with her, even though she won’t give him the time of day. When Timbrel and Beowulf are assigned to Tony’s unit, the two are forced to work together in a suspenseful plot that moves from Iraq to the US.

There were still aspects of Beowulf that didn’t appeal to me. I thought there were too many minor characters, and I had trouble working out who many of them were (and were they even relevant to the story?). There was a glossary of military terms at the start of the novel: I would have found a list of characters far more useful. And while I know Ronie is known for “rapid-fire fiction”, there were times I felt the writing was too rapid-fire. It almost felt as though she hadn’t finished one thought before moving on to the next. In particular, I found the parts where we moved to Iraq confusing, as it wasn’t clear who the viewpoint character was, or what their connection was to the main plot.

But I really liked Timbrel and Tony (although I didn’t quite get what Tony saw in Timbrel at the start). They were both flawed but real characters, both with their own internal struggles. Tony has a strong Christian faith; Timbrel moves from not believing in God at the start of the book to a Christian faith at the end. And I really liked the progression of their relationship, and the way Tony demonstrated endless patience with Timbrel, reflecting God’s endless patience with us. This, to me, was the strength of the book.

Thanks to Barbour Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ronie Kendig at her website.

7 January 2014

Review: A January Bride by Deborah Raney

Close to a perfect romance

Author Madeleine Houser has moved to Clayburn, Kansas, to be near her sick mother. She’s living in her sister’s house, but the endless renovations are making it impossible for her to write. So her 80-year-old neighbour, Ginny, makes a suggestion: that she write at a local guest house, owned by Ginny’s widowed friend, Arthur Tyler, an English professor at a nearby college.

Maddy doesn’t meet Art, but is introduced to him through the note he leaves for her, which she replies to, starting a daily correspondence. She thinks Ginny might be interested in Art and tries to set the two up, only to find Art is actually only in his thirties. For his part, Art was convinced Maddie was much older, so is equally surprised when they meet and the sparks begin to fly.

I really enjoyed A January Bride . I liked both Maddie and Art, and it was fun to watch them get together (and then suffer. As Madeleine says, it’s “the bane of an author’s existence—the need to make her beloved characters suffer”). It is a novella, so it’s a quick read, but it’s a lot of fun. The writing was excellent, and I especially liked the way the author fall victim to the common fault of trying to cram in too much plot or too many characters. Close to the perfect romance.

A January Bride is the first title I’ve read by Deborah Raney, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Deborah Raney at her blog.

6 January 2014

January 2014 New Releases and Giveaway

I used to prepare a monthly post of new releases in Christian fiction, but found it took a lot of time (almost as much time as reading a book, but not nearly so much fun). Anyway, now I've found something much better: Ellie Whyte of Soul Inspirationz does a monthly post of new releases from the major Christian publishers, which includes a giveaway of over twenty new release paperbacks (unfortunately, most of these are for US readers only).


You can find out more about the books and the giveaway at Soul Inspirationz.

Of the books releasing in January 2014, I've already reviewed The Quaker and the Rebel, and I will be reviewing more over the coming weeks, including The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen, Beowulf by Ronie Kendig, Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron and Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman (if you can only buy one book this month, I'd recommend Shadowed by Grace. Or enter the giveaway to win a copy!).

What new releases are you looking forward to? I want to Luminary by Krista McGee (the sequel to Anomaly), and No One to Trust by Lynette Eason (first in a new suspense series).

3 January 2014

Review: Perfect Mercy by Elaine Fraser

Review from my daughter (age 13)

I really enjoyed the book Perfect Mercy. It has everything a good book needs and includes a great message about God too. The story of a girl with a perfect life but then has it turned upside down has been used in other books, but the way this one goes is a really interesting and works very well. I like how we do get to see what the other characters are thinking and that is wasn’t focused on just Mercy.

The message was very good too. It was basically that God is always there for us and he always has a plan. When Mercy’s life was falling to pieces, he showed her new, true friends and helped her become a better person which was told to us very nicely. At first I didn’t really understand the examples for the life lessons but after about ten chapters, I finally worked it out. On the topic of the life lessons, sometimes they weren’t really needed or didn’t really fit in the chapter they were in, the same happened with the examples as well.

There are a lot of mistakes in this book, from missing punctuation to getting names wrong. Luckily, this didn’t affect the storyline of the book. The first mistake I picked up was ‘Sex in the City’ (it should have been ‘Sex AND the City)’. [Mother notes: I’m not sure how she knows this. I’ve never watched SATC and nor has she. The power of advertising? I'm also unsure whether to be proud or worried that she picks up these things]. There were also mistakes like a missing speech marks or no comma where there should have been but nothing too serious.

This was an excellent book that I enjoyed reading very much and I am really looking forward to book two.

You can find out more about Elaine Fraser at her website.

1 January 2014

Review: The Quaker and the Rebel by Mary Ellis

Unlikeable heroine. Oops.

Miss Emily Harrison, a Quaker from Ohio, has accepted a role as governess for the slave-owning Bennington family in Virginia in the early months of the Civil War. My first impression of Emily was of a self-righteous, judgemental and naïve young lady, someone who has been raised in an insular anti-slavery environment and who hasn’t yet learned that life isn’t all black and white. I found her to be an unlikeable heroine, and that affected the whole book for me. That’s not just my opinion—Emily’s employer calls her “stubborn, wilful, and opinionated”, and Mr Alexander Wesley Hunt, her love interest, says “things aren’t as simple as your small, narrow mind would like them to be”.

It didn’t help that we didn’t find out Emily’s personal history until well into the story (why was she, as a Northerner, working in the South?). It was also never adequately explained how and why she got involved with the Underground Railroad—I thought this subplot could have had substantial impact, whereas it actually seemed like a contrived way of getting Emily in the right (wrong?) place at the right time.

I understand that she is against slavery from a biblical and ethical viewpoint. But that’s no reason to be rude to a slave who is merely trying to do his job. It’s not as though he chose to be a slave. I found her initial assumption that every black person was a slave annoying, and asking a black man whether he was a slave bordered on insulting, not just to the man she is asking but to his employer (or and owner)—her host. Perhaps it might have come across better if her actions had been balanced against a Christian faith, but they weren’t. While Emily was a Quaker, there was no indication of any personal faith in God—her religion appeared to be little more than a set of rules.

Alex had potential as a character. He is secretly the Gray Wraith (based on a real life character known as the Gray Ghost), stealing supplies from the Union to give to the Confederates. He is attracted to Emily (it seems) for no other reason than she isn’t attracted to him. Unfortunately, this came across as a bit of a cliché, probably because I found Emily so unlikeable (his liking of Emily also made me question his intelligence and discernment).

When The Quaker and the Rebel is good, the writing is as good as anything I’ve read. But then it slips from active scenes into passive telling, backstory and omniscient point of view, which brings the forward pace to a grinding halt, and it then takes an age to get going again. And while both the main characters did change during the five years covered by the book, I felt I was being told they had changed, rather than shown. The Quaker and the Rebel had a promising blurb, but overall, the plot and characters aren’t strong or interesting enough to overlook the faults, or to read the next book in the series.

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