31 March 2016

Review: Replicate by Adele Jones

Thrilling YA Suspense Series

If you’re the kind of reader who doesn’t like endings that make you want to read the next book NOW, then you’ll want to wait until the final book in this trilogy releases later in 2016. And do read the series in order: Integrate, Replicate, Activate, because while each novel follows on from the previous one.

Replicate continues the story of eighteen-year-old Blaine Colton, beneficiary of Ramer’s Cure, which has cured his hereditary degenerative mitochondrial disease, but may itself be a death sentence. His childhood friend and potential girlfriend, Sophie, is now working in scientific research at the Institute that produced Blaine’s cure. But when Blaine finds embryos with his name on them at the Institute, it’s apparent that the unethical and sometimes illegal activities introduced in Integrate didn’t end there.

The plot is excellent—clever, tightly plotted, plenty of tension and suspense, all enhanced by the consistent fast pace that feels as though you’re living the chase in real time with Blaine. There are plenty of twists and turns, some more unexpected than others, and it kept me turning pages until the end. I will admit that I didn’t understand all the science, but that could have been because I was reading quickly, wanting to find out what happened and whether . . . no. That would be a spoiler.

The characters are also excellent, although there were a few times I got annoyed with Blaine or Sophie for doing or not doing something, or for making stupid decisions. Then I remembered they’re teenagers, and logic isn’t high on their list of attributes. Yes, for fictional teenagers in an unreal situation, their behavior was all too real.

All in all, an excellent YA suspense novel. Recommended. You can find out more about Adele Jones and the Integrate series at her website ( www.adelejonesauthor.com), or you can read a sample here:

Thanks to Rhiza Press for providing a free book for review.

29 March 2016

Review: On Lone Star Trail by Amanda Cabot

Sweet Romance with Depth

Amazon Description

A woman without a future. A man running from the past.
One enchanting place where broken dreams are mended.

If there's one thing Gillian Hodge never wants to see again, it's a man on a motorcycle. Her last encounter with one left her right hand crushed, ending her promising career as a concert pianist. Unsure about the next phase in her life, she heads to Rainbow's End Resort for some R&R when a sudden thunderstorm causes a motorcycle to crash right in front of her.

When TJ Benjamin's wife died, he lost more than his best friend; he lost his faith. He has spent the past year wandering the country on his motorcycle, trying not to think about the future. When he finds himself stranded with a busted bike and a reluctant rescuer, he has to wonder about God's sense of humor.

As these broken people collide, they find that a bright future is still ahead--it just might not be the one they imagined for themselves.

My Review

Gillian is running away from her past and her future—her career as a concert pianist, and her elderly father’s plans for her to meet and marry the “right” kind of man. Meaning a rich rising star, not an aimless drifter.

TJ Benjamin is running away from his past and his future—the death of his wife, and their plans and dreams. Meaning nothing to do with the God he now struggles to believe in, let alone follow.
They meet in unfortunate circumstances en route to Rainbow’s End Resort, and find both common interests and a mutual (if unwanted) attraction. On the surface, On Lone Star Trail is a pretty formulaic romance—boy who loves motorcycles meets girl who hates motorcycles, so one of them is going to have to have a radical change of opinion in order for the relationship to work. It’s a romance, so we all know how that’s going to go.

But underneath there is something deeper. Both Gillian and TJ find themselves drawn to the teenagers in the trailer park in Firefly Valley, one in particular. This adds a dose of 21st century reality and touches on issues not often found in Christian fiction—one of the reasons I enjoy Amanda Cabot’s novels. While the characters are definitely romance characters and the romance is the backbone of the story, it’s not everything, and that’s what I like about it.

On Lone Star Trail is the third Texas Crossroads book, following At Bluebonnet Lake and In Firefly Valley. Each can be read as a standalone novel.

You can find out more about Amanda Cabot at her website (https://www.sff.net/people/amanda.cabot/), and you can read the beginning of On Lone Star Trail here:

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

24 March 2016

Review: Flirtation Walk by Siri Mitchell

Funny, Sad and Uplifting Historical Romance

Seth Westcott is the top cadet in his year at West Point Military Academy, a rank which sees him destined for a coveted position in the Corps of Engineers. When he finds his sister has been swindled of the money from the sale of their family farm, he decides a cavalry posting out West would be a better idea . . . somewhere he can protect his sister, and hunt down the swindler. To do that, he’s going to have to become an Immortal—ranked at the bottom of the class.

