31 July 2014

Review: Switch on Your Brain by Dr Caroline Leaf

“If you realised how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”

It’s a powerful statement, and in Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, Dr Caroline Leaf shows how we are influenced by the power of thought. She is coming from a Christian perspective, and shows through this book how “science is finally catching up with the Bible”, and why “think positive” is more than a cliché: it’s the difference between a healthy mind and body, and an unhealthy mind and body.

Each chapter has a main scripture reference and a linked scientific concept. Some of the information was familiar, but a lot of it was new to me, especially the science. Science was never my strongest subject, but she did a good job of explaining the concepts to those of us who are less scientifically inclined (although she lost me at quantum physics!).

One section which surprised me was her comments on multitasking. Science actually says we should pay deep attention to one task at a time, and this is reinforced by Proverbs 4:20-23. I should know this. I get annoyed when I’m concentrating on something and I get interrupted, whether by a telephone call or a family member. The interruption is breaking my concentration and forcing me to multitask (and why is it these interruptions so often come when I’m trying to read my Bible?). She even refers to Twitter and Facebook, saying we have been reduced to 140 characters and are forever seeking the next informational high. Surely not? Excuse me while I Tweet that. (Joke. Like all the best jokes, there’s more than a grain of truth there.)

After explaining the Biblical and scientific principles , she talked through her 21-Day Brain Detox. While I read this, I didn’t actually put the plan into practice, so can’t comment on whether or not it would work. However, I can see the benefits: it’s about creating new thought habits, which redefine mental pathways and automatize thoughts and reactions (in much the same way as we automatized how to ride a bike, or swim). And now I refer back to my notes to write this review, I wonder if I should be trying a Facebook detox …

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

30 July 2014

CrossReads Book Blast with Robin Merrill


The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss
By Robin Merrill

About the Book:

In The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss, Author/Poet Robin Merrill shares her weight loss experiences through 30 Bible devotions designed to inspire others to join her on her journey toward improved spiritual, and physical, health.

Robin Merrill is the author of several books, including The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss (30 Devotions), two collections of poetry from Moon Pie Press, and five Scholastic Book Fair books.

robin 12 web (2)Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in hundreds of publications, including The Cafe Review, Ledge Magazine, Margie, Pearl, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Stolen Island Review. Three of her poems have been featured on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. She is a 2013 recipient of an Emerging Artist Award from St. Botolph Club Foundation of Boston.

Robin is also a performance/slam poet who has competed at the national level. She has her MFA from Stonecoast and frequently leads creative writing workshops for writers of all levels.

Follow Robin Merrill

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This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

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

29 July 2014

Review: Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg

Too Funny!

Gabrielle Paxton is a missionary kid who grew up in Papua New Guinea before returning to Australia when she was fourteen. That was when she discovered people judged her more for her looks—and while that didn’t always work to her advantage, it didn’t make her immune from judging others based on the way they look.

Nathaniel Watson catches her attention immediately, but he’s got that restrained dentist look going on, and she’s not interested in the medical professions. No matter. He doesn’t seem interested in her either, and she’s just decided she’s not going to date for six months:

I want to allow God to fill up those spaces, not boyfriends or even my family.

It seems easy until a chance meeting with an old school friend brings her face to face with Nathaniel …

I couldn’t completely relate to Gabrielle (not having been a teenage blonde bombshell myself!), but I could understand her problem and admire the way she decided to seek God first. We live in a society where people judge based on outward appearance, and we all need to learn to allow God to fill that void inside us, rather than relying on a boyfriend, career, or family. What was interesting about Too Pretty was that it wasn’t only Gabrielle who needed to learn this lesson.

Too Pretty is Andrea Grigg’s second novel. I thought the first, A Simple Mistake, was excellent, which made me a little nervous when reading Too Pretty . What if I didn’t like it? But I did. It’s fun and funny and romantic and thought-provoking, with a great set of characters and a strong Christian message. And such a cool cover!

Recommended for fans of contemporary romance from authors like Victoria Bylin, Carla Laureano, Mellissa Tagg and Becky Wade.

Thanks to Andrea Grigg and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Andrea Grigg at her website, or read our interview.

28 July 2014

Author Inteview: Andrea Grigg

Today I'd like to welcome Andrea Grigg to Iola's Christian Reads. She's the first Kiwi-born author I've had the privilege of interviewing (even though the Aussies have claimed her as their own. Ah, that good-natured trans-Tasman rivalry). Welcome, Andrea!

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, but moved to Australia when I was twenty-five. Ahem - that was a while ago. My husband and I live on Queensland’s Gold Coast. We have 3 children, two girls and a boy, but they’ve all flown the coop now and left us with Micky, our border collie. Apart from writing, I love reading, music, family dinner night, and coffee with friends.

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

My favourite genre is … romance! I prefer longer novels though, and rarely read category romance (except for ones by Narelle Atkins). I have a lot of favourite authors. At the moment my top five would be Becky Wade, Melissa Tagg, Dee Henderson, Susan May Warren and Denise Hunter.

Also some of my favourite authors. Susan May Warren's latest ... awww. I'll be reviewing it later this week. 

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

The last book(s) I read were the Divergent series. I started reading on a Tuesday and finished all three by midday Friday. I absolutely loved them and would highly recommend them. They’re YA novels, set in the future, and have a beautiful love story threaded through the adventure. What’s not to like? It was a bonus to discover the author, Veronica Roth, is a Christian.

I didn't know that. I haven't read Divergent yet, but it's been recommended by several people. I guess your advice is to have all three on hand before I start reading!

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

I write contemporary romance. So far I’ve used Sydney, the Gold Coast and Auckland as my settings. In my latest novel, Too Pretty, there is a fictional country town called Silverdene. I’d like to live there even though Ellie was glad to leave …

Tell us about Too Pretty. Who will enjoy it?

Ellie is a stunningly beautiful young woman. However, being beautiful has its drawbacks, like not knowing whether you’re liked for yourself or for your looks. Ellie makes a promise to God to stop dating for six months, to take time to work out who she really is. Of course, as soon as she makes the promise, she meets the tall, dark and handsome Nathaniel. He’s made a decision to opt out of relationships too, but they just keep on bumping into each other and there’s this chemistry thing happening …

Who will enjoy it? Anyone who likes romance, although my target market is women aged 25-35. Mind you, I just had a lovely email from a 77-year-old man who read A Simple Mistake. He’d picked it out for his wife while at the library, ended up reading it himself, and then contacted me to let me know how much he enjoyed it and the effect it had on his life … I’m constantly being surprised by God.

What was your motivation for writing Too Pretty?

The idea of writing about an extremely beautiful girl came out of the blue. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea – I haven’t come across a book that explores the notion of beauty being a problem. I really had to use my imagination when writing from Ellie’s point of view though :)

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

I love Ellie – she’s impulsive, brave and funny – but Nathaniel just tugs at my heart. He’s intense, vulnerable (although he puts on a good front) and a little bit tragic. I have nothing in common with him, but I know he needs a hug and I’d like to give him one!

A hug? Towards the end I was wanting to give him a big shake! Poor guy. When it comes to being in touch with his emotions, he's such a man.

What made you choose to write for the Christian market?

I’m a Christian and I write romance so it made sense for me to start there. Going by what I’ve read in the general market (and I’ve read a lot) there’s an expectation for sex to be part of a dating relationship. I’m not comfortable writing those kinds of scenes.

I realise not all books are like that i.e. Twilight, but they’re few and far between. I’m not against writing for the general market – in fact I’d love to do it. I have a couple of storylines rattling around in my head which are clean, but they need a lot more time to ‘cook’.

What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?

Getting that first draft down. I’m a total plotter and dream and think and ponder for ages before I get started. I have a PhD in procrastination!

I’m a bit odd in that I love the editing process. I’m a harsh self-critic and I also have an excellent critique partner as well as a group of readers who give me feedback. I get a huge buzz out of making my story as good as I possibly can before I submit it.

I’m still shocked that my two manuscripts were accepted by a publisher so quickly. I’m well aware how unusual that is. I put it down to all that editing. (And then of course there’s still more to be done before it’s ready to go to print …)

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

1. Read loads of books in the genre you’re interested in to get a good feel for what readers expect.
2. Be prepared to put your book through a truckload of editing (including a professional edit) before you submit it.
3. Attend workshops, research blogs on writing, join a writers’ group. There’s always more to learn.
4. Don’t give up – keep writing.

Thank you, Andrea. I'll be reviewing Too Pretty tomorrow. Meanwhile, Andrea would love to hear from you via her website or Facebook page. Her books can be purchased from Koorong, WordAmazon, or direct from her publisher, Rhiza Press.

25 July 2014

Review: The Duke's Undoing by GG Vandergriff

Enjoyable Regency Romance

Miss Elise Edwards has just lost her third fiancé. Her first died in the Napoleonic wars, her second turned out to be mad and fled to Italy, and she suspects the most recent of being in love with her best friend—who is most certainly in love with him.

Through a strange set of events and coincidences, she becomes engaged a fourth time: to the Duke of Ruisdell, reputed to be a rake and a rogue. For his part, the Duke used to be a rake but three years fighting in the Peninsula has left him a changed man.

What follows is a typical Regency: lots of Ladies and Lords (some of whom are not ladies or gentlemen), beautiful clothes, misunderstandings, balls, a duel and a madman. No, it’s not realistic, but that’s Regency Romance. “Normal” people never lived like this, even during the Regency—Regency Romance is centred around the ton, the Upper 10,000 members of society, who comprised around 1% of the population.

The Duke's Undoing is a classic Regency Romance in the style of Georgette Heyer, which means it’s free of language, sex and violence, and is faithful to the established facts of the time (as established by Georgette Heyer). The heroine is intelligent with some interesting personality quirks, the hero is heroic and titled, and the supporting characters are excellent.

I did get confused on occasion between George and Gregory, particularly when the men were often identified only by their titles, and I can imagine some readers would get annoyed by the way George speaks, but I enjoyed it-it reminded me of one of the characters out of Cotillion, my favourite Georgette Heyer novel. The Duke's Undoing isn’t Christian fiction (actually the author is a Latter Day Saint, and there is no faith element), but it’s an enjoyable read for fans of traditional Regency Romance. Recommended for fans of Regency Romance.

24 July 2014

Review: Done Being Friends by Trisha Grace

It had potential ...

I’m always a fan of friends to lovers plots (this is Christian romance, so I mean ‘lover’ strictly in the Victorian sense), so I was keen to read Done Being Friends. Zac and Faith have been friends since they were children, each with feelings for the other, feelings they have each kept secret for fear of ruining their friendship. In Done Being Friends, a series of events along with the interference of Zac's best friend, Dylan, force them to address their feelings.

I liked both Faith and Zac, which is always a good start in a romance novel. They are both the children of rich and privileged upbringings, but are pretty normal despite that. Zac now runs his family construction business, while Faith spends her time on short-term missionary trips. I also enjoyed the suspense subplot that came into play in the second half of the novel.

However, there were a number of writing issues. There’s a view that few novels benefit from a prologue, and this one proves the rule. I get the impression it was meant to show how protective Zac felt towards Faith, but he came across as possessive and arrogant. And it was unnecessary backstory, as it was covered perfectly well in a single sentence in the first chapter.

The writing was an issue throughout the novel. There were a lot of typos (he had his hand on her "bareback"), creative dialogue tags (her father stated, her mother voiced), and too many adverbs, as well as commas in the wrong places, run-on sentences, and some sentences which were almost unintelligible ("I took a couple of paper from Jessica's house"). The book description says this is the reedited and revamped version, but it's still not ready to be on sale, at least in my opinion.

I was also concerned by a couple of aspects of the plot for a novel I was told was a Christian romance, although this wasn't obvious in the story apart from a few mentions of Faith's missionary trips. First (and don't read this if you don't like spoilers), Faith and Zac share a bed many times during the course of the story. It's implied they are merely sleeping together (rather than, you know, Sleeping Together), but that's not made clear. And while I see Faith has a Christian faith, I never had the same assurance about Zac. Specifically, he says to Faith at one point, "You've always told me how good God is". You mean Zac doesn't know for himself?

Overall, while I liked the characters and enjoyed the story, I can't actually think of anyone I'd recommend Done Being Friends to. People who would enjoy the Christian aspect wouldn't like the "sleeping together" or the lack of clarity around Zac's beliefs, and readers of general market romance wouldn't like the Christian aspect (although some would like the chaste storyline). Overall, it's only okay.

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

23 July 2014

ACRBA Review: Better than a Superhero by Belinda Francis

 21st - 25th  June 2014

is introducing

Better Than A Superhero
(Wombat books 1 May 2014)


Belinda Francis
Illustrated by Kayleen West

About the Book

Who is better than a superhero? Find out about Jesus as you explore what he did and who he was. And most importantly how Jesus really can be your best friend!

About the Authors

Belinda Francis

Award winning journalist turned children's author Belinda Francis worked in newspapers, magazines and electronic media for ten years in South Africa before she and her family immigrated to Queensland.

Shortly after arriving in Australia, her elder son was diagnosed with ASD and she devoted the next few years to his early intervention, which with God's guidance, has paid off miraculously. Her second son, who had been born ten weeks prematurely, is now healthy and strong – evidence of yet another miracle. She and her family recently celebrated the arrival of their third child, a much-prayed for daughter.

While raising her children, Belinda wrote Better than a Superhero, her first published book, and threw herself into the local church and community. She runs the Sunday school program at her church campus.

Belinda is passionate about raising children up in God's kingdom and excited about the ministry opportunities the book will undoubtedly open up.

Kayleen West

An award winning artist, her work hangs in private and corporate collections in France, United States, Italy, and the Australian Embassy in Ireland and in government collections in Australia.
Although an initial childhood dream was to write and illustrate for children, Kayleen was encouraged to venture into a career of an exhibiting fine artist and later a graphic designer.

Returning to her original passion in 2009, Kayleen is now a published children's Author and Illustrator working on her third children's book and writes Christian content for magazines and blogs.

Kayleen is the author and illustrator of Without Me? (Wombat Books, 2013) and the illustrator of Better than a Superhero (Even Before Publishing, 2014).

For more information: www.kayleenwest.com.au  

My Review

I have a son, and as a preschooler, he had definite ambitions to be a superhero (these days, I think he's planning to specialise in demolition, but that's another story). Anyway, I'm sure many parents and children will relate to this sweet story about how Jesus is the best superhero of all—in fact, Jesus is even better than a superhero, and the young narrator tells us how.

While the words are good, what really makes a picture book stand out is the quality of the illustrations, and these are simply beautiful (and I'd say that even if I didn't know the illustrator). I especially like the friendly and welcoming Jesus.

Better than a Superhero is a hardcover book and should stand up to many readings. A lovely book for young children.

Thanks to Even Before Publishing for providing a free book for review. You can find out more about author Belinda Francis at her website, and more about illustrator Kayleen West at her website.

22 July 2014

Review: Runaway by Renne Donne

Runaway by Renee Donne
Imprint: Romance
Release Date: July 29, 2014

After Marianne discovers her bankrupt stepfather sold her into marriage to the highest bidder, she flees Philadelphia and heads west to start a new life.

Unfortunately for her danger follows.  First, a stage coach accident leaves her stranded in the middle of nowhere – with an injured driver. And henchmen, hired by her spurned would-be husband, are hot on her trail, threatening to return her to Philadelphia and the man who is determined to own her.

Just when things seem hopeless, Marianne is rescued by a handsome, cowboy who offers temporary refuge.  Knowing she can’t refuse, yet wary of his intentions, Marianne finds herself drawn to this quiet, enigmatic hero. But is he someone she can trust?

My Review

Marianne Fhinnerty runs away to Texas after discovering her step-father has betrothed her to sixty-year-old Maxwell Halsted. She is rescued from a stagecoach accident by the handsome Aaron Smith, but it soon becomes apparent that trouble has followed her …

Runaway is an enjoyable first novel. It was shorter than the books I usually read, barely longer than a novella. The short length meant there wasn’t a lot of scope for character development, particularly with regard to Aaron. This was a weakness, as I never felt I understood his motives, and without that he was almost too good to be true. Marianne was a better character, but she too would have benefited from more fleshing out.

The writing was solid, although there were a few typos, and the faith elements were subtle and well-presented. Renee Donne shows potential as an author.

Thanks to Anaiah Press for providing a free ebook for review.

Author Bio:
Renee Donne is a native Floridian with a penchant for writing books with a western theme. In her head she's a world traveler and an amateur chef. In real life, she's a hometown girl with an affinity for fine wine and good friends. Her favorite place to write is sitting on her veranda, overlooking the beach.

Author Links:


Buy Links:

21 July 2014

Author Interview: Renne Donne

Today I'd like to welcome debut author Renne Donne to Iola's Christian Reads. I'll be reviewing her first novel, Runaway, tomorrow. Welcome, Renne!

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?

I‘m from St. Petersburg, Florida. I love to go for long walks on the beach, relax with friends and like to “escape” into a good book or movie. I enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes/dishes on my friends. I have a little chihuahua rescue dog, that is my constant companion when I am home.

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

I guess my favorite genre would be romantic suspense, but I also like historical romance, YA and speculative fiction. If it draws me in, I like to read it. Some of my favorite authors are Janette Oke, Dee Henderson and Frank Peretti.

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

Unspoken, a romantic suspense by Dee Henderson. Yes, I would recommend it, I have not read anything by her that I would not recommend. She creates strong, believable characters that are easy to identify with and this book is no different.

I enjoyed Unspoken as well, although I will admit to preferring her True Heroes series.

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

All of my writing is faith-based. The main characters are either strong christians or are finding their faith. Runaway, due to be released July 29th, is a historical romance, set in the old west. I also have a YA that is scheduled for release through Anaiah Press this fall, and am currently working on a romantic suspense.

Tell us about your latest book. Who will enjoy it?

I hope anyone who likes historical romance will enjoy reading Runaway. It has everything, danger, excitement and hero who comes to the aid of a lady in distress.

What was your motivation for writing Runaway?

I have always loved westerns, and once I started developing Marianne as a character, there had to be a hero cowboy out there somewhere for her.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

I guess I have been influenced by other historical romances and westerns. Marianne came first, and I wanted a valid reason for her to leave a life of comfort and head out west on her own; Halsted seemed the perfect villain to give her that reason. Aaron was easy to pen as the cowboy to save her.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

My favorite character is Aaron. If I were a damsel in distress, I would like to meet an Aaron.

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

When I was in high school, my English teacher sent some poems that I had written, for an assignment, to a local newspaper and they were published. I realized that I really like writing and have been writing ever since. I had several good story ideas and started some, finishing a couple. I still have some unfinished manuscripts that I might go back over. I wrote and reworked Runaway numerous times, and it is the first book that I felt like I could submit to a publisher or agent.

What made you choose to write for the Christian market?

It is who I am. While I hope that my books will succeed in the secular market as well, I cannot write the kind of books that readily sell in that market.

What do you see as the main differences between fiction written for the Christian market compared with the general market?

With Christian fiction you can count on reading a good story, without the sex and foul language, or excessive violence that is found in most secular fiction. I have found Christian books to not only be inspiring, but to also have the kind of characters that I can identify with.

What made you choose Anaiah Press as your publisher?

I can identify with their goals, and I felt that the direction I want my writing career to go fits perfectly with what they are doing.

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

I am assigned an editor to work with, to develop my story. I work with the editor on developmental and content edits and also review the line edits and proof the galleys. Anaiah Press provides the cover art as well as the marketing materials associated with the release and publication of my book. Anaiah Press also assigns a publicist to help with the pre-publication promotion, book a blog tour for me during my release, and also help connect me to further promotional opportunities.

What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?

There are so many things involved, it depends on what aspect you are looking at. Writers block can be a big issue, when you know you need to write but can’t seem to get into it. Then when your manuscript is accepted by a publisher and the editing begins, you see your work picked apart. It is hard to not take it personally when scenes are revised or removed, etc. but you realize that it really is in the best interest of the book - the changes only improve upon your story.

Thanks for visiting, Renne, and best wishes for the release of Runaway.

After Marianne discovers her bankrupt stepfather sold her into marriage to the highest bidder, she flees Philadelphia and heads west to start a new life.

Unfortunately for her danger follows.  First, a stage coach accident leaves her stranded in the middle of nowhere – with an injured driver. And henchmen, hired by her spurned would-be husband, are hot on her trail, threatening to return her to Philadelphia and the man who is determined to own her.

Just when things seem hopeless, Marianne is rescued by a handsome, cowboy who offers temporary refuge. Knowing she can’t refuse, yet wary of his intentions, Marianne finds herself drawn to this quiet, enigmatic hero. But is he someone she can trust?

Author Links:


Buy Links:

Runaway can be purchased from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, iTunes, or Smashwords, and can be found at Goodreads.

18 July 2014

Review: One Perfect Spring by Irene Hannon

I prefer her romantic suspense...

Keith Watson is the workaholic assistant to David McMillan, owner of a large construction company and funder of the McMillan Charitable Foundation. Keith is assessing applications for funding assistance when he finds a letter from a child with an unusual request: she wants him to find the baby boy the neighbour lady gave up for adoption twenty-plus years ago.

Keith is reluctant to waste his time on such a matter, until he meets the child, Haley Summers, and her mother, Claire. He’s attracted to Claire, but she has loved one man who gave up his family to chase his career, and she sees the same ambition in Keith. But she needs help around the house, and he keeps showing up and offering to help …

I’m a big fan of Irene Hannon’s romantic suspense novels, but this is the first of her pure romance’s I’ve read. While One Perfect Spring is a solid romance, I have to say I prefer her romantic suspense novels. They’ve got that extra ‘zing’ factor that, for me, lifts them beyond the ordinary. It wasn’t that One Perfect Spring wasn’t good—it was—I just didn’t enjoy it as much.

My main problem was Haley. There’s a saying in TV that you should never act with pets or children, and while pets are usually winners in fiction, children are more hit-and-miss. Haley is supposed to be eleven, but a lot of her conversation and attitudes make her seem much younger. This, to my mind, detracted from the romance.

I also thought there was too much emphasis on Dr Chandler (the neighbour who was searching for her adopted child), and David MacMillan and his family problems. Yes, it all added to the story, but this took up valuable space where there should have been a suspense subplot (*wink*).

Overall, this was a solid romance (well, double romance), just not Hannon’s best.

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

17 July 2014

Review: Fatal Exchange by Lisa Harris

Fast-paced Suspense

Mason Taylor has had a bad start to his day. His estranged father is dying, but he’s had a desperate phone call from Rafael Cerda, a teen he counsels from the wrong side of the tracks. Rafael’s younger brother has been kidnapped by drug lords, who are asking for a ransom of $250,000, money he can’t possibly find. And things get worse …

Emily Hunt is Rafael’s history teacher at the prestigious Dogwood Academy, where he is a scholarship student, but now she and her niece, Tess, are his hostages. Meanwhile, Mason works with Emily’s sister—Tess’s mother—to negotiate with Rafael before anyone gets hurt. But who is behind the kidnapping?

Fatal Exchange is fast-paced romantic suspense. Most of the action takes place over the course of a single day, and there are no end to the twists and turns as Mason and Emily work to resolve the situation from their different positions. The plot was excellent, and kept me reading.

Along with plenty of suspense, there is a sizzling romantic undertone between a couple who have known each other for years but have never dated because of Emily’s aversion to dating a cop—and because Mason didn’t share her faith. I thought the way their relationship was handled was excellent. And the teaser at the end … I’ll be waiting for the next book with bated breath.

Lisa Harris won the 2014 Christy Award for Contemporary Romance/Suspense for Dangerous Passage, the first book in the Southern Crimes series, and Fatal Exchange is every bit as good, but can easily be read as a stand-alone novel. Recommended for romantic suspense fans.

Thanks to Lisa Harris for the ebook, which I won in a contest hosted by SoulInspirationz. You can find out more about Lisa Harris at her website.

15 July 2014

Review: Firewall by DiAnn Mills


Software developer Taryn Young has just become Mrs Francis Shepherd after a whirlwind courtship. She is about to board a plane with Shep for their island honeymoon when a bomb rips through the airport, and Taryn wakes up in hospital to find she and Shep are the prime suspects.

FBI Special Agent Grayson Hall has been assigned to interview Taryn to find the truth behind the fatal bombing. He and his partner are initially convinced she is guilty, but while she manages to convince them of her innocence, it soon becomes apparent that Shep is intimately involved in the crime. As the investigation progresses, Greyson finds himself developing feelings for Taryn.

There is something slightly ‘off’ about a romance plot in which one of the partners has only recently come out of a serious relationship (as in, serious enough that she married the guy). Even as teenagers we understood that rebound relationships never work, and while I’ve read some excellent novels about second relationships (Somebody Like You by Beth Vogt springs to mind), Firewall is not one of them.

Taryn’s emotions towards Grayson felt more like a bizarre kind of Stockholm Syndrome than real caring, and I didn’t think her emotionally-backward genius-level IT geek came across well (Ted Dekker’s Hacker on the other hand … brilliant). Bluntly, I found it difficult to care for her as a character. She felt more like a mash-up of clichés than a real person. Yes, I know Firewall is fiction, but the beauty of great fiction is it makes me feel like I’m reading about real people. Firewall didn’t.

Despite the relative failings of the romance, the suspense side of the plot was definitely up to standard. It was chilling to watch the FBI investigation progress and see how thoroughly Taryn had been duped, and Mills did an excellent job in that I never saw Taryn as stupid or naive (let’s face it, even the most intelligent of women can make bad choices in marriage, Christian or not). The finale was excellent, as it pulled of a huge plot twist that tied up all the ends of the suspense plot. However, this was not enough to squelch my ‘yuk’ factor around the ‘romance’ side of the plot. Firewall is not a book I’ll be rereading.

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

14 July 2014

Author Interview: Jennifer Novotney

Today I'd like to welcome Jennifer Novotney to Iola's Christian Reads. Jennifer is about to release her first novel, Winter in the Soul. Welcome, Jennifer.

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? 

I’m originally from Los Angeles, California. Currently, I live in Northeast Pennsylvania with my husband and daughter. We moved here about five years ago.

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

My favorite genre is young adult and inspirational books. I have to say that I love the classics. I’m a teacher, so I think that fits pretty well. I love Shakespeare and a lot of the gothic literature like Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. As for contemporary literature, I like Amanda Hocking and Paulo Coehlo.

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

The last book I read was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. I would definitely recommend it. It is a touching book about the holocaust told from the point of view of a child and is wonderfully written.

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set? 

I write inspiring books set in both fantastical worlds and in modern day. I mostly write young adult and new adult, although I enjoy creative non-fiction as well.

Tell us about your latest book. Who will enjoy it? 

Here is a little about my latest book, Winter in the Soul, a Young Adult Fantasy:
In a world divided by power and greed, seventeen-year-old Lilika harbors an intense desire to return to Winter in the Soul, the place her family left  to escape the darkness that was manifesting from a coldness of the soul.
When she meets Talon, their connection is evident right from the start, and together they travel through the Black Kingdom to recover Lilika’s  stolen locket. And in search of an answer to the mystery behind Winter in the Soul.
Lilika holds the key to stopping the darkness from spreading. The fate of their world lies in her hands. Will she stop the Black Kingdom before its  darkness overtakes them all, or will they succumb to the darkness that is spreading across the land?
Readers who enjoy books set in a fantastical world with brave heros and epic battles will enjoy this book. I think both young readers and adults alike will enjoy it.

What was your motivation for writing Winter in the Soul? 

I wanted to write a book to inspire and entertain readers. I love creating worlds very different from modern day and I think I achieved that pretty successfully in Winter in the Soul. There is no technology in their world and the characters live pretty simple lives. My motivation also sprang from reading The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo, which is one of my favorite books. I strove to create an allegory with a similar inspiring message.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her? 

My favorite character is Lilika, the main character in Winter in the Soul. She’s very tenacious and brave. I’d like to think that I have that in common with her. When she sets her mind on something, she goes for it until she achieves her goal. I’m the same way.

Does your novel have an overt faith element? 

I would say it is more subtle since it is an allegory rich with imagery and symbolism. There are faith based themes like the corruption of greed, the strength of the common man, and the purity of the natural world. I think readers of all belief systems will enjoy and identify with the story.
What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write? I just completed a young adult story set in modern day. I also have plans to write an inspirational non fiction book in the near future. The sequel to Winter in the Soul is also at the top of my list to write.

What motivated you to start writing? 

I’ve written for as long as I can remember. I actually first started writing poetry when I was a teenager and got published at seventeen years old in a few literary magazines and book anthologies. I always knew I wanted to be a writer and have written all my life.

What’s your favourite part of writing a novel? Your least favourite? 

My favorite part is the invention stage when I begin to develop my characters, setting, and plot. I love that part because I can be as creative as I want to be and really stretch my imagination. My least favorite part involves the editing process. I know some writers love this stage, but I prefer the first draft when the stakes are low and it’s just me and my writing.

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

The best piece of advice I can offer is to never give up. Even if you receive rejections, keep going. There are countless writers who received many rejections, sometimes hundreds, before they found success. Rejection is part of the game. Learn to live with it and keep going anyway.

(I'm not normally a fan of book trailers, but I really liked this one!)

Author Bio:

Jennifer Novotney was born in Burbank, California and lived in Los Angeles for most of her life until settling in North Eastern Pennsylvania with her husband and daughter. She attended California State University, earning a bachelors degree in journalism, and Northern Arizona University, earning a masters degree in English. After college, she spent several years writing and teaching, including at Pennsylvania State University.

Website: www.jennifernovotney.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennovotney
Facebook: www.facebook.com/jen.novotney

Add to Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20869515-winter-in-the-soul
Anaiah Press: http://www.anaiahpress.com

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11 July 2014

Review: Full Steam Ahead by Karen Witemeyer

So good!

Nicole Renard is the heir to Renard Shipping and the famous Lafitte Dagger, rumoured to have brought the family great fortune. But the Jenkins family think the dagger should be theirs, and are prepared to take it using any means necessary. Nicole plans to leave Galveston, travel to New Orleans and find a husband to protect her, and the dagger. A series of unfortunate coincidences means she ends up as the secretary to Mr Darius Thornton, who blows things up.

Darius almost died when the boiler on a steamboat exploded, and has spent the last two years experimenting with boilers to prevent further accidents. He doesn’t sleep, barely eats, and finds his new secretary rather too appealing. Nicole is attracted to Darius, but knows he isn’t a suitable husband—she needs a husband who knows the shipping business, who can lead Renard Shipping for her dying father.

I really enjoyed Full Steam Ahead. It perhaps didn’t have as much humour as Karen Witemeyer’s previous novels, but there was a depth of research and characterisation they didn’t have. They reminded me of novels by Jody Hedlund or Deeanne Gist, in that it was based on the real-life historical issue of exploding boilers and unsafe shipping. The real-life background was integrated with a plot full of both romance and suspense.

I found Nicole and Darius to be a well-matched couple (although neither of them thought so to begin with), especially in terms of their intellects. It is good to see an intelligent female character who excels in a subject like mathematics, especially in historical fiction. I also liked the fact that Darius respected her abilities and wasn’t too proud to employ a woman in a ‘man’s role’.

I think I've read every one of Karen Witemeyer's novels, and haven't had a dud yet. Full Steam Ahead is a step in a slightly different direction, but it's as good if not better than her previous titles. I'll look forward to her next book!

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

10 July 2014

Review: The Depths by Nick Thacker

Cool Concept!

Jennifer Adams is having a bad day. First she finds her boss, Dr Storm, dead in her car, then she gets a call from her estranged husband to say their son has been kidnapped by eco-terrorists. He doesn’t tell the police, but there’s a ransom note: they have four days to find “Dr Storm’s answer”.

What follows is a fast-paced thriller set in a self-contained biosphere five miles under the ocean (think the Eden Project meets The Abyss meets Stephen King’s The Dome). It’s supposed to be uninhabited, so where did that submarine come from? Who is the strange man in white? And how does this all relate to finding Dr Storm’s answer, and saving Reese?

Jennifer was a good character—intelligent and driven, but her family still came first. Mark, her husband, was a harder character to like at first, but he developed well as the story progressed, and I could see why he had been secretive at first. The plot was complex and detailed, with a very cool underlying concept, lots of twists and an ending that was reassuringly unpredictable.

There were a few typos, as well as some writing glitches (overuse of italics, and errors like a saluting a corporal). The “he thought” lines felt wrong (point of view tells us who’s thinking), although I did find I stopped noticing the errors as I got into the story and the pace increased. And increased, to the point it felt too fast. It was one action scene after another, with no down time between scenes to reflect on what was happening (something I felt was necessary both for me as the reader, and for the characters. People who act without thinking invariably make mistakes …).

The concept was great, the characters were interesting, and while The Depths isn’t Christian fiction, it was free from swearing, sex and graphic violence (there was a lot of violence, but it didn’t go in to unnecessary detail). Good, but could be improved.

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

8 July 2014

Review: While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad

Solid Historical Christian Romance

This is the second Lorna Seilstad book I’ve read—the other was her début novel, Making Waves, and I wasn’t overly impressed by it. The writing wasn't bad, but I didn’t like the heroine at all, and I couldn’t stomach the thought of reading further books in the series if she was featured. However, While Love Stirs is part of a new series, so I hoped it would be better.

It was. While Love Stirs is the story of Charlotte Gregory, recent graduate of Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery. She is seeking employment as a chef (chef = stirs, get it?), but none of the restaurants in St Paul’s are interested in hiring a woman chef. Charlotte is an intelligent if opinionated woman (which puts her streets ahead of the heroine of Making Waves), with feminist tendencies and she doesn’t want to be controlled by any man.

Joel Brooks is a doctor at the local hospital (this was a little confusing. At first he seemed to be on the maternity ward, then he was looking after a woman with suspected cancer, then a stroke patient). Anyway, he has a run-in with Charlotte about the appropriate diet for a new mother (Charlotte’s sister). I didn’t like Joel at first because of his pathological need to have complete control over his environment, and I didn’t see him getting past that (Freud would have a field day with Joel’s OCD). However, but he grew on me as he grew on Charlotte.

This is actually the second book in The Gregory Sisters series. The first was the story of Charlotte’s older sister, attorney Hannah, although you don’t need to read the first in order to understand or enjoy this (I hadn’t). The writing and research was well done (with a couple of unimportant glitches), and I was impressed by the medical knowledge.

The minor characters were well written, and while I found characters like Kathleen and Nurse Pierce rather annoying, that was the point. The one character I didn’t like was Tessa, Charlotte’s younger sister. Tessa was too flighty (partly because she was young, but I didn’t realise how young she was because I haven’t read the first book), and I found her immaturity irritating.

I enjoyed While Love Stirs, but it’s still not a book I’d bother to reread. I also thought the Christian aspects were too understated (perhaps a reaction to the reviews of Making Waves which suggested it was too preachy). All in all, it’s a solid historical Christian romance, but with nothing to make it stand out above all the others in the genre.

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

7 July 2014

New Releases: July 2014

It's a new month, which means the fabulous Ellie Whyte has another New Releases post up at Soul Inspirationz, and offering another bumper load of book giveaways! Follow this link to enter: July New Releases Giveaway

I'll be reviewing several of these titles, including:

- Seagrass Pier by Colleen Coble
- Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering
- Firewall by DiAnn Mills
- Captured by Love by Jody Hedlund
- Between us Girls by Sally John

4 July 2014

Review: One More Last Chance by Cathleen Armstrong

Love the Hero ...

Chef Chris Reed has recently moved to the small town of Last Chance where he has taken over the Dip ‘n’ Dine diner with the hope of turning it into a destination restaurant—a plan that might be foiled by stuck-in-the-mud employees, and the fact he now has to care for his seven-year-old niece, Olivia. Sarah Cooley has returned to Last Chance to teach second grade, having recently broken up with her college boyfriend, Brandon Miller, as he was too controlling.

I liked the writing. The Christian elements were subtle and not preachy. I liked Chris, especially the way he had such patience with his stubborn employees, and the way he cared for Olivia. I really liked Olivia, who struggled to cope with feelings of rejection and abandonment (and I would have liked to have seen more of her personal growth). Elizabeth, Sarah’s grandmother, was wonderful the way she stepped in and looked after Olivia. In fact, Olivia was the only thing that kept me reading.

But I didn’t like Sarah, and didn’t I understand what Chris saw in her. At one point she describes herself as “too stupid to live”, and while that might be a bit harsh, she came across as narrow-minded and judgemental, unfriendly, and none too bright. She doesn’t like the fact Brandon keeps texting and calling her, yet doesn’t think to change her cell phone number (or block his number). She doesn’t like Chris because he’s from the city (Albuquerque  might be the biggest city in New Mexico, but it’s hardly Chicago or New York). And there’s no noticeable change or growth in her character.

It seems I already own the first book in this series, Welcome to Last Chance, although I haven’t read it (it was a free download). After reading One More Last Chance, I’m not sure I want to, even though it won the 2009 ACFW Genesis Prize. The writing in One More Last Chance is good, the plot had potential, and the minor characters are portrayed well (several of them are annoying, but they are portrayed well). But those positives aren’t enough to outweigh the Sarah effect. I have a hard time enjoying a romance novel where I don’t like the heroine and can’t understand what the hero sees in her.

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