31 March 2014

Blog Tour and Author Interview: M Ann Ricks

Hello! I’m M. Ann Ricks, a woman, redeemed and set free by the life-giving and life-changing blood of Jesus Christ. I’m a wife, mother, Christian Fiction novelist and “Godspirational” speaker, endeavoring to live for Christ ON PURPOSE as a literary vessel, providing Christian literature that will not only entertain but encourage, enlighten, emancipate and prayerfully restore!

Do you feel like your background or upbringing influences your writing style?  If so, in what way(s)?
My upbringing had a great deal to do with my writing style. I was always strongly encouraged to read and did. Everyone in my family did. We all also love the Lord as He is and has always been an integral part of our lives. It would only make sense that I would write because I love to read and that I would write about Jesus.  I loved reading historical novels, harlequin romances, etc. Words have the power to influence and that has always intrigued me, even as a child. As a result, being very descriptive while telling the story is a large part of my style. I want the reader to find themselves immersed into each scene and words, adjectives especially, have a wonderful way of granting the reader deeper access into the story.

Describe your novel, THE SHIFT, in 10 words or less.  God is transitioning the impossible and unbelievable into possible and believable.

When and why did you begin writing? I have always enjoyed and had an interest in the art of writing. It was a “hidden love” for many years. I actually never thought I would be  an “author”.  Not until the pregnancy of my eldest son almost, (almost eighteen years ago), did I feel a need to unearth my hidden love and write. I began to simply write about the way I felt about the child growing inside of me and the love that I felt for my husband.  When I resolved to reconnect with the Master and sought to draw nigh to Him, the desire to write became stronger and strangely, to my surprise, an urgent need. My yearning to please Him with the stories that I created increased. I realized that this could be my way of bringing souls into the Kingdom of God. Writing is a way to reach people and impact the reader and to leave a lasting impression.  Inserting the word of God can in many cases transports you into the presence of God and weaving words them together to take a reader on a life changing journey is something that I find most rewarding.  

Is there a central message or theme in THE SHIFT that you hope readers will come away from the reading experience with?
It is my hope that people will realize while reading THE SHIFT that God is not just an ideal or unapproachable entity. God, the Creator of everything is REAL and most importantly Jesus is waiting. His love is unending.  He is an EVER present HELP and ANSWER in the time of our greatest challenge. We have the awesome opportunity to be everything God says we are because of Jesus’ unstoppable and unshakable affection towards us.  He can suddenly change (hence, THE SHIFT) our lives into ones of true purpose. Lives that will give Him glory!  All He desires is a YES!

What has been the toughest criticism you’ve received as an author? What has been the best compliment?
My toughest criticism was that people didn’t want to read a book with Jesus as the focal point.

My best compliment was that my writing made the love of God so real and so wonderful that my novel could be used as a tool to bring people to Christ! (GLORY to God!)

What’s next for you? What can readers look forward to from M. Ann?
I hope to begin my fifth novel, “Not Even Death” in the next couple of months.

How can we find you online and where can we pick up a copy of THE SHIFT?
Interested readers may find my novels on all online literary websites. (i.e.: www.amazon.com / www.bn.com). Additionally, feel free to visit my website, www.mannricks.net to purchase any of my novels.

If you had to go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of writing your novel or getting it published that you would change?
I would be a little bit more patient with the process.  I wouldn’t have been as anxious to get my book into print. Leaning to my own understanding was definitely a mistake. God’s timing is always perfect.

What has been the most effective method of marketing and/or publicizing your books so far? Why or how?

Word of mouth coupled with giveaways.  If one person tells someone about a book that has impacted them, a ripple effect is then started. Yes, Facebook, Twitter and even booksignings are great but one person can cause ten people to buy your book in a matter of an hour.  One free book has the potential to garner interest and if positive reviews are received, the ones who didn’t receive the book for free, will still pay for it and tell a friend! Connecting with book clubs is also an excellent way of publicizing one’s novel.

About The Book

There is a sense of urgency in the atmosphere as God is transitioning what the world has deemed impossible and unbelievable into the possible and the believable. Don’t be alarmed by the "sudden" moves of God.
Pastor Douglass and his family have been positioned for such a move but because of the dense fog of deception that seems to surround them, some in the Douglass family have created their own beliefs, fabricating their own sense of self; negating the truth, God’s truth, even when truth is staring them in the face.  They, like many, are living lives devoid of the knowledge of who they really are and robbing themselves and those they love of their true identity and freedom. Deeply embedded lies from enemy have blinded eyes, impaired hearing and hardened hearts and Angels from the army of God have been deployed. The assignment: the execution of God’s divine design.  Dreams, supernatural revelation and actual attacks from man's ultimate foe will expose all and confirm God’s plan for Xion, Veronica, Zeborah, Bo and Pastor Douglas. Can they handle the truth and surrender? Will the infrastructure of unbelief crumble?  The lives of the Douglass family will never be the same and neither will you, because of THE SHIFT !

