30 January 2015

Review: Still Life by Christa Parrish

In Two Minds

I’m not sure what I think about this book. It had good points and not-so-good points, aspects which worked for me and some which didn’t. The story follows two main characters: Ada, whose husband has just been killed in a plane crash, and Katherine, who gave up her seat on the flight so Julian could get home in time to celebrate Ada’s birthday … and so she could spend another day with her lover.

The main character, Ada, grew up in a stifling fundamentalist sect (I’d hesitate to call it Christian, as it didn’t appear to offer any of the grace of the gospel, merely the fear of punishment). Her sections feel distant, which feels odd at first because we don’t really understand why she is distant, and why she seems to have no friends and know so little about anything. It’s hard to understand why, although this does become clearer as the story progresses (mostly through the use of flashbacks).

Still Life has an original yet intriguing plot with lot of interweaving between the two main plot lines. The characters are interesting, with more faults and idiosyncrasies than normally seen in Christian fiction—with the possible exception of Julian, who seems to be a candidate for sainthood. The Christian message was understated, yet definitely there, and the title was a play on words on several levels, which become clearer as the novel progresses.

All of these things usually combine to a book I love, yet I didn’t love Still Life. I’m not sure why not. I think it’s because I didn’t relate to Ada and I didn’t understand how she came to be married to Julian (and even when this became clear, I wasn’t convinced). Her voice was authentic to her upbringing and personality, but it made it difficult to truly engage with her, and therefore, made it difficult for me to engage with the story as a whole.

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

28 January 2015

Review: The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer

Excellent combination of coming-of-age and grown-up romance

Gin Lightly and her daughter, Raine, have been living in Bannister Falls for Raine’s senior year of high school, after their car died on their way to nowhere in particular. Now Raine has dropped a bombshell which might mean they are here for longer than planned …

I had a slight hitch with Ginevieve’s name at first. I thought it was an alternative spelling of Guinevere (pronounced something like Gwyn-ev-ere), yet her nickname is Gin. Yes, just like the drink. Any sympathy I might have had for Gin’s fictional mother giving her such an awful name went downhill when I found out Gin named her daugher Raine. Raine Lightly. Ouch. Mind you, I’ve known a couple of people in real life whose names were no better.

Anyway, what about the book? In a word, excellent. Unplanned teenage pregnancy isn’t an easy subject, and it’s not one that I’ve come across much in Christian fiction. The Dandelion Field dealt with it well, and I would hope that the supportive church environment Raine and Cody were in was typical (although I fear it isn’t). I particularly enjoyed the growing relationship between Dan and Gin, an unlikely couple at first introduction, yet a couple who deserve their happy-ever-after.

Besides the romance, I found The Dandelion Field a fascinating looking at the two women, Gin and Evie. Both were teenage mothers and are now single parents. The difference is Gin’s always been a single mother, having been dragged up by a single mother who kicked her out when she got pregnant and her boyfriend dumped her. She’s never been financially stable, but has done her best to give her daughter a love-filled upbringing, even if they did move around a lot trying to find something better.

Evie did everything “right”, in that she got married first. Her husband died, which at least left her financially secure enough that she’s living in a house with a car that runs reliably, and isn’t scraping for every dollar like Gin is. Yet she has her own issues, particularly that she’s never really moved on from being the widow who relies on her childhood best friend, Dan, to be at her beck and call. As a result, Cody hasn’t really grown up without a father figure: he’s had Dan and all the other firemen. Raine has had no one. Cody has been raised in church; Raine hasn’t, and for that reason Evie blamed Raine.

My one problem with The Dandelion Field is that some things were a little too perfect—Cody was the perfect guy (except for this one mistake), but even that he managed perfectly. He was supported by a perfect church, and perfect friends. Okay, they weren’t really perfect, perhaps just a little less flawed than normal people. In fact, the only imperfect Christian was Evie.

But this is Christian fiction, and a lot of Christian fiction presents an idealised view of the world. The Dandelion Field had the courage to venture out of the Christian bubble yet without crossing the line into “edgy” or “worldly”. And let’s be honest: we’re reading romance. We want a perfect hero, and The Dandelion Field offered two. It would be churlish to complain.

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

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book published this year. 

26 January 2015

Review: Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri MItchell

Victorian Botanist Seeks to Marry ...

Book Cover image: Like a Flower in Bloom by Siri MitchellMiss Charlotte Withersby is following the family tradition by being an acclaimed botanist, although she does wish she could get published under her own name rather than her father’s name. But life changes when her uncle suggests it’s time she married and her father agrees. She protests, but the unexpected arrival of Mr Edward Trimble, one of her father's correspondents, seals the deal. Charlotte will enter local society in search of a husband, and Mr Trimble will take over her duties. Charlotte agrees only because she believes her father will soon find Mr Trimble lacking, but her plans soon go awry.

Charlotte is one of those people with academic intelligence, but not a lot of understanding of the subtleties of human nature (she’s the Victorian equivalent of Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory). This makes for interesting reading, as Like a Flower in Bloom is written entirely in first person from Charlotte’s point of view, yet the underlying subtext made me, as the reader, suspect things which Charlotte had no idea about (and I was right). That’s exceptional writing.

I also found the minor characters fascinating, from the young lady determined not to marry to the widowed minister (a father of six), and the enigmatic Mr Trimble, who unintentionally takes Charlotte's life purpose away from her at the same time as displaying an uncommon knowledge of female dress and manners.

Overall, I really enjoyed Like a Flower in Bloom. I was ambivalent about Siri Mitchell’s last novel, because it seemed to be missing the “Christian” aspect of Christian fiction. Like a Flower in Bloom is much better in that respect, and while it had a slow start (too much character history and not enough present action—well, 1852 action, given it’s historical romance), it improved quickly once we had been introduced to all the main characters.

Image: Mt Cook Lily
There were a couple of language glitches at the beginning, but I didn’t notice any once I got into the story, because the characters captured my attention so much. It's obvious a lot of research went in to the writing of Like a Flower in Bloom, but this never detracted from the story (and, frankly, was easy to gloss over without losing the essence of the plot. I'm not a plant person, and the only plant reference I really understood was New Zealand's Mount Cook Lily ... and I've no idea how that would have looked after a sea voyage halfway around the world).

Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

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

23 January 2015

Review: A Cry from the Dust by Carrie Stuart Park

Recommended for Suspense Fans

Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist currently employed reconstructing three skulls, remnants of the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah. An act of vandalism and a ritualistic murder land Gwen in the middle of a criminal investigation, and she doesn’t know who to trust: it’s Utah, the evidence points to a group of militant Mormons—it seems most local law enforcement officials are linked to the church—and no one believes Gwen.

A Cry from the Dust is a fascinating blend of fact and fiction. The Mountain Meadows Massacre, the murder of 120 men, women and children by members of the Mormon church, is a real historical event subject to a real-life cover-up. This makes it ideal as the basis for a suspenseful contemporary crime thriller, as the secrets from the past and the events of the present begin to intertwine in a fundamentalist conspiracy that could lead to another act of domestic terrorism on the anniversary of the Massacre: 11 September.

The plot is complex, with seemingly small events gradually growing in importance. Gwen is a fascinating character: a woman with an unusual and intriguing professional background combined with a difficult personal background (cancer, divorce and a rebellious teenage daughter) which means people think she’s got mental health issues. She’s intelligent and brave, my favourite kind of heroine.

There was one thing about the writing that was slightly ‘off’, although I was more than half way through the novel before I worked out what it was. Most of the story is written in first person, from Gwen’s viewpoint, but there are occasional short scenes in third person viewpoint, from minor characters. I’m not a fan of mixing first and third person viewpoints, and while I’ve seen it done better I’ve also seen a lot worse. This was the only glitch in an otherwise excellent novel, and I look forward to reading more from Carrie Stuart Parks.

22 January 2015

I'm Reviewing at Suspense Sisters!

I'm over at Suspense Sisters Reviews, reviewing The Bracelet
by Dorothy Love. I thought it was going to be a run-of-the-mill historical romance, but it turned into something much different.

Click here to read my review.

21 January 2015

Review: The Reconciliation Trilogy by Doris Elaine Fell

2015 Reading Challenge: A trilogy

I've taken up a reading challenge for 2015, to give me more variety in what I read (which will mean not everything I review here will be Christian fiction this year!):

The aim is to read and review one title per week, but this first book counts for three weeks, because it's a trilogy. My self-imposed rules are:

- Only books I've read in 2015
- I have to finish the book
- Each book can only count towards one challenge

Some will be easy to find; others harder. I'm looking forward to it!

The Reconciliation Trilogy by Doris Elaine Fell

Despite the title, which promises three "contemporary" novels, the individual novels in this trilogy were originally published fifteen years ago. I would have found it extremely helpful if the date had been signalled at the beginning of each book, as it took me a good portion of the first book to work out that it wasn't set in the present day (2014-ish). The novels were actually set in the late 1990's--a fact I only worked out with a reference to the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales (which I know was August 1997, as I was living in London at the time).

I also found the writing style dated. There was a lot of telling, too many characters (and too few characters with any character), a lot of adverbs, awkward use of point of view (too much "she thought"), and too many italics (for an ereader--the italics might not be such an issue in a paper version). All three novels would have benefited from some serious trimming of excess verbiage, as this would have improved the pace. They would also have benefited by having fewer flashbacks, both flashbacks to previous generations and flashbacks to earlier points in the story.

Blue Mist on the Danube

Blue Mist on the Danube was nominated for a Christy award in 2000, and is easily the best novel of the three. However, it still suffered from too many characters, too many subplots, and too many flashbacks--which were especially confusing, as most of them didn't have dates either. There was also a subplot around art theft that fitted into the plot arc of the overall trilogy, but overloaded this plot to the point it distracted from the central themes of family relationships and forgiveness. Despite this, and the fact that it took far too long to get to the actual story, it was my favourite of the three books.

Willows on the Windrush

Willows on the Windrush had potential, but it took too long to show that it did, in fact, link back to the plot and characters in Blue Mist on the Danube (although there was the link in that the main character was adopted). Overall, it was best characterised as uninteresting. It would also have been better without the errors (e.g. riding stick, Cornwall forces--although there was later a correct reference to Cromwell--and "original" blueprints to a house that apparently predated blueprints by over 200 years).

It again had too many characters (one seemed to have two names, which didn't help), a plot that didn't ring true for me, and too little interaction between the hero and heroine to make the romance believable. It also didn't help that the big secret about Jonas's past was pretty obvious given I'd just finished Blue Mist on the Danube. I found myself skimming pages to get to something interesting. Skimming lots of pages. Despite this, the ending was still a predictable anticlimax.

Sunrise on Stradbury Square 

Sunrise on Stradbury Square was marginally more interesting, because it incorporated some minor characters from the previous two books, and reintroduced the art theft subplot. The main character, Rachel McCully, was suffering leukaemia, which should have engaged my attention and empathy. It didn't. I found myself struggling to read the book (rare for me), and I had little patience for the art thief: if he'd been a little less offensive, he could have had his heart's desire--and his marriage--simply by being polite to the in-laws.

Again, there were too many characters who diluted the plot, which seemed overly contrived in place (what doctor is going to recommend a seriously ill patient be driven five hours by car when she could be admitted to a local hospital and be transferred by ambulance if necessary?). It finished on a bad note with an unbelievable reveal of who was behind the art thefts.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. As you can tell, I wasn't required to write a positive review.

17 January 2015

Review: A Thing of Beauty by Lisa Samson

Bittersweet Beauty

Fiona (Fia) Hume was a Hollywood child star who famously divorced her actor parents, Jessica and Brandon, when she was sixteen, citing financial mismanagement. But that wasn’t the real reason, and she’s never forgiven them for it. She’s spent the last ten years holed up in a mansion in Baltimore collecting antiques to repurpose into artwork. But Jessica is about to release a tell-all autobiography, and Fiona needs some money to fund a trip to New York to tell her side of the story even though she wants to stay in her closed world out of the public eye.

A Thing of Beauty is a book of bittersweet beauty. It’s written in first person present tense, and that brings a sense of poignancy and immediacy to the writing, as Fia comes to realise that some of the “truths” she believes about her family and her life aren’t actually true.

A Thing of Beauty isn’t typical Christian fiction—in fact, it’s not made explicitly clear whether any of the characters are Christian, and God isn’t even mentioned. It’s not pretty fiction—Fia had an unusual childhood and traumatic teenage years, and still hasn’t reconciled herself to the truth about that time. Yet the book is filled with grace, love and beauty, sometimes in unexpected people and places.

Women's fiction with a touch of romance, recommended for people who like fiction with complex issues from authors such as Christa Parrish, Angela Hunt and Penelope Stokes.

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

16 January 2015

Review: A Brush With Love by Rachel Hauck

Too Short

Ginger Winters was the victim of a horrible accident when she was twelve, and it’s forever changed her opinion of herself: she is not beautiful and never will be. But she can see and display the beauty in her friends and clients, which she does in her job as a hairdresser in her new salon in her hometown of Rosebud, Alabama. She rarely dates, and still hasn’t quite forgiven Tom Wells for standing her up twelve years ago, even though he had a perfectly good excuse: his family left town that night, and haven’t returned. But now Tom’s back, and keeps hanging around …

I’m in two minds about A Brush with Love. I enjoyed Ginger’s internal emotional and spiritual journey. As well as believing she’d never be beautiful, she also believed she wasn’t good enough for God—a lie too many people believe, an important issue to address, and one A Brush with Love deals with well (if a bit too quickly).

However, the romance didn’t work for me. The story didn’t convince me that two people who hadn’t seen each other for twelve years were a good match in the present (especially when one was a pastor and the other barely believed in the idea of God), it seemed that Ginger’s big personal revelation should have come in the middle not the end, and it felt as though all the romance actually happened between the end of the last chapter and the beginning of the epilogue.

This was a novella, but I really think there was too much plot and character development to cram into such a short space. It should have been a novel—that would have given the characters sufficient chance to develop and change.

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

15 January 2015

Author Interview and Giveaway: E Kaiser

Today I'd like to welcome E Kaiser to Iola's Christian Reads, author of the Thaw series, with a thought-provoking post on ice maidens in fiction, and in real life.

Ice Maidens in Real Life

In the newly released Thaw books the princess Ilise is a "winter's child", an answer to her barren parents' long years of prayer for a baby. 

When they share a moment of closeness amid their sorrow and build a baby out of snow, they whisper secret plans that can never come true of the daughter they will never have.

"I would name her Ilise," the king says. "I read it in a book. It is from the southern lands, and it means 'blessed'."

The queen drops a sweet tear on the snow baby in her arms, and the little snow figure disappears. Then a soft voice of the Winter Angel tells them that their prayers have been answered, and their Ilise, their blessed one, will be born next winter. "And she will be a special child."

Overcome with joy, thus starts a fairy-tale that has unexpected results for the royal couple. Their child is pale, perfect, and lovely. Studious and proper, she is does everything just as she ought and there is no room for improvement on this delightful gift.

But as her parents cuddle and coddle her, just how "special" the Angel meant becomes clearer with the years, and she goes from tracing the frost on the window to making it, from showing off her talents with pony ice sculptures to ice automatons, to the full blown fortress of ice that she eventually immures herself completely inside.
Her story is too long to share here, but she is not the only one who freezes those around her and  shuts herself off from the world.

There are those among us, though born of less fairy-tale means, that have the power to psychologically "freeze" those around us, and we too retreat into our towers and refuse to come out.

Although in the real world this has limited repercussions compared to Ilise's dramatic problems; it is still not healthy and we need to find ways to release the grip of ice on our hearts and learn "how to thaw".

I know this because I am/was one of them. A middle child finds it easy to feel forgotten, and a quiet one simply retreats further within. I was "the smart one", so while I couldn't make others feel "put in their place" through my athletic prowess or my charismatic personality, growing up I was often tempted to "put the chill" on someone simply by upstaging their incorrect information/ or pointing out a truer fact that cut their argument off at the knees. 

Iola: People don't like to be corrected, do they?

My family is rife with choleric personalities, so for someone who hates conflict (which I truly do) I found myself in that kind of hot seat quite a lot over the years. Since I didn't have the roaring fire of a powerful personality on my side, I had to reach for other ammunition, and since logic and facts were respected in my house, my intellect became my archery squad.

Iola: You don't like conflict, so you chose to write fiction ...

 Many of the fights never should have happened, but like most families, our parents were elsewhere and childish tempers raged... even well into the teens. (Actually, cross that out, because they still do from time to time.)

Anyway, my point is that where some of my siblings grew fire, I became an expert on ice. I would shut down, tune out, and my words were my whip as I responded to my perceived attackers. I never let them see they'd hurt me, because that would give them the victory. What I don't know is if I ever hurt them. One of those things we'll never know, the "might have been".

Iola: Bells are ringing ...

(To my credit I was always the "peacemaker" of the family, so I didn't let my strengths carry me away as drastically as I could have, since I was always in the back of my mind calculating how hard to recover from each barbed word would be. The ones with lethal hit points I generally choked back and kept in the arsenal.)
 I always thought of myself as the "good guy". After all, it wasn't me raising my voice and getting red in the face. My pulse would race, but my lid never flipped. It wasn't till I was in my late teens that I began to see just how damaging the "cool cucumber" bazooka could actually be; not so much to others... but myself.

The more instances I saw of my kind, the more I noticed it could get very out of hand; so distanced from the world that some of us had quit feeling anything. Or had at least convinced themselves so hard that we believed it.

As I assessed other people I met, and it became evident that whatever reason we had originally started to "shut down and tune out" as a defense mechanism was generally long gone, but the response was still there, shutting us down.

Sometimes we were snippy and trigger-happy, jerking off shots at anyone below us within reach of our "freeze". We were showing the world that we were better than it. We were untouchable. We didn't need friends and we didn't care if you knew it. 

Iola: No, this doesn't sound at all familiar. NOT!

Even with a general desire to be liked and accepted, our "ice veins" couldn't be thawed, and our habits were chilling everyone around us. Others of our ilk had turned inward to the point that we stopped interacting at all, maintaining a stony-cold silence throughout any event; distanced by a gulf so wide that mountains might as well have towered in it.

As an outsider I could see that what while we were cutting ourselves off from present joys, those past hurts were trapped inside our ice towers with us, as stinging today as they were the first time we faced them. 

Iola: That's the first (valuable) step: recognising the need to change.

As many different reasons we all had, almost all of them were in our far past. Whether the insults were real or imagined, from a wrong turn in a basically normal childhood or from real abuse in various forms, we were all now trapped by the very thing we believed was protecting us. 

And we had no clue how to melt it and step out of that cold prison.

I didn't. I remember wishing I could react in a different way, even picturing the whole thing, but in the end I didn't have the courage or the strength to even try.

As I studied our collective problem more and more I finally came down to a base, fundamental truth. 

It was a form of pride that made us unable to release our cages.

 And all pride is selfishness... and so the first step was fighting myself, the parts of me that whispered "They hate you anyway, don't give them a chance to hurt you." "Nobody likes you, and why would they? Show them you don't need to like them, either!"
The path to a better self is always strewn with ugly battles... and those various monsters seem to rear up again and again long after you think they're dead. But in the end they do get dead-er, and the inner warrior grows strong enough to withstand their weakened darts of doubt and shame.
We "ice maidens" and "ice men"; we have so many things going for us. 

Iola: Finally some good news!

Invariably, we are strong, determined people with intelligent minds and an ability to focus that can be a massive benefit. But when our strengths are used against us, we flounder and freeze into a pillar that is stuck in the middle as life blossoms all around us.

It still hurts when my attempts to be friendly are shot down, or when someone I love says something that stings. But I've learned how to thaw, and that's allowed me to be open to new warmth as it shows up, as well as the old hearth-fires that bond family members in palpable affection. 

I don't know how many others out there share my strengths, and my weaknesses, but I'd love to be able to touch their hearts and inspire them to melt, too.
The universal laws apply to this as with any strangle-hold selfishness may be exhibiting itself through; and so the same rules can kill it back:

Sincerely apologize as soon as possible after you realize selfishness scored a point. 

A true, authentic apology is so hard to do, but think of it as kicking selfishness in the teeth. I tell you what, that little monster takes a major hit every time you go the distance to genuinely apologize and then make it right with a honest heart, and the next time the scenario rolls around it hasn't got nearly as much power over you, by a long shot.

Ask those you know can help, when you need it. 

I've learned how to ask for affection when I'm feeling distanced and like no one likes me, instead of allowing selfishness to say "If they loved me, they'd know." Even though we may pride ourselves on reading others ( a trait "cool cucumbers" major in) a ton of people aren't that observant. (Besides, give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you don't know all the time, as much as you think you know.)
And finally, be open to the idea of rejection/pain. 

Westley says "Life is pain, Highness. Anybody who tells you different is selling something." 

While that may be true, life isn't all pain, and if we run into hurtful spots, a better way to deal with it instead of clamming up and scrambling back into our tower is to say "I can weather a bit of pain. This isn't going to kill me, I am stronger than this." 

Growing up rural, in the mountains and plains, on farms and ranches, we kids got used to pulling splinters our of our hands, skidding our knees across gravel, falling off of horses and getting our toes stepped on by hoofs large and small. The first time shocked us, but we soon adapted and would be more concerned about getting on with our plans or bragging rights than how much it hurt.

Why can't we be that way with emotional hurt?

Iola: Because it's hard?  

In the end, we should be in such a hurry to do our next thing the "slights and stings of fate" should be no more than a temporary knock.

And finally, we should always look to our Great King as our source of importance, not whether the world likes us or not, approves of us or not, or even loves us or not. The more we battle selfishness down into it's hole and put a lid on it, the clearer we are able to see that our Maker is the only One who matters... and our relationship with Him is our best and greatest alley.

 And with Him we can never be alone.
(P.S. Disclaimer: those out there that are "Fire hearts" have their own problems, and they need to take care of that. Don't let their behavior tilt your boat... we are responsible for our own vessel sailing straight, so just do our best with "fire ships" that could temporarily sink us. Charting a course for clear water is not the same as freezing over and sitting completely still. Please don't confuse the two!)
The Thaw series isn't merely a Snow Queen retelling... it's so much more.
Beginning with aspects from the The Snow Child, Snegurken, The Snow Queen, plus numerous other well known tales... it's a ride into the world of the unknown, on glittering icy swans and a wind that can blow you anywhere you'd least expect it.
The first two books are available now:

About E Kaiser

Born in the Midwest, I have had a unique childhood of many moves, giving me the opportunity to experience an array of locales and characters all over the nation. We always had three things; faith, family and animals... and I always had dreams.

I have a burning desire to put words to paper in way that uplifts and encourages readers. I also hope that they might learn something real, while they're at it... so I try to be very meticulous in all my research to ensure that the "facts" presented in my fiction hold true to reality.

I wear many hats: writer and editor of ad copy, web copy, office correspondance & fiction; a cowgirl, animal trainer, seamstress, jeweler, artist and... authoress!

I also garden moderately; dairy maid excellently; sew tolerably; cook decently; water-bath can under duress; house-clean when necessary; listen quietly; & lend a hand to my fellow creatures where I am able.

Check out my blog, E. Kaiser Writes-A-Blog http://ekaiserwritesablog.blogspot.com/
My author website EKaiserWrites.webs.com http://ekaiserwrites.webs.com/

And the usual stuff... which I'd love to connect on! (I'm not super techie, and most everyone I know on any of these I met online... so I'd love to meet more!!! )

Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/E-Kaiser-Writes-Author-Illustrator/308540109167073
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ekaiserwrites
Amazon author page, (with links to all my books!) http://www.amazon.com/E.-Kaiser-Writes/e/B006RY1L2E
and... Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/ekaiserwrites/

Enter here to win a copy of Winter's Child:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

14 January 2015

Cover Reveal: Uncharted Redemption by Keely Brooke Keith

From the author of The Land Uncharted comes the second book in the Uncharted series, Uncharted Redemption. Written like a historical, set like a scifi, and filled with romance, Uncharted Redemption continues this suspenseful story of life in a hidden land.

Title: Uncharted Redemption
Author: Keely Brooke Keith
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Edenbrooke Press

Description: Levi Colburn, resentful of his father, haunted by his mother’s tragic death, and pained by his love for the unattainable Mandy Foster, breaks from the Land’s tradition and begins to build a life of his own. When rebels tear through the village of Good Springs, Levi vows to deliver justice and restore the woman he loves. As tradition stands in the way of redemption and threats from the outside world begin to appear, Levi must learn his greatest battles cannot be fought with his fists. Romantic, suspenseful, and filled with adventure, Uncharted Redemption weaves dramatic new layers into life in the Land.

Purchase Links:

Pre-order signed paperbacks: Uncharted Redemption

Add Uncharted Redemption to your shelf on: Goodreads, Shelfari, FictFact, and LibraryThing

Have your ebook of Uncharted Redemption signed via Authorgraph

Uncharted Redemption is the second book in the Uncharted series. If you haven’t read The Land Uncharted, it’s best to start here: The Land Uncharted

Author Bio:
Keely is a bass guitarist and lives on a hilltop south of Nashville. When she isn’t writing stories or playing bass, Keely enjoys dancing, having coffee with friends, and sifting through vintage books at antique stores. 

Author links:

13 January 2015

January 2015 New Releases

Happy New Year!

I's time for the new releases in Christian fiction from Ellie at Soul Inspirationz.

First up we have the new releases in category romance (shorter romance novels, published by the Christian imprints of Harlequin/Mills & Boon):


And also the new general fiction releases:

What are you planning to buy or read this month?

12 January 2015

Review: Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Excellent Historical Romance

It’s 1897 and quiet, studious Miss Anne O’Brien has her dream job: she’s the map room librarian in the Library of Congress. In the course of her research, she finds evidence that a Navy report is wrong, and enlists the assistance of a handsome young congressman to right the error. Luke Callahan is the opposite of Anne: confident and outgoing, but finds himself intrigued by the librarian.

Elizabeth Camden is one of my favourite authors, because I love her characters and plots, and I especially like the way she weaves real-life events into her stories. Beyond All Dreams is set in Washington DC in the late 1890’s, and if you know your American history, that means you’ll know the political backdrop to this novel (I didn’t know, which meant it came as a surprise, and I don’t want to spoil it).

I also liked her characters. As a keen reader (!) I could related to Anne (although I’d like to think I’m a little more outgoing…), and Luke was a wonderful hero, prepared to do almost anything for those he loved—Anne, his nephew, and his brother and sister. As always, Elizabeth Camden’s novel has managed to integrate interesting characters with real historic events into a gripping plot with a solid underlying Christian message:
“If you don’t make it as a painter, funnel that passion into something else … [it is] a gift from God … even though we don’t yet know what form it will take. Don’t limit yourself by thinking you already know God’s purpose for you.”
It's a lesson we all need to hear, regardless of whether our God-given passion is painting or something else. Recommended for fans of historical romance.

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

9 January 2015

Author Interview: Holly Michael

Today I'm interviewing Holly Michael, author of Crooked Lines, which I recently read and enjoyed. You can read my review of Crooked Lines here. Welcome, Holly!

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

I’m from Northern Wisconsin, born and raised on a dairy farm just a short bicycle ride from Lake Michigan, where my grandparents lived. I was the seventh of ten children, five girls and five boys. Currently, I live in Kansas City, Missouri where my husband—an Anglican Bishop—pastors a church. I have three grown children—two boys and a girl in the middle.

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

I’m a full-time hybrid writer, fiction and nonfiction. My first book, Crooked Lines, was set in two places: Northern Wisconsin and India—spanning from the 1980s for twenty years. A few Amazon reviewers have said that Crooked Lines is not definable by genre, but has been labelled as Literary Fiction and also Christian Fiction. I consider it Inspirational Fiction.

Tell us about Crooked Lines. Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences? 

Crooked Lines is fiction, but was inspired by incredible stories told by my husband and his priest friends from India. At age thirteen, they all left home to join the Roman Catholic junior seminary in India, thus embarking on a fifteen-year journey to priesthood in a strict religious order. Their stories of challenges and diverse religious and cultural experiences amazed me. They met Mother Teresa, were sent into untouchable villages, and sent into the slums of India for ministry training. One wrong turn and their future as priests would have been jeopardized. They were tested and tried. Sagai is the character from that composite.

I grew up in 1970s and 80s America, a completely different environment and used some of my life experiences to create Rebecca.

Crooked Lines is a story of two characters, starting out as teenagers on their journey toward finding their purpose and place in life. The chapters are emotionally themed with each character undergoing the same emotional experience.

From page one, Rebecca faces a traumatic event and believes that if she can only get to India she will find peace. Sagai’s mentor—Father Michael—comes to the United States and meets Rebecca. The elderly priest becomes Rebecca’s pen pal and unites the two main characters together by telling one about the other and by asking them both to pray for each other.

I see from your website that your husband is Indian, and you both visited India soon after the Boxing Day tsunami. How much of Crooked Lines is based on your own experiences? 

As I said above, some of Crooked Lines is loosely based on our life experiences. The tsunami does factor into Crooked Lines. We were in India, ten days after the tsunami following a major fundraising event.

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her? What are you working on at the moment? What other books do you plan to write?

Currently, I am working on the sequel to Crooked Lines and hope to have it published by May. I just published my non-fiction book, Tsunami 2004: Still Wading through Waves of Hope. It’s a “then and now” look into the villages and lives affected by the tsunami. After ten years we were able to follow up with the orphans we’d helped. Ten years ago we gave them bank CDs to be cashed in, in ten years.

Other Books: I have a sequel to Crooked Lines that—God-willing—will be published by May. I also have a devotional with Harvest House scheduled for a August 2015 publication. It’s co-written with my son, an NFL player who is also a type one diabetic. I have plans for five other books to be released in 2015, fiction and non-fiction.

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

Staying focused. I’m best on a hard deadline. After returning to India this past November, almost ten years after the tsunami, I arrived home and had twenty-six days to write, edit, and publish Tsunami 2004. Once I got focused, it went fast, but sometimes it’s difficult to force myself to write and stick with it. I always make sure I have an editor and a copy editor for content and grammar. I also have a critique group, but writing a 135 page book in twenty-six days didn’t give me enough time to submit it to my critique partners. Thanks to my content editor and copy editor, we got it done.
What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel? Set aside a specific amount of time each day for writing and stay focused. Since that’s my biggest challenge, if I can’t stay focused, I take a timer and set it for one hour. I don’t visit social media sites, but write for a solid hour. Then, I take a break and set the timer again. It’s a simple solution that seems to work when I get distracted.

Thank you, Holly. You can find out more about Holly at her writing at her website, blog, Facebook page, or connect with her on Twitter: @Hollymichael.

To purchase Crooked Lines:
At Amazon US: Click here
Kobo: Click here
Barnes and Noble: Click here 

To purchase Tsunami 2004 – Still Wading through Waves of Hope, Click here

7 January 2015

Review: Mortal Insight by EB James

What's in the water?

Steve Keller is seeing dead people. Only they aren’t dead—an error which means he finds himself on leave from his job as a detective with the Sexual Crimes unit, and on the psychiatrist’s couch. This isn’t helping his non-relationship with his ex-wife, or her kooky mother.

But a blind date and a chance encounter force Steve to look deeper into a new soft drink, and he doesn’t like what he finds: evidence of unsafe additives in the food chain, a high-level cover-up.

Mortal Insight is a fast-paced suspense novel. There are two unique hooks: Steve’s unexplained visions, and the mystery ingredient in EN+, the new non-alcoholic drink which is taking the nightclub scene by storm. It is well-plotted, with plenty of twists and turns as Steve and his colleagues try and puzzle out the mystery.

The writing was solid, and although Mortal Insight isn’t specifically Christian fiction, the author is a Christian and this is reflected in some of the characters. I think my favourite character was Dorothy, the mother-in-law who turns out to be not as crazy as Steve first thought (her friends, on the other hand …).

Mortal Insight is the first novel from author EB James, who is actually Australian author Meredith Resce, best known for her Christian historical romance novels. I thought Mortal Insight was her best yet, and I hope we see more novels from EB James. Recommended for fans of fast-paced suspense.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about E B James at the website of her alter ego, Meredith Resce.

5 January 2015

Review: Brentwood's Ward by Michelle Griep

Sweet Regency Romance

It’s London, 1807, and Emily Payne’s life is about to be turned upside down. Her father has to travel overseas on urgent business, and decides—for reasons best known to himself—that she needs a protector. He hires Nicholas Brentwood, one of the Bow Street detectives (not runners, thank you), to protect Emily. At first Nicholas thinks looking after one female will be an easy task, but he has reckoned without meeting Miss Emily Payne … and danger seems to be following her around.

I’m a fan of Regency romance, but it’s a genre Christian fiction hasn’t historically (!) done well, and the fault has mostly been a lack of research (one author had the King running the country. Readers, it was called the Regency for a reason) or an insistence in having English characters use American vocabulary. Michelle Griep has used a couple of Americanisms, but not enough to be distracting, and her research is excellent—in fact, some of the descriptions of the poorer areas of London might be a little too accurate for comfortable reading. It makes me glad I didn’t live then.

Griep has also managed to create a plot filled with suspense and tension, especially tension between Emily and Nicholas, prompted by their employee/ward relationship. The writing is excellent. The Christian elements are unobtrusive, so I’d characterise this less as Christian fiction and more as a sweet Regency romantic suspense novel. Brentwood's Ward is the first novel I’ve read by Michelle Griep, but I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Thanks to Shiloh Run Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Michelle Griep at her website.

3 January 2015

Rachel Hauck Fires Up the Romance with “A Brush with Love” Kindle Giveaway!

"Fire" up the romance in the new year with Rachel Hauck's newest book, A Brush with Love, by entering her Kindle Fire giveaway! And be sure to catch a sneak peek of the soon-to-be-released How to Catch a Prince!

 One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • A Brush with Love by Rachel Hauck
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway only runs for a week, 12/30 – 1/5. Winner will be announced January 6th on Rachel's blog.


2 January 2015

Review: The Songs of Jesse Adams by Peter McKinnon

It's the last week of the year, so I'm burying the reviews of the books I didn't manage to finish in 2014 in the hope that you are all too busy recovering from Christmas to notice.

Hmmm ...

I’m not sure what to think about The Songs of Jesse Adams. It has more of a literary feel than most of the books I read. I can see the story had merits and some of the writing was excellent. It just didn’t resonate with me. I found it hard to get in to (I had to start it twice), and I gave up at around the halfway point because I found I was reading the words and missing the meaning.

I remember, years ago, reading The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera, and really enjoying it. I was living in London at the time, and the setting of The Whale Rider was close to where I’d grown up, and it reminded me of my childhood years and school camps down the coast. But I loaned the book to an older man from work, and he returned it, unread, saying the Maori language and setting made it too hard to get in to. He had a PhD, yet found a young adult novel hard to read? Maybe I’m suffering from the same problem with Jesse Adams and his story.

The Songs of Jesse Adams is set in Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1960’s, a unique setting in both time and place. The physical setting was done well, as was the cultural setting, with the use of Australian slang (it seems Australian slang of the 1960’s was similar to the New Zealand slang I grew up with in the 1970’s). But it took me a while to work out exactly when it was set—Woodstock was the major clue, because I didn’t know enough Australian history to be able to pick the date from the information given (hint for authors: you can introduce a book with the time and place, e.g. “Melbourne, Australia, 1967”. It’s a valuable clue for any novel not set in the present).

However, it wasn’t just the timing and the cultural aspects which made the writing seem awkward. It was the way the point of view kept shifting from character to character (most annoyingly, to minor characters), and the “he thought” and “she thought” attributions which made the writing seem distant. This meant I never really got the feeling of knowing any of the characters, and I find it hard to like a novel where I have no emotional attachment—positive or negative—to any of the characters, not even Jesse Adams.

I’m not a fan of allegory in general, because I find the necessity to keep to a predetermined theme or plot line can force the characters to say and do things that don’t actually fit their character. I didn’t find The Songs of Jesse Adams had this problem, partly because none of the characters were sufficiently developed to be manipulated out of character. The greater problem was the sheer number of characters: I identified Jesus (Jesse Adams), twelve disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus (Anne), Mary Magdalene (Annie), the Roman rulers, the Pharisees, and there were probably others. Realising the allegorical connection also meant I was looking to see the links between the stories of Jesus and Jesse rather than focusing on the story.

I’d heard good things about The Songs of Jesse Adams, and I wanted to like it. But I didn’t, to the point where I didn’t care enough to finish it.

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

1 January 2015

Review: A Stitch in Crime by Cathy Marie Elliot

It's the last week of the year, so I'm burying the reviews of the books I didn't manage to finish in 2014 in the hope that you are all too busy recovering from Christmas to notice. A Stitch in Crime doesn't actually release for another three weeks, but I had an advance copy ...

Amazon Book Description

Thea James has accepted an assignment as co-chairperson for Larkindale’s first quilt show extravaganza. Juggling the new assignment with running her antique business, she’s already feeling frayed when things start to unravel. Mary-Alice Wentworth, a much-loved town matriarch, respected quilt judge, and Thea’s dear friend, is covertly conked on the head during the kick-off Quilt Show Soiree, throwing suspicion on her guests. It also appears that a valuable diamond brooch has been stolen during the attack. The family is furious. But is it because of their mugged mother or the missing diamonds? 

When a renowned textile expert goes MIA and the famous Wentworth heritage quilt disappears, Larkindale’s reputation as a tourist haven is at risk. Thea attempts to piece the mystery together and save the town’s investment in the quilt show before Mary-Alice is attacked again . . . with far worse results.

So boring

A Stitch in Crime is part of The Quilts of Love series, and while it had plenty of quilts (it was set in and around a quilt show), it was seriously lacking in the love department. It was pretty obvious Cole was the love interest—he was one of only a handful of male characters, and it was made clear that Thea wasn’t interested in the other single guy. What wasn’t obvious was any kind of romantic tension between the two—they seemed more like brother and sister, and that’s kind of creepy.

It also seemed to take forever to get to the point. The Amazon book description references the theft of a famous quilt: that happens exactly halfway through the book. The first half covers only a couple of days, and it moved so slowly I felt I was living that in real time.  Too much of the book was interior monologue, which  slowed the pace of the cozy mystery plot to the point where it killed any possibility of suspense.

But the lack of a romance or suspense wasn’t my main problem. My main issue was that the book was written entirely from Thea’s point of view, and she didn’t come across to me as an intelligent or interesting character. This was made worse by the fact that I found the writing somewhat juvenile (oh, look, Kenneth’s surname is Ransome, which rhymes with handsome, but he isn’t! How funny!).

It did occur to me that this is supposed to me a comedy cozy mystery in the lines of the Smart Chick Mysteries by Mindy Starns Clark. It has some of the same features: a cozy mystery with a journalist/photographer as the love interest. But Thea James doesn’t hold a candle to Jo Tulip, and there weren't enough Cole scenes to see if he compared favourably with Danny. As a result, I gave up reading about halfway through.

The best part of A Stitch in Crime was the acknowledgement section, where the author thanks the readers who have bought, sold or supported the book in any way through recommendation or promotion. I liked that, and wanted to like the book so I could support it. But I didn’t.

Thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for providing a free ebook for review.