29 July 2016

Friday Fifteen: April Geremia

Today I'd like to welcome authors April Geremia to Iola's Christian Reads. Aprilis the author of the Souls of the Sea series, and is here today to share her own favourite authors. Welcome, April!

April's Friday Fifteen

1. Beverly Cleary. 

When I was a child, I ducked into the school library every chance I got to read about the adventures of Ramona and gang. I can still remember sitting between the shelves, praying that I would get through another chapter before the bell rang.

2. Safely Home by Randy Alcorn

I have given this book to more people than I can count. It’s brilliant in that it uses the novel format to expose the persecution that Chinese Christians go through just to worship God. This book caused me to see so many things in a different light.

3. This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti

I read these two books shortly after I became a Christian, and they continue to shape my worldview.

4. Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers

This trilogy was literally impossible to put down once I started reading it. I loved the emotions the story triggered and how the main character grew in faith and strength.

5. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

This is one of the most honest, unflinching books I’ve ever read. Reading about C.S. Lewis’ battle with faith after his wife’s death help get me through some of my own very tough times.

6. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I read this book when I was a new Christian, and although it was unsettling to me at first, I also believe it helped me mature in faith more quickly than I would have otherwise.

7. Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams

Although this isn’t a Christian novel, it’s the book that started me on my journey of writing. I’ve wanted to write since I was ten-years-old and this book finally made me believe I could take all my bottled up feelings, put them on a page, and create a story that would touch other people’s lives. The artful use of language in this book is spellbinding.

8. When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

Because who doesn’t love a book about a cardiac surgeon and a little girl with heart disease who heal each other? With God’s help, of course. This is one of those books I never wanted to end.

9. In God’s Underground by Richard Wurmbrand

Mr. Wormbrand was imprisoned for his faith for 14 years in Romania, and this the story of how his faith endured in the most challenging of circumstances. I copied the poem he wrote to Jesus in this book in the front of my Bible as a reminder of what it truly means to love Him.

10. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

Yes, it’s another C.S. Lewis book, but so different than the other one! Screwtape and Wormwood are perfect examples of how the enemy attempts to distract us and lead us down the wrong path.

11. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

This book affected me so much I’ve never been able to get it out of my head. I won’t spoil the ending in case some readers haven’t read it, but the message is so stark and on point. I truly believe this book could change the world if more people read it.

12. While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin

I loved this book for two reasons. First, it was so emotional—and I definitely love a good cry when reading. But I also loved the message—just because God is silent, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t love us.

13. The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate

This author truly puts her heart on the page, and this book left me with a longing that is difficult to describe. It’s a beautiful story, and I loved to watch the characters grow as the story progressed.

14. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

I mean, really, how could I leave this book off the list? A beautiful story of how God can redeem even those who run from Him. I love this book.

15. Jimmy by Robert Whitlow

This book is a little different than the author’s usual stuff—it’s quieter, more thoughtful, and highly emotional. He uses understatement and practicality to draw out your emotions. It’s difficult to explain, but this is another book that’s still on my mind years after reading it.

About April Geremia
April Geremia has made her living as a professional writer for 20 years, and has recently turned her attention toward her true love--fiction. She loves God, her family and friends, the sea, mysteries, and stories of people battling impossible situations. The books in this series, Souls of the Sea, all have those elements in common.

When she's not writing, you'll find her coaxing vegetables out of the ground, playing with her chickens, or whipping up a simple gourmet meal in her tiny house by the sea. Her favorite part of any day is connecting with her readers.

You can connect with April at:

Website: aprilgeremia.com
Twitter: @april_geremia
Facebook: facebook.com/april.geremia

A Fragrance of Surrender

What would cause a woman to stand on the edge of a cliff deciding whether to slip over it or to live another day?

How bad would it have to be?

And what if she couldn't turn to God because she believes He's the root of all her problems?
Set among the fragrant sweet smell of ripening orange tree blossoms, this emotional story is about a woman who battles God for the right to determine how things should be. Gabriella's life has been filled with tragedy, including the mystery of why her own parents disappeared one night, leaving her alone at a tender young age. Soon after her husband dies, she and her son move to her childhood home--a house on a cliff by the sea in a village time has left behind. It's there that she and some local villagers begin the process of bringing her parent's old orange grove back to life.

As Gabriella begins to put together the pieces of why her parents abandoned her, she soon learns they were victims of powerful forces that threatened to tear apart the quiet little village by the sea. And that knowledge, along with all the other losses she's experienced, causes Gabriella to view God with great suspicion and fear. So when her young son experiences a dramatic conversion and begins to serve Him, an all-out battle ensues.

