28 February 2014

Review and Facebook Party: Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck

A Fairytale for Grownups

Regina Lice Beswick (better known as Reggie) is a CPA from Tallahassee, Florida, who has thrown in accounting to build a business restoring classic cars. Tanner Burkhardt has been sent to Florida by the king to find Reggie, inform her of her ancestry, and persuade her to return and claim her role as Grand Duchess of Hessenberg, currently ruled by King Nathaniel II of Brighton but due to be returned to the heir of Princess Alice—Reggie is that heir.

There was some initial confusion in the early chapters, as it appears Brighton is a minor island kingdom located in the frigid North Sea, not the famous holiday spot on the south coast of England. I also found the start of the book, especially the second chapter, had far too many named characters and too much plot and history to keep straight. I had to read it twice to get everything (kind of) straight in my head, which is unusual for me (and annoying. It meant the story took too long to get going).

However, when the story did get going, I enjoyed it. Hauck has a lighthearted way with words, which makes reading Princess Ever After a pleasure, especially the tension-filled scenes between Reggie and Tanner.

It seems that many of the novels I’ve been reading—all Christian novels—are stories of abuse and suffering. I don’t deny that abuse and suffering happen. I know they do, and these things affect Christians and non-Christians alike. But so many novels have this as their central them that it’s refreshing to read something lighter, something with some joy and gladness. Something that isn’t driven by Issues, by making sure the reader understands The Theme.

It’s not that Princess Ever After is without conflict, or that everything is rosy. It’s just that it’s a feel-good story, pure and simple. It’s the story to read if you feel everything is just getting a little much, and you’d like to escape into a fictional world where everyone lives happily ever after.

Having said that, it’s probably wise not to think too much about the story, as I suspect there are quite a few unanswered questions (like, why does the girl from Florida never complain about the frigid North Sea weather, and how discreet is it to fly on Royal Air Force One?). There were also a couple of unfortunate typos which will hopefully have been corrected in the final edition.

But I enjoyed it, once I’d worked out the details of the fantasy kingdom, and would recommend Princess Ever After to anyone looking for a little light relief (and perhaps a prince to love). Princess Ever After is the sequel to Once Upon a Prince (about King Nathaniel), but can be read as a standalone novel.

Thanks to Zondervan and Litfuse PR for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rachel Hauck at her website.

Rachel Hauck is celebrating the release of her latest "swoon"-worthy romance,  Princess Ever After, with a fun $200 "Princess" prize package giveaway and a Facebook "Princess" party on March 6th. Grab your tiaras and RSVP today!


 One winner will receive:
  • A $200 Visa cash card (buy your very own "princess ever after" gown or tanks of gas for your "royal" ride)
  • Princess Ever After, Once Upon a Prince, and The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 6th. Winner will be announced at Rachel's "Princess" Facebook Party on March 6th. Connect with Rachel for an evening of "royal" book chat, princess-themed trivia, laughter, prizes, and an exclusive look at the next book in the Royal Wedding series!

So grab your copy of Princess Ever After and join Rachel and friends on the evening of March 6th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven't read the book, don't let that stop you from coming!)

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 6th!

27 February 2014

Review: A March Bride by Rachel Hauck

Novella Sequel to Once Upon a Prince

This is the fourth book in the A Year of Weddings series of novellas from a range of contemporary authors such as Denise Hunter, Rachel Hauck and Deborah Raney (not surprisingly, the plan is for a series of twelve books). Each novel appears to be a standalone story, although the two I’ve read so far both link to other books by the author.

A March Bride starts with Susanna and Nathaniel on the final countdown to their wedding. Susanna has spent the last ten months living in the kingdom of Brighton (eyes roll at the coincidence that the fictional kingdom is named for a town on the south coast of England), and everything is going to plan … except that Nathaniel has been somewhat distant. Is he having second thoughts? No, but the Senate have just announced a law change that might force Susanna to reconsider …

I found A March Bride a little harder to get in to than the first novella I read in the series, probably because it’s the sequel to Once Upon a Prince. While it works as a standalone story, the beginning is awkwardly bogged down with positioning Nathaniel as a British-without-being-British King (with a whole host of posh friends), and Susanna as the redneck from Georgia (and it did irritate me that she kept calling herself a redneck). It also appeared as though it was going to turn into a heavy-handed allegory of our citizenship being in heaven, but it didn’t (thankfully).

While I did enjoy this, I think it would have been more enjoyable if I’d read Once Upon a Prince first—and if the beginning of A March Bride hadn’t been quite so awkward. Once I got past that, the story improved and was able to focus on the central question: is Susanna prepared to give up her American citizenship, the one thing she still felt was hers, in order to marry Nathaniel? As she works through this decision, Hauck makes some interesting points about love, relationships, and our place as the Bride of Christ.

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

25 February 2014

Review: Like Moonlight at Low Tide by Nicole Quigley

Breathtaking Debut

Anna Maria Island, Florida, is where Melissa Keiser spent her childhood years and was a victim of bullying from the ‘cool kids’ who called her Messy and mocked her second-hand clothes. Now she’s back and trying to avoid catching the attention of those kids—except her best friend is dating one of them, and the boy she had a crush on actually seems to have noticed her (in a good way).

