31 July 2015

Review and Giveaway: A Bride at Last by Melissa Jagears

Can Silas and Kate overcome their rocky start and experience healing—and possibly love? Discover the answer in Melissa Jagears' new book, A Bride at LastNeither Kate nor Silas is prepared for the secrets and past hurts that have yet to come to light as they attempt to prove nine-year-old Anthony's paternity to the court. Can their wounded souls bind them together or will all that stands between them leave them lonely forever?

Celebrate the release of A Bride at Last by entering to win a $100 Memory-Making giveaway and RSVPing to Melissa's August 4th author chat party!

bride at last-400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A $100 gift card to Netflix (for a family movie night), Shutterfly (to create a family memory book), or TablePlayGames (for a family game night)
  • One copy of A Bride at Last
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on 8/4. The winner will be announced at Melissa's 8/4 A Bride at Last Facebook author chat party. RSVP for a chance to connect with Melissa and fiction fans, as well as for a chance to win some great prizes!

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RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK, TWITTER, or PINTEREST and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 4th!

My Review

While I've enjoyed the earlier books in this series, I didn’t enjoy A Bride at Last. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been busy (which meant I took several days to finish it when I normally finish a novel in a day or two) or I took several days to finish it because I wasn’t enjoying it enough. Or perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for this particular type of Christian fiction—Christian romance set in the American West in the dying days of the nineteenth century.

Both the main characters were damaged individuals who had a lot of faults, and made a lot of mistakes in the way they dealt with each other. That shouldn’t necessarily be a negative: I don’t want to read novels where perfect heroine meets perfect hero, he rescues her after she stubs her toe and they live happily ever after. But I would like them to be a little less stupid about their faults. In this respect, I was particularly annoyed by the “hero”, who spent too much of the second half of the novel not forgiving the heroine for something in her past … even though she’d managed to get past something in his past (I hope that sentence makes sense!).

The result was the plot seemed to drag. The first half dragged as they went around and around in circles trying to solve one plot mystery, then the second half dragged as they went around and around in circles trying to get over her past—which, frankly, seemed contrived. Overall, not a novel I enjoyed. But maybe that’s just me.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

29 July 2015

2015 Reading Challenge: The Gifting by K E Ganshert

A Book Set in High School

The Gifting is written by Katie Ganshert, who has previously written some rather lovely Christian women’s fiction and a couple of romance novels. The Gifting trilogy, using the KE Ganshert pen name, is her first foray into young adult literature, and self-publishing. It’s written from a Christian world view, but not to the point where the faith elements are pushy (at least, not at this stage. I can see they might get more obvious as the series progresses).

The Gifting is a young adult dystopian thriller, along the lines of The Hunger Games, Divergent, Twilight or Anomaly with elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The first-person narrator, Tess Eckhart, sees strange things no one else sees … but lives in a society when any hint of imperfection is frowned upon, especially if that imperfection is mental illness. And seeing things is definitely not sane.

When her visions force her family to move from Florida to California, she meets Luka, the most popular guy in school, who all the girls are hot for and who doesn’t date any of them (remind you of anyone, Twilight readers?). For some unknown reason, he befriends Tess (remind you of anyone, Twilight readers?), because there’s something they have in common (remind you of anyone, Twilight readers?).

Yes, I would have enjoyed The Gifting more if it hadn’t been full of things that happened to Bella. It also seemed a bit odd that it wasn’t clear when it was set: Tess uses a laptop and iPad, which makes the technology seem very 2015, yet other aspects of the novel suggest it must be set at least twenty years in our future.

Like Twilight, The Gifting has that combination of plot and pace which kept me turning pages and resenting when I had to put my Kindle down for unimportant daily tasks like work and sleep. But the writing in The Gifting is better, and Tess isn’t nearly as annoying as Bella. The first-person point of view worked well—it would have destroyed some of the tension if we’d known what Luka was thinking.

Overall, The Gifting was an excellent read, and if I didn’t already have 100+ books in my to-read list, I’d be clicking to buy the sequel. The second book in the trilogy, The Awakening, is already available and the third book, The Gathering, is currently available for pre-order.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book set in high school (finding one was harder than I thought!).

27 July 2015

Review: Emails from Heaven by Sam Neumann

David Grasso has gotten an email from no one. He knows this is impossible, but with a blank “sender” field and no other identifying marks, he’s left incapable of tracing the source. The email claims to be from his brother, but David knows it can’t be, because his brother is dead.

