27 February 2015

Friday Fifteen: Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr.

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Father Nicolas A Marziani, Jr, an author from St Augustine, Florida.

Some of these titles are “dated but enduring” in age and character, and not all are specifically “Christian”, although they bear upon the art and science of writing a Christian novel, or at least touch upon themes that speak to me as a newbie writer of Christian fiction. 

I leave it to the reader to decide if and how these works might benefit their own writing of the same. 

I am a sixty-something male cleric, and something of an academic, so my job of limiting titles to fifteen has been difficult for reasons likely different than others with the same task. Still, I plunge ahead with the hope that curiosity will prompt further investigation of at least a few of what follows.

1, 2, and 3. Morris West and Colleen McCullough

First, the works of Aussies that really captured my imagination. Morris West no longer seems to be in vogue these days, but two of his many books were formative for me – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963) and The Clowns of God (1981). West never lived to see the dawn of the 21st century, and I often wish he was still around to hold forth a vision of a church that can only be effective to the extent that its less than worldly-wise, scheming members seek to serve rather than be served. The ultimate in “holy foolery.”

Of a similar streak but clearly a romantic, recently deceased Colleen McCullough’s classic (and highly regarded television mini-series), The Thorn Birds, presents us with an ambitious cleric who in the end is redeemed only by the love of a woman who endures much in order to do so. Meggie may also be something of a “schemer”, but her deception has salvific value for Ralph. The enduring spiritual, as well as sometime physical, bond they share makes this a unique and compelling read.

4 and 5. W Somerset Maugham and George MacDonald

More redemption through relationships of desire. W. Somerset Maugham’s classic, Of Human Bondage, has us considering how depth experiences between men and women, however tortured, can potentially ignite higher instincts.

Then there is George MacDonald’s “mythopoeic” (C.S. Lewis’s words) Lilith (subtitled “A Romance”), which requires us to wrestle with ageless themes of human sexuality in the context of the overall human call to full personhood.

6 and 7. Dostoevsky and Steve Berry 

The Russian streak in me was stoked by the Dostoevsky tome, The Brothers Karamazov, which, while a daunting and even intimidating read, also utilizes the backdrop of desire to highlight that which is both noble and sordid in the human enterprise.

In a different vein, philosophically and romantically speaking, but still quite focused on all things Russian and certainly more accessible to the modern reader, Steve Berry’s second novel, The Romanov Prophecy, thrusts us into a world of czars and Faberge eggs amidst bullets flying in this swirling fast-paced international thriller. I’m not a thriller fan, actually, but Berry is a local author here in St. Augustine who held a one-day workshop a few years ago that I found very helpful as a nascent novelist.

8. Sarah Coakley

Considering the theme of human sexuality in a more academic fashion and grounding it more specifically in spiritual realities, feminist theologian Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ presents a vision of how and why human desire and deeply contemplative prayer share a profound common connection.

This notion is very important to me, personally and as the author of my new book. Is romantic love merely an evolutionary ploy, a cosmically inconsequential exercise in tingly experiences, or is it reflective of a fundamental aspect of Divinity itself? Being necessarily a theologian as well as a newbie writer of a book containing strong romantic themes, I had to make sure my story was anchored in solid spiritual soil.

9. Timothy Ware

Speaking of things spiritual, as a Western, Latin-Rite priest I needed a better understanding of how Holy Orthodoxy could work in my book. Timothy Ware’s classic, The Orthodox Church, filled part of the gap in my knowledge base on the central subject of Eastern Christianity.

10, 11, and 12. Sylvia Nasar, Chaim Potok and Dean Koontz

My male co-protagonist is something of a strange, exotic bird, so I found encouragement to explore the theme of a highly gifted, even eccentric, young character in Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind (1998), and Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (1967), both of which eventually made it to the cinemas.

There are those who argue that ultra-talented characters are somehow less than “real” and difficult to relate to by the average reader, but unless the character in question is a “Superman” or “Superwoman”, the argument fails, in my opinion. These books show us extraordinary people who nevertheless have deep wounds, almost as a quid pro quo for their giftedness.