Melissa’s had a rough upbringing. Her father abandoned the family before she started school and hasn’t been heard from since. Her mother has paraded through a series of ‘boyfriends’ over the years, her older brother is a dopehead, and her friends do little but party. Her escape is to swim in the neighbour’s pool at night—until she gets caught. This forms the start of an unlikely friendship.

As I was reading, I was trying to decide whether or not Like Moonlight at Low Tide was actually Christian fiction. Missy wasn’t a Christian, her mother certainly wasn’t, and it didn’t seem that any of her friends were either. It wasn’t until quite late in the book that the Christian element started to come through, but it was worth waiting for.
“When I was seventeen, the only boy who ever called me by my full name took his own life. It was the first time I ever saw a mistake that couldn’t be undone.”
Yes, this novel is different. It’s written in the first person, and Missy is a complex character growing up in a difficult environment. It’s gritty and real, yet with a bittersweet aftertaste, as though things shouldn’t be like this.

Like Moonlight at Low Tide is the debut novel from Nicole Quigley, and shows she is a voice to watch in Christian fiction for her edgy realism. Recommended.

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

24 February 2014

21 February 2014

Review: Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate

Fascinating mystery with a touch of romance

Wildwood Creek starts in 1861 with Bonnie Rose obtaining a job as a teacher in a remote town, Wildwood. She takes the job because it provides her and her younger sister, Maggie May, a way to escape from a place where everyone knows their past and shuns them because of it.

In the present day, Allie Kirkland wants to follow the footsteps of her dead father by breaking into film, and a summer job working as a production assistant on the new reality TV show, Mysterious History, might be just the break she needs. She wins the job and her best friend, Kim, wins an acting part on the show. As the preparation for the show gets underway, the two try to determine where the show will be set with the assistance of their librarian neighbour, Stewart.

Allie’s new boss let slip a name, Bonnie Rose, and that forms the basis of their research. They discover Bonnie Rose lived in a small Texas town called Wildwood, a town that was mysteriously abandoned, with no trace of anyone who ever lived there… thus setting up the mystery of Wildwood Creek.

This is a dual timeline story, switching between the story of Bonnie Rose in 1861 Wildwood, and Allie in the contemporary recreation of the town. The suspense in Bonnie’s story is only enhanced by what we know in the present day, that all the inhabitants of Wildwood disappeared without trace. I often find dual timeline stories annoying, as one story is usually weaker than the other, but this was not the case in Wildwood Creek.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a novel by Lisa Wingate. The last two I read were too lightweight for my taste, and despite being marketed as Christian fiction, didn’t have any Christian content to speak of (in my opinion, there is more to ‘Christian fiction’ than a lack of swearing, sex or gratuitous violence. Or there should be). There was a faith element in Wildwood Creek, but it was only a light touch and didn’t come into play until the last quarter of the book. In terms of genre, Wildwood Creek was a mystery set in two timelines, with an element of romance in each, and a highly gratifying and unusual finish.

Wildwood Creek is the fourth book in the Moses Lake series, but works well as a standalone. I haven’t read any of the earlier books, and didn’t feel I’d missed anything (which is always a good sign for a series). Nor did I feel there was excessive backstory or explaining of the previous books (again, a good sign). Recommended for someone looking for a book that’s slightly different.

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

20 February 2014

Review: The Schoolmaster's Bride by Meredith Resce

Australian Depression-era Historical

Dianne Pierceson is has recently lost her husband. It’s 1933, the middle of the Great Depression, and she has just obtained a job as teacher at Carlton Public School in rural South Australia. Her new boss is the dour and reclusive Richard Schrouder, who is none too pleased to meet Dianne, as he was expecting a male teacher.

Dianne is an idealist who chooses to believe the best about everyone, even when she hears damming gossip about her new boss. Richard is a deeply flawed character, reserved to the point of rudeness, and he is definitely hiding something. Or someone …

The title of the book is The Schoolmaster's Bride, so it’s probably not a spoiler to say Dianne and Richard marry, although it's a marriage of convenience. I did feel this section of the plot was a little contrived (yes, I’m aware this is a novel, which means the whole story is contrived by the author. But the trick is to pull the reader so much into the story that we don’t notice these contrivances).

The story then segued into something quite different from what I had been expecting, and while there was still a romantic element, it felt as though it was taking second place to the subplot, and I had serious doubts about this. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. Suffice to say that I think Richard is supposed to come across as gruff but misunderstood, hiding a heart of gold, but something was missing for me.

Overall, while The Schoolmaster's Bride had potential, it didn’t deliver for me. This was partly because the writing style felt old- (too many long passages of dialogue and too much describing of events, as well as other minor writing issues), but mostly because I just couldn’t connect with Richard, and couldn’t understand what Dianne saw in him.

This is a revised edition of a book first published in 2006. Thanks to Meredith Reece for providing a free ebook for review.

19 February 2014

US Giveaway: Shadowed by Grace and The Monuments Men

Enter Cara Putman's SHADOWED BY GRACE "Monuments Men" Giveaway!

Entries open until 24 February - just click the image:

Cara Putman Shadowed By Grace Monuments Men

John Faubion’s FRIEND ME Kindle HDX Giveaway!