Upon reading the body text he becomes furious, not at the obvious attempt at deceit, but at what the email says. Furious someone would use his brother’s name to perpetuate a lie. Furious the lie existed at all.

EMAILS FROM HEAVEN is a novel following David Grasso’s struggle to make sense of the email and those that followed. As a graphic designer at a high-powered ad firm in downtown Chicago, David spends most of his waking hours at the office. He’s unmarried, has few friends, and his coworkers bore him. His life is a monotonous running clock. But when the email arrives, his world is turned on end, and he will go to any length to reveal the source and explain the seemingly inconceivable circumstances that led to it showing up in his inbox.

This is the story of one man’s struggle with mystery, death, and the idea of faith. When logic is suspended, all that remains is one timeless question:

What if?

Not What I Was Expecting

Most of Emails from Heaven is told from the point of view of David Grasso, a graphic designer at the JF&A Integrated Advertising Agency. He’s relatively happy with his work at the beginning of the novel, but gradually becomes more and more disaffected with office life and the petty social hierarchies within.

The initial premise was intriguing: a man receiving emails from his dead brother. The style of the writing was also intriguing, a mix of third person and omniscient which shouldn’t have worked, but somehow fit with the unusual plot. It has to be said the editing was choppy, especially around point of view, and—frankly—plot. It started off as a mystery with a supernatural touch, as David puzzles about the origin of the strange emails and reflects on his relationship with his dead brother.

But it gradually morphed into something different, more like a commentary on modern office life, a cross between The Office and Dilbert. We see David in the office environment, gradually losing interest as he begins to see through the office politics and befriend the office loser.

It’s not to say the story wasn’t good—it was—but it wasn’t the story we’d been promised. The other way it wasn’t as promised was that I thought it was a Christian novel (my blog is Iola’s Christian Reads: I pretty much expect that’s the kind of novel I’m going to be offered to review). But Emails from Heaven wasn’t “Christian” in that it didn’t meet the usual specifications people have for Christian fiction, particularly around the use of swearing, smoking and drinking. There was no sex, but that was more a function of plot and character: David and especially Martin were too reclusive to have lady friends.

But this plot segue means I didn’t think the essential question in the story was answered, and maybe this is my problem, but I like there to be answers. Both parts of the book—the emails from heaven and the struggle against office politics—were good, but they didn’t hang together well enough.

As an aside, the author advertises himself as a New York Times Bestselling Author. I'd never heard of him so I checked: one of his previous books made #23 on the Non-Fiction ebook list for one week, which makes it sound like the kind of boast David Grasso's bombastic manager would make.

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

24 July 2015

Review and Giveaway: A Heart's Promise by Colleen Coble

Will the promise Emmie makes to her friend mean the end to her dreams of a future with Isaac? Find out in book five, A Heart's Promise, of Colleen Coble's A Journey of the Heart series. Emmie Croftner let Isaac Liddle go to avoid telling him about her past. But Isaac remains determined to win Emmie’s heart and hand. Can she live happily without Isaac?

Take a day off and head to the beach with a new giveaway from Colleen: five books (books one–five in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series) and a beach bag to tote your new books in!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of A Heart's Promise
  • A Lands' End beach tote
  • A copy of A Heart's Betrayal
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession
  • A copy of A Heart's Danger
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on July 31st. Winner will be announced August 3rd on Colleen's website.


Five Down, One to Go

Amazon Description

Emmie makes a promise to her friend that, if fulfilled, could mean the end to her dreams of a future with Isaac.

Emmie Croftner let Isaac Liddle go to avoid telling him about her past. But Isaac remains determined to win Emmie’s heart and hand. Though Emmie resolves to keep her heart in check, it hurts when she sees that another woman has set her bonnet for Isaac.

Then Emmie’s dear friend extracts a costly promise: if anything happens to her in childbirth, Emmie will marry her widower and raise the baby herself. And it seems Emmie may have to fulfill that promise. But can she live happily without Isaac?

My Review

This is going to be a short review, because I disliked the same things about this novella as I disliked about the previous four in the series, and I’m pretty much only reading and reviewing it because that was the condition for signing up for the tour—that I’d review all six books in the series. My bad.

The characters aren’t inspiring (and Emmie seems to have had a character transplant since the last book), the plot is predictable (thanks to the spoilers in the plot summary on the book’s copyright page) and the writing is merely average (although Coble has made some “massive changes” since the books were first published).

I’ve also decided that while I enjoy reading a book series, I’m not as keen on a serial like this, where each book is an episode in a larger whole (actually, it’s a single book that’s been cut in three. A cynic would say that’s so the publisher can charge $6.99 each for six books instead of $14.99 each for two).

