30 October 2015

Review: Love in the Details by Becky Wade

Practically Perfect

Love in the Details is another novella in the Zondervan Year of Weddings series, each of which is a standalone novella. I’ve read several of them, and Love in the Details is definitely one of the better stories in the series. Becky Wade is an excellent author, who manages to inject just the right level of humour into what could have been a depressingly sad story.

Holly Morgan fell in love with Josh Bowen at high school, but broke up with him during their first year of college. What he never knew—because she never told him—is that she broke up at the request of his mother, who was afraid he’d throw his college scholarship and come home to Texas. Holly broke up with him, he never came home, and how he’s a tech billionaire (oh, gone are the days where mere millionaires were considered romantic heroes!).

Now Josh is temporarily back in Martinsburg, Texas, for his best friend’s wedding. He’s best man, and Holly is the church wedding liaison, which throws them together once more, and Holly finds Josh still hasn’t forgiven her … and she still hasn’t gotten over him. Will they be able to get over their past and find true love? Well, this is a romance novella, so the answer to that should be pretty obvious.

However, Love in the Details manages to be more than a cliché romance. The writing is excellent, both characters are lovable and well-developed, and the combination of internal conflict and external attraction makes this an excellent short read. Recommended.

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

23 October 2015

Review: Every Girl Gets Confused by Janice Thompson

Read Every Bride Needs a Groom First

Amazon Description

Katie Fisher and Brady James may be a match made in heaven, but that doesn't seem to guarantee them a happily ever after accompanied by angelic choirs. In fact, the sounds being heard at the bridal shop where she works are on the contentious side lately, as a bride- and groom-to-be try to mediate the growing rivalry between their basketball-obsessed families in the middle of play-off season. On top of that, Katie's parents are nagging her to get out of Dallas and come home to tiny Fairfield where her former boyfriend Carson is waiting for her, ready to rekindle their relationship. Oy vey! What's a girl to do? And will she ever be able to wear that gorgeous wedding dress she won?

My Review

This is the second novel in a series, and I probably would have enjoyed it more if I’d have read the first book, Every Bride Needs a Groom. There are two reasons for this: it appears the story carries straight on from the first book, and there are so many characters, I got confused more than once trying to remember who was who. Of course, now I’ve read Every Girl Gets Confused, there’s no need for me to read Every Bride Gets a Groom, because I’ve pretty much sussed out all the important things that happened.

No, Katie wasn’t the only one to get confused. Actually, the title in itself was confusing, because Katie a) wasn’t a bride, and b) wasn’t confused. In fact, she seemed to be the most unconfused person in the novel, as her major confusion was around why Brady wasn’t forward in telling her how he felt (clue: he’s a man, and while many fictional heroes are happy baring their hearts, Brady was more, well, human).

Every Bride Gets Confused was written in the first person, entirely from Katie’s point of view. This was both a strength and a weakness—while I enjoy novels written in first person, especially when they have plenty of humour, the weakness is we are never able to see what Brady is thinking. The other possible weakness is that Katie is a pretty together person and her voice doesn’t have as much humour as I’d expect in romantic comedy. However, there was still plenty of comedy, mostly from her family. There was also too much introspection from Katie at times, particularly in the beginning, and this made it hard for me to get into the story.

Once I got into the story I very much enjoyed it, and appreciated the understated spiritual truths. But the spiritual and life lessons were mostly lessons learned by Brady and the supporting characters, which made Katie feel more like the observer/narrator than the centre of the story. I came away feeling Katie is a person I’d like to have as a friend because she’s hard-working, stable and a strong Christian, but I never got the feeling she went through any major confusion or character change herself.

Overall, Every Bride Gets Confused was enjoyable, but not as good as Red Like Crimson, which I recently reviewed.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

21 October 2015

Review: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I am not the target reader for this book.

I bought it a year ago on the recommendation of two friends, and I still haven’t finished it. I’m not going to: I picked it up again, and I simply don’t get the appeal. The writing is too esoteric, too literary for my taste, as though it's focusing on beautiful words at the expense of being understood. Some sentences I read and reread and still don’t know what they say.

I love the concept: Count your blessings (literally). Be thankful. Show gratitude. Live in joy. Live in communion with God. Live fully right where you are. But that, for me, should be simple. And One Thousand Gifts is anything but, as I continually find the language getting in the way of the message.

It has over a thousand five-star reviews on Amazon, but my opinion is firmly aligned with the 10% minority who give it one or two stars. Two stars on Amazon means “I didn’t like it”; one star means “I hated it”. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated it. As I said, I like the idea. My issue is with the execution, as one sentence that is simply beautiful is followed by one that might as well be written in another language. But I didn’t like it (which will still mean just one star on Goodreads, which has a different rating system).

Ironically, the one and two-star reviews show up as “Most Helpful” on the Amazon page, with thousands of “helpful” votes between the top three reviews. Perhaps this suggests just as many people dislike this book as love it, but as good Christians they follow the Bambi rule and don’t wish to write a critical review. I can see their point. I’m writing this review, but I won’t be posting it on Amazon.

Writing, to me, is about reading. It’s about expressing an idea in words your reader can understand, appreciate, apply. One Thousand Gifts has obviously spoken to thousands, perhaps millions, of women, but I’m not one of them. I just don’t get it. I don’t get the language, and I don’t get the appeal.

One Thousand Gifts counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with a number in the title.

19 October 2015

Review: Dubosity by Christy Barritt

Excellent Suspense!

Savannah Harris left her life as an investigative journalist following the death of her husband and daughter, but she finds herself getting deeper than she’d like when immigrant workers harvesting local crops begin to disappear and there are whispers of murder.

Dubosity is an excellent thriller, with enough of a touch of romance to keep me happy. There was plenty of suspense, especially as the reader knows Savannah is being watched … but we don’t know by whom. But there are plenty of likely suspects, including landowner Landon Kavanaugh, and Clive Miller, who is new in town.

Savannah is an intelligent and likeable character, despite abandoning God and withdrawing from life following the death of her family, and it was easy to want her to determine the identity of the evildoer, rediscover her faith, and get her happy-ever-after.

The writing was excellent. I have read one or two of Barritt’s earlier books, and while they were good, they were shorter works of fiction, and this was better: the longer novel gave more opportunity for subplots and character development, and it was well done. Recommended for suspense fans.

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

16 October 2015

Review: Love’s a Stage by Rene Gutteridge and Cheryl McKay

Deception ... for a good cause?

Aly Brewster and Nick Armstrong have been friends for five years, since their first year in college. They’re both now in grad school, with Aly studying to become a marriage therapist like her father, and Nick studying theatre. Nick’s been in love with Aly for years, but she’s always rebuffed his proposals, believing an actor won’t make a good marriage partner. Her ambition is to have the perfect marriage, like her parents.

But all isn’t well in the Brewster household, and Aly comes up with a ridiculous plan to get her parents to see they are meant to be together: she’ll announce her engagement, and beg them not to announce their divorce until after her ceremony. Now to find a groom … Well, who better to ask than the theatre major?

I could admire Aly’s desire to see her parents together and determination to make that succeed, although that didn’t entirely cover my discomfort at the way she treated Nick. Not that Nick was unwilling—the opposite—but I didn’t think Aly-the-future-couples-therapist did a good job in considering whether or not what she was asking was ethical or appropriate. Or kind.

Nick is equally determined. Despite being rejected time and time again, he still loves Aly and is convinced she’s the only woman for him … which is why he agrees to go through with her ridiculous scheme (and I’m sorry, but it really is ridiculous. But it makes a great plot for a novel!). But even he doesn’t bargain on how difficult he will find it to pretend to be engaged to Aly, especially around her parents. I don’t want to add spoilers, but the awkward why-do-you-want-to-marry-my-daughter scene was simply brilliant (even Aly thought so!).

The one thing (two things?) that didn’t work for me about Love’s a Stage were the prologue and epilogue. They were in a different viewpoint and voice than the rest of the novel, and one which was less attractive, less endearing and less readable. It wasn’t a good way to start, and the epilogue left me with a quizzical ‘say-what?’ expression where I should have had a smile (I did have a smile at the end of the last chapter).

An enjoyable romance, recommended for those who like contemporary Christian romance especially with the friends to more plot.

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

14 October 2015

Review: Christy by Catherine Marshall

A Book Made into a TV Series

I’m not a big TV watcher—there are too many books to read! But I remember watching Christy on television in the early 1990’s, then buying and reading the novel the series was based on. I’ve now reread it, and conclude it absolutely deserves its place as one of the classic Christian novels. It’s also the book which inspired the Christy Awards, annual awards celebrating the best in Christian fiction.

Christy was first published in 1967, and is based on the story of Catherine Marshall’s own mother and her experiences teaching in Cutter Gap, in the Great Smoky Mountains in 1912. It’s told entirely in first person, from Christy’s point of view, and this gives the novel a contemporary feel despite its age.

At just nineteen, Christy is young to be given sole responsibility for teaching almost seventy children in the one-room school, especially when some of them are only a couple of years younger than she is. Yet after her initial settling-in period, she makes it sound easy, and the novel moves outward to look at the lives and beliefs of those Christy shares the Cove with. They have deeply held traditions and beliefs, and are resistant to change (some are still recovering from the changes introduced by the War Between the States, despite it being over for some sixty years).

It’s definitely a character-driven novel as we watch Christy settle into the difficult and remote life, and make friends with some of the local women. It’s also an almost first-hand account of life in this difficult and often depressing environment, but Christy (and Marshall) manage to look at most events with intelligence, discernment, and often a touch of humour.

If you’ve never read Christy, do. Catherine Marshall was one of the premier Christian writers of her time, and Christy is one of only two novels she ever wrote. Both Christy and Julie show her depth of understanding of things of God, and are well worth reading.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book made into a TV series.

12 October 2015

Review: Vendetta by Lisa Harris

A New Suspense Series

Lisa Harris is a master (mistress?) of fast-paced suspense, and Vendetta is no exception. It’s the first in a new series about Nikki Boyd, a member of the state Missing Persons Task Force, and promises an intriguing story arc across the series: Nikki’s own sister, Sarah, disappeared ten years ago and has never been found. Several hints about Sarah’s abduction—and her kidnapper—were dropped during Vendetta, and I look forward to seeing the progress in this subplot in the next book.

The other thing I look forward to seeing more of is Nikki’s relationship with Tyler Grant, the widowed husband of Nikki’s best friend, Katie, who died exactly a year before Vendetta begins. There are hints of a developing relationship between Nikki and Tyler (yay! says the romantic suspense fan), and hints of something unknown about Katie’s accidental death. Tyler is an all-American hero, almost too good to be true except for his doubts about his Christian faith since the death of his wife.

Nikki is also an excellent character: intelligent, brave, and determined to solve both the mystery of Sarah’s disappearance, and the current disappearance of Kara, a sixteen-year-old who went for a walk and never came back. Vendetta has a strong plot with plenty of clues and red herrings, and I never guessed who the evildoer was … always a good thing.

There were some editing glitches around the dialogue tags, and the end of the novel seemed to come too quickly, but overall, this was an excellent novel and I’ll be looking forward to the sequel.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

9 October 2015

Review: Kellen’s Hope by Danie Marie

Slow start, but excellent finish

Kellen Carmichael finds she’s pregnant to her ex-boyfriend, the guy she broke up with over his insistence on drinking and partying. He does the honourable Christian thing and marries her, but dies shortly after the wedding leaving Kellen alone, and estranged from both her family and her new in-laws.

While I was intrigued enough by the premise to agree to review Kellen’s Hope, once I began reading I felt it took a while to get going. However, the plot really picks up pace after Danny dies, as Kellen makes the unpleasant discovery that she has a stalker. It’s just anonymous telephone calls at first, but things soon start to escalate, with incidents at home and at her workplace, the local hospital. She’s also being pursued by one of Danny’s friends: while at first she appreciates the fact someone is watching out for her, she’s not ready for another relationship. Not even with the handsome doctor her friends at work try and set her up with …

The writing was solid but not spectacular. There were some editing and proofreading issues (one line looked as though random words had been inserted in, as it made no sense at all), and I didn’t think medical professionals still used the term “manic depression” any more. However, these were minor glitches which didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of the story.

Once I got into Kellen’s Hope it was hard to put down, with an excellent mixture of external suspense with the stalker, and internal tension as Kellen has to consider her future as a solo parent. The supporting characters were excellent (well, Dr Dreamy might have been a little too perfect …) and I totally want to know Kellen’s secret baked yam recipe. A good solid romantic suspense read.

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

7 October 2015

Reading Challenge: Love Comes Softly by Janette Oke

A Classic Romance

When most people think of “classic romance”, they perhaps think of Pride & Prejudice, or Jane Eyre, or Georgette Heyer, or Dame Barbara Cartland (who I’ve never read!). But I thought of Janette Oke, because her Christian romance novels have become modern classics and broke new ground in the Christian fiction market.

The other reason I like Janette Oke, especially her Love Comes Softly series, is that she acknowledges romance isn’t just the hot-and-heavy falling in love. Clark and Marty, the lead couple in this first book, form a marriage of convenience after the unexpected death of Marty’s husband leaves her alone in the West, with nothing but a broken wagon and a few personal possessions. Clark is a widow with a toddler, and needs someone to care for Missie while he works his farm.

Over the course of thirteen books we see Clark and Marty marry, fall in love, raise children, watch their children fall in love and marry and have children … They also face bad times and tragedy, and I think that’s the real strength of Love Comes Softly: it shows that love is more than romance.

Love Comes Softly was first published in 1979, and this was noticeable in the way writing and publishing standards have changed (for example, Marty both thinks and speaks in double quote marks, which I found confusing at first as I was raised with ‘one quote mark for thought and two for speech’).

But the characters and the story have held up over the years, and Clark and Marty are still as lovable as they were the first time I read this … which must be over twenty years ago. And it’s been reread many times, especially before Kindle made new books so affordable. I own the whole series, and they have a deserved place on my keeper shelf.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a classic romance.

5 October 2015

ACRBA Review: Same By Katrina Roe

5 - 9 October
is introducing


(Wombat Books 1 July 2015)


Written by: Katrina Roe
Illustrated by: Jemima Trappel

About the Book:
When Uncle Charlie comes to visit, Ivy keeps her distance. He seems different from other people she knows. Can Uncle Charlie find a way to show her that he is not so different after all?
Same is a touching true story about love, acceptance and finding common ground.
Katrina Roe’s debut children’s book Marty’s Nut-Free Party was shortlised in the Speech Pathology and CALEB awards. Same helps a child relate to what is actually the same, in someone who seems so different.
About the Author
Katrina Roe is an author and radio presenter. 

Most recently she was host of the morning show on Sydney’s Hope 103.2 radio (www.hope1032.com.au) before leaving to have her second baby. 
Katrina also has a successful parenting blog (www.frommouthsofbabes.wordpress.com). 

Marty’s Nut-Free Party was her first children’s book, followed by Emily Eases herWheezesEmily was listed as a notable book by CBCA in 2015. Same is her latest book, and is scheduled for release in July 2015.
Katrina has also contributed to two inspirational anthologies, All Creation Sings: Psalms of Everyday Christians and a book about miscarriage called In God’s Hands: Overcoming Miscarriage in a Broken World.

In 2009, she completed her Masters in International Relations, just for fun!  Katrina also likes kayaking, bushwalking, reading novels, taking holidays, listening to music and hanging out with friends.  She’s adamant that tea should always be made in a pot and she has a definite weakness for soft cheese.
She lives in Sydney with her three young daughters and her husband Chris.

Jemima is a Sydney-based artist and illustrator who enjoys riding her bicycle. Like many illustrators she was born holding a pencil and uses it frequently to bring words to life. 

She decided to make a career out of her passion, and in 2012, after five years at the College of Fine Arts and the University of NSW, she emerged with a Bachelor of Fine Arts (with honours), a Bachelor of Arts (a combined degree) and the ability to converse in French.
Same by Katrina Roe, is her first book with Wombat Books. Prior to this, Jemima illustratedWonderfully Madison (2013 – winner of the children's book category in the Caleb awards that year) and Fearlessly Madison (2014) by Penny Reeve (published by Youthworks Media). She is also the illustrator of the short comic, A friend in need, by Karen Bielharz (part of the self-published Kinds of Blue anthology, 2011), and is the linework artist for the short animation Money Tree (2011), written and directed by Hawanatu Bangura. 

My Review

Same is a lovely picture book about a small child who is afraid of Uncle Charlie because of his huge electric wheelchair, but comes to realise that while he might look different, they are the same. It’s a short but touching story, made all the better by the fact it shows they key point rather than labouring the point by telling.

However, when it comes to picture books, it’s not enough to have a good story. The illustrations have to be excellent, to earn and keep the attention of the listening child. The illustrations in Same are beautiful, a real strength.


2 October 2015

Giveaway: All Our Empty Place by Alicia G Ruggieri


All Our Empty Places - Book Two in the “A Time of Grace” trilogy – by Alicia G. Ruggieri


In 1935, when the bank calls in her mortgage, Sarah Picoletti – now a penniless widow – finds herself and her children on the brink of homelessness. Sick at heart, she plans to beg her brother in New Jersey to take her family in.

Then Doctor Samuel Giorgi knocks on her door. Godly and well-off, Sam seems to have put the careless ways of his youth behind him, and he also appears to have one desire: to make Sarah his wife, two decades after he broke their engagement.

However, nothing prepares Sarah for the storm that breaks once she makes her decision. Everywhere she turns, the errors of her former choices confront her, insisting on her inferiority and the irreparable brokenness of her past. Sarah begins to wonder if Christ really can bring true redemption or if He is limited by her frailty.

Meanwhile, her daughter Grace faces new challenges in her own life. When her relationship with Paulie changes unexpectedly, Grace realizes that she must make a decision with the potential to alter both of their futures.
Compassionate and intensely poignant, All Our Empty Places paints the portrait of a mother and daughter with broken pasts, who dare to step into a future overflowing with the grace of the Cross.


Alicia G. Ruggieri writes Christ-centered fiction that speaks of redemption. She received her B.A. in Communications and History from Rhode Island College and lives with her husband and their emotionally-disturbed pug on the New England coast.

To learn more about Alicia and what she likes to read, visit our Friday Fifteen feature!


Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AliciaGRuggieri
Blog: http://www.abrighterdestiny.blogspot.com
Twitter: @aliciaruggieri
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/AliciaGRuggieri
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/aliciagruggieri


All Our Empty Places (A Time of Grace, Book 2) – http://amzn.com/B014JVJYCK
The Fragrance of Geraniums (A Time of Grace, Book 1) – ON SALE for $0.99 through October 31, 2015 – http://amzn.com/B00P4PB7W6


One winner will receive – a signed softcover of All Our Empty Places; a mug with 2 Corinthians 12:9 inscribed on it; Caramel Apple Biscotti; and Harvest Spice Pumpkin White Hot Chocolate mix. (Open to U.S. residents only due to shipping costs.)

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