John Faubion is celebrating his debut novel, Friend Me, with a Kindle HDX giveaway!


One winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Friend Me by John Faubion
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 22nd. Winner will be announced February 24th on John Faubion's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by John's blog on the 24th to see if you won.

18 February 2014

Review: From Eden with Love by Ray Hawkins

17 - 21 February 2014
is introducing

From Eden with Love 

Even Before Publishing


Ray Hawkins

About the Book

Be taken on a tour of the Majesty of Marriage through 31 days of 'From Eden with Love.'

Discover the Heavenly mystery underpinning the meaning of the Christian Marriage.

About the Author

Ray Hawkins, retired after over 40 years as a Churches of Christ minister, enjoys sharing themes from the Scriptures through Devotional writing. Married to Mary, multi-published inspirational romance author, they have three children and five grandchildren. Ray shares his insights in his first two books on Marriage and Children with more ideas to come about ministry and much more. Living in Beauty Point Tasmania Ray heads up a new Christian Fellowship as well as doing relief preaching, community work and writing.

My Review

From Eden with Love : 31 Biblical Devotions to Meditate on God's Heart for Marriage is a devotional based on love and marriage, and could be used by individuals, couples or small groups. Each devotional includes a short Bible reading, a discussion, a short question for personal reflection, and a prayer. The discussion passages are longer than in some devotionals, but I think the length is fitting with the seriousness of the subject: marriage is for the long haul, and problems can’t be fixed with a soundbite. Some of the readings don’t seem immediately relevant to the topic of the devotional, but the meaning does become clear.

There’s a lot of relationship and marriage advice around, and I have to admit that I take a lot of it with the proverbial grain of salt because it comes from people who (to me) don’t have sufficient credibility to comment. That’s the main reason I like this book of marriage devotions. Ray and Mary Hawkins have been married for almost fifty years, and that gives him the credibility to comment on what the recipe for a successful marriage might be. After all, it is obviously worked for him. Recommended.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing and ARCBA for providing a free ebook for review.

17 February 2014

Author Interview: Narelle Atkins (part 2)

Today we're welcoming back Narelle Atkins, debut author, for the second half of her interview. The first half (here) focused on her novel, Falling for the Farmer. This week, we are looking at the writing and publishing side. Welcome back, Narelle.

When did you seriously start writing? How long did it take before you signed your first publishing contract?

I started writing my first book in 1998, and I discovered I had a lot to learn. I believe it takes time to learn the craft of writing. Not many people write their first book and sell it straight away to a traditional publisher.

I took a long break from writing while my children were small. In 2006 I started to seriously pursue my love of writing. I used to write for two hours every Friday morning while my children were attending pre-school programmes. In 2007 I entered my first book in a number of writing contests in the US. My goal was to receive constructive feedback on how I could improve my stories. I was a finalist in four contests and received a full manuscript request from a Love Inspired editor, who left the company a few months later. I submitted the book and received a form rejection. Over the next few years I wrote my runaway bride story and the second book in my Sydney series.

In August 2012 Harlequin announced they had purchased the Heartsong Presents line from Barbour. I emailed a query and sold my first book in September 2012. My editor asked if I’d written anything else, which led to writing proposals for three brand new stories. I signed a six book contract with Harlequin Love Inspired Heartsong Presents for two 3-book series in February 2013.      

Heartsong Presents novels are known as category romance. What does this mean, and how is it different from the longer single title romance novels?

Category romance books are usually shorter reads that fit within defined parameters. My Heartsong Presents books are just under 200 pages long. My publisher, Harlequin, is the biggest romance publisher in the world. Harlequin has a large number of romance imprints in a wide range of romance sub-genres, including the Love Inspired range of inspirational romance books. The books are released on a monthly schedule. Heartsong Presents currently releases two contemporary and two historical inspirational romances each month. Readers can subscribe to the Harlequin Reader Service and receive a shipment of books every month from their favourite romance lines.

Single title books are longer, and are usually more complex stories with subplots. My Heartsong Presents books focus on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine. The romance plot is the central storyline, and I introduce minor characters who will feature in later books in the series.

Another difference between category and single title books relates to marketing. A new category romance author will sell their book to loyal readers of the category romance line. Readers who love the Heartsong Presents books will buy new authors because they trust the brand will deliver the type of story they like to read. The Heartsong Presents brand will generate sales. In contrast, a single title book is more dependent on the author’s name. It’s harder for a new single title author to stand out in the crowded book marketplace. That’s one reason why building an author platform is important for new writers looking to sell a single title book or series to a traditional publisher.   

Why have you chosen to write category romance? Do you think you will stick with category, or will you move into full-length novels?

I started reading category romance when I was a teenager. My grandmother was an avid category romance reader and she used to share her large book collection with me. I like writing shorter books and I’ve never felt that the category guidelines have limited the scope of my writing. Our books are a product and authors need to deliver books that meet reader expectations. There are genre expectations that single title authors need to follow.

I recently signed an agency agreement with Steve Laube from The Steve Laube Agency. This means I can potentially sell to the larger Christian publishers who only accept agented submissions. I’m more than happy to continue writing for Love Inspired and Heartsong Presents because I love category romance. That said, I do like new challenges and one day I may decide to write a single title contemporary romance series. I’ll work with Steve to map out my career goals and future directions.