The one plus is that it’s a quick read. Especially when you can skim because you already know what’s going to happen.

Thanks to the publisher and Litfuse Publicity for providing a free ebook for review.

22 July 2015

Review: Daughter of the Regiment by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Impressive as Always

I’m always impressed by Stephanie Grace Whitson’s books, by her writing, by her characters, by her historical accuracy, and by the way she manages to weave those things together to always produce a novel worth reading. I admit, Daughter of the Regiment wasn’t the easiest novel to get in to, at least for me.

It’s set in Missouri, and I’m not American so I had no idea where it was. It appeared to be in the South but it wasn’t a state that’s featured in other fiction I’ve read about the War Between the States (it’s really more West than true South, which might explain my confusion). And I was initially confused about which side was which—I’m used to North and South, not Confederate and Union (I read this before the recent fracas about removing the Confederate flag from whichever building it was on. I’ll know for next time. Confederate is South).

Anyway, it’s the early days of what later becomes known as the Civil War, the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States (depending on where you live and, I suspect, how old you are). Maggie Malone is left alone on the family farm in Little Dixie, Missouri, after her two younger brothers go off to fight for the Union. She goes off to search for them after raiders destroy the farm and she realises the local sheriff—a Confederate supporter—isn’t exactly proactive about rounding up the miscreants.

Maggie manages to make a place for herself in the regiment, and what follows is a fascinating insight into a different side of army life. There’s also an unlikely friendship with a planation belle, a love interest, and a subplot which addresses deeper issues of faith, love and family. The writing is excellent, and I very much enjoyed the story. Recommended for fans of historical fiction.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book by a female author. Really, it should have been a book by a male author as I mostly read female authors!

20 July 2015

Review: The Curiosity Keeper by Sarah Ladd

Amazon Book Description

“It is not just a ruby, as you say. It is large as a quail’s egg, still untouched and unpolished. And it is rumored to either bless or curse whoever possesses it.”

Camille Iverness can take care of herself. She’s done so since the day her mother abandoned the family and left Camille to run their shabby curiosity shop. But when a violent betrayal leaves her injured with no place to hide, Camille must allow a mysterious stranger to come to her aid.

Jonathan Gilchrist never wanted to inherit Kettering Hall. As a second son, he was content to work as the village apothecary. But when his brother’s death made him heir just as his father’s foolish decisions put the estate at risk, only the sale of a priceless possession—a ruby called the Bevoy—can save the family from ruin. But the gem has disappeared. And all trails lead to Iverness Curiosity Shop—and the beautiful shop girl who may be the answer to his many questions.

Caught at the intersection of blessings and curses, greed and deceit, these two determined souls must unite to protect what they hold dear. But when a passion that shines far brighter than any gem is ignited, they will have to decide how much they are willing to risk for their future, love, and happiness.

My Review

The Curiosity Keeper is set during the Regency, a period I usually love, but there was nothing especially Regency about it—it could have been set at any time in nineteenth century England. There was nothing especially Regency in either the setting, the characters, or the plot—in fact, the central plot device of the missing Bevoy ruby seemed more gothic Victorian than Regency. In hindsight, this may have contributed to the general feeling of malaise I felt while reading: while it was a perfectly sound novel, with no obvious defects, I didn’t find it especially original or interesting.

Sarah Ladd won the 2011 Genesis Award for her first novel, The Heiress of Winterwood, and I very much enjoyed that and its two sequels. But The Curiosity Keeper, first in her new Treasures of Surrey series, fell flat for me. The writing was solid, but nothing sparkled. It all felt a little contrived, and I found it difficult to relate to either Camille or Jonathan. Camille was too passive for someone who was supposed to be intelligent (and if she really was that clever, why hadn’t she worked out the truth behind her family and their shop?). Jonathan was the second son who had no interest in stepping into his unwanted inheritance. And they both had fathers most charitably described as imperfect … perhaps too imperfect.

Overall, The Curiosity Keeper was unmemorable, at least for me. Perhaps a little too much Jane Eyre, and not enough Jane Austen.

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

18 July 2015

Friday Fifteen: Kimberley Rogers

I'd like to welcome Kimberley A Rogers to Iola's Christian Reads, to share her Friday Fifteen: Fifteen authors who have influenced her life and writing (yes, I know I had a Friday Fifteen yesterday as well. But it's still Friday in the US ...)

Kimberley has recently released her first novella: A Tiger's Paw.