During this time, Gabriella often feels called to the edge of the cliff, torn between letting herself slip over it and ending the pain, or fighting for a happiness she's not even sure exists. Will Gabriella continue to do battle with God? Or will she come to have faith in the God she blames for all the tragedies she's suffered?

And what role will her young son play in her decision?

You can read the introduction to A Fragrance of Surrender here:

28 July 2016

Review: A Changed Agent by Tracey J Lyons

Solid Plot but Writing Needs Work

William Benton is a Pinkerton agent charged with finding missing railroad bonds--but who also has recently taken responsibility for his orphaned niece and nephew, seven-year-old twins Minnie and Harry. He has no idea how he can do both, especially when his job often requires late nights and overnight trips. His boss suggests he hire help in the form of Elsie Mitchell, the violet-eyed schoolteacher in their small update New York town.

Elsie turns out to be perfect for the job except for the fact she keeps wanting him to go to church and objects to him hanging around the saloon. He can't explain it's for work--that would defeat the whole 'undercover' part of his job.

It's an interesting premise, and I would have liked to have seen more of Will's role as a Pinkerton agent. As it was, the focus of A Changed Agent was very much on the developing relationship between Elsie and Will, and Elsie's strange relationship with her ex-fiance. I liked the scenes with the children, and I especially liked the way the mute Minnie was able to learn to trust as the story progressed.

The ongoing issue with A Changed Agent wasn't the story or the characters, but the writing. The author has a habit of starting sentences with -ing words, which gives the writing a lyrical feel. Unfortunately, that isn't a good thing because while I'm flowing with the lyrical writing I'm not actually reading the words. I think that's because a lot of the writing is passive, which again takes me away from the characters and the action.

I try not to put my freelance editor hat on while reading, but ongoing glitches like this make it difficult because my subconscious says, 'hey! That sentence didn't make sense!'. When I read it for the second or third time, I realise why it didn't make sense, and that it's something the editor should have noticed and pointed out. Having said that, every 'self-editing for authors' book I've ever read points out the dangers of starting sentences with -ing words, and it wasn't the editor who wrote the novel.

Overall, A Changed Agent was somewhat predictable as a historical romance. It had good characters and a solid plot, but could have done with improved revision and editing.

Thanks to Waterfall Press (Amazon's Christian fiction imprint) and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Tracey J Lyons at her website.

27 July 2016

Clash of the Titles: Summer's Sizzlin' with Competition

Summer's Sizzlin'

Vote for your Fave!

Scroll through these THREE new reads and vote below 
for which you'd pick up first to read while sippin' iced tea.
It'll be a tough choice! But somebody's gotta do it. May as well be you!


Almost Like Being in Love by Beth K. Vogt

She’s won an all-expenses-paid, luxurious wedding — all she needs now is
the groom! Winning a destination wedding would be a dream come true …
if Caron Hollister and her boyfriend, Alex were already engaged — and if
her ex-boyfriend, Kade, wasn’t back in her life, causing her to wonder
“what if?” when she thought she was ready to say “I do” to someone else.


Rescue Me by Sandy Nadeau

Risking her life to save him is easy. Risking her heart to give him a second chance is impossible.


River Rest by Susan Page Davis

Unable to depend on her father to heal the crumbling family, Judith is
afraid to trust the mysterious neighbor, Ben, who lives with his own
grief. When Ben is injured, she is the only one who can help him.


If you have trouble viewing the entire survey, click here to load a dedicated page to the survey.

26 July 2016

Review: The Things We Knew by Catherine West

Could have been excellent

Amazon Description

When their tragic past begins to resurface, can he help her remember the things she can’t?

After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to blame their father for their mother’s death, but nobody will talk about that tragic day. And Lynette’s memory only speaks through nightmares.

Then Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, bringing the past with him. Once Lynette’s adolescent crush, Nick knows more about her mother’s death than he lets on. The truth could tear apart his own family—and destroy his fragile friendship with Lynette, the woman he no longer thinks of as a kid sister.

As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets surface that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question their faith, their willingness to forgive, and the very truth of all the things they thought they knew.

My Review

Lynette Carlise is the youngest of five siblings, and the only one still living at home . . . with her ailing father, and a house that is crumbling around her. She needs a loan to bring the house back to its former glory, or they'll have to sell. And for that, she needs her siblings.