People often criticise romance novels (and especially category romance) for being formulaic. Is there a formula? Does this make it easier or harder to write a novel that is accepted for publication?

All genres are formulaic in some way because readers have specific genre expectations. For example, romance plots must have a happily-ever-after ending. Romance is a popular genre with readers because they like reading stories with those essential romance story elements that could be considered formulaic.

I think it’s easier to write a shorter, single romance plot story that doesn’t have one or more sub-plots woven into the main plot. Other writers will say it’s harder to write category romance because they find it difficult to write short. I’ve read single title books that sink in the middle and are boring because the author hasn’t mastered the art of writing effective sub-plots.   

I’ve spent a lot of time studying story structure. The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler explores the mythic story structures. He talks about the stages of the hero’s journey, starting with the ordinary world and call to adventure. In essence, all stories are formulaic if you look at them from a structural perspective, and readers find this underlying story structure satisfying.   

What kind of support does your publisher give you? What are you expected to do yourself?

My publisher provides all the editorial and other support you’d expect from a large traditional publisher, plus they have in-built marketing support eg. Harlequin Reader Service. I’m expected to market and promote my books, and Harlequin provides author copies to help with this process. I was also given the opportunity to write an article for Harlequin’s Simply Books Magazine, which will be mailed out to all their reader service subscribers this month.

It’s important for authors to work with their publishers in all the stages of the book production process. I provide art fact sheet information that is used to create the cover art, and a list of suggested book titles. One day a title I suggest may actually be used, lol.  

Lol indeed! Thanks for visiting, Narelle. 

14 February 2014

Review and Giveaway: Friend Me by John Fabion

Melissa Montalvo is an ambitious young software development specialist who has just been given her dream job—a project to create virtual online friends in an IT start-up, working on the next Facebook or SecondLife—only better. The friend you can share anything with, because they’re not real. More intimate.

Rachel and Scott Douglas are the parents of two small children. Rachel is a stay-at-home mom who feels isolated—her husband works all hours in his job as an investment advisor, and she doesn’t have any close friends. So when she finds a new website, VirtualFriendMe, she is intrigued enough to sign upland recreate her best friend, Suzanne—who died two years ago. There should be something inherently creepy about creating a virtual version of a dead person, but the author manages to make this seem not only believable, but a logical course of action.

Meanwhile, Scott is feeling the pressure at work, and decides to create his own virtual friend after Rachel tells him about the site. Only Scott chooses a female friend, Alicia. She’s loving and supportive and he can tell her anything. She seems almost real. Then he sees someone in real life who looks like Alicia—coincidence, surely …

Friend Me was a mix of Single White Female, The Net, with shades of Nick Lesson’s real-life story. Parts of it made awkward reading, as in many ways Melissa was the best character. She was intelligent, hardworking and ambitious, a woman succeeding in a male-dominated industry. There was just the problem of her warped ethics and questionable business practices.

In contrast, Rachel’s life ambition was to get married and be a mother. To paraphrase the current retirement planning campaign with my bank, a man is not a life plan. In the author interview at the end, Fabion said she was the hardest character to write. It showed, in that Rachel was the character I had least sympathy for (which is curious, as I’m also a wife and mother. Perhaps that was because Rachel let her family role be her whole identity, and that seems unhealthy. But now I’m trying to psychoanalyse a fictional character, a virtual person if you like).

I thought Rachel was immature and needy, worrying that she wasn’t a good enough wife and mother (don’t we all?). The couple are supposed to be Christians, but there’s little mention of God, church or prayer, and it felt like Rachel was trying to please Scott and herself, not God. In contrast, Scott read his Bible at work … at least until he created Alicia.

Friend Me is a sobering reminder of how seemingly small acts can have unintended and unforseen consequences, as Scott and Rachel find. It’s an excellent first novel, with good characters that invite the reader to feel a range of emotions, and an unusual suspense plot that raises some interesting issues. Not for the faint-hearted. Recommended.

John Faubion is celebrating his debut novel, Friend Me, with a Kindle HDX giveaway!


One winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Friend Me by John Faubion
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on February 22nd. Winner will be announced February 24th on John Faubion's blog.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by John's blog on the 24th to see if you won.

13 February 2014

Review: The Painted Table by Suzanne Field

It should have been excellent ...

In 1858, a tree is felled that will become a table. In 1921, widowed immigrant Knute Kirkeborg is trying to eke out a living farming the harsh North Dakota prairie, supporting seven daughters and two sons. Daughter Joann hides under the huge kitchen table as she mourns her mother, who died in a Hospital for the Insane.

In 1943, Joann is left at home with her toddler, Sapphire Eve, while husband Nels serves in the navy, yet Joann has no idea how to be a mother, because her own mother was always too busy with the baby. Her parenting style is detached to the point of emotional neglect, because she never learned otherwise. As a result, Saffee doesn’t learn either.

There’s a rule in modern writing that fiction it shouldn’t be written in omniscient point of view. That’s the first thing I noticed about The Painted Table: it doesn’t obey this dictum. But it works, somehow, at least at first. This could be because the book is written in present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy, as though perhaps we are not in omniscient point of view at all, but are reading the ramblings of a mad woman, someone who thinks of herself in the third person.