About The Author

M. Ann Ricks, (Melissa Ann), is a Christian Fiction novelist residing in Bear, Delaware with her excellent husband and two awesome sons. She is a graduate of Rider University and formerly a national accounts insurance executive. Using Jesus Christ as her example,  as He shared many parables, she creates stories with fictional characters that contend with real life issues and inserts the Word of God to communicate the genuine and unfailing love of God while making it abundantly clear that Jesus is the ONLY answer.  M. Ann is determined to tell the world how wonderfully awesome Jesus Christ is and can be in our lives if we just allow Him to be.   She is honored to be used by God to spread His message with the stories she creates with the leading of the Holy Spirit, knowing that He will provide her with stories and the insight that will lift up the name of Jesus as He promised that if He is lifted up, He will draw all men to Him. She is the author Awesome Wonder: The Gift of Remembrance, The Son and THE BLOOD DONE SIGNED MY NAME.

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28 March 2014

Friday Fifteen: Jeanette O'Hagan

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen authors who have influenced you.

Today I'd like to welcome Jeanette O'Hagan to share her Friday Fifteen. Jeanette loves reading, art, travel, catching up for coffee with friends and communicating God’s great love for each one of His children.

Jeanette's Friday Fifteen

It is very, very hard to limit the authors who have impacted on my life to fifteen. So I’m going to stay with fiction authors and not mention the non-fiction writers like Isobel Kuhn and John Stott etc who have also been influential in my life.

1. C. S. Lewis 
Lewis is my all time favourite author. He enchanted me with the Narnia series when I was seven and introduced me to my favourite genre—fantasy. He inspires me as a writer both in his fictional works (Narnia, his Sci-Fi trilogy, Til We Have Faces) and in his theological and apologetic works. I love that he was a brilliant man who could explain Christian Faith in everyday language and with such lucidity.

2. J. R. R. Tolkien
What can I say—his Lord of the Rings swept me away into a new world as a young teen. Both he and Lewis have been very influential on my own world building.  I read his Children of Hurin recently and found myself weeping at the end, not something I’m usually prone to.

3. James Fenimore Cooper
I read the Last of the Mohicans at nine, around the time we moved from Mt Isa to Africa. Something about the pathos of Uncas, the Last of the Mohicans (along with half-Indian hero of a series by a less famous author) spoke to my own sense of loneliness and displacement and helped create my first character Agwynellen.  Gwyn was in many ways my alter ego—who I was and who I wanted to be.

4. Leo Tolstoy
I was entranced at the grandeur and scale of his War and Peace and loved the way he wove his faith into the story.

5. Jane Austen
We studied Mansfield Park in Grade 11 and I loved it so much I made a point of tracking down every one of her books and reading them. She instilled in me a love for thoughtful romance.

6. Isaac Asimov
I devoured his science fiction, particularly his Foundation series and Robot series but also more obscure ones like The God’s Themselves. I enjoyed the way he combined imagination, human foibles and brilliant extrapolations of futuristic science and technology, usually with a touch of romance.

7. Louisa May Alcott
I think maybe I indentified with Jo in Little Women and enjoyed the telling of her unconventional romance with Professor Bauer.

8. Anne McCaffrey
She swept me away with her Dragonriders of Pern series and intrigued me with The Ship Who Sang. I loved other authors too, like Julian May and Marion Zimmer Bradley – but McCafferty has a hopefulness to her fiction that I like.

9. Ursula Le Guin
Always challenging and empathetic, her sci-fiction and fantasy made me think.

10. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
While a lot of their fantasy often doesn’t seem particularly deep, there was something about it that made me think, especially the Deathgate series where I found Haplo and his dog particularly intriguing.  

11. Dorothy Sayers
I loved the perfection and intellectual challenge of her detective novels—and also that she was a thoughtful theologian.

12. Kim Edwards
While she is probably better known for The Memory-Keeper’s Daughter, I particularly liked her Lake of Dreams. I like the way she is able to weave spiritual and moral searching into her fiction.

13. Paula Vince
I find Paula’s books great reads with suspense, intrigue, romance and faith weaved through challenging and provocative situations. I particularly like the believable and sensitive way she characterises troubled young people.

14. Suzanne Collins
While I have some qualms about the role of violence in The Hunger Games trilogy, these books were a gripping read and raise important questions about contemporary society (the role of media and reality TV, inequality etc). And I liked Katniss as a strong female lead.

15. Christopher Paolini

I’ve read the first three of his Inheritance Cycle and have the fourth on hold at the library. I found them straight out enjoyable reads. I particularly love his characterisation and world building.  He draws of Star Wars, Dragon Riders of Pern and Tolkien for inspiration but brings about his own imaginative synthesis – something I hope I am doing with my own world building in my Akrad series.