Parts of the plot seemed contrived to me. The analytical side of me could see several options other than selling the property, and while it was logical that Lynette was too close to the situation to see other options, Nick the bank manager should have been able to offer some alternatives (like a reverse mortgage), as should her lawyer sister. However, as the story progressed, I could see the author needed a plot device to get all five Carlisle siblings back to Wyldewood, and the need to discuss the white elephant the house had become served as that device.

And it turned into an interesting plot, less about the fate of Wyldewood or Drake Carlisle’s possible Alzheimer’s or even Lynette’s relationship with Nick and more about secrets: secrets the characters knew they were keeping, and secrets they didn’t. The problem was that it took a long time for it to actually become clear that the characters were keeping secrets. At the beginning, it felt more like information was missing. I know that’s a subtle distinction, but it’s there.

How to explain it . . .

It’s one thing for a character to have secrets. Most good characters do. But with most good characters, the reader knows they have a secret, and often also knows what that secret is (for example, in a romance, the ‘secret’ is often that the heroine has feelings for the hero or vice versa). In other novels (say, in general fiction), the reader will know the character has a secret, but doesn’t immediately find out what that secret is. But we trust the author to show us the information at the right time, and we look for clues as to what that secret might be—because a good author will leave a trail of crumbs.

But if the character has a secret and don’t even know they have that secret, it feels like lying by omission, because we expect the characters to be honest with themselves (and, by proxy, honest with the reader) even if they can’t be honest with the other characters. Lynette had layers of secrets. Some, like the fact she paints and sells her work under a pseudonym, is a secret we know about, and that’s great because it provides ongoing tension—when will Nick and her family find out, and what will they say? Other secrets are more subtle but the breadcrumbs are there. This also provides ongoing tension and plot questions as I read and wonder whether the secret is what I think it is, and what’s going to happen.

But the secret which really bugged me was the one which didn’t get disclosed until almost the end, and even then it seemed to appear by accident (because one character made a mistake that sent a chain of events into action, which led to the big reveal of that character’s secret, which led to other characters revealing their secrets). Yes, I know the mistake was planned by the author, but it seemed out of character which made it seem contrived (hmm. Like the whole plot).

The reason this bothered me is it felt like Lynette had been keeping secrets from the reader because there were things she knew, things she’d done, that she (as the main viewpoint character) never let the reader see. To use a writing term, this made her feel like an unreliable narrator. I also think it took away from the tension, because the secret was actually a major plot point. I would have liked to have followed that part of her personal character arc, but was deprived of that.

The upshot of all these secrets was that the plot actually wasn’t about what I thought it was about. I thought it was about Lynette’s relationship with Nick, and about whether she and her siblings could keep the house. It was and it wasn’t. It was about both these things, but there was a bigger question, and one which, if approached differently, could have turned this from a so-so women’s fiction novel with romantic elements into something far better, a character-driven women’s fiction novel with romantic and suspense elements. But to say more would be a spoiler.

Overall, this was a solid novel. I think it could have been excellent, but there were too many undisclosed secrets and that didn’t work for me.

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

25 July 2016

Book Launch and Giveaway: A Love to Come Home To by Alicia G Ruggieri

Today I'm delighted to welcome author Alicia G Ruggieri back to Iola's Christian Reads. Alicia joined us last year to share her fifteen favourite authors (click here to read the post), and today I'm welcoming her back to share the news of her latest new release.

Alicia G. Ruggieri writes grace-filled, Christ-centered fiction, including the A Time of Grace Trilogy. She’s a graduate of Rhode Island College, where she studied Communications and History, and her adventures include children’s theatre direction, restaurant management, and small business ownership. Alicia and her husband live in coastal New England, where she may be found drinking far too much coffee and penning stories with her emotionally-disturbed second-hand pug by her side.

About A Love to Come Home To

Book Three in the A Time of Grace series

Hardened Ben Picoletti thought he’d turned his back on Depression-era Rhode Island years ago. Nothing remains there for him, except for haunting memories of an abusive childhood. Yet when a criminal accusation shatters his ambitions, Ben has nowhere to flee but back to his stepfather’s home.
There, he finds that redemption yet waits for him… but the sacrifice required to attain it may exceed the limits of his family’s hearts.

Meanwhile, his musical sister Grace continues her studies in New York. She longs to hear a word of affection from her high-school beau… yet only Paulie’s silence greets her. Grace must decide whether she wants to live in the past or move into an unknown future with unexpected love.
Lyrical and sensitive to the aching heart, A Love to Come Home To affirms that God delights in being a stronghold in times of trouble; that He renews His mercy every morning; and that He will work every bitter thing together for the good of His children.