When Miss Lucinda Pennyworth’s father dies, she goes to stay with family in Buttermilk Falls, near the military academy where her uncle lectures. Here she learns that some of what her father told her over the years wasn’t true, and she begins to question the values he raised her with, and his views on the military . . . and on God.

Lucinda finds herself having to learn a new set of rules, rules in which she considers others and doesn’t do everything to best meet her own needs, but considers the needs of others and the lessons mistakes can sometimes teach us. It’s not an easy journey, especially as many of her father’s philosophies and sayings are as real in 2016 as they were for Lucinda in 1855:
“Most people are waiting for someone to give them hope. If you can do that, then they’re more than happy to give you their money in exchange.”

That might be true, but it doesn’t make it right. Lucinda also learns she doesn’t have to look and be perfect all the time:
“I would think that would be tiring, trying to make sure you were perfect all the time.”

Perhaps. But even today many people fall into the trap of believing that it’s enough to look perfect and behave properly, that our underlying motivations and beliefs are less important than the image we project. (Social media doesn’t help this perception, when people curate their lives to only show the nice bits). While this isn’t necessarily a Christian message, it’s still a strong message, one worth thinking about, and Flirtation Walk did it well. I’ve found some of Siri Mitchell’s novels push a theme at the expense of the story, but this didn’t.

I liked the way Flirtation Walk emphasised that God is a god of love, not rules, but I would have liked to have seen the characters show some faith in God, rather than merely attending church (which seemed to be more of doing the right thing). But I did like the overall theme about the balance between obeying the rules and doing the right thing.

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

Read the first chapter here:

22 March 2016

Review: The Hearts we Mend by Kathryn Springer

Recommended Second-Chance Romance

One of the challenges of writing a series must be around how much of the early books you include in later books in the series. I’ve read some truly awful examples, including one which shall not be named where the author spent the first half of the novel (yes, over 150 excruciatingly boring pages) rehashing the backstories of characters I already knew from the first 22 books in the series.

At the other end of the spectrum are novels where the author must assume readers will recall every minute detail of the earlier book/s, because nothing is explained. It’s equally excruciating, because it’s like finding yourself at a party where no one introduces you to anyone because everyone assumes you know everyone else, except you know no one.

The Hearts We Mend initially felt like the party. Actually, it did begin at a party, but I didn’t know anyone although it was obvious I was supposed to. Too many characters too quickly, and I couldn’t work out who was who, and who was meant to be important. Yes, I had read—and enjoyed, and recommended—The Dandelion Field, the first of the Banister Falls series, but that was more than a year ago. I’ve read a lot of books since . . . Yes, Chapter One of The Hearts We Mend was beyond awkward.

But it improved with Chapter Two, because we got to meet our hero, Jack Vale, and he’s new in town so felt as lost as I did. And the book suddenly got a whole lot better. As time went on, I remembered Evie from the first novel: she’s the widowed mother of Cody, who is getting married to his pregnant girlfriend despite them both being a mere eighteen (as Cody tells Evie, the age she was when she married).

A lot of romance readers are looking for novels about “older” couples. I’m not convinced Evie and Jack count as older—they’re both in their mid-thirties, scarcely older than the first-love couples in many novels (especially romantic suspense novels). But Evie is about to become a grandmother, which certainly places her ahead of me in terms of life experience category, if not years.

Anyway, Jack is new in town, here to look out for his deadbeat brother and his family. He’s got a temporary job at the church where Evie is director of women’s ministries, which brings the two of them together a lot. They’re opposites in many ways: he’s never married and never had children, she’s widowed and about to become a grandmother. He’s from a rough upbringing and his family have had more than a few brushes with the law. She’s not had an easy life, but none of it involved excess alcohol or drugs, and her relationship with the law is as friends, not foe.

But they find they have things in common: their faith, their concern for Lily, Jack’s niece, and their attraction for each other. Evie’s faithful friends aren’t going to make it easy for Jack, and nor is he.

I thought The Hearts we Mend was excellent, a great sequel to the challenging and recommended The Dandelion Field. I loved all the characters, especially Lily, and Jack’s unorthodox neighbours. And Jack was the perfect hero, the way he brought Evie out of the shell no one even realised she was in. I especially liked the way the Christian themes were shown in the way Jack reached out to his neighbours. Recommended.