About Jeanette O'Hagan

Jeanette O’Hagan lives in Brisbane, Australia with her husband Tony and two beautiful children. She has returned to her love of writing after various careers as medical practitioner, theology lecturer and full-time mum. She blogs and is currently writing her fourth manuscript in the as yet unpublished Akrad series. She writes poems, short stories and non-fiction pieces and is studying a Masters of Arts (Writing). She has enjoyed speaking opportunities to challenge and inspire through an annual ethics seminar, preaching and speaking at retreats. You can find Jeanette on Facebook, or one of her websites:


Would you like to contribute a Friday Fifteen? If so, email me via my contact page to set a date. Contributions are welcome from anyone—readers, reviewers and authors. It's an opportunity to share some of the authors (and books) which have influenced you, and to pick up some ideas for new authors to read.

27 March 2014

Review: An April Bride by Lenora Worth

Planning a wedding ... or a life?

Stella Carson has been planning her wedding to high school sweetheart Marshall Henderson for a year, since he was posted to the Middle East. Now he’s back after several months in hospital recovering from an attack that killed several of his comrades—and stole his memory. Can their wedding still go ahead?

Reading An April Bride showed me a completely different side of weddings. I’m married, and while I had a lovely wedding, it was nothing compared to the wedding Stella had planned for her and Marsh. A month before the wedding, she’d already had five bridal showers. Five. Most brides I know manage one at the most. But Stella had five, “each with a different theme—kitchen, garden, linens, recipes and cookbooks, and china and everyday dishes”. Seriously? Does no one start with a few basics and gradually build up a household?

But it was this quote which illustrated the real difference to me:
I’ve been so caught up in the wedding, I forgot to plan for the marriage.
This brought to mind a blog post I read recently, which expanded on the same point. Couples planning the celebration to get the gifts, not thinking about what they are celebrating. The start of a life together.

That’s not a criticism of Stella, Marshall or their parents. I could understand why Stella threw herself into wedding preparations—it was a way of staying sane and occupied while Marshall was away. And I could admire Marsh for being prepared to go ahead with a wedding to a woman he couldn’t remember, because it was the right thing to do. From that point of view, the story was excellent, as was the Christian aspect (one thing Marsh hadn’t forgotten was his faith in God). It showed him to be a man of convictions and honour. But I would have liked to have understood more about what he was thinking at times.

This was a well written love story, of two people struggling to come to terms with something that has completely altered the nature of their relationship, but who commit, in God, to working through those problems. Those women in real life who are planning for a wedding, not a marriage, could learn something from Stella and Marsh.

An April Bride is the first book I’ve read by Lenora Worth, but I’d certainly be interested in reading more. Her previous books are all Love Inspired (short contemporary romance) or Love Inspired Suspense, and I can see that background coming through in An April Bride. Worth reading.

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

25 March 2014

Review: Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus

Edgy YA Contemporary Fiction

Talia Grace Vanderbilt is the strange girl at school, the one all the lids call ‘emo’. She’s not. She’s just hiding a home life where her every move is controlled by her father, immigration lawyer Gerard Vanderbilt, and where there consequences for not meeting expectations. She is responsible for caring for her younger brother, Jesse, as their mother is dead.

The whole book is written in first person, from Talia’s point of view. This means we don’t always get to see or understand the motivations of some of the other characters, like Jesse, Lagan and Gerard. What we do see is filtered through Talia’s understanding, and while she is an intelligent high school senior, her insular upbringing means she is na├»ve in some respects.

Logan is an equally interesting character. He goes out of his way to befriend Talia, allowing the relationship to develop slowly and almost entirely on her terms. Logan sticks by her, and it’s only late in the book when we begin to get an idea of why.

Gerard, Talia’s father, is an equally interesting character, although in totally the opposite respect. He is, without a doubt, one of the most chilling antagonists I’ve come across is fiction. His entire life is a secret from his family, so we find out very little about him. But what we are shown gives the plot a string of tension that kept me turning the page, even though I was afraid to find out what might be coming. It’s outstanding writing, both compelling and repulsive.

I was particularly impressed by the way backstory was handled. A lot of writers don’t understand the need to layer it through the story. Swimming Through Clouds dropped hints, so that when when we finally found out about a particular incident from Talia’s past, we wanted to know the details. The author also managed to write some of these scenes so the reader ends up understanding the incident better then Talia does, which is impressive.

This is the first book in a series, and while it had a sense of closure in itself, there were several unanswered questions as well, leaving plenty to cover in the sequel. Swimming Through Clouds isn’t a Christian novel per se, in that God, Jesus and Christianity aren’t mentioned. However, a Christian reader will find Jesus in the story.