The other rule of modern fiction is that writers should show, not tell. We want to see the story in pictures, to see the characters and their emotions, not be told (she said vehemently). The Painted Table does show, but it’s not showing everything. Rather, it is selecting vignettes through Joann and Saffee’s lives that show the family story. As a result, at times it feels as though nothing is happening.

It’s a curious technique, more literary than genre and not helped by the fact that it’s difficult to tell whether the main character in the story is Joann, Saffee, or mental illness. This lack of clarity around plot and character did mean the story dragged in places, as I was wondering when something was going to happen.

Each scene seems to show one of three things. It either shows Joann’s descent into mental illness (the first quarter of the book), it shows Saffee watching her mother’s descent into mental illness (the second quarter), or it shows Saffee struggling to not become her mother (a valid worry, as the reader knows—although Saffee doesn’t—that Joann has followed her own mother into mental illness).

At first this was an interesting way to tell a story. But it got old. I wasn’t exactly sure why I wasn’t enjoying it, then I read a Writer Unboxed blog post about layering, by Dave King (yes, Mr Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. That Dave King). His point is that every element of a story has to work on different layers. He says in the comments:
“The danger is including elements of your story that only mean one thing … If you have enough of those one-purpose elements, your story starts to feel a little contrived”.
He’s nailed it. That’s exactly how I felt. I’m not trying to diminish mental illness or those who suffer from it. It’s a real and growing problem, especially with our ageing population. Nor am I saying that Christian novels shouldn’t be addressing mental illness. They should. What I am saying is that the book still has to have a plot. It has to have characters that go though some kind of change. And while it has to have a theme, the theme should be layered into the plot, not the primary focus of every scene.

My other problem with this book is the blurb. It’s not acting as a teaser to the story: it’s telling the entire story in a few sentences:
“The Norwegian table, a century-old heirloom ingrained with family memory, has become a totem of a life Saffee would rather forget—a childhood disrupted by her mother’s mental illness. 
Saffee does not want the table. By the time she inherits the object of her mother’s obsession, the surface is thick with haphazard layers of paint and heavy with unsettling memories.”
Saffee doesn’t inherit the table until around three-quarters of the way through the story. If this is the central plot, then the first 75% of the story was all backstory—which will explain why it dragged so much.

I wanted to like The Painted Table. The writing is different to what we normally see in Christian fiction, and part of me wanted to like the more literary style. And I wanted to like it because it’s different, not the typical western or Amish romance that makes up so much of Christian fiction. I wanted something that was a little more challenging, but that I would find ultimately rewarding. It had good points, especially the way Nels loved and supported Joann, but in the end I didn’t enjoy it because there was too little plot, too little character development, and too much theme.

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

11 February 2014

Echoes of Mercy by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Excellent romance, through-provoking plot

Ollie Moore, the day janitor at Dinsmore’s World-Famous Chocolate Factor finds himself attracted to the new toter, Carrie Lang. But he knows Carrie isn’t someone his parents will approve of. After all, he’s not really janitor Ollie Moore. He’s Oliver Fulton Dinsmore, son of the owner of the chocolate factor, working in disguise to investigate working practices at the factory, and the factory manager, Gordon Hightower.

Carrie isn’t who she seems, either. She’s an undercover investigator for the Labor Commission, working to ascertain whether the recent death at the factory was an accident or something more sinister, and with a personal mission to end child labour (sorry. New Zealand spelling coming through here). Carrie is attracted by Ollie, but suspects there is more to him than meets the eye—he might look like a common factory worker, but he doesn’t always sound like one.

I have enjoyed the previous books I’ve read by Kim Vogel Sawyer, and Echoes of Mercy was no different. She combines interesting and likeable characters with a historical romance plot that manages to exceed my expectations in the way she weaves in issues of the day, in this case, child labour. Yet this theme is a natural outflowing of the story and never seems forced, and she gives weight to the arguments both for and against child labour: economic necessity vs. human compassion.

Echoes of Mercy also includes a subtle but solid Christian element, best evidenced for me with this quote:
“Jesus tells us in the eleventh chapter of Matthew, verse twenty-eight, ‘Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. He’ll honor the promise, but you must do your part in laying down the burden.”

We live in a world where so many of us are so very busy, yet we are not always prepared to lay that burden at the cross.  Hmm …

I very much enjoyed the story, and found the information in the notes at the end informative. The state of Kansas passed laws in 1905 prohibiting children under the age of 14 from working in factors or mines, while national (US) laws weren’t passed until 1917.

What the author doesn’t mention, but which is worth thinking about, is that child labour still exists in many countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. Children are sent out to work because their families can’t support them without the wages they earn, as low as they are. As a result, these children are unable to gain the education they need to acquire higher-level, better-paying jobs, and so the cycle continues.

One idea I’ve often heard is that there would be no need for child labour if we in the west were prepared to give up our low-cost clothing manufactured in Asian sweatshops. The idea has merit, but misses the economic necessity for many families. If their children do not work, there is not enough money to feed them. In fact, a UNICEF study found that after the US passed a law forbidding child labour in garment factories, an estimated 50,000 Bangladeshi children lost their jobs, which left many resorting to working in areas such as stone-crushing, street hustling and prostitution. That’s a sobering thought: that a child might be safer in a factory.