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

17 March 2016

Review: Protecting Her Daughter by Lynette Eason

Exciting Romantic Suspense

Widowed Zoe Collier escaped to the rural town of Wranglers Creek after her daughter was almost kidnapped outside their Nashville home, and after her car was almost run off the road. But it seems that whoever or whatever was after nine-year-old Sophia back home is still chasing her.

Handsome local veterinarian Aaron Starke is attracted to the pretty widow and is pleased to have plenty of excuses to drop by the property she is farm-sitting (if that's a word). But he doesn't expect a simple trip to drop off some medicine and check on a pregnant cow to turn into a hostage situation.

The style of Love Inspired novels is always a little different to longer full-length titles. This can be an advantage and a disadvantage. It makes them quick to read, but I sometimes feel like the writing lacks complexity, because the shorter word count means there isn't scope for a lot of character development or description. On the other hand, it does mean there is plenty of focus on the main plot, and less sidetracking.

I found the beginning of Protecting Her Daughter to be a little shaky (although full of tension), but once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. The writing was very good, the characters excellent, and I really got into the suspense: who is after Zoe and Sophia? Why?

Protecting Her Daughter is the third book in the Wrangler's Corner series. I've read the first (The Lawman Returns) but not the second (Rodeo Rescuer), but was easily able to read Protecting Her Daughter as a standalone.

Thanks to Love Inspired Suspense and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

15 March 2016

Review: Playing the Part by Jen Turano

Is historical chick-lit a thing?

If it's not, it should be. I love Jen Turano’s brand of humorous historical fiction—it’s a historical version of chick-lit, only without the bawdy bits. And she manages to touch on some of the less nice elements of history, like the lack of women’s rights, without ever becoming maudlin or preachy. I’ve read all her novels, and she hasn’t failed me yet.

Breaking Free is no exception. It’s the third book in the A Class of Their Own series, but can easily be read as a standalone (although fans of the series will be pleased to find the earlier couples all feature in supporting roles, as does Abigail, the busybody matchmaker).

When New York actress Lucetta Plum is threatened by an unwanted suitor, Mrs Abigail Hart, Lucetta’s self-appointed godmother and protector, decides a visit to her grandson is in order. Bram Haverstein is an eligible bachelor who’d rather be left alone. Well, as alone as he can be in an American castle full of misfit servants. But he’s prepared to make an exception for Lucetta Plum, the actress he admires above all others. Only problem is that she loathes any and all admirers . . .

Playing the Part is great fun, because as well as the stalker and romance plots, there is also the mystery about the castle: is it haunted? If not, why do strange things keep happening? (There’s the almost-predictable missing jewels and walking armour, but there’s the funnier question of how did the woman-hating goat get into Miss Plum’s tower room?).

All in all, great fun for those looking for a lighthearted read with a serious undertone.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Have you read any of Jen Turano's novels? What did you think?

10 March 2016

ARCBA Review: The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

7 - 11 March
is introducing

(Rhiza Press, 1 October 2015)

Cindy Williams

About the Book:

Since she watched her village burn to the ground, Mere’s life has been anything but dull. Now as an older woman she has come to stay with Helene and James to finish writing her life story – a tale of injustice, revenge and reconciliation.
But Helene and James have their own problems. After five years together, their marriage has become dull, predictable, boring … and it starts to unravel. 
Weaving fiction with the traumatic history of the Ngati Whatua tribe of Auckland, The Pounamu Prophecy sweeps from the sultry heat of Australia to the verdant shores of New Zealand.

About the Author

Cindy Williams lives in Sydney with her husband and teenage son.
As a child growing up in a culturally rich part of New Zealand she enjoyed writing, not copious screeds, but short intense pieces that brought tears to her eyes and made people think. She marvelled at the power of words to inspire far beyond the intentions of the author.
Then she became a dietitian – all science and seriously researched facts. She completed a Master of Public Health and a Graduate Diploma in Communication and spent many years encouraging and inspiring people to live a healthy life.
She writes a nutrition blog – www.nutritionchic.com – and is working on her second novel, set in first century Israel. She teaches scripture in schools, and swim and cycles. She is also studying for a Diploma of Theology and trying to improve her abysmal French! 

My Review

James and Helene are both too busy chasing their respective careers (as graphic designer and doctor, respectively) to have time for each other, and after five years, the spark has gone out of their marriage. Mere comes to stay, looking for a quiet place where she can write her memoirs without interruption. Helene especially values Mere’s quiet advice, shared from a place of having come to terms with knowledge, suffering and forgiveness.