Recommended for fans of gritty YA fiction and authors such as Trudy Adams and Michelle Dennis Evans. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rajdeep Paulus at her website

24 March 2014

Author Interview and Giveaway: Paula Vince

Today I'd like to welcome award-winning Australian author, Paula Vince. Paula's latest book, Imogen's Chance, releases next week, and I'll be reviewing it later in April as part of the Australasian Christian Readers Blog Alliance blog tour (actually, I've already read it, but you're still going to have to wait for the review). 

Please tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I live in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which is a really pretty corner of the world with four distinct seasons. We’re a homeschooling family comprised of my husband, myself, our three children and our nephew, who boards with us. I have only one daughter, so she gets lots of male company.

What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?
I like a strong thread of romance, whether this is found in contemporary, historical or fantasy stories. Today, I think my favourite authors are Lynn Austin and Julie Klassen for historical, Chris Coppernoll for contemporary, and James L. Rubart for the supernatural element. This is all subject to change though, so it may not be the same next month. Especially as there so many authors whose books I’ve yet to read.

Isn't that the truth!

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it?
It was a non-fiction book called ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell. Some non-fiction authors stimulate my imagination to try to think of interesting and plausible fiction scenarios, and he’s one of them. He comes up with surprising hypotheses and then sets about convincing readers of his evidence for them. In this case, it’s that first impressions and gut instincts are often more reliable than what we come up with after doing loads of research and gleaning information.

I've read Blink - I'm not convinced by all his arguments, but it was certainly a thought-provoking read. 

What kind of books do you write? When and where are they set?
I’ve always called them contemporary romances with threads of mystery and suspense, for they don’t squeeze easily into the pure romance category. I’ve recently learned about the ‘new adult’ genre and decided my books fit that too. My main characters are usually in their early to mid-twenties and face thought-provoking and topical issues.

The books are set in my local environment. I think they are more authentic that way, as I’m so familiar with the setting, I don’t have to research it. I’ve taken Jane Austen’s advice to write about what you know, and it worked brilliantly for her.

Tell us about Imogen’s Chance. What’s it about?
My heroine feels guilty and partly responsible for a couple of horrible events which happened when she was younger. One day, during a vulnerable moment, she vows to return and fix things up if only she gets the chance. For Imogen, back-tracking means returning all the way from America to South Australia. She finds that one of her old friends, Asher, has a problem which seems impossible for her to help with. As he’s one of the people she felt most wary about facing again, she’s unsure how she should behave around him.

Where did the story and characters come from? What were your influences?
One of the themes of this book is divine healing. We’ve surely all heard stories of people who have defied grim medical diagnoses and lived to tell the tale. But is there actually some action required from the patient in their approach to God? What should our attitude be? These are questions I’ve pondered through observing others and reading non-fiction. I wanted to weave it all together into a novel.

Good questions, and I think this is one of the strengths of the novel. 

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him?
That’s tricky, but I’ve decided to say Asher. He’s different from the male protagonists of my other novels. It dawned on me that I’ve had a tendency to choose the dark, quiet type of hero. I decided I wanted to break the mould, so Asher is blond and far more of a chatterbox. He doesn’t have all that much in common with me at all, which is partly why I’m proud of having created him. I pulled it off.

Yes, you did. I really liked Asher. 

What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?
My dad researched his genealogy and asked me to type the notes for him. I learned a lot about my grandfather, who died before I was born. He was one of the ANZACs, serving in both world wars, and also the champion boxer for South Australia in his era. He had such an eventful and noteworthy life, with true stories too good to ignore. I’d love to write it out as an engaging biography, but it would mean writing about history authentically, something I’ve never attempted before. It would be a leap out of my comfort zone.

What is your opinion on the view that Christians should write non-fiction/truth as opposed to fiction/lies?
I’ve come across this view too, and it makes me sad. Perhaps people are missing the broader definition of the word ‘truth’, which I say is an accurate representation of life in all its beauty and messiness. I believe fiction is the perfect vehicle to portray this. It would seem Jesus did too, as the Bible tells us his favourite way of addressing crowds was with parables. Instead of being the visiting pastor or evangelist, as those who only read non-fiction may imagine him, he would have been more like the village storyteller. I’m sure fiction lovers completely get this.

What motivated you to start writing?
I always loved reading and writing stories since I was very small. My first novel was published in 2000, so that may be when I started seriously, although I always dreamed about doing it.

 What made you choose to write for the Christian market?
I remember as a High School student, first seeing Christian fiction. It was a spinning rack of Janette Oke novels in my city’s Christian bookstore, and the year was about 1985. The idea seemed completely unique and unconventional to me and I made up my mind that I wanted to do that too. The fact that we can express our Christian faith in stories struck me as a stroke of genius.

I think I've read every single Janette Oke book ever published. Wonderful stories, with a deep spiritual thread.

What do you see are the main differences between fiction written for the Christian compared to the general market?
I’d love it if such a dichotomy didn’t exist. Then Christian characters could express their faith in Jesus and readers would take it on face value without feeling preached at. Similarly, non-Christian characters could realistically indulge in their usual behaviour without shocking anyone or having the need to be toned down for decorum.

As the world isn’t like this, I think a main difference is that personal faith in Jesus and his love and care for us must be a significant part in the lives of one or more of the main characters of Christian fiction. Another difference is that Christian readers who get tired of not being able to relate to characters in secular novels may enjoy some reading material free of elements such as heavy swearing, one-night-stands or characters getting drunk and hung-over. And, of course, Christian fiction often challenges or strengthens the faith of the readers.

Having said all this, I can see how either ‘Christian’ or ‘secular’ fiction may be considered confrontational and in-your-face by those of opposing viewpoints. I aim to bridge these gaps with plots to interest everyone and characters whose attitudes, including their faith beliefs, are easy to understand and accept in the context of their lives.

Do your novels have an overt faith element?
I think, on the whole, they do. My Christian faith is a big part of my life, but it wasn’t always, so I’ve done a lot of studying and pondering about it. Now it just seems easier to have at least a few characters whose mindsets are similar to mine. I’m also a fan of the saying, “What you see is what you get.” I prefer to be straightforward and up-front without trying to eke it out secretly or symbolically. Some authors can write covert Christian fiction extremely skilfully, but I don’t think I could manage it.

Is writing for the Christian market harder or easier than writing for the general market? Why?
Honestly, I think it’s been easier in several ways. As I said above, it suits me to have characters who think similarly to how I do. Apart from that, the Christian fiction market in Australia has long been a small enough niche that we authors have mostly all heard of each other and can offer support and encouragement, and recommend each other. I once tried writing a more secular trilogy for young adults, and felt that it got swallowed up without much of a ripple. The general market is enormous and making a mark there must surely be far harder than getting known as a good Christian fiction writer in your own country.

What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?
Definitely the marketing. The end of the production part is the beginning of what I consider the hardest challenge. It can be difficult to achieve the sales results we hope for, even when we’re trying to do all the right things. I wouldn’t call it a competitive industry, as we are all friends willing to recommend each others’ books, but I know many people believe it is. And with a lot of Christian writers out there in the world, people who may well love our books may be hard to reach.

From what I've seen of the Christian fiction market, it's not so much that you are competing (after all, readers will buy and read more than one book a year), but getting the word out to people who might be interested. 

What kind of support from your publisher? What expected to do myself?
The support from my publisher is great. She’s almost single-handedly responsible for many great novels written by Australians and New Zealanders. She’s taken on a huge task and supports her authors with marketing help, distribution, informing us about contests and awards, all on top of producing the books. We are expected to be vigilant to look for opportunities to sell and speak too. After all, the publisher can’t do all this for every author as well as publish.

 What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?
Don’t get carried away with images of yourself getting rich or famous. There is no regular pay check in this business. Don’t expect to have an easy ride. Be prepared to re-write to the extent of slashing out entire scenes if need be, and don’t consider it wasted time. Be self-motivated, as you’ll need to spend lots of quiet time without others to spur you on. Don’t be surprised if you get no interest from those you’d expect to be supportive and great enthusiasm from others who take you completely off guard. If you have a story that’s burning in your heart, please don’t give up. The work will surely be longer and harder than you think, but it will be worth it.

Thanks so much for visiting, Paula! I hope Imogen's Chance does well. 

About the Book 

She has given herself a chance to fix her personal history. But will old mistakes bring up new emotions?
Imogen Browne longs to make up for past mistakes before she can move on. She quietly resolves to help the Dorazio family, whose lives she accidentally upset. Her biggest challenge is Asher, the one person who may never forgive her. And he is facing a crisis of his own. Imogen must tread very carefully, as trying to fix things may well make them shatter.

A sensitive story about misplaced loyalty, celebrating life and falling in love. Can family secrets concealed with the best intentions bear the light of day?

So where can you buy Imogen's Chance? The official release date is 1 April 2014, and it will be available at www.amazon.com from then. 

Paula has one copy of Imogen's Chance to give away today. Leave a comment to be in with a chance to win!
If you are based in Australia or New Zealand, you can also order from Light the Dark, or join the Australian Christian Book Club (as I'm informed Imogen's Chance will be the fiction selection for April). The Australian Christian Book Club gives you a book a month delivered to your home for AUD 5 per week—and if you sign up before 1 April 2014, you will get AUD 180 worth of books absolutely free!.

About Paula Vince

Award-winning author, Paula Vince loves to evoke tears and laughter through her novels. A wife and homeschooling mother of three, she resides in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Her youth was brightened by great fiction and she’s on a mission to pay it forward.

Her novel, Picking up the Pieces, won the religious fiction section of the 2011 International Book Awards. Her novel, Best Forgotten, was winner of the 2011 CALEB Award in the fiction category and also recognized as the best overall entry for the year, chosen over memoirs, devotionals and general non-fiction.

Paula’s books are a skilful blend of drama and romance tied together with elements of mystery and suspense. 

You can find Paula online at:

She also writes and contributes to several blogs:

21 March 2014

Introduction to Friday Fifteen

Today is the first post in an occasional series: Friday Fifteen. Fifteen authors who have influenced you.

Take fifteen minutes and write down the names of fifteen authors who have influenced your reading life (or your life in general). If you've got a little more time, write down a sentence or two for each, explaining why you've chosen that author.

To start, here's my Friday Fifteen:

1. Enid Blyton
The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, Malory Towers … Enid Blyton is the first author I remember reading, and is responsible for my childhood fascination with boarding school, ginger beer, and all things English. She showed me how books could take me to another time and place.

2. Arthur Ransome
I remember being given the entire twelve-book series as a child, and finding them a real struggle to read. I tried reading them again a couple of years later, and loved the stories—again, the way they took me away from my small New Zealand town and showed me something new.

3. John Christopher
I think my love of all things sci-fi started with reading The Tripods trilogy. It was excellent dystopian fiction, the Hunger Games of the 1980's.

4. John Wyndham
I read a lot of classic and contemporary sci-fi in my teenage years, including The Day of the Triffids. I suspect I enjoyed sci-fi because looking at other societies with different values helped me determine by own values and beliefs.

5. Lois Lowry
A Summer to Die, The Giver. Lowry has written some great YA fiction, and her take on contemporary issues spoke to me in a way my 1950's favourites didn't.

6. Agatha Christie
I read and enjoyed many Agatha Christie mysteries over the years. I never worked out whodunit, but her answers always made perfect sense.

7. Frank Peretti
This Present Darkness was the first Christian fiction I ever read, and for a while I thought all Christian fiction must have angels and demons! I soon found I was wrong: there was a whole range of fiction to explore in my local Christian bookshop.

8. Francine Rivers
The Mark of the Lion series was the first fiction I'd read set in Biblical times, and it gave me a whole new appreciation for the early Christians. That remains one of the reasons I enjoy historical fiction: it gives me an insight into life in the past.

9. Georgette Heyer
the undisputed Queen of Regency romance, which remains one of my favourite historical periods. She wrote the ‘rules’ of the genre, and while her style is now dated, I still judge all others by her standard.

10. Jane Austen
Watching the 1995 BBC TV series of Pride and Prejudice introduced me to the classics I'd never enjoyed when being made to read them in school. I found that while I didn’t enjoy everything I read, these books are classics for a reason.

11. Janette Oke
Creator of Christian Historical Westerns, a genre I still enjoy reading.

12. Dee Henderson
Reading Dee Henderson's Uncommon Heroes series was my introduction to Christian Romantic Suspense, and led me to some of my favourite authors in that genre.

13. Margaret Brownley
I won a book from Margaret Brownley in an online giveaway, and that introduced me to the world of NetGalley and online book reviewing—and a pile of new authors.

14. Paula Vince
It was through contact with Paula (after I’d reviewed one of her books on Amazon.com) that I got involved with Omega Writers and Australasian Christian Writers, which has opened a whole new set of doors for me.

15. The Bible (God)
My first Bible was a gift from a school friend, and it was a Good News Bible. I now prefer the New International Version, but this year I’m reading the New King James Version, as part of a read-the-Bible-in-a-year challenge. I'm finding reading a different version highlights different things, so it doesn't seem overfamiliar—a good thing!

Next week we'll be hearing from Jeanette O'Hagan, a fantasy author from Brisbane, Australia. I'm looking forward to it!

Would you like to contribute a Friday Fifteen? If so, email me via my contact page to set a date. Contributions are welcome from anyone—readers, reviewers and authors. It's an opportunity to share some of the authors (and books) which have influenced you, and to pick up some ideas for new authors to read.

20 March 2014

Review: Poison Town by Creston Mapes

Not for me

Poison Town is the second in The Crittendon Files, thrillers about Jack Crittendon, a newspaper reporter for the Trenton City Dispatch. He’s still coping with the aftermath of the events in Fear Has a Name, and struggling with forgiveness issues, which is causing issues between him and his wife. This is a significant subplot, so I think it’s best to read the stories in order.

Anyway, the main plot in Poison Town is a potential cover-up by Demler-Vargus, a fiberglass manufacturer and the major employer in Trenton. Jack hears that many of the long-time employees are having health issues, which are being hushed up, and a former Dispatch reporter who investigated the problem has disappeared. Is there something dangerous in the air around Demler-Vargus causing lung problems, or is it all just a coincidence?

I’ve no doubt Poison Town will appeal to some readers. But it didn’t appeal to me. The writing was good enough and the Christian elements were there, but I think—based on the advance endorsements—I was expecting something a little more like a John Grisham novel (or perhaps a fictional Erin Brockovich). But that wasn’t what I got. Instead, I found characters I found difficult to empathise with and a plot which seemed to meander along, waiting for something to happen. I’m sure many people will enjoy this, but I didn’t, and I doubt I’ll bother with future books in the series.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Creston Mapes at his website.

18 March 2014

Review and $100 VISA Giveaway: It Had to be You by Susan May Warren

Susan May Warren is celebrating the release of her newest Christiansen Family novel, It Had To Be You, with a $100 Visa cash card giveaway and offering readers a free book club kit.


 One winner will receive:
  • $100 Visa cash card
  • Take a Chance on Me and It Had to Be You by Susan May Warren
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 29th. Winner will be announced April 1st on Susan's blog. Also, visit her website to learn more about the It Had To Be You backstory and Susan's free book club kit.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Susan's blog on April 1st to see if you won.

My Review: A Must for Deep Haven Fans

Owen Christiansen is playing his first season of pro hockey, and sister Eden is his self-appointed babysitter, there to drag him out of bars and make sure his clothes get washed. Never mind that her dedication to Owen means she is missing prized assignments at work, and possibly costing her the opportunity to get out of writing obituaries and into real reporting.

Jace Jacobsen is Owen’s team captain, a role that places him in the sights of Eden Christiansen far too often for his liking. And he’s got his own problems, like knee injuries and migraines that affect his playing, and might mean his contract isn’t renewed. And then there’s Megan, his best friend’s daughter, who is ill.

I thoroughly enjoyed It Had to Be You. Jace was a wonderful hero, a bit like Mr Darcy in that he was rich and handsome, and Eden’s initial impressions of him turned out to be all wrong. With Eden, I liked the way she wasn’t impressed by Jace’s fame (but perhaps less impressed with the way she held Jace responsible for Owen’s mistakes). Overall, this was Eden’s story, as she was the one who had to learn to see herself as a person of value in her own right, not merely a shadow of her famous younger brother.

It Had to Be You is the second book in Susan May Warren’s Christiansen family series, which is set in Deep Haven, the same location as the (surprise) Deep Haven series. The early Deep Haven books were light romances, while the later books focused more on restoring relationships. The Christiansen family series is following (another surprise) the Christiansen siblings. It Had to Be You can easily be read as a standalone novel, as it’s not actually set in Deep Haven and has fewer overlapping characters than earlier novels. However, fans of the earlier novels will like this continuation.

One of the strengths of Susan May Warren’s writing has always been her ability to weave Christian themes and lessons into a story without it sounding like preaching, and It Had to Be You is no exception. Recommended for all Deep Haven fans.

Thanks to Tyndale and Litfuse for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Susan May Warren at her website.

17 March 2014

Review: Dancing With Fireflies by Denise Hunter

Beautiful Romance 

Jade McKinley has moved home to Chapel Springs, jobless, broke and pregnant from a date gone wrong. Daniel Dawson has loved Jade for years, but his parents have political ambitions for him, and those aspirations will require a suitable political wife. Not Jade. Anyway, Jade still sees him as some kind of surrogate brother.

I’ve read several books by Denise Hunter, and I’ve always enjoyed her mix of personalities and her small-town settings. Dancing with Fireflies is no different in that respect. It’s a sweet romance with likeable characters that it’s easy to feel for. My one complaint—common to all the Denise Hunter books I’ve read—is that it’s more a clean romance than a Christian romance. It's not that the characters aren't Christians (they are), but more that their faith isn't a significant part of the story.

I see this as a growing trend, perhaps as authors and publishers try to expand their market outside the traditional Christian fiction readers, and I’m in two minds about it. On one hand, I want to read fiction (especially romance) that reflects my Christian values. I want fiction to feature realistic characters, people who don’t spout Bible verses with every sentence. At the same time, I like to see a Christian theme or faith-based subplot, and while there was plenty of potential for this in Dancing with Fireflies, I didn’t see it coming through.

Despite this, I really enjoyed Dancing with Fireflies, probably more than I’ve enjoyed any of the other Denise Hunter books I’ve read. I think that’s because the characters are people I could truly empathise with. Jade is in an impossible situation through no fault of her own, and is now afraid to love. Daniel has loved her for years, but has been afraid to tell her, and is now spending more and more time with Jade. She’s pregnant and doesn’t want to tell her family at first, which leaves Daniel as her only support—and which shows him to be a hero any reader could fall in love with (surely the most important test of a romance novel). And those kisses ...

As usual, the path of true love doesn’t run smooth, but Dancing with Fireflies will leave you with a happy sigh. Recommended for fans of Carla Laureano and Andrea Grigg.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and Litfuse PR for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Denise Hunter at her website.