So what can we do to make a difference in these young lives? First, I’d like to remind you that you might not be able to change the world, but you can change the world for one person. Then I’d like you to join writer Jeff Goins as he recounts his recenttrip to Africa, to visit the child he sponsors with Compassion. Child sponsorship not the answer. It won’t change the world. But it gives hope to one child, and hope can change the world for that child.

Overall, I highly recommend Echoes of Mercy as a good story with a thought-provoking yet unobtrusive theme. And I hope you'll forgive me for the additional commentary it inspired.

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

10 February 2014

Author Interview and Giveaway: Narelle Atkins

I'm pleased to welcome Narelle Atkins to the blog today. Narelle will be telling us a bit about herself, and a bit about her debut novel, Falling for the Farmer, which released last week.

I'll be reviewing Falling for the Farmer in March, as part of the Australasian Christian Readers Blog Alliance blog tour, but I can tell you now: I very much enjoyed it, and I've enjoyed getting to know Narelle a bit better through this interview.

About Falling for the Farmer

Kate Lawson is a runaway bride ...

And she's incredibly grateful when Jack Bradley offers her a job on his apple farm. Working side by side in the orchards with her best friend's brother seems like the perfect way to get over her disastrous engagement. Until Kate finds herself falling hard for the handsome farmer.

Jack Bradley knows city-girl Kate isn't here to stay. Yet suddenly he's imagining a life with her in the country. When Kate considers going back to the city, can Jack find a way to show her that her real home is here on the farm, by his side?

About Narelle

A fun loving Aussie girl at heart, Narelle Atkins was born and raised on the beautiful northern beaches in Sydney, Australia. She has settled in Canberra with her husband and children. A lifelong romance reader, she found the perfect genre to write when she discovered inspirational romance. Narelle's contemporary stories of faith and romance are set in Australia and she is thrilled to have the opportunity to write for Heartsong Presents.

So, Narelle, what inspired Falling for the Farmer?

I’m a city girl, and I was introduced to farm life after I married my husband and visited his family. I’ve helped out on their farms and picked apples, planted apple trees, rounded up sheep. I started writing my first book, set in Sydney, a few years after I married. I remember staying at one of the farms and thinking what if a city girl lived and worked on an apple farm? Months later I woke one morning and my first thought was that Kate, my city girl heroine, was a runaway bride. The story was in my head for a number of years, brewing away while I was in the midst of baby and toddler chaos, before I actually started writing chapter one.

Who is your favourite character and why?

Jack is my favourite character. My heroes are always my favourite character in my stories. If I can’t fall in love with my heroes, I can’t expect my readers to care for them. Jack ticks most of my boxes in terms of heroic qualities. He’s hard working, loyal, dependable, lots of fun, and has a sense of humour. He’s his own man, does want he wants, and has turned his expensive hobby and love of cars into a thriving business. My husband copes with my oohs and aahs as I’m writing my books and swooning over my heroes.

Kate’s mother is rather over-the-top. What inspired her?

I think we’ve all come across people like Kate’s mother. She’s a social climber who attends church because she believes it will improve her social status, and God is more of an afterthought. She does a lot of good things, for example charity work, but her heart motivation for why she does these things is questionable. She thinks she knows best and is determined to see her daughter marry a wealthy man. She equates material wealth with happiness. Kate’s mother epitomises the hypocritical behaviour that may turn people off attending church and becoming involved in a church community.

Do you have anything in common with Kate?

Years ago I worked as an accounts clerk/bookkeeper for a small business. I also did a couple of accounting subjects in my Economics Degree, although I discovered accounting wasn’t my area of interest. Our personalities are very different. I’m not a people pleaser like Kate. I’m prepared to say the hard things, stand up for myself and accept the consequences. I’ve enjoyed helping out on the farms, and I can understand why Kate is drawn to farm life.    

Falling for the Farmer is your debut novel, and the first book in a trilogy. What can we expect in the next two books?

My Snowgum Creek books are a continuity series. Either the hero, heroine, or both are minor characters in a previous book in the series. The Nurse’s Perfect Match (May 2014) starts two years after Falling for the Farmer ends. Amy, a minor character in Falling for the Farmer, is the heroine. I introduce a new family to the series starting with the eldest brother, Ben. I tell Megan’s story in Book 3, The Doctor’s Return (August 2014). Megan is Jack’s sister and Kate’s best friend. I have ideas for future books in the series that I hope I’ll have the opportunity to write. 

What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?

Be prepared to work hard and learn the craft of writing. Join writing organisations and find critique partners and groups who will help you improve your writing. Attend conferences that will assist in your professional development. Contribute to the writing community in volunteer capacities. And, enjoy the journey. Your goal may be to publish a book, but there are many blessings to be found along the way.  

Worldwide Giveaway

Narelle has kindly offered a paperback copy of Falling for the Farmer to one visitor today. If you'd like to win a copy, please leave a comment below. Narelle will select one winner, to be announced when she returns to Iola's Christian Reads next week for the second part of her interview.

7 February 2014

Review: A Matter of Conscience by Mary Hosmar

Is rebellion treason?

It’s 1837 and Jamie MacPherson is fifteen, living with his family on their Canadian farm. William Lyon Mackenzie is calling for Canadians to reject the frustrating and undemocratic British rule, a call that places his family in opposition to many of their friends and neighbours. Is armed rebellion against the God-ordained government appropriate? What if the government gained power through unfair means?

A Matter of Conscience did an excellent job of fairly presenting both sides of the issue, and this was refreshing (in contrast, most Christian fiction about the American Revolution is written by Americans, and reflects the American view).

There were a handful of typos (e.g. outrages instead of outrageous), and while they were a little distracting, they were easy enough to overlook. There were also a couple of small factual errors (Canadians, like other citizens of the Commonwealth, were British subjects until 1949). My other issue was that I didn’t initially know where the book was set. Yes, I knew it was in Canada, but Canada is a big country. There were references to Upper Canada and Lower Canada, but I’m not Canadian so had no idea what that meant (I’ve since checked Wikipedia, and it seems they are the modern-day provinces of Ontario and Quebec. Perhaps that should have been explained in an introductory note from the author).

The novel raised some interesting questions, questions which have no easy answers, and the author did an excellent job of attempting to convey the internal conflict this causes Jamie. However, I felt the story dragged in places, with too much introspection about the arguments for and against rebellion, and too little action. When the action finally came, it felt almost flat, as though the book had been leading up to a conflict which never happened.

A Matter of Conscience is a solid young adult novel with interesting characters, a unique plot and setting, and it asks some difficult questions. Itwill be of interest to Canadians, those interested in Canadian history, and anyone who’s ever wondered when rebellion or war is appropriate.

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

6 February 2014

ACRBA Review: Shadowed in Silk by Christine Lindsey

3 - 7 February 2014
is introducing

Shadowed in Silk

WhiteFire Publishing Sept 2011

Christine Lindsay

About the Book

She was invisible to those who should have loved her.

After the Great War, Abby Fraser returns to India with her small son, where her husband is stationed with the British army. She has longed to go home to the land of glittering palaces and veiled women . . . but Nick has become a cruel stranger. It will take more than her American pluck to survive.

Major Geoff Richards, broken over the loss of so many of his men in the trenches of France, returns to his cavalry post in Amritsar. But his faith does little to help him understand the ruthlessness of his British peers toward the Indian people he loves. Nor does it explain how he is to protect Abby Fraser and her child from the husband who mistreats them.

Amid political unrest, inhospitable deserts, and Russian spies, tensions rise in India as the people cry for the freedom espoused by Gandhi. Caught between their own ideals and duty, Geoff and Abby stumble into sinister secrets . . . secrets that will thrust them out of the shadows and straight into the fire of revolution.

About the Author

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

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


My Review

Shadowed in Silk is a story filled with conflict at several levels. While Abby arrives in India determined to have a proper marriage and family, it is soon apparent that Nick has his own agenda, and encourages her to do what the other wives do. Claude, a civil service man, is only too pleased to show Abby around. Meanwhile, Geoff has to fight his own feelings for Abby, feelings which are inappropriate towards a married woman.

Behind this search for the Russian spy, and the overarching backdrop of the rise of the Indian independence movement, led by Ghandi. While I knew something of India’s struggle for independence, I hadn’t realised the movement dated back that far. A huge amount of research obviously went in to making Shadowed in Silk as historically accurate as possible, yet this research never overwhelmed the story, a huge achievement. I was also impressed by the use of description in the way the author made me feel as though I was in India in 1918, and the use of a sprinkling of the local languages to give it more Indian flavour.

Shadowed in Silk had everything I want in a novel: an original plot, interesting and intelligent characters, plenty of conflict and tension (I could feel my heart-rate increasing as I read it), and an underlying Christian theme. I highly recommend Shadowed in Silk for those readers who enjoy historical fiction, especially that set outside the more traditional locations of the US and the British Isles.

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

5 February 2014

Blog Chase and Giveaway: Falling for the Farmer by Narelle Atkins

Today we have something new—a blog chase, where we join Australian author Narelle Atkins in celebrating the release of her debut novel, Falling for the Farmer. During the chase, we will visit six blogs in Australia and New Zealand, ending at Narelle's blog where you'll find the entry form and giveaway information. 

Each stop on the blog chase has an excerpt from Falling for the Farmer, and a question. Follow the chase in order to read the opening pages, starting at Australasian Christian Writers (follow the link to visit now—you can then come back and read the second excerpt below).

Narelle is giving away three print copies of Falling for the Farmer to three lucky readers who provide the correct answers to all five blog chase questions. We hope you enjoy the ride!

Back cover blurb:


And she’s incredibly grateful when Jack Bradley offers her a job on his apple farm. Working side by side in the orchards with her best friend’s brother seems like the perfect way to get over her disastrous engagement. Until Kate finds herself falling hard for the handsome farmer. 

Jack Bradley knows city-girl Kate isn’t here to stay. Yet suddenly he’s imagining a life with her in the country. When Kate considers going back to the city, can Jack find a way to show her that her real home is here on the farm, by his side? 

CHAPTER ONE excerpt:

Gulping air into her burning lungs, she wrenched open the cumbersome passenger door of the Cadillac and threw her bridal bouquet on the floor. She slid onto the soft cream leather seat, the full skirt of her gown settling over her legs.

Jack Bradley spun around in the driver’s seat, his tawny-brown eyes widening after she pulled the door closed and fastened her seat belt.

Her pulse raced and she sucked in a shallow breath. “Let’s go.”

“Where? Why?” He stashed his phone in the dashboard console. “Aren’t you supposed to be inside the church getting married?”

Kate glanced out the rear window. Her mother hobbled down the church steps in three-inch heels, her crimson face glowing in the late-morning Sydney sunshine. “Please, Jack, I’ll tell you later.”


If Kate ran away to Tauranga, New Zealand, where could she go? 
Tauranga is the main city in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand, named by Captain Cook for the plentiful supply of food and water. If Kate ran away to Tauranga, she would get a temporary job in the kiwifruit industry and would spend her days off swimming, surfing or getting a suntan at The Mount. The Mount is the local name for the beach suburb of Mt Maunganui, which includes shopping, a famous surf beach and a 242m peak rising straight out of the sea.

If Kate wanted to travel a little further afield, she could visit Hobbiton, the set from the Lord of the Rings movies, now a permanent tourist attraction.
My question for the blog chase: What is Mt Maunganui beach called by locals?
You're at Stop 2 on the Falling for the Farmer blog chase. 

Please fill in your answers to the questions located on each of the participating blogs when you reach Narelle’s blog at Stop 6. 

If you have five correct answers, you'll receive an entry in the drawing to win one of three print copies of Falling for the Farmer. 

You can gain a bonus entry in the drawing if you have five correct answers and leave a comment below on this post.  

Current and new subscribers to Narelle’s email list will automatically receive an extra entry if they correctly answer all five questions. The giveaway entry form and terms and conditions are included with Narelle’s post at Stop 6. The winners will be announced in a comment on this post on Wednesday, February 12.

Your next stop on the blog chase is Ink Dots.

The full blog chase itinerary is listed below.

Stop 1: Australasian Christian Writers (ACW) http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.com.au/ 

Stop 2: Iola’s Christian Reads http://christianreads.blogspot.com/ 

Stop 3: Ink Dots http://dorothyadamek.blogspot.com.au/ 

Stop 4: Come Meet Ausjenny http://ausjenny.blogspot.com/

Stop 5: Soul Inspirationz http://soulinspirationz.blogspot.com/ 

Stop 6: Narelle Atkins http://narelleatkins.wordpress.com/

A fun question: Do you have a favourite beach to visit, or one you dream of visiting?

Text Copyright © 2014 by Narelle Atkins 
Cover Art Copyright © 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited 
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. 
Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. 
All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks owned by Harlequin Enterprises Limited or its affiliated companies, used under license.
Copyright© 2014 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited 
Cover copy used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited

4 February 2014

Review: When Courage Calls by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

A Modern Christian Classic

My love for Christian fiction was inspired by Frank Peretti, Michael Phillips and Janette Oke. I think I’ve read every book Janette Oke has ever published. She effectively created Christian prairie fiction with the Love Comes Softly
series. She introduced me to Canada and inspired an enduring respect for the hardworking settlers and the Mounties with When Calls the Heart (and twenty years later, I think I'm still a little in love with Wynn).

Where Courage Calls
is co-authored by Janette and her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan, and it’s just as good as the early books. It features Beth Thatcher, a young relative of Elizabeth (from When Calls the Heart), and Beth is following her aunt’s footsteps by leaving the security of her well-to-do Toronto home to take a job teaching in the West—Coal Valley, a mining town, in the 1920’s.

When Calls the Heart is not a romance (although there are romantic elements). It’s the story of a young woman from a privileged upbringing who finds herself serving in a small town with no conveniences (no shops—not even indoor plumbing). As When Calls the Heart progresses, Beth is challenged by people and circumstances, and learns to rely on God for guidance in times of difficulty. It’s reminiscent of the story of Elizabeth Thatcher, but it’s also entirely Beth’s own story as we watch her struggle, cope and mature (and I do hope there is a sequel).

Recommended for all Janette Oke fans. If you’ve read and enjoyed the When Calls the Heart books, you’ll enjoy this. It is a standalone novel, as there are only passing references to the earlier books and locations, and this is set in a new time and place. So if you haven’t read When Calls the Heart, you can still enjoy Where Courage Calls.

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

3 February 2014

February 2014 New Releases and Givewaway

It's the beginning of a new month, which means the fabulous Ellie Whyte at Soul Inspirationz is hosting another giveaway. This month she has ten titles to give away, including Love's Sweet Surrender by Ann Shorey, a worldwide giveaway (most other titles are US only—sorry, international readers).

New releases I'll be reviewing this month

  • Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell
  • A March Bride by Rachel Hauck
  • Princess Ever After by Rachel Hauck
  • Poison Town by Creson Mapes
  • When Courage Calls by Jannette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan
  • Wildwood Creek by Lisa Wingate
I'll also be hosting giveaways of the following books:

  • Falling for the Farmer by Narelle Atkins
  • Friend Me by John Fabion
  • It Had to be You by Susan May Warren
And I like the look of Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley (an author I haven't read before). What are you looking forward to reading?