Click here to buy A Love to Come Home To on Amazon

Click here to download a free Kindle copy of The Fragrance of Geraniums

(the first in the series)

Click here to buy book two, All Our Empty Places, on Amazon

You can find out more about Alicia at:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/aliciagruggieri

And you can enter the giveaway below! (US residents only - sorry!)

21 July 2016

Review: No Other Will Do by Karen Witemeyer

Great Premise

I enjoy reading historical fiction, especially historical romance. But (and this is going to sound a little odd) I don’t like it to be too historically accurate. Well, I do and I don’t. I want the facts and figures to be accurate. I don’t want anachronisms, like references to certain inventions in a novel set ten years before the thing was actually invented. I want an accurate picture of life in that time and place.

But I don’t want it too accurate. Let’s face it, the world has come a long way in the last two hundred years, particularly in the area of rights for women, people of colour … anyone who isn’t white and male. The list of things women couldn’t do in nineteenth century America or England is longer than the list of what they could do. Many women were abused, physically, emotionally and spiritually (and the physical abuse was often a side-effect of the spiritual abuse).

I don’t want to read about that. If I wanted to read about abuse, I’d be reading non-fiction or serious women’s fiction, not light-hearted historical romance. I want my historical romance heroes to be men who treat women as equal but different, and I want my historical romance heroines to be intelligent women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves. And, yes, I realise that’s probably not historically accurate. And I don’t care.

Anyway, that all serves as background to what I especially enjoyed about No Other Will Do: a community owned by and run by women, a refuge. Yes, that’s historically inaccurate but this is fiction and I don’t care because it’s a great idea and history would have had a lot less conflict if the women had been in charge. But, predictably, the women have to defend their rights of ownership against men who want the town for its assets (men, always spoiling for a fight. See above).

A lot of novels, especially Westerns, feature financial difficulties—families at risk because they are behind on their payments. No Other Will Do takes this scenario from the other side, the point of view of the (female) banker, who has a responsibility to be a good steward of her inheritance:

Banking is stewardship. We can’t give to everyone who asks or we risk losing the ability to give to any. We must seek God’s wisdom and direction, then work hard not only to protect but also to increase what has been entrusted to us.

Hmm. Worth thinking about.

But Emma also has the physical threat of violence, and her desire to keep Harper’s Station as a refuge for those women with nowhere else to go.

No Other Will Do is written in Karen Witemeyer’s trademark witty style, but perhaps goes deeper into issues of equality and Christian sisterhood (and brotherhood) than her earlier novels. It’s good to see.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like: the weird dialogue descriptions, like Tori declared and Emma quipped and Tori chided. It makes me feel like I’m eight years old and reading Enid Blyton. It’s something I’ve seen in several books recently and I don’t know if it’s bad writing/editing or the start of a general trend. If it’s a trend, it’s one that doesn’t work for me. It also didn't feel right for the uneducated (or self-educated) Mal to be familiar with concepts such as feminism before the term was part of everyday English. The idea was understood (and ridiculed), the word is more modern.

The other thing was that this is supposed to be a women's colony: no men. Yet at the first sign of trouble, Emma calls in a man to help. And it ends up being the men who save the day. That irked me. On the plus side, there was no mansplaining--the hero (and other male characters. Well, except for the evildoer) did actually treat the women like the intelligent humans they were.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Witemeyer at her website, and you can read the opening to No Other Will Do below.

19 July 2016

Review: When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell

Unexpectedly Brilliant

I admit it: I didn’t read Julie Cantrell’s award-winning debut novel, Into the Free, mostly because there were faults in the review copy I downloaded which rendered it unreadable (my copy was missing all the c’s and all the h’s, which meant there would be references to a “fres at of fis” instead of a fresh catch of fish. It’s hard to get into a novel when you find yourself having to sound out words like a six-year-old.

I also didn’t request the sequel to Into the Free when it released the following year, because I tend not to enjoy sequels if I haven’t read the first book in the series. So why did I request When Mountains Move … which is that same sequel, only from a new publisher? Because I somehow missed the fact it was a book I elected not to read two years ago, but requested on the strength of the good things I’d heard about the author’s writing.

And they are all true. Even though When Mountains Move is a sequel, it’s not necessary to have read Into the Free in order to understand or appreciate this.

When Mountains Move is not an easy read: it starts with Millie, our heroine, having a dream/flashback to her rape six weeks earlier. She’s now marrying Bump (Kenneth Anderson, and that’s probably the only thing I never understood: where he got such a ridiculous nickname), and they are leaving Mississippi for Colorado, where Bump has a job managing a run-down ranch.