14 March 2014

Indie Review: Fractured Hearts by Krystle Lewallen

Intriguing YA Debut

Fractured Heart opens with Katy in the throes of depression brought on by the unexpected death of her grandmother, who raised her and her brother after their father died and their mother abandoned them. Katy’s problems only grow with the funeral, and when she takes a longed-for graduation trip to New York city.

Fractured Hearts is written in the first person, present tense, from Katy’s point of view. This works best when the viewpoint character is strong, when the writer has the skill to allow the character’s flaws to come out as much through the subtext as through the text. Lewallen manages this well. I didn’t always understand why Katy thought or acted in certain ways, but I believed it was real for Katy, and that’s what counts.

Fractured Hearts was well-plotted, with strong characters (although there's a chance Caleb is a little too perfect). There are  writing and editing issues (a lot of run-on sentences, some typos, and an instance where a scene mentioned Collin and I’m sure it meant Caleb), but these didn’t detract from the overall story, which was original, well-structured and well-written, with flashes of brilliance:
“She was that relative at Christmas parties who drank way too much, made a fool of herself, and passed out early.”
I never had that relative (thank goodness), but it speaks volumes about Katy and her early upbringing. I’d compare Krystle Lewallen with authors such as Michelle Dennis Evans and Diana Symons, who also write edgy but realistic Young Adult/New Adult fiction. All three focus on heroines who have had to face some difficulty, but who have worked through it.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Krystle Lewallen at her website.

13 March 2014

Review: Vow Unbroken by Caryl McAdoo

Nice Cover

Susannah Baylor has raised her daughter and nephew single-handedly since the death of her husband, a man her father never wanted her to marry. As a result, she’s vowed not to marry again without the permission of her father, even though he lives in Tennessee and she’s in Texas. However, Sue’ immediate problem is her need to get her cotton crop to market. She is forced to ask local layabout Henry Buckmeyer for help taking the wagons through the Jefferson trace.

The opening was excellent, pulling us straight into the action and giving us a sense of Susannah’s personality (and faults) without bogging the story down in past history. It moved quickly to the central plot, the need to get their cotton crop to market, and the central conflict, her relationship with Henry. I understand she was used to making all the decisions for herself because her husband was dead, but it didn’t speak well to her character that she didn’t ask for or receive advice from anyone.

This was my main issue with Vow Unbroken—I didn't like the way Sue related to Henry at the beginning, and she didn't improve any by the end (if anything, she showed that at twenty-eight and after ten years of widowhood, she hadn't matured beyond that impetuous teenager who married against her father’s advice).

Vow Unbroken ticks all the boxes for a Christian historical romance. It’s set in Texas. The research is excellent. It has a plucky if infuriating heroine, a too-perfect hero, some light-hearted moments between the struggle to survive in the West, and a Christian message. But I found it all a bit too formulaic. It didn’t have the injection of realism or humour that sets some books apart, like those from Carol Cox, Jen Turano or Karen Wittemeyer. I didn’t feel that excitement, that hard to define 'wow!' factor. I’m sure lots of people will love this, but I couldn’t get past the annoying heroine.

Thanks to Howard Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Caryl McAdoo at her website.

11 March 2014

Review and Giveaway: Distortion by Terri Blackstock

Don't miss Terri Blackstock's latest release in the Moonlighters series, Distortion.

The book releases March 11th, and Terri will be kicking off the release with a fun Facebook Distortion party and giving away a Kindle Fire HDX. PLUS readers can pre-order the ebook for just $4.99 between now and 3/11 everywhere ebooks are sold.


One winner will receive:
  • A brand new Kindle Fire HDX
  • Distortion and Truth Stained Lies by Terri Blackstock
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 11th. Winner will be announced at the Distortion Facebook Party on March 11th. Connect with Terri for a "suspenseful" book launch party with prizes, a book chat, and more.

Don't miss a moment of the fun; RSVP today by clicking JOIN on the event page. Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 11th!

My Review

Bob and Juliet Cole have just finished helping Holly, Juliet’s sister, move house when Bob is murdered as they return their U-Haul. It soon becomes apparent that this is more than a standard drive-by shooting, as Bob’s computer reveals a lot of information Juliet never knew about him and the investigation is handed over to the FBI.

Distortion is the sequel to Truth Stained Lies, which featured Cathy and Jay (Juliet’s sister and brother) working with Michael, a local PI, to solve the murder of Jay’s wife. Now Michael and Cathy are working with Juliet and Holly to find out the details of Bob’s secret life. However, it’s not necessary to have read Truth-Stained Lies before this, as Distortion works well as a standalone novel.

It’s a cross between a mystery and a thriller, in that the first half of the story is about finding the murderer and discovering Bob’s secrets, while the second half adds more suspense by introducing new viewpoint characters … and a link back to Truth Stained Lies. It’s well-written, tightly plotted with solid and interesting characters, and plenty of suspense. Recommended for suspense fans.

Thanks to Zondervan and Litfuse Publicity for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Terri Blackstock at her website.