The Pounamu Prophecy is a split timeline story. In the present, it’s the story of Brisbane couple James and Helene, their disintegrating marriage, Mere, their visitor from New Zealand visitor, and the way Mere subtly encourages them to think with a different mindset. In the past, it’s Mere’s story, the story of a Ngati Whatua child growing up in Okahu Bay, Auckland, in the midst of the Maori land protests, and her reactions to the age-old grievances.

I live in New Zealand. I remember the Bastion Point protests, although I was only a child and too young to understand what they were about—or how far back the grievances went. I’ve driven past Okahu Bay more times than I can remember, and visited Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World (now Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium), which is built in the old sewage tanks mentioned in The Pounamu Prophecy.

I enjoyed that combination of familiarity and new information, and I thought The Pounamu Prophecy was an outstanding novel. I liked the characters (well, I liked Mere better than Helene or James, who both needed a good talking to). I liked the way the two stories were integrated.

I especially liked the sensitive way the novel brings out the Maori culture and the injustices of the time—a combination of greed and perhaps patriarchal thinking. The injustice is plain: it seems the New Zealand Government of the time had a lot in common with the biblical Laban. Overall, The Pounamu Prophecy is an excellent story of rising above difficult situations, and learning to forgive what some might think can’t be forgiven.


3 March 2016

Review: Grime Spree by Marji Lane

Amazon Description

Shadows from her past have haunted Dani’s dreams for months. Now, however, the ghosts are real and bringing a trail of death and destruction.

What begins as a romantic evening, the first in far too long, collapses into yet another crime scene. However, this one has someone involved who is familiar to Dani. Too familiar. And worse, he recognizes her.

Jay’s new promotion has increased his working hours considerably, as well as interrupted and cancelled more than one date with Dani. His attempt to make it up to her at one of the nicest restaurants in the area backfires when the place is robbed.

But the biggest problem is that Dani seems to be in on the crime.

My Review

Grime Spree was a short, fast-paced novella following the next steps in Dani and Jay’s relationship—and the next crime they become involved in. This one is more personal: Dani and Jay were at the crime scene before the crime was committed, and Dani recognised someone who knew her from her old life. And Jay is having trouble trusting her, because he knows she’s hiding something from him.

It’s a big ask in a relationship, one person having secrets they can’t share, and the other knowing something is there but not knowing what. Yes, it brings an interesting dynamic to the relationship, especially when intentions and reality don’t exactly fall into line.

Grime Spree is the third novella in Marji Lane’s Grime Fighter series, and the stories should be read in order: Grime Beat, Grime Wave, Grime Spree. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Dani and Jay over the course of this series, and while I’m looking forward to the next (and possibly final) instalment, I’ll also be sad when it’s over.

Recommended for romantic suspense fans.

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

1 March 2016

Review: Life Support by Nicki Edwards

Great Next Installment to Medical Rural Romance Series

Nurse Emma Chirnside’s marriage is over, but her husband dies before they can get a divorce. She finds he’s left her a house in her rural home town of Birranagulla . . . only it turns out to be more mansion than house. And it’s managed by her high school crush, Tom Henderson. Meanwhile, Tom seems to have picked up some baggage of his own, including a sick mother, and a daughter.

First up, Life Support isn’t Christian fiction, although there are references to prayer and heaven. It is a clean read (there is an extremely vague sex scene, I don’t recall any bad language, and the only violence and gore is related to the fact Emma works in an Emergency Department. It seems even small-town Australia gets more than their share of car accidents and other medical emergencies. (No, not a book for those who don’t like medical drama.)

I liked both Emma and Tom as characters. Emma, because she works in the Emergency Department even though she’s financially independent. Tom, because he’s a man of true character, in that his decision to pursue a relationship with Emma is about Emma—her inheritance doesn’t come into it. The minor characters are also good, especially the loveable Ruby. And Liam.

Life Support is a sweet, well-written romance with plenty of conflict in all the right places, and a fabulous setting (which is based on the real life Mt Mitchell Homestead, in case you're looking for a wedding venue in Victoria, Australia). It’s the fourth book in the series, but easily read as a standalone novel. Now I’m hoping this isn't the last in the series, because I'm really looking forward to Liam's story . . .

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