While the ranch is the main setting, ranch life isn’t the core of the plot or theme. Rather, the story is about Millie coping with the attack and the after affects, and the strain this puts on her marriage. It’s a story of love and trust and mistrust, the story of a marriage, and it’s riveting.

The novel is told entirely in first person present tense from Millie’s point of view, which is an interesting literary choice for a historical novel—most tend to be third person and past tense. First person seems to be reserved for young adult and new adult novels, and in a way that fits: When Mountains Move is an extension of the coming of age novel, and seventeen-year-old Millie is certainly in the right age bracket to attract YA/NA readers.

I like first person because gives us a deep insight into Millie and her problems. It also demonstrates the strength of Cantrell’s writing in that I still understood a lot of Bump’s thoughts and problems, even when Millie seemed not to.

I get that the combination of an edgy topic and first person writing won’t appeal to everyone. But if you can get past that—as I did—I’m sure you’ll find When Mountains Move to be excellent. Even if you haven’t read Into the Free.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Julie Cantrell at her website, and you can read the beginning of When Mountains Move below:

18 July 2016

Featuring the 2016 Clash of The Titles Laurel Award Winner



This year, At First Sight took home Clash of the Titles's sixth annual Laurel Award. Over the course of six weeks, the novel's first chapters were read and judged by avid readers of Christian fiction who determined At First Sight to be the worthiest to receive the 2016 Laurel Award.

Clash of the Titles extends a heartfelt congratulations to author Delia Latham for her exemplary writing. We wish God's richest blessings on her future work.

About At First Sight :

Reagan Massey has gone through a great deal of trouble to make her cousin irresistible to the visiting single minister but things get a little sticky when Reagan falls in love with Cord Phillips herself… 

Cord doesn’t believe in marital bliss after seeing the mockery his parents made of their vows. He’s promised himself he’ll live as the Apostle Paul lived, dedicating himself solely to God. When his heart turns traitor, Cord has to completely rethink his position on love. 

Things around Riverbend House of Worship take on some humorous, heart-touching, soul-stirring twists and turns, with Reagan and Cord so busy getting in God’s way that they can’t see the path He has laid out for them to travel…together.

At First Sight is part of the Pure Amore bundle of 12 novels that celebrate purity. Use the code Laurel2016 to receive the bundle at 50% OFF. (expires 31 July 2016)



Delia in her own words:

A born-and-bred California gal, I grew up in a little community called Weedpatch. Nope, that's not a typo. It's a few miles southeast of Bakersfield, and in the...well, I won't say how many years since I left there...Weedpatch has even found its way onto a map or two.

Writing has been my passion since third grade, when I won an essay writing contest and took home the coveted prize: a beautiful bed doll with an overstuffed pink, quilted satin skirt. Remember them? Huge, padded skirts, some (like mine) with flat cardboard bottoms to accommodate display. The doll's feet were hidden away somewhere in all that finery, never again to see the light of day.  These fancy ladies
were most often used as centerpieces for beds, and that's where mine went - smack in the middle of my unimposing bed in my unmatched, Salvation Army-furnished bedroom. It was the most elegant item I had ever owned, and I was one proud little lassie.  (Ahem ... surely someone  else remembers those dollies?)​

Winning that contest made a profound impact on my young psyche - enough so that I never stopped writing. From those first little songs and poems and (very bad) short stories, I graduated to Staff Writer for a large daily newspaper; freelanced for an upper-scale regional magazine; and finally began writing fiction...which was my goal all along. 

Connect with Delia online:




15 July 2016

Cover Reveal: Aboard Providence by Keely Brooke Keith

Today I'm thrilled to help Keely Brooke Keith with the cover reveal of her next release, Aboard Providence. This is the prequel to her Uncharted series, all of which I read and reviewed and enjoyed:

The Land Uncharted
Uncharted Redemption
Uncharted Inheritance
Christmas with the Colburns

A voyage aboard Providence changes Jonah’s plans, but can it change his heart?

In November 1860, Jonah Ashton is determined to finish his studies at Penn’s Medical School before rumors of Southern rebellion erupt into all-out war. When he learns his father has joined a group of Virginia families planning to sail from America to form a new settlement elsewhere, he travels to his family’s estate intent on saying goodbye. However, when an accident leaves his father in need of a physician, Jonah agrees to serve as ship’s doctor, but he resolves to return to medical school as quickly as possible.