And then there’s a new book, which I will admit I have not actually read yet but will do so shortly, Dean Koontz’s Saint Odd (sounded too much like part of the title of my own new book to pass up!). Dreams and visions and destiny are the promised mix of this concluding work to Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, again laying to rest the notion that the public doesn’t want to read about characters whose unusual powers and contexts make them somehow less than connected and therefore attractive to the “real lives” of rank and file potential readers.

13. GK Chesterton

I have always found just about everything written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton to be of inestimable value. This prolific storyteller, philosopher and social commentator of the early twentieth century still insightfully speaks to me today of divine foolishness and human pretensions to a wisdom that is ever less compelling than that “foolishness” that comes from God. In Defense of Sanity, in particular, is a wonderful collection of Chesterton’s essays that present a Christian worldview to a culture and society in serious need of intellectual and moral repair.

14. Steven Pressfield

A nifty little title that really helped me get down to the serious business of finishing my book when distraction constantly dogged my heels is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (2002). We meet the creativity-killing devil incarnate, Resistance, and discover to our horror – and potential remedy – that it lives within us all, but is ultimately subject to our diligent warfare against it. It truly kicked some serious writer’s block butt in this old guy, and would strongly recommend it as serious medicine to anyone with a story within screaming to get out of prison!

15. God

And finally, as you might expect from a preacher, The Holy Bible. Not only has this ultimate, best-selling classic provided uber-inspiration and insight for centuries and even millennia of creative endeavor, it has often even provided the very words of the lexicon that informs our writing. Shining throughout is the message that “holy foolery” is our only real hope for salvation. It surely drove everything in me that produced my first attempt at serious fiction.

And so there they are. A rather unusual list of candidates for reader inspection, I know, but I guess as a married Catholic priest I’m not exactly your typical Christian novelist handling strong romantic sub-themes (and I have no illusions I’ll ever be an Andrew Greeley).

Many thanks to Iola Goulton for the opportunity to share from my little treasure trove of inspiration. God bless!

Thank you!

About Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr.

Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr. is a married Roman Catholic priest and pastor, and holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity School of Ministry, Ambridge, PA, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering technology and marine studies, respectively. Besides ministerial activity with the Episcopal and Catholic churches he has held positions in higher education administration and as a secondary and college level instructor in science and comparative religion, respectively. He and his wife Joanne have three adult children and six grandchildren, and enjoy travel and study both domestic and abroad.

He has recently published his first novel, Holy Fool, Holy Father. Written as a present day saga, Holy Fool, Holy Father starts with the premise that the Roman Curia may be the only hope for the world to survive after a cataclysmic event. But that success hinges on the participation of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Holy Women of the world, all led by a modern-day Holy Fool and the woman who gave up all to serve at his side.

Based on what we know, what we’ve been taught to believe, is there really any hope?

Experience a vision of a future in which things that are seemingly at odds are reconciled.

Holy Fool, Holy Father also includes many themes and scientific ideas gained through Marziani’s eclectic, well-rounded background in both religion and engineering. His goal is to lead the conversation and merge the spiritual and scientific through literature.

You can find out more at his website, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.


25 February 2015

Review: Love at Mistletoe Inn by Cindy Kirk

A Book With Bad Reviews (and here's another one) 

Hope Prentiss is dating conservative banker and future politician Chet Tuttle. She gave up on red-blooded men ten years ago when she eloped with John Burke instead of going to her high school prom—only that didn't last even to the wedding night. She always thought the marriage wasn’t official because they never sent the marriage certificate in … but then she finds the marriage is still legal.

John is back in town, and is pleased to find he’s still married to Hope … until he finds out she's not pleased at all. The plot is kind of Sweet Home Alabama with Christians, only in reverse, as it’s John who left town and comes back to find his lady is dating someone else. But, like the guy in Sweet Home Alabama, he's managed to make something of himself, and learned some valuable lessons in the process:
Success was more than a healthy bank account, more than following your passion; it was putting God and family first.
Love at Mistletoe Inn was a sweet story and a lovely romance, but there was one plot twist that seemed contrived in that it was completely out of character for both Hope and John, and that left me with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. It just didn't ring true, and because that action drives the whole will-they-stay-married plot it made the whole story seem "off".

The writing was good, and the cover is lovely. I liked Hope, and I liked John (well, mostly). Put it all together and I should have loved Love at Mistletoe Inn. But I didn't. It felt wrong, and while I didn't hate it, I didn't exactly like it either.

Thanks to Zondervan and BookLookBloggers for providing a free ebook for review.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with bad reviews.

(For those of you who are wondering exactly what I didn’t like, scroll down for the spoiler.)


Okay, so you married your high school sweetheart, but broke up minutes after the celebrant said the magic words. You haven’t seen your “husband” for ten years, and you’ve considered yourself single for that entire time. You’re dating another guy, and it’s a nightmare come true when you find you’re actually still married to the high school sweetheart. You want to get rid of the marriage. So what do you do?

You have sex with the husband.

That’s right. The guy you haven’t seen in ten years. Ten. Whole. Years. You chat, you kiss, and … (thankfully there it fades to black). But really?

I don’t blame John in this (much). He’s still in love with Hope (well, he’s in love with the Hope of ten years ago. Only time will tell if he even likes adult Hope, let alone loves her. I’m not holding my breath).

But Hope wanted to annul the marriage, and then does the one thing which means the marriage can never be annulled in the eyes of the law, let alone the sight of God. How stupid is that?

I wrote this review, then looked at the Amazon reviews. While there are a fair chunk of four- and five-star reviews, it’s the two-star reviews with spoilers who hold all the top spots on the Amazon page, and which are getting all the “helpful” votes. So that’s why I’ve chosen Love at Mistletoe Inn as my Book with Bad Reviews for my 2015 Reading Challenge.

23 February 2015

Review: Betting on Hope by Debra Clopton

A Bet and a Romance

Advice columnist Maggie Hope isn’t looking forward to filling in for her friend by conducting an on-camera interview with handsome Tru Monahan, Quarter Horse rider and trainer. What she doesn’t expect is to be attracted to him, or to find herself back in Wishing Springs for two months learning to ride for a bet. Nor does Maggie expect to find a pregnant teenager who reminds her of herself …

Betting on Hope is the first book in Debra Clopton’s new Four Hearts Ranch series. The setting, Wishing Springs, Texas, is a small ranching community that seems to have a lot in common with the nearby Mule Hollow (setting of twenty stories). It’s a small friendly community with plenty of single men, and a cast of quirky minor characters, including the identical twins (one of whom is Mayor), and the town busybodies who run the beauty salon. (This was probably the one weakness in Wishing on Hope: there was a little too much time spent establishing these minor characters when I was more interested in reading about Maggie or Jenna).

Yes, the romance between Tru and Maggie was predictable (this is a romance novel: what did you expect), but it was enjoyable nonetheless. What was less predictable was Maggie’s developing relationship with the people of Wishing Springs, especially Jenna.

Overall, Betting on Hope is a fun short romance, perfect for summer days or winter nights. It’s Christian fiction (in that main characters mention God—once each—but it’s not at all preachy, despite having times where it could have been).

Thanks to Love Inspired and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Debra Clopton at her website.

20 February 2015

Friday Fifteen: Ella Dement

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Ella Dement, who has recently released her debut romance novel, A Chance for Moonlight.

Isn't that a beautiful cover?

Anyway, let's find out what inspires Ella. Welcome!

1. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte

Anne Bronte offers a portrait of a mother desperately trying to make the right choice for her son.

2. Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

I'm sure this makes a showing on most 'favorite' lists. I'm adding it anyway, for everyone who felt like Diana, but daydreamed like Anne. I expect that's most of us.

I think so!

3. Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman

Another book for young readers, this one's a Newbery Award winner. Catherine tells a medieval coming of age tale that never talks down to its audience.

4. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'engle

The heroine here, Meg, was quirky and complicated, good at math, but not at school. And she still manages to travel through space-time. YA fantasy isn't always known for character development, but L'Engle managed it marvelously, while still squeezing in plenty of time for adventure.

5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

My favorite of the Narnia books. Aren't we all a little disappointed that there aren't magical gateways in our wardrobes?

I know my daughter has looked for one.

6 and 7. Lisa Kleypas: Devil in Winter and Laura Kinsale, Flowers from the Storm. 

Most fans of historical romance novels are probably familiar with these two novels. Laura Kinsale remains a titan in the genre. Lisa Kleypas's Devil in Winter makes frequent appearances on many a top ten list for 'best of its kind'. These are secular novels, but the heart of both novels is not love scenes, but the love that forms between characters.

8 and 9. Time Was/Time Changes by Nora Roberts. 

Roberts, the grand dame of contemporary romance, gets playful by adding a dash of time travel to the plot. These two works are fun, romantic, and great for a day at the beach.

10. Winter Rose, Patricia McKillip

Young Rois, the central character, is determined to solve the mystery of the Lynn family curse. That, of course, involves going deep into the forest.

11. The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Not a hundred steps away from fondness for Narnia-leading wardrobes. A secret garden seemed nearly as exciting.

This is one of my childhood favourites. I remember the teacher reading it aloud in class when I was about seven years old. 

12. 44 Scotland Street, by Alexander McCall Smith:

This work is as Scottish as shortbread and Edinburgh fog.

13. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

A twentieth century Gothic novel. If you like sprawling English mansions, misty nights, and a touch of mystery, this is a great choice.

14 Thomas the Rhymer: 

I love any retelling of the Tam Lin tale, but this one is a particular favorite.

15 Sharon Shinn, Summers at Castle Auburn

Coriel splits her year between summers at the castle with her high born sister and months in the village with her grandmother. Eventually, of course, she's forced to make a choice—not just about where to live, but about right and wrong.

Thank you so much for the chance to share, Iola!

Thank you, Ella! You can find out more about Ella at her website, or buy A Chance for Moonlight at Amazon.

18 February 2015

Review: Romancing the Memory Collector by Virginnia de Parte

Something Different ...

Kate Bentley has a unique gift: she can “see” memories. They are beautiful coloured balls which congregate close to the ceiling, or float away forever if lost outside. What’s more, she’s worked out how to restore the memory … although there is the issue of making sure you give the memory back to the right person. But her strange gift, combined with Coke-bottle glasses and a father with Alzheimers means her love life is non-existent.

She meets Thomas Winters at the airport, after a fall down the up escalator at the airport caused by her being too proud to wear her glasses in public. Thomas has his own romance problems, caused by the fact he looks like a dog (yes, dog). He looks like a dog because he is a genetically altered person, in his case, he’s part dog. Like other genetically altered people, Thomas has special gifts: in his case, an enhanced sense of smell.

It’s the start of an unusual romance: Kate and Thomas are both shy, and both lack social confidence, which means they aren’t good at admitting their feelings or confronting their issues. What follows is a sweet romance with a fair few misunderstandings, a bird-girl, and solving a mystery about Kate’s birth that she never even knew about.

Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read: good writing, an original storyline, and intriguing characters. Recommended for fans of clean paranormal romance.

Thanks to Virginnia de Parte for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Virginnia de Parte at her website. 

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with non-human characters.

17 February 2015

Book Giveaway: Mortal Insight by ED James

Suspense Sisters Reviews ad Rhiza Press are giving away a copy of Mortal Insight by Australian author EB James (better known to some as Meredith Resce).

Click here to pop over to Suspense Sisters and enter.

Click here to read my review.

16 February 2015

Review: Damaged Goods by Dianna E Anderson


Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity starts off as a challenge to the purity culture prevalent in many American Christian churches, as typified by books such as I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I’ve never been a part of this culture: I’m not American, I come from a culture where American-style dating has never been common, and *cough* I’m too old (I was already married by the time the book was published in 1997). In fact, the first I heard of the purity culture and the concept of courtship was in a recent blog post that went viral: Thomas Umstattd Jr on Why Courtship is Fundamentally Flawed.

However, Dianna E Anderson is writing from a different perspective: as a Christian woman with feminist beliefs who grew up in the purity movement, and has subsequently come to question many of the foundational principles. Umstaddt’s article highlighted some concerns he has with the courtship concept, based on his own experience and the experiences of men and women he knows. Anderson takes this several steps further by analysing the “myths” purity culture is based on from a feminist perspective (while feminist views on Christianity are nothing new, I know many conservative Christians dislike the idea because they don’t truly understand what “feminist” means. Clue: it doesn’t mean we hate men. We do believe God created men and women equal. Different, but equal).

I don’t agree with all Anderson's conclusions. In particular, she completely failed to persuade me about one of her core points around sexual ethics in relation to her interpretation of Biblical fornication. Her interpretation has merit: I just don't agree with the conclusion she draws. However, it’s a useful argument if only to show why some people choose to believe as Anderson does. I’d be disappointed if Christian readers (and leaders) dismissed all Anderson's views simply because they disagree with her on one or two points (albeit major points).

It’s also unfortunate that she cites ex-Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll as an argument against the purity movement. I don’t know much about Mars Hill or Mark Driscoll beyond reading his “apologies” in regard to accusations of plagiarism and using church funds to buy his way onto bestseller lists, but I’m inclined to ignore anything he says on that basis. But Mark Driscoll being wrong doesn’t necessarily make Dianna E Anderson right.

Anderson also discusses the Quiverfull movement and modesty theology, two subjects on which she and I agree wholeheartedly. I also agree with her views on sexual violence—I find it distasteful to think that any Christian man would consider a woman who has been a victim of rape as somehow less godly than the next woman (or man). If Anderson is correct in saying “the American evangelical church has failed to equip congregants with the ability to tell the difference between sex and rape”, then something is seriously wrong.

I’m sure Damaged Goods is going to come under scrutiny from a section of the church for failing to submit to the “man knows best” propaganda prevalent in many churches. I’ve no doubt some reviewers will be mansplaining how and why Anderson is wrong. They will be missing her main point: that, too often, purity culture idolises virginity, yet salvation is through Jesus alone, and God forgives all our sins, including sexual sin.

I hope Damaged Goods opens up debate around the place of sex in the Christian life, and that virginity isn’t the sole measure of a right attitude to sex. Recommended for those open-minded enough to concede that contemporary churches aren’t perfect.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

13 February 2015

Review and Giveaway: Deadly Echoes by Nancy Mehl

Good Christian Message

Eighteen years ago, six-year-old Sarah Miller hid in a closet with her older sister, Hannah, while their parents were murdered. The killers were never found, and the murders written off as a burglary gone wrong. Now, Hannah has been murdered and there are disturbing links between the two sets of murders, links the police don’t seem interested in investigating.

Sanctuary, the setting for Deadly Echoes, has a large Conservative Mennonite population. This gives the town a particular Christian feel and allows the author to have more of a Christian focus than many Christian novels, something she manages to integrate naturally into the plot without it seeming preachy, and without over-spiritualising any of the characters or turning them into Christian caricatures. This seamless integration of Christianity was a strength of the novel, and I especially liked seeing Sarah’s growing realisation of her value in Christ.

The other strength was around Sarah and her ten-year-old niece, Cicely (although I did think some of Cicely’s dialogue seemed too old for a ten-year-old). Sarah and Cicely were both orphaned by murder, and both find the bodies, so Sarah has a unique—if tragic—understanding of what Cicely is going through. I liked the way this was dealt with.

What wasn’t so strong, to my mind, was the romantic suspense plot. I found parts of it somewhat cliché (which took away from the suspense), and the romance was perhaps too understated. That’s not to say it’s not a good book—it’s just that it was missing that ‘zing’ factor that would have made it excellent.

Deadly Echoes is the second book in the Finding Sanctuary series, following Gathering Shadows. The two books have the same setting and share some minor characters, but Deadly Echoes is a stand-alone novel.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. To find out more about Nancy Mehl, visit her website. Nancy is also a member of the Suspense Sisters.


Bethany House Publishers are offering a giveaway with prizes for two lucky US readers. You can see the prizes in the picture to the left. To enter the giveway, click here or visit https://promosimple.com/ps/68c6.

11 February 2015

Review: Intensive Care by Nicki Edwards

Enjoyable Australian Rural Romance

Kate Kennedy has the perfect life: great job as an ICU nurse, trendy inner-city flat and the perfect boyfriend—until the day she finds he isn’t. She leaves Sydney and gets a job in the rural town of Birrangulla, where she meets Joel O’Connor, the handsome coffee shop owner with the cute Irish accent. But she finds it hard to be accepted in her new job at the hospital, and she finds life lonely without any friends.

A large part of Intensive Care is, as the name suggests, set in the Intensive Care Units where Kate works, and there is a fair bit of medical jargon. This never overwhelms the story (and never hit my “too much information” button with the depth of description. I wouldn’t call myself squeemish, but there are good reasons why I never entered the medical professions).

I found the beginning a bit slow--Kate doesn’t arrive in Birrangulla until around a quarter of the way through, and that’s when the pace starts to pick up. It’s not specifically Christian fiction, but is definitely written from a Christian world view, with an overriding theme of forgiveness, even though it’s obvious that neither Kate nor Joel are Christians.

However, this gives Nicki Edwards the freedom to touch on issues that aren’t often addressed in Christian fiction: alcoholism and abortion. She manages to address each of these issues from a Christian perspective while focusing on the feelings and actions of the protagonists, not by getting ‘preachy’ (as often happens in fiction aimed exclusively at the Christian market).

I will admit to moments of frustration while reading Intensive Care. Why won’t Kate talk to Marcus? Is Kate ever going to admit to herself that Joel is more than just a friend? Is Joel ever going to make a move on her? But this is a romance, and it wouldn’t be a romance without plenty of conflict and tension. Never fear: everything ends as it should, and the ending was definitely worth waiting for.
Intensive Care is the first novel from Nicki Edwards. I thoroughly enjoyed Intensive Care, and recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary romance with a touch of humour.

Thanks to Nicki Edwards and Momentum Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Nicki Edwards at her website.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book by an author I've never read before. 

9 February 2015

Review: Winning Over the Heiress by Narelle Atkins

Fun Yet Thought-Provoking

Yes, the title is a little cliché, but that’s what we expect from Heartsong Presents (where references to billionaires and heiresses are almost obligatory). However, the plot is a welcome turnup on the more typical cliché of the pretty female falling for her rich male boss.

Julia Radcliffe has taken a temporary job as church secretary while the current secretary is on maternity leave. It’s a change from her previous roles, but she’s enjoying the challenge—except for the website work. The church hires an IT person, who turns out to be Sean Mitchell, the bad boy brother of her best friend’s husband. Julia soon finds Sean has changed and developed a faith in God, although he’s still as attractive as the last time they met.

Sean has the same trouble with Julia as he does with his parents: they don’t believe he’s changed, and they don’t believe he’s good enough. It’s a good reminder to see that while on one hand none of us are “good enough” for God, He loves and forgives us regardless. It’s a lesson Sean and Julia each have to learn, in their own different ways.

Winning Over the Heiress is a sequel to Her Tycoon Hero (Ryan and Cassie’s story), but can easily be read as a standalone novel. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a summer afternoon, with an almost-perfect combination of romance and Christian truth.

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

6 February 2015

Review: Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey

Excellent Romantic Suspense

Kirra Jacobs and Reef McKenna have been paired as volunteers supporting the annual Iditarod race in Alaska, but they quickly find themselves working together on quite a different kind of project after Kirra’s Uncle Frank doesn’t report in after one of the early stages. They locate Frank, who tells them Kirra’s cousin, Meg, has been kidnapped, and they need to find her before the end of the nine-day race so Frank doesn’t have to complete the job. And no cops, or Meg dies.

What follows is a fast-paced race against time as Kirra and Reef search for Meg and try to find why she and Frank have been targeted. Both Kirra and Reef have to address to some aspects of their past they are less than proud of, which adds a depth to the overall plot. It's hard to say anything more about why I liked it without giving away important plot details, so I'll just say I thought the suspense elements were excellent, and I loved the way the romance developed over the course of Sabotaged. Ah, Reef ...

Sabotaged is the fifth and final book in Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series, each of which follows the story of one of the McKenna siblings. Romantic suspense is one of my favourite genres, and I’ve enjoyed them all. Dani Pettrey’s writing style is similar to Dee Henderson’s, and I’d definitely recommend Sabotaged (and the rest of the Alaskan Courage series) to fans of Henderson’s O’Malley series.

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

5 February 2015

ARCBA Blog Tour: The Land Uncharted by Keely Brooke Keith

2 - 6 February 2015
is introducing

The Land Uncharted 

Edenbrooke Press

October 2014


Keely Brooke Keith

About the Book:
Lydia Colburn is a young physician dedicated to serving her village in the Land, a landmass in the South Atlantic Ocean undetectable to the outside world. When injured fighter pilot Connor Bradshaw’s parachute carries him from the war engulfing the 2025 world to her hidden land, his presence threatens her plans, her family, and the survival of her pre-industrial society.

As Connor searches for a way to return to his squadron, his fascination with life in the Land makes him protective of Lydia and her peaceful homeland, and Lydia’s attraction to Connor stirs desires she never anticipated. Written like a historical, set like a scifi, and filled with romance, The Land Uncharted weaves adventure and love in this suspenseful story of a hidden land.

I've already reviewed The Land Uncharted. Click here to read my review. Keely is about to release the sequel, Uncharted Redemption, and I'll be reviewing that towards the end of February. Meanwhile, click here to see the cover of Uncharted Redemption (beautiful!).

About the Author

Keely Brooke Keith, author of the Uncharted series, is a bass guitarist and frequently performs and tours with her husband, singer/songwriter John Martin Keith. When she isn’t writing stories or playing bass, Keely enjoys dancing, having coffee with friends, and sifting through vintage books at antique stores. Keely resides on a hilltop south of Nashville with her husband and their daughter, Rachel.
If you'd like to know more about Keely, you can click here to find out about her favourite books.

4 February 2015

Review: Oxygen by Randy Ingermanson and John B Olsen

Excellent Sci-fic from a Christian Perspective

There are certain genres of Christian fiction I don’t read often, for one reason or another. I don’t read some because I find them somewhat juvenile in terms of the characters and the writing (*cough* Amish *cough*). My desire to read novellas and category romance waxes and wanes, probably along with my concentration levels (sometimes they are just too short). I find allegory hit and miss, and have never developed a taste for fantasy. And I don’t read a lot of science fiction … despite being a big fan of sci-fi TV shows.

Part of the reason I don’t read a lot of sci-fi is there simply isn’t a lot of Christian science fiction around. Christian fantasy, yes. Speculative, yes. But not a lot of sci-fi, whether pure sci-fi or the space opera I prefer (because it mixes in a little romance). I read the Firebird trilogy by Kathy Tyers, and enjoyed the first book (the one with the romance) far more than the other two.

I downloaded Oxygen: A Science Fiction Suspense Novel when Randy Ingermanson had the ebook on sale (and later found I already owned the unread paperback. Oops). It’s the story of the first manned mission to Mars, looking to find evidence of life on the Red Planet. It was written in around 2001, when NASA first considered such missions, and is (was) futuristic: the novel starts in 2012, and the mission blasts off in early 2014, aiming to land on Mars on the Fourth of July (highly symbolic).

Valerie Jansen aka Valkerie is a doctor twice over: a medical doctor with a PhD in an obscure branch of biology. She’s discovered and identified previously unknown life forms in Antarctica and Iceland, and now NASA have approached her about joining the team heading for Mars. The trouble is it’s a four-person spacecraft, and there are already four people on the team.

Bob Kaganovski can see the writing on the wall: despite his years of work and selection for the team, he won’t be going to Mars. And he can’t even find it in himself to resent Valkerie for taking his place—she’s got all his skills, plus more. The only problem is she’s a Christian, which might mean she’s aligned with the anti-evolution brigade protesting outside. He can’t let her jeopardize this mission.

I really enjoyed Oxygen, and have already downloaded the sequel, The Fifth Man (although I did check to see it wasn’t already lurking on my bookshelves before buying!). It’s a fast-paced thriller set in the near future (recent past?), with a compelling cast of intelligent characters. The story is told predominantly from the points of view of Valkerie and Bob, who have a rocky relationship that’s a combination of mutual admiration, attraction and mistrust. Because things keep going wrong with the mission, and each believes the other to be the most likely culprit. Who is right? Or are they both being played? If so, by whom?

There was a lot of science in Oxygen, and while science has never been my strong point, everything was explained at a level I could understand, even some of the more philosophical discussions. I’d like to see more books like this, by authors who are also scientists. There’s a view that science and religion (especially Christianity) are incompatible, yet as Christians we know science is merely trying to explain what God has created, so the two things should be perfectly compatible. But to show this, we need Christians who are scientists.

Recommended for sci-fi fans, or those who like to have to think about the ramifications of wider issues. You can find out more about Randy Ingermanson's novels at his website, or find out about his writing instruction at Advanced Fiction Writing.

This book counts towards by 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with a one-word title.

3 February 2015

February 2015 New Releases

It'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?

2 February 2015

Review: Heaven Help Heidi by Sally John

A Sequel with Heart

Heaven Help Heidi is the second novel in Sally John’s Family of the Heart Series, although you don’t need to have read Between Us Girls first (although—as with most series—it is best to read them in order to avoid spoiling the storylines relating to the recurring characters). The series is set in San Diego, in the Casa de Vida Cottages in the fictional Seaside Village. As with Between Us Girls, the story starts with a young woman who needs a new start moving into Casa de Vida, befriending one of the existing residents, and finding the answers to questions she didn’t know she had.

Heidi Hathaway is a successful real estate salesperson, but horrific injuries sustained in a car accident mean she can’t drive and she can’t navigate the stairs in her beautiful three-story condo. Piper, a business acquaintance, invites her to move into a vacant cottage at the one-level Casa de Vida. Heidi accepts, mostly because she has no other options. Her ongoing health issues mean she can’t work to the capacity she used to, which means Val, her friend and boss, is having to take on more and more—but Val has problems too. Piper has her own issues. Her fiance died four years ago, and although she still misses him, she’s finally learned to cope without him.

What I thought lifted Heaven Help Heidi above Between Us Girls was the hidden linkages between the characters. Heidi moving into Casa de Vida is the catalyst that forces some of the minor characters to reconsider their perceptions of the past, and to look for reconciliation, and I enjoyed this aspect. The novel has underlying Christian themes, but while several of the characters (especially Liv) are Christians, it’s not in-your-face preachy Christian fiction (in fact, the Christian aspects felt a bit understated at times).

There is also a touch of romance in the novels (well, perhaps more than a touch). Part of me would like to see more on-page development of the relationship, but I think I see the point Sally John is making by keeping the romance low-key. We can’t rely on a man to come in and “fix” our lives. We have to sort through things with God first, and then we can come to a place where we are ready to share our lives with someone else. It’s not that we’re “fixed” (are we ever?), but that we know who we are in ourselves and in God. That knowledge and security allows us to open ourselves to new personal and professional possibilities. Thought-provoking.

I really enjoyed Heaven Help Heidi, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in the series.

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