What if history didn’t quite play out the way we know it? What would stay the same? What would change? Even in a world where Elves and Humans coexist, there are secrets. Not all the old legends are accurate, but neither are they false. Hidden among the Humans are the Therians, those gifted with the ability to shift into beasts. How long they will remain unseen by Human eyes depends on how well they adhere to their code of life and honor – The Therian Way.

When secrecy is vital to survive among Humans and Elves, the Therian Way offers balance. The Fringe, a militant group of discontented Therians, threaten to expose their race to Mankind. It falls to General Baran to track down and remove the Fringe Nest before time runs out. Who can he trust when the fate of his people lies in the Tiger’s paw?

Welcome, Kimberley!

1. C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia were among my first “real” books and they are probably what first started me down the path of loving fantasy in general. I still love them, I never really outgrew them, which to me is exactly what a good book (or series) should do, and I love how they showed the Christian journey at various stages while never being obnoxious about the allegory aspect. The Space Trilogy I read when I was older and it has a very different feel to it than Narnia but I always appreciated the twists on the legend of King Arthur and how sci-fi concepts were explored from a Christian’s perspective.

2. G.A. Henty

I love his books and I especially loved the settings in Ancient Egypt, Medieval Europe (I went through a knights and ladies phase . . . that I still haven’t grown out of), Aztecs, Rome, etc. Of course, my personal favorites were the stories with a romance. What can I say? History and romance has always been a win for me.

3. J.R.R. Tolkien

Ah, Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings was the greatest epic fantasy ever (still is) and definitely further fanned my love of all things fantasy. The Hobbit is a favorite as well. I fell in love with all the background worldbuilding Tolkien is famous. I am such a Tolkien geek. I devoured the Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales, History of Middle-Earth, even his non-Middle-Earth stories, all of it. I love the characters and the details in the background that weave such a rich story when you know about it.

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder

Another early favorite. Again, it had that mix of historical setting (prairie) and romance (in the later books, anyways) that I grew to love and it’s just a fun series to read again and again.

5. Louisa May Alcott

Little Women would have to be my favorite of her books, although I also read Little Men, Eight Cousins, Jo’s Boys.

6. Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice is the greatest. I think that’s the best way to sum up my love for Austen. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett had the dynamic in their clash of views that has definitely left an imprint on my own writing and in my preferences for reading materials.

7. Gilbert Morris

I have read Gilbert Morris for years, both his adult series and his children’s/teen series. My favorites were the pre-modern romances in his House of Winslow Series. I also enjoyed his biblical fiction.

8. Donita K. Paul

Paul’s Dragon Keeper Chronicles can be credited with re-awakening my passing interest in scribbling stories and fanning it into a passion to write a fantasy of my own. At the time, I knew there wasn’t a lot of Christian fantasy but finding Paul’s books essentially proved that Christian writers other than Lewis and Tolkien were in the fantasy genre.

9. Charles Dickens

Dickens is a classic author. I’ve always loved his stories, although I favored Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities over Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

10. Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes. I love this famous detective with all his quirks and as a kid, I was always Holmes, my younger sibling had to be content with being Watson. Oddly enough my favorite of the Holmes stories was The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not sure why other than the monster wasn’t what it seemed.

11. Janette Oke

Janette Oke’s Women of the West series was probably my favorite. It combined my love of history and romance in a number of ways.

12. Al and Joanna Lacy

Their Mail Order Bride series was definitely my favorite. These books and those written by many of the other romance writers I mention are probably why I enjoy reading a well-written arranged marriage/marriage of convenience.

13. Susan May Warren

I love her books, no matter which genres they’re in, because there’s not just romance and/or high stakes, there’s also humor. I love the books that make me laugh.

14. Lori Wick

I definitely enjoyed her books, which tend to have the right blend between history and romance.

15. Stephen R. Lawhead

Lawhead is another modern Christian author who proved to me that there’s room for Christian fantasy. I think I always enjoyed his Dragon King trilogy the most out of all his books, although I liked his twists on Arthur and Merlin as well as Celtic legends and Robin Hood, because they were truly fantasy with no connection to our world.

I picked fifteen authors because I couldn’t possibly narrow it down to fifteen books (too many favorite series) but there are so many more I could mention, especially the new indie authors I discovered in the last year who had a huge impact on me as well. As it is, this is where I must
sign off. I hope you enjoyed reading about my Friday Fifteen.

Thank you, Iola, for the opportunity to participate.

You're welcome, Kimberley. Best wishes for the debut!

About Kimberly

Kimberly A. Rogers writes in-depth reviews of Christian and secular
fantasy as well as articles for Christian fantasy writers at her blog So You Want to Write Christian Fantasy? Of course, only when not in the midst of writing papers and taking exams in the pursuit of her Masters in Religious Education. Kimberly lives in Virginia where the Blue Ridge Mountains add inspiration to an over-active imagination originally fueled by fantasy classics such as the works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.

17 July 2015

Friday Fifteen: William Galaini

Today I'd like to welcome debut author William Galliani to Iola's Christian Reads. His book is a little different to those I normally review--fantasy--but I'm intrigued ...

While the First World War rages on Earth's surface, Hephaestion discovers the ideal opportunity to rescue his general, king, and soulmate Alexander the Great from the lowest ring of Hell. The problem? No one’s ever dared such a feat before, and only a madman would try.

As Hephaestion descends into the pit of eternal torment, he discovers unlikely accomplices willing to assist his impossible plan…but complications and subterfuge leave Hephaestion and his allies scrambling for footholds in a world governed by demons, devils, and opportunists. Soon the fires of Hades are the least of his worries as he must outrun, outgun, and outmaneuver beasts and monsters hell-bent on his destruction.

With a cast of unexpected characters from civilizations long buried and historical figures you only thought you knew, Hephaestion must answer the true question of his quest: What does it mean to be known, to be remembered…and perhaps, to be human?

Loyalty, commitment, and love ignore the bounds of death and time in an adventure that explores culture, history, and obsession through the lens of a man who defies reason.

William is currently undertaking a crowdfunding campaign. Find out more at Pubslush: http://bit.ly/tramplingPS

Here are the fifteen books which have influenced William's life and writing. Welcome, William!

The Childhood Impact!

1) Tall Book of Make-Believe (various British authors)

While not by a single author, I've got to mention this book. This is where it all started for me. My Mum would sit on the bed, I'd be snuggling Snuffles, and it would be story time.

2) The Giving Tree (Shel Silverstein)

Even as a child, I instantly recognized this as an abusive relationship. I immediately resolved to never take advantage of my poor mother in such a heartless and selfish fashion as the main character had this tree.

3) The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien)

The smell of this book impacted me as much as the words. The leather cover, the quaint illustrations, and the texture of each page made me fall in love with the physicality of books. Each chapter was about going places, eating food, and meeting quirky creatures!

Awkward Teenage Years!

4) I, Robot (Isaac Asimov)

This was a BIG impact on me. I fell in love with science fiction and proceeded to gobble up EVERYTHING from the 1950's until the 1970's within the genre. Susan Calvin still continues to be my favorite female protagonist of all time. She is brilliant, calculating, and her demand for reason and logic was inspirational yet saddening.

5) Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)

This was a brutal and vivid novel involving war and architecture during England's dark ages. Thanks to its powerful and prudent female characters, my future as a feminist was secured. These women were crafty, dedicated, shrewd, and capable.

6) Frankenstein (Mary Shelly)

Not only did this work haunt me because of its themes and heartbreak, but the method in how the tale is conveyed anchored me into reality. It is all told through the proxy of letters and correspondence. The cat and mouse game in the arctic, a ship frozen in the ice, was an AMAZING set piece.


7) Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)

Of all the dystopian novels, this one scares me the most because it gives people what they want: drugs, sex, and clear expectations. Anyone can succeed in Huxley's novel, and it presents a utopia for what I expect is 90% of the Western World. No novel has ever horrified me more.

8) Siddhartha (Hermann Hesse)

I can't tell you how many times I tried to find the silent sound of 'om' while I was in the army. Herman Hesse's writing style itself is so soothing it's like he's the grandfather of the world. I want to find that peace he whispers through his pages.

9) The Watchmen (Alan Moore)

I enjoyed the occasional comic book as much as the next fella, but something sinister and brilliant was happening with The Watchmen. These super heroes had financial problems, emotional disorders, and even impotency. Only though the guise of their cowls, masks, and vehicles could they feel useful. They were broken souls desperate to find fulfillment. And Rorschach's truth is unnerving to me.

10.) Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

When I realized I had spent a half hour reading and re-reading a single paragraph about a painting of a whale impaled on a ship's mast, it occurred to me that I was reading the best prose in the English language. Moby Dick is beauty. It is a work loaded with dichotomy where pacifists are cruel and scoundrels are virtuous.