While aboard the Providence, Jonah falls in love with former classmate Marian Foster. Despite their love for each other, Marian has no desire to return to America with him.

After an arduous voyage, Providence runs aground on an uncharted land in the South Atlantic Ocean. While the rest of the settlers celebrate finding the land they wanted, Jonah takes off to explore the island and he soon discovers a startling truth that changes everything, but can it change his heart?

Quotes about the book:
“A delightful adventure reminiscent of Swiss Family Robinson, Aboard Providence is one of those novels that will stick with me because I feel I’ve lived it. A captivating, well-researched, and deftly written tale I can confidently recommend to a wide range of readers.” –Heather Day Gilbert, author of Amazon Norse bestseller God’s Daughter

“With vivid settings and multi-layered characters, Keely Brooke Keith whisks her readers off on a page-turning journey, not just across the ocean, but within the heart. You won’t be able to put Aboard Providence down until the final word is read and then you will long for more.” –Brenda S. Anderson, author of the Coming Home series

“A blend of history and romance with a compelling inspirational message, Keith expertly weaves an intriguing tale. Fans of the Uncharted Series won’t want to miss this journey.” –Heidi McCahan, author of Unraveled

“Keely Brooke Keith is a master storyteller, weaving adventure, love, and wonderful characters into a vivid story that will take readers on an unforgettable voyage to a new place. Full of inspirational messages and tales of God’s love, readers will find themselves longing for more. Keely’s story teaches all of us that the journey is just the beginning!” –Christina Yother, author of the Hollow Hearts series

Author Info:

Author Bio:
Keely Brooke Keith is the author of the Uncharted series (Edenbrooke Press) and Aboard Providence (CrossRiver Media). Her novels are known for blending genres in surprising ways. When she isn’t writing stories, Keely enjoys playing bass guitar, preparing homeschool lessons, and collecting antique textbooks. Originally from St. Joseph, Missouri, Keely resides with her husband and their daughter on a hilltop south of Nashville where she dreams up stories, hoping to encourage, comfort, and inspire readers. She is a member of ACFW.

Keely has also been my Friday Fifteen guest so you can read more about her and the books she enjoys here: Friday Fifteen

Social Media Links:

Find Keely’s books online:

Giveaway Info

Enter here for your chance to win an autographed copy of Aboard Providence.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

14 July 2016

Review: A Loyal Heart by Shelley Gray

Not Gray's Best

Amazon Description

Robert came to Galveston to fulfill his promise to a dying man and look after his widow. He didn’t expect to find love in the unlikeliest of places.

Robert Truax, former Second Lieutenant and Confederate officer in the Civil War, made a promise to his comrade Phillip Markham. If anything happened to Phillip, Robert would look after his beloved wife, Miranda. She was his life, his world, his everything.

After the war, Robert is left to pick up the pieces and fulfill his pact. When he arrives at Miranda's home in Galveston, Texas, things are worse than he imagined. Phillip's name has been dragged through the mud, everyone in town believes him to be a traitor, and his widow is treated as an outcast. Even more disturbing is her emotional well-being. Miranda seems hopeless, lost, and so very alone.

Robert had thought his duty would be simple. He would help Miranda as quickly as possible in order to honor a promise. But the moment Robert laid eyes on her, his plans changed. He's mesmerized by her beauty and yearns to help her in any way he can.

He makes it his duty to protect Miranda, turn her reputation around, and to find some way to help her smile again. But it doesn't prove to be an easy task—Robert knows something about Phillip that could shake Miranda to the core and alter her view of the man she thought she knew so well.

My Review

Shelley Shephard Gray writes Amish fiction under her full name, and historical romance with a touch of suspense as Shelley Gray. I’m not a fan of Amish fiction so haven’t read any of those, but I’ve read several of her previous historical romance novels and been impressed. I watch out for her new Shelley Gray releases, and was pleased to be given the opportunity to review A Loyal Heart.

But I have to say it wasn’t up to the standard I have come to expect from Shelley Gray (or from her publisher, Zondervan). The plot was an excellent combination of romance and suspense, but I was underwhelmed by the plot twist which revealed who was behind the threatening letters widow Miranda Markham had been receiving for the last year, and that meant the novel ended with less than a bang.

I also wasn’t impressed by the editing. There were spelling mistakes, a couple of irritating anachronisms (especially strange, as Gray’s books are usually well researched), and lots of annoying dialogue tags—which perhaps shouldn’t have distracted me, but they did. I was left wondering if I was reading a pre-proofed review copy (which I sometimes do get, but which are usually marked as such). If not, are the spelling and writing errors the fault of the author, or of the editor and publisher?

So while the plot and writing weren't up to the high standard I expect from the author and publisher, the characters were excellent. Miranda Markham blossomed as she got to know Lt Robert Truax, who was a true hero and proved that there is more than being a gentleman than being born into money and influence. I found the growing romance between the two as interesting as the suspense plot, but the romance had a better and more believable resolution.

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

12 July 2016

Review: Deep Shadows by Vannetta Chapman

Amazon Description

All It Takes Is One Night to Plunge the World into Darkness

Life in Abney, Texas, is predictable and safe—until the night a massive solar flare wipes out all modern technology.

Shelby Sparks, novelist and single mom, had one goal: to provide for her diabetic son. In the wake of this global disaster, her mission hasn't changed. Only now, medication is a priceless commodity and the future resembles an apocalyptic nightmare.

Max Berkman and Shelby were once sweethearts, but he lost his chance at claiming her love years ago. When the abrupt loss of power ushers him into a leadership role, he rises to the occasion. But his highest priority—to keep Shelby and her son safe—could prove to be the biggest challenge of all.

As the brilliant northern lights give way to deep shadows, Max and Shelby's faith will be tested like never before. Only one rule remains: Find a way to survive.

My Review

There is probably something wrong with me, but I’ve always had a fascination with this kind of end-of-the-world fiction. I suspect it started with authors like John Christopher and Jack Wyndham, not to mention the dystopian novels I can’t even remember the titles of.

In the late 1990’s I came across a modern Christian version set in the English town of Ampthill—After the Fire by John Lockley. Most of the population had been killed off by some plague, and the village had enough old technology that the survivors adapted without too much difficulty (England. It’s full of old technology).

Although the survivors had banded together to beat the odds, natural human selfishness eventually shone through and the end was somewhat bleak. The lasting theme seemed to be that the more things change, the more they stay the same and that our only hope was eternal (yes, it had an excellent Christian theme running through it).

Several years later, I started reading Terri Blackstock’s Restoration series, set in the USA. I couldn’t get past the first book. My basic problem was that the novel didn’t seem realistic. People were nice (except for one stupid woman, who I thought/hoped was going to be killed off and then realized she was the central character. Oops). No one got sick. No one died. And there was plenty to eat and drink, which seemed ridiculous considering they were living in a built-up area with no produce available (in contrast to Lockley’s characters, who almost starved while waiting for the wheat harvest to ripen).

So I was a nervous combination of anticipatory and apprehensive when I started Deep Shadows. Which way was it going to go? Thankfully, it veered more towards the Lockley version, although it’s set in Texas which means everyone is armed to the teeth and not afraid to defend themselves. Which is a pretty scary thought.

The plot was excellent—the idea of a solar flare knocking out all the electricity is scarily likely, as Chapman explains in the back of the book. (I confess: I did get distracted, wondering how long it would take our local power company to take the electrical grid off the modern computers and back to however they did it when our first local hydroelectric power station opened in 1915. I refuse to ponder what a diet of kiwifruit—our biggest local crop—would do to us).

The characters were also excellent, especially Shelby and her insulin-dependent teenage son. Deep Shadows didn’t have as much Christian content as I’d perhaps expected based on her previous novels, but it was still good—and this is the beginning of a series, so the focus was more on setting up the story, and initial character development. The writing was certainly everything I expect from a Vannetta Chapman novel, although the genre is a departure from her more typical Amish romance and mysteries.

Overall, a great novel that kept me reading well past bedtime. I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book in the series—I’ll just make a point of starting it in the morning.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the opening below, and you can find out more about Vannetta Chapman at her website, http://vannettachapman.com/.

8 July 2016

ARCBA Blog Tour: The Warrior Lord's Sword by Ray Hawkins

4 - 8 July
is introducing

(April 2016)

by  Ray Hawkins

About the Book:

'The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword ...'That is one of the ways the Bible defines itself. This Devotional takes you into 30 other of its definitions. Your confidence in and appreciation of God's word will be strengthened as you understand its claims.The author's hope is that this book will enrich your love for and understanding of God's unchanging scriptures. For God has expressed Himself within them so you will know Him in a personal way.Scripture is God's breath in print with power to declare His glory. It is His sword to strike against ungodliness. He has given it to us also to guide, guard and govern our relationship of faith in Him.

About the Author

Ray Hawkins, retired after over 40 years as a Churches of Christ minister, enjoys sharing themes from the Scriptures through Devotional writing. Married to Mary, multi-published inspirational romance author, they have three children and five grandchildren. Ray shares his insights in his first two books on Marriage and Children with more ideas to come about ministry and much more. Living in Beauty Point Tasmania Ray heads up a new Christian Fellowship as well as doing relief preaching, community work and writing.

My Review

The Warrior Lord’s Sword is a thirty-day Bible personal study which could also be used in a group setting. Each day begins with a Sword Thrust, a Bible verse to set the theme. It then discusses the point, and closes with a Sword Drill, a memory verse.

As you might guess from the title, the central theme of the study is the importance of the Bible, the inspired Word of God—both logos and rhema, written and spoken. He looks at different types of swords and their uses, both physical and allegorical.

I will admit that I haven’t yet finished this study (logic says it takes thirty days to complete a thirty-day study, and I just didn’t get it started in time). I’ve read some of Ray Hawkins’ other Bible study books and recommend them for their sensible use and application of scripture, and for Ray’s personal insights based on years as a Christian minister.

The Warrior Lord’s Sword is more of the same: sensible and intelligent teaching from a man worth listening to, with plenty of quotable thoughts to ponder (like the one above). Recommended.

You can read the introduction below:

7 July 2016

I'm Reviewing Claiming Noah at Australasian Christian Writers

I'm visiting Australasian Christian Writers today, to review Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp. Click here to visit!

You can read the introduction to Claiming Noah below:

4 July 2016

Clash Champ--Her One and Only by Becky Wade

Congratulations to Becky Wade 
and her novel
Her One and Only
for taking home this month's Clash crown!


About the book:
After ten years in the NFL, super star Gray Fowler is accustomed to obsessive fans. But when Gray starts receiving death threats from a stalker, his team hires an executive protection agency to guard him until the culprit is caught. Dealing with bodyguards 24/7 is a headache, especially when one of them is a young, beautiful woman. How can a female half his size possibly protect him better than he can protect himself?

Dru Porter is a former Marine, an expert markswoman, and a black belt–none of which saved her from disaster on her last assignment. In order to rebuild her tarnished reputation, she’s determined to find Gray’s stalker and, since relationships between agents and clients are forbidden, avoid a romantic attachment between herself and the rugged football player with the mysterious past.

Yet every secret that leads Dru closer to the stalker also draws her closer to Gray. As the danger escalates, they’ll survive only if they can learn to trust their lives — and their hearts — to one another.

Becky also has a FREE book sale going on RIGHT NOW!
Undeniably Yours

What Becky's voters had to say:
~I have read and loved Becky Wade's books for awhile now! She is talented and brilliant. I love having the option to read romantic fiction that is Christian based and clean for the soul. It's wonderful! Thank you!!

~I wouldn't even need a beach to want to read your book, Becky Wade!

~LOVE Becky Wade!! Loved the conclusion to the Porter Family Series!! Perfect book poolside or other Summer destination or really any place any time!! :)

~Even though I have only read one of the books on this list (I look forward to checking some more of these out) i want to thank all the authors for doing what they do. I believe God uses you to help others. I love reading because it can just help me escape sometimes and than start fresh and go forward. Also encouraging our relationship with God through seeing your characters growing in faith. Thank you for writing even when it toughs because it makes a difference and matters to people like me!!!

~I just received a whole set of Becky Wade's books and can't wait to read them

~Becky Wade, I love your books. Keep up the great work

~I have loved all of Becky Wade's books! I am never disappointed with any of her books - I look forward to each next one. They are always on my to purchase list as soon as they come out - one of my new favorite authors! :)

1 July 2016

Friday Fifteen: Elise M Stone

Today I'd like to welcome authors Elise M Stone to Iola's Christian Reads. Elise has recently released True Blue Murders, the first mystery in the African Violet Club Mysteries, and is here today to share her own favourite authors. Welcome, Elise!

Agatha Christie

For defining the classic cozy mystery and amateur sleuth Miss Marple.

2. Robert B. Parker 

For Spenser and his amazing way of conveying pictures with an economy of words.

3. Dennis Lehane 

For his Kenzie and Gennaro mysteries that illustrated the fact good guys aren’t all good and bad guys aren’t all bad.

4. Julia Spencer Fleming 

For her unconventional realistic Christian mysteries.

5. Nevada Barr 

For her incredible descriptions of our national parks.

6. Stephen Pressfield 

For The War of Art.

7. M.C. Beaton 

For the prickly yet delightful Agatha Raisin.

8. Robert A. Heinlein 

For my teenaