30 December 2015

Review: The Outlaw Takes a Bride by Susan Page Davis

Too Obvious

I like a good mystery as much as anyone, but I like it to be a mystery. I’d pegged the villain by Chapter Two, and reading a couple more chapters only deepened my conviction. So I was naughty: I skipped to the end, found out I was right, and was left wondering why the ‘hero’ hadn’t guessed.

I’m sorry, but I have no desire to spend four or more hours reading a whodunit when it was obvious. It didn’t help that the romantic leads hadn’t met each other by the time I gave up. But it seemed obvious from the 10% I did read that their early relationship was going to be defined by lies, and that didn’t seem like a fun read either.

I usually like Susan Page Davis, but this failed to engage me.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

28 December 2015

Review: The Fruitcake Murders by Ace Collins

Bad. Really bad.

It’s the holidays in New Zealand, so I’m taking the opportunity to ‘bury’ reviews of books I didn’t finish or didn’t enjoy.

The Fruitcake Murders started with a Christmas 1926 murder in Chicago, then skipped forward to December 1946 and another murder. I’m guessing the two were related, but I didn’t get that far. The first murder (the Prologue) was mostly told, as there was only one person in the scene until the end.

The second murder was overshadowed by “witty” banter between Lane Walker, a detective, and reporter Tiffany Clayton. The dialogue was torturous, and the dialogue tags made it unbearable. Here’s an example:
“I’m guessing it is murder,” she sadly observed as she pulled a pad and pen from her purse.
“Your observations were always brilliant,” he cracked,
“Not much to it,” she noted, “you’re from homicide.”
There was a note at the beginning of the book that this is an advance reader copy “which has not been edited or proofread”. That accounts for the comma after “cracked”, but it’s no excuse for having “noted” three times in two pages, or for the completely distracting dialogue tags (most of which were inappropriate, like using “explained” when the character wasn’t actually explaining anything. That's plain old bad writing. Or possibly mansplaining).

There might be a good murder mystery hiding here, but I found the writing too distracting to motivate me to persevere.

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

23 December 2015

Review: Christmas with the Colburns by Keely Brooke Keith

A lovely early Christmas present!

Keely Brooke Keith sent me a complimentary copy of her Christmas novella as a thank you for reviewing the three novels in the Uncharted series. She didn't ask for a review, but I'm thrilled to write one. 

Amazon Description

It’s Christmastime in Good Springs, and Lydia Bradshaw is eager for the light at the end of her year—the Colburn family’s big holiday gathering. When she discovers none of her siblings are coming back to the village this year, she believes Christmas will be ruined. As Lydia faces a gloomy holiday in the Colburn house, an unexpected romance brightens her favorite season. Will it be enough to rekindle the light of Christmas? Spend Christmas with the Colburns in this inspirational holiday novella. Holiday recipe included!

My Review

Christmas with the Colburns is a Christmas novella that follows on from the Uncharted trilogy, all of which I’ve read and enjoyed—and it’s probably best to have read the Uncharted novels first, both because they give the history of the Uncharted island, and because there will be some spoilers for those who haven’t read them.

However, it’s a little different in terms of plot: rather than following a romance and a mystery, as the earlier novels did, it’ s about Lydia’s disappointment at the prospect of not having a traditional Colburn family Christmas, and how an unexpected gift changes her attitude.

It was a short but enjoyable story which gives a little more background to the Colburn family, and hints at some future changes (and romances) in the village of Good Springs. Recommended for anyone who has enjoyed the Uncharted series.

21 December 2015

Review: Christmas Star Sapphire by Hallee Bridgeman

Christmas Romance

Madeline Viscolli is studying for her Masters degree when she meets Cru leader Ps Joe Westcott (Cru, for those of you as old as I am, is the new name for Campus Crusade for Christ). She’s attracted to him, and believes he’s equally attracted to her, but he does nothing about it . . .

I did find it weird that Madeline and Joe called each other Miss and Mr for a lot of the story—it came across as dated rather than respectful, especially he introduced himself as Joe when they first met. But it’s Alabama, the Deep South. Maybe that’s really how they talk there. Maybe it was meant to be a joke. Or maybe it was a deliberate erecting of barriers, so they could pretend they weren’t interested in each other.

However, the characters and the storyline were more than strong enough to compensate, and the story managed to get more spiritual depth than most full-length Christian novels I read. However, this flowed naturally out of the story and never felt preachy or forced. Joe has issues in his background, and while Maddie may have had a privileged upbringing, she’s no hothouse flower with no understanding of life outside her rich Christian bubble. I will admit to a bit of eye-rolling at the cliché ‘rich heroine’, (and why are we so fascinated by the rich, anyway?), but it was dealt with well: sure, Maddie comes from money, but we should judge her on her own intelligence and character. And she is an excellent character.

Joe is perhaps a little harder to get to know. He’s got the whole man thing going, but does manage to open up to Maddie and share some of his secrets. After that, it’s good to see him let his guard down a little and understand his character and what Maddie sees in him. All in all, he’s a loveable hero, and that’s what we want to read. Especially at Christmas!

This novella is apparently inspired by Bridgeman’s Jewel series, which I haven’t read. However, Christmas Star Sapphire can easily be read as a standalone story, and may even inspire you to read the Jewel series (right after the other 39 books on my to-review list. And 64 in my to-read list). An enjoyable short romance with some yummy recipes at the end!

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

18 December 2015

Review: Operation White Christmas by Nicki Edwards

A White Christmas Dream . . .

Australian Hollie Douglas has always wanted to experience a white Christmas, so has planned a pre-Christmas wedding to Steve, followed by a two-week honeymoon at Niagara Falls (yes, the Canadian side). But things don’t always go to plan, and a series of unfortunate coincidences sees her stranded in a near-blizzard and sharing a house with the handsome Jim Bell and a baby llama called Roo (because what else would you name a baby llama? In Canada?).

It’s a novella, which makes a quick read that left me with an ‘aww’ feeling, because it was that sweet. It’s a sweet romance about two mending people coming together and find a possible future together.

Operation White Christmas is the third book in Nicki Edwards’s Escape to the Country series, but is easily readable as a standalone story. It is set in Canada, not Australia, and is more contemporary romance than medical romance (good news for those who don’t like blood!). Recommended.

Thanks to Momentum Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

16 December 2015

Review: Making Marion by Beth Moran

Outstanding Debut

Book Description 

(from the back cover, as there doesn’t seem to be a description on Amazon)

Where’s Robin Hood when you need him?

Marion Miller comes to Sherwood Forest to uncover her father’s mysterious past. She is looking for somewhere to stay, but instead finds herself on the wrong side of the reception desk at the Peace and Pigs campsite. Despite her horrible shyness, she promptly lands herself a job working for the big-hearted and irrepressible Scarlett.

It takes all of Marion’s determination to come out of her shell and get to grips with life on a busy campsite, where even the chickens seem determined to thwart her. Then an unfortunate incident with a runaway bike throws her into the arms of the beautiful, but deeply unimpressed, Reuben.

Can Marion discover her father’s secret? And will she find peace, and perhaps even love, among the pigs?

My Review

Making Marion isn’t a novel for the ultra-conservative Christian reader. It has a distinctly British flavour in terms of language, content, and plot. Marion has a lot of issues in her past, and these are addressed through humour (like Bridget Jones) rather than angst (as used by, say, Karen Kingsbury). I found the sometimes irreverent humour made the hard parts easier to read, but some readers might find that same humour to be disrespectful or offensive.

The plot was good, and the characters, especially Marion and Scarlett were excellent, and the writing was probably the best I’ve come across from a British author, with a subtle theme of love and forgiveness. The present story was regularly interspersed with flashbacks to Marion’s past, which showed us something of the events which had shaped her, and how much she had to forgive.

Recommended for those looking for the depth of Sally Bradley and Varina Denman with the humour of Bridget Jones.

14 December 2015

Review: Leopard's Heart by Kimberly A Rogers

Book Description:

An assassination attempt on the American president threatens to ex
pose the existence of Therians to the Human world. Baran knows that the Fringe have become bold. In a race to find the next assassin before he strikes, Raina and Baran must travel from Washington D.C. to the Elven capital hidden in the Smokey Mountains. Rising tensions between Therians who respect the centuries-old alliance with the Elves and Fringe sympathizers who clamor to sever all ties between the two peoples make the case and Baran's relationship with Raina even more difficult to navigate. Circumstances have forced them together, but is it only duty that drives his actions? Does Raina's heart belong to her old childhood sweetheart or is the Leopard's heart still to be won?

My Review

Leopard’s Heart is Book One in The Therian Way series, but there is a novella prequel (Tiger’s Paw), and I would recommend people read that first. I didn’t, and found the first half of Leopard’s Heart a real struggle to read. While there was a lot of back story in the first half, I found it confusing as I didn’t see how it related to the central assassination plot, and it slowed the story down. A lot. The first half could have benefited from some cutting, to bring the plot to the forefront, rather than allowing the central plot to be hidden behind the endless interior monologue and world building.

My confusion over the plot wasn’t helped by the writing. The novel is written in first person from the point of view of several characters. Most chapters were from the viewpoint of either Raina (the part-Elf leopard heroine) or Baran (the pureblood Therian tiger hero), but some chapters were from the viewpoint of minor characters. My problem with this was there were several chapters where I didn’t immediately know who the viewpoint character was, if it was Raina or Baran or someone else. I don't like having to flick back to the start of a chapter to work out whose story I'm reading. It should be obvious.

I also thought there was too many characters (mostly related to the problem of toomuch back story), to the point where it distracted from the central plot and the character development. Also, some of the writing seemed to have errors, in that I couldn’t immediately discern what it was trying to say. For example, this sentence appears to either have some extra words, or some missing words:

“I’m the only one in the neighbourhood who has a threatened last week for peace marriage.”

Was that meant to have been “who has been threatened”? Or something else?

I persevered despite my frustration, and the second half of the novel was much better than the first: fewer characters, more focus on plot, faster pace, more enjoyable, and an emotionally satisfying ending. But I don’t think the ending was satisfying enough or the characters interesting enough to motivate me to read further novels in the series.

Thanks to Jansina at Rivershore Books for providing a free ebook for review.

Author Bio:

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.

Twitter Page:

Author Website: https://kimberlyrogerscfwriter.wordpress.com/

11 December 2015

ACRBA Review: Star! Stable! Saviour! by Cameron Semmens, Illustrated by Rod Allen

6 - 10 December
is introducing

Star! Stable! Saviour!

(Wombat Books 1 December 2015)


Cameron Semmens

About the Book:

“Forget the kids! It was me who loved this in our house. OK, the kids did too!” – Sally Smith
The traditional Christmas story has been told and re-told for nearly two thousand years – but never quite like this. Poet Cameron Semmens’s quirky and alliterated re-telling of it in Star! Stable! Savior! brings a totally fresh perspective on the ancient Christmas story.

Originally published in 2007 under the title The Story of The Star, The Stable and The Saviour, the book sold out after only a few years. Now it’s back with a fresh, punchy new title,

About the Author

Cameron Semmens is a poet, entertainer and poetry educator with 15 books to his name. He makes his living through words: performing, running workshops and book design. He lives in the Dandenong Rangers with his wife and two children.

My Review: Fun!

Star! Stable! Saviour! is the familiar Christmas story, retold for preschool children by Australian poet Cameron Semmens, and “supercharged with a startling stream of S’s”. Yes, it’s the Christmas story with alliteration. Yes, there are a few changes from the traditional version (the wise men are scientists, and wear snazzy sneakers), but it keeps as closely to the account in Matthew as is possible given the emphasis on words beginning with ‘S’.

Yes, it’s a little contrived at times, but it’s a quick and fun read, and small people will love the repetition and the alliteration. The illustrations are bright and colourful, and sure to attract the attention of said small souls. You might even find the alliteration rubs off on you …

Recommended for those looking for a different take on a well-known story. Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free paperback for review.

9 December 2015

Review: Carry Me Home by Dorothy Adamek

Outstanding Debut

Orphaned Finella Mayfield arrives in Australia in 1875, expecting to marry the preacher on Phillip Island, but instead finds herself as nanny/companion to fourteen-year-old Molly Jones, in the care of her brother, Shadrach, a simple farmer. It’s a far cry from the life she was expecting, and she records her thoughts in her Everlasting journal.

Shadrach, the son of a convict, would have been attracted to Finella even if he hadn’t promised the preacher to marry her and care for her . . . not that he’s dared tell Finella that titbit. He just hopes he can convince her to stay, despite only being able to offer dirt, hard work and poverty—the opposite of the life she deserves.

Finella was a distant character, especially in the beginning, which made her hard to get to know. Despite this, she was easy to sympathise with, arriving in a strange place, knowing no one, and having her expected future stolen from her. We got to know her gradually, through her journal and through her outbursts towards Shadrach, and it occurs to me that this is how we get to know many people in real life: gradually, as people open up more once trust has been established.

Shadrach was equally likeable, a noble character despite the misfortunes of his upbringing, and someone who occasionally did stupid things to get the attention of the woman he loves. But I think my favourite character was the spirited but simple Molly, who did more than anyone to bring Finella out of her shell. The plot was also excellent, with more than one unexpected event, and I was blown away by the depth of the historical research, and the way it was subtly layered into the plot.

I rarely cry when reading novels. That might be that I deliberately don’t pick emotion-packed stories to read, or that I’m too hard-nosed to cry. But I definitely teared up reading Carry Me Home, which is a testament to the quality of the writing, both in the way it made me care about the characters, and the way it inspired emotion. An excellent debut, recommended for anyone looking for a historical romance with a difference.

Thanks to Dorothy Adamek and Relz Reviews for providing a free ebook for review.

7 December 2015

Review: A Secret Voice by Bob Nailor

Amish with a Difference

The Secret Voice is an intriguing historical novel with a unique setting: a small town in northern Ohio in 1961. It focuses on two main characters, Daniel Yoder, a fourteen-year-old Amish boy with a desire to attend high school, and Julie Bronson, the new schoolteacher—and the first black person to ever live in Centretown.

Their stories are separate, for the most part. Daniel has to convince his father and the Bishop that wanting to go against Amish culture and continue his education isn’t rebellion or testing the Amish faith, while Julie has to fight bigotry and convince the townspeople that she is a competent teacher despite the colour of her skin. The two are brought together when Daniel finds he has to study Chorus in order to stay in high school, and Julie finds the boy in the odd clothes has an outstanding voice.

There were a few oddities: that such a tiny high school would be able to have a specialist Chorus teacher, for one (she may have taught general music theory or other subjects, but this wasn’t mentioned), that the Amish spoke Amish (not German), and one other that’s a potential spoiler. The writing wasn’t as strong as it could have been, but the story and the characters were strong enough to make up for it.

The Secret Voice is a strong story of two characters seeking to find their place and fit in to a strange and sometimes hostile environment in a time of unprecedented social change. Well worth reading for an insight into two different cultures.

4 December 2015

Friday Fifteen and Giveaway: Katherine Blessan

Today I'd like to welcome Katherine Blessan to Iola's Christian Reads, to share the fifteen authors who have most influenced her life and writing.

Katherine has recently released her first novel, Lydia's Song:

Lydia's quiet expat life in Cambodia is dramatically turned upside down by the sudden arrival of Song, a young & vulnerable Vietnamese girl, and the flattering romantic attentions of a handsome, dashing local man. Just as she settles into this new-found happiness, everything is shattered as Song is kidnapped and sold into the child sex trade. 

Broken, Lydia returns to the UK, confirmed in her doubts about 'God', only to find the most unexpected guest on her doorstep one night many years later with the most incredible story to tell of hope lost and innocence restored.

Welcome, Katherine!

I began this list, I realised that there are so many more authors that have influenced my life, my thought, my imagination and my writing than I had thought. When people ask, “who are your favourite authors?” I usually narrow the list down to three or four from the list, but that is reductive as there are actually hundreds! They haven’t all influenced me in the same way, however, and these fifteen are a list of some of the writers who have stirred me the most. I hope you enjoy my eclectic list. The order is loosely chronological according to the age at which each was first read.

1. C. S. Lewis

Like many, the Narnia Chronicles stirred within me a beating heart for stories and an awakening to the joy and adventure of a life of faith. I re-read them many times as a child and wrote about them for an MA dissertation as well as directing a dramatization of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with a group of students I taught in Cambodia.

2. Laura Ingalls Wilder

Wilder’s memoirs of her life lived as a pioneer in the American West captivated me as a child and were part of my inspiration to study American Studies as a Bachelor degree.

3. J. R. R. Tolkien

What an incredible wealth of imagination and thought went into the writing of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. A whole world and history is created in such a way that we care deeply about Bilbo and Frodo and Aragorn and the rest and our hearts beat in fear against the orcs and Saruman. The fact that it is the little humble folk who are central to the war against evil is a beautiful mirror of the way in which God uses the humble.

4. Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre stirred in me a depth of understanding into the human heart, all wrapped up in an engaging story of courage, love and strength. No-one can forget the scenes in this story of poor Jane at Lowood, of Jane’s heart-breaking flee from her beloved Mr Rochester and her return to him when he is scarred and blinded.

5. T. S. Eliot

Eliot was one of the few poets that I studied for A-level English Literature whose writing I fell in love with. Sharp, insightful and casting both a humorous and dark light on the foibles of human ways, his journey into the Christian faith is fascinating.

6. Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s wit and poignant attention to matters of the human heart has in my opinion never been beaten by Pride and Prejudice, in which Elizabeth Bennett’s liveliness of spirit and honesty pitted against the enigmatic Mr Darcy brings a delight and depth to the novel, and we can laugh and sigh at the foolishness of characters such as Lydia and Mr Collins.

7. Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong is one of the most captivating and elegaic books about the First World War ever published.

8. Arthur Golden

Memoirs of a Geisha is a compelling, lyrical tale that gave me a fascination with the Far East and drew me into the heart of the story. One of the characters in Golden’s novel inspired me in the writing of one of my own minor characters in Lydia’s Song. See if you can identify who the two characters are!

9. Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the best, most raw and compassionate Bronte stories, and a compelling insight into how easy it is to deceive oneself about someone’s character when judgement is driven by emotion. I recently wrote a short story inspired by the character of Arthur Markham.

10. Jung Chang

Wild Swans is an incredible tour de force that sweeps its way through three generations of women oppressed by Chinese traditions and politics. This is history at its best told as ‘her-story’. I couldn’t put it down.

11. Phillip Yancey

What’s so Amazing About Grace stayed with me for many years. I was stirred by Yancey’s stories of grace at work through the everyday and of the opposing curse of legalism.

12. Victor Hugo

I only ever read an abridged version of Hugo’s epic novel Les Miserables, but its story and characters gripped me and are a concrete example of the way in which God’s grace works in the lives of sinners.

13. Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a beautifully written and painful story of the lives of oppressed women in Afghanistan and their journey to freedom.

14. Nabeel Qureshi

Qureshi’s book Seeking Allah Finding Christ is a forthright biography of his search for God. He uncovered truth layer by layer, but as it meant so much to him to hold onto what he had always believed his journey was a long, drawn out one. I wept when I reached the end!

15. Gary Haughen

Gary Haughen's inspiring, compassionate and gripping book Terrify No More about young girls being rescued from a brothel in a village near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, provided much of the impetus and background for my own novel.

About Katherine

Katherine Blessan is the debut novelist of Lydia’s Song, a story that explores the horrors of child-sex trafficking through duel narrators. A proportion of all her royalties is helping anti-trafficking organization Hope for Justice.

Katherine lives in Sheffield, UK with her Indian husband and two young children and is currently working as an English tutor as well as concentrating more on writing than she’s ever done before. Katherine has always loved stories and writing but has only recently developed the skills to really be a writer.

You can connect with Katherine online at:


Katherine has offered one ebook copy of Lydia's Song as a giveaway. Leave a comment and tell us which is your favourite author off Katherine's list to be in with a chance to win.

2 December 2015

Review: Emma by Jane Austen and Crystal Silvermoon

A Graphic Novel

Note: in writing this review, I’m assuming everyone knows the basic plot, either from reading the book, or seeing the movie. Well, one of the movies (personally, I prefer Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd in Clueless rather than Gwyneth Paltrow’s period portrayal).

Emma has never been my favourite Austen heroine—she doesn’t have Lizzie Bennett’s wit, she’s lacking in intelligence, and she’s a snob (e.g. refusing to allow Harriet to pursue a relationship with Mr Martin because he’s only a farmer, yet ignoring the fact Harriet is parentless and can’t expect to marry into Emma’s class). I’m also not sold on Mr Knightley as a romantic hero. Sure, he’s waited all these years for Emma to grow up, but isn’t there something a little creepy about marrying the guy who used to rock you as a baby?

But I needed a graphic novel for my 2015 Reading Challenge, and the manga version of Emma appeared on NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review). I’ve never read manga before, and it did take a little getting used to: it starts from the back, and pages are read right-to-left, not left-to-right like the American and British cartoons I read as a child. So that took a little getting used to, and I did have to re-read a few pages because I accidentally started on the left.

I enjoyed the story once I got into it. The adaptation is excellent, especially in the way it captures the essence of the story. The visuals helped bring Emma (and Knightley) to life in a new way, and I was struck again at how brilliant Austen’s writing is. Recommended.

This counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a graphic novel.