11.) Cat in the Hat (Theodore Geisel)

Why is this down here? Well, when I hit college I went through and read every children's book I could in order to evaluate how I had grown up. Cat in the Hat tipped me off to something: Theodore Geisel had been educating me subversively for YEARS. Green Eggs and Ham is about the end of segregation. The Sneeches is about class warfare. Yertle the Turtle is about dictatorship. And Cat in the Hat is a mishmash of biblical parables.

The Wilds

12) Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad)

Never have I found better character description. Ever. Most prize Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness as his masterpiece and I don't deny that, but Lord Jim has so much to say regarding how we abuse our saviors that it makes me grit my teeth when I think on it. I also adored the distance it kept with its pivotal character, and emulated that distance in my first novel The Line.

13) Far Pavilions (M.M. Kaye)

Adventure. Swooping, elevating, elating adventure. The whole novel is delightful, but the first half involves a wedding caravan across India where the British officer in charge of its military escort falls in love with one of the brides to be. M.M. Kaye has written other great, charming works but this one is such a joy ride for me.

14) Grendel (John Gardner)

Satan/Lucifer/The Devil is the most common character in English literature. That's very telling to the English readership, don't you think? Grendel explores this phenomenon by retelling the tale of Beowulf from Grendel's perspective. Through first person perspective we learn the beast's origins, perspectives, and tragedy.

15) The Ugly American (Eugene Burdick and William Lederer)

REQUIRED reading for any military or traveling government service person, this novel was humbling and enlightening. Working more as a series of vignettes, each portion acted like an instructional how-to-guide of South Pacific colonialism. Reading about this fictional nation brought complete clarity regarding Vietnam and Iraq.

About William

William Galaini grew up in Pennsylvania and Florida. His mother gave him an early love of reading, especially when it came to the great classics of science fiction. He is also a history buff and fascinated by mythology and folklore. His various vocational pursuits include being a singer in a professional high school choir, manager of the call center at a luxury resort, U.S. Army medic, prison guard, and middle school English teacher. As such, he is perfectly suited to breech a solid metal door, humanely restrain the enemy within, and politely correct their grammar all while humming Handel’s Messiah and drinking a lovely cuppa tea.

He currently hangs his hat, rucksack, and tweed smoking jacket in Northern Virginia.

15 July 2015

2015 Reading Challenge: In Good Company by Jen Turano

Fun, fun, fun

Jen Turano is the author I save for those days when I want a lighthearted read, something that’s going to entertain and amuse me without getting too much into the harsher side of life. Some days I want serious fiction with a message. Some days I don’t. Those are Jen Turano days. She manages to write funny characters and situations without ever crossing the line into cringey, and that’s a huge achievement.

It’s Long Island, 1882, and Mr Everett Mulberry has recently become guardian to three children who run every nanny off in days. Miss Millie Longfellow is his only hope, which is unfortunate for him. Also unfortunate is Miss Caroline Dixon, his almost-fiancé, who doesn’t like the children and wants to send them to boarding school. Despite the problems he’s having, that’s not an option.

In Good Company is well set up: the nanny who can’t keep a job and the man who can’t keep a nanny. Add a little mutual attraction, a determined almost-fiancé, three unruly children, a gaggle of peacocks and sundry other four-legged creatures and the stage is set. There’s even some suspense around the death of the children’s parents—and I have to say the resolution of that subplot was quite unexpected.

The characters were excellent. Millie was similar to other characters I’ve seen, in that she comes across as scatterbrained to the uninitiated, but has a heart of gold and her seemingly unconventional methods of childcare not only tame the children but serve a larger purpose in the plot. Everett was the somewhat foppish male who wants to do the right thing but doesn’t know how. And the children. Well. A lot of authors get children wrong, with characters and personalities inconsistent with their ages, but Turano nails them, even though the children are every bit as idiosyncratic as the adults, especially Rosetta and her unusual pets.

But it’s not all fun. There are some serious messages hidden within In Good Company, particularly around how we are all valuable and how we need variety to teach us about life. As one character tells Everett:
“You’ve been surrounded solely by like-minded individuals—and that has not given you a proper perspective on life.”
It wasn’t talking about the Christian “bubble” many of us live in, but it certainly applies. We are not called to be of the world, but we are most definitely called to be in the world. And we need to be to gain that proper perspective.

Recommended for a lighthearted read with a message.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

This counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a funny book. 

13 July 2015

Review: Picture Perfect Love by Melissa McClone

Good, but I'm not sold

Two years ago, Jenna Harrison’s fiancé dumped her the day before their wedding after accusing her of posting an embarrassing Photoshopped picture of him on Facebook, a photo which forced him to withdraw from an election campaign. Now he’s back, apologetic, and wants her to photograph his sister’s wedding—Amber, who has finally confessed to being responsible for posting the picture.

Jenna has changed since she was engaged to Ash. Their breakup brought her to rock-bottom financially and spiritually, but she joined a new church and is now a strong character, but not a perfect one and I liked that. Her struggle to forgive Ash felt real, especially when he had been too self-absorbed to see the financial and professional problems he’d caused her. She was a well-developed and likeable character.

Ash wasn’t so well developed. The breakup had benefited him financially, although he was never man enough to tell Jenna that (which annoyed me). He also didn’t seem to be her equal spiritually—I got the impression he went to church out of habit rather than actually having a personal faith. And I didn’t see any character change in him, either in the course of the novella, or between the Ash Jenna remembered from two years ago and the one in front of her today. Did he lack depth because this is a novella and there wasn’t the word count to develop him further? Possibly, but I’ve read plenty of novellas which managed to do a better job of developing both the hero and heroine.

As a romance novella, Picture Perfect Love is supposed to have a happy-ever-after ending (well, technically a romantically satisfying and optimistic ending). I’m not convinced. Jenna and Ash? Maybe. There was physical attraction in spades, so if that’s enough to maintain a relationship, they’ll be fine. But Amber and Toby? No. Amber is too immature and has difficulties with concepts like truth and repentance. I found her unlikeable, and couldn’t see why a sweetheart like Toby was interested in her, let alone marrying her.

Overall, Picture Perfect was well-written, but a good romance needs a lovable hero as well as a believable heroine and I’m not sold.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

10 July 2015

Friday Fifteen: Marion Ueckermann

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Marion Ueckermann, who was part of the SPLASH! novella collection, which I recently reviewed.

Welcome, Marian!

1 & 2. Francine Rivers and Liz Curtis Higgs

I love not only these two women’s writing style, but the kind of stories they write, too. They have definitely influenced the way I put words together.

3. Mary DeMuth

I’ve loved reading Mary’s books. It was a great blessing to attend a writers’ mini-conference she hosted in South Africa and to be inspired by her.

4. Brandilyn Collins

Brandilyn's road to publication has been an encouragement and inspiration to my own publishing journey. She’s a great writer and her Seatbelt Suspense stories are always hard to put down.

5-8. Max Lucado, Gene Edwards, Ted Dekker & Frank Peretti

The first Christian story I read, were penned by these gents. They instilled a passion in me for reading Christian fiction. Max Lucado's books are not only great reads, but have so much wisdom for daily living.

9. Eric Wilson

When I first started writing, Eric took the time to give me advice. He's one of my favorite authors to read.

10. Nicholas Sparks

Yes, I do read secular from time to time, and when I do, I'll turn to a Nicholas Sparks romance for an enjoyable escape.

11. Shirley Corder (Strength Renewed)

Shirley has been a resounding voice of caution and mentorship for many years.

12. Judith Robl (As Grandma Says)

Judith is another wonderfully sweet voice of encouragement, and one that's always ready to Beta read my manuscripts.

13. Nancy Kimball (Chasing the Lion)

Through critique and praise, this amazing author has pushed me to strive for perfection in my writing. I thank her for every positive and negative response. I'm a huge fan of her work, too, and cannot wait for the next release in her series.

14. Valerie Comer (Farm Fresh Romance)

Working with Valerie on the SPLASH! boxed set has been nothing short of amazing. She has so much knowledge to impart, and does so eagerly. Her influence has definitely steered this publishing road I'm on into a direction I'd never dreamed of.

15. Heidi McCahan (Unraveled & Covering Home)

As one of my critique partners, Heidi plays almost a daily role in my life, encouraging, advising, and strengthening my writing. Heidi is an awesome writer and I relish getting her weekly subs in my mail box.

Thank you, Iola, for the opportunity to take fifteen minutes to reflect on fifteen authors who have influenced me in some way. I really enjoyed giving thought to this. I definitely could have added more names to the list.

About Marion Ueckermann

Marion Ueckermann’s passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles and stories in Winners, The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miraculous Messages from Heaven. Published novellas include Helsinki Sunrise and Oslo Overtures (August 2015) from White Rose Publishing (Pelican Book Group, Passport to Romance series), and Orphaned Hearts. Marion loves writing contemporary inspirational romances set in novel places. She lives in South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.

Website: http://marionueckermann.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Marion.C.Ueckermann
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00KBYLU7C
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+MarionUeckermannAuthor/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ueckie
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/ueckie/

8 July 2015

Review: Advanced Twitter Strategies for Authors by Ian H Sutherland

Excellent ... but not for Twitter Newbies

Twitter is one of the major social networks, and with approximately eleventy-billion tweets sent daily (many of them containing #GoT memes and spoilers), it’s one authors need to know about. If you do know about Twitter and want to learn to leverage the power of the beast, read on. If, like Jon Snow, you know nothing, you would be better reading a beginner guide first—I recommend Belinda Pollard’s blog posts, or Twitter for Writers by Rayne Hall.

Advanced Twitter Strategies is what is says in the title: advanced strategies to build a substantial Twitter following in a short time by following Sutherland’s SHARP principles and using his recommended tools. He has personally built a following of over 30,000 tweeps in less than six months, and achieves this in 15 minutes a day. That’s impressive: I’m not interested in “advice” from people with fewer Twitter followers than I have.

Sutherland uses a range of tools to automate as much as possible within Twitter’s rigid anti-spam guidelines, and he takes the reader through each of these tools in detail: how to set up an initial account, which features to use and how to use them, and how to spend your 15 minutes per day. Down to the second. And it looks achievable …

Yes, there is a catch: the system will take more than 15 minutes to set up initially, and Sutherland uses the paid versions of some services. These services have a combined cost of $14.75 per week at current prices, so this isn’t a strategy you will necessarily want to follow if you don’t actually have something to sell. Like a book. He also points out the importance of having the basics covered with your book: excellent content, good cover, and good reviews. (What’s the saying? Excellent marketing will only make a bad book fail faster.)

Given there is a cost in implementing Sutherland’s method, you’ll want to monitor your ROI: are you selling enough additional books to justify the expense? (Alternatively, how much time will these tactics save you that you can then spend on writing your next book? I’ve heard writers complain that marketing takes *hours* each day. Does it? Or are they procrastinating?)

One thing would have made the book more helpful: I would have liked him to explain why he chose a particular service provider over the other companies offering a similar service. What are the pros and cons of SocialOomph vs Buffer as a scheduling service? Of Tweepi vs. JustUnfollow (now called CrowdFire) to manage following and unfollowing? I use Buffer and CrowdFire. Should I change? Why?

I would add one further caution: social media does not necessarily sell books. Yes, I bought this book based on a tweet from the author, but that is because I have seen his name in my Twitter stream and recognised him as an author who offers good content (in his case, #twittertips, following his own SHARP principles) rather than an author who fills my feed with self-promotion. People, Spam® is a food, not a marketing strategy.

While I’ve found it easy to connect with writers on Twitter, I haven’t found it so easy to find readers, especially readers of Christian fiction (readers of book marketing and writing craft books? I’ve found thousands of them). So if your target reader is busy on Pinterest looking at inspirational quotes, craft ideas or wedding dresses … this won’t help.

But if your target reader is active on Twitter and connecting with people through Twitter is part of your marketing plan, then I recommend this book. I believe it does what it says on the tin.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a nonfiction book.

6 July 2015

Review: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth Vogt

Good Characters, Good Concept ...

Paramedic Vanessa Hollister married Logan Hollister (yes, same last names) when she was eighteen and divorced him two years later for reasons unknown (we did find out later in the book. It would have been nice to have understood this earlier, but no. This kind of information was disclosed through flashbacks which I found annoying because they were disrupting the present-time story).

Vanessa is now living in Denver and engaged to Dr Ted Topliff, who has the idea to have a romantic destination wedding in Destin, Florida, to coincide with a medical conference he will be attending. Yep. How romantic. Vanessa doesn’t think this is a good idea, not because of the obvious sign that her husband-to-be isn't exactly making the wedding a priority, but because that’s where she met Logan. Sure enough, when she visits Florida to plan the wedding, she runs into Logan, and things don’t exactly go as planned …

This was a sweet romance along the lines of Sweet Home Alabama (with a destination wedding theme), about rediscovering love and second chances … At least, it was a sweet romance as long as I didn’t think about it too much. If I think about it, the romance suddenly seems too fast, and not entirely convincing. I could see from the flashbacks how and why eighteen-year-old Vanessa and Logan fell in love, and I could see that twenty-eight year-old Logan still loved Vanessa--although I suspect he loved eighteen-year-old Vanessa, because he really didn’t spend enough time with the twenty-eight-year-old one. But I wasn't convinced by Vanessa. As a result, I just wasn’t convinced by the romance.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. To find out more about Beth Vogt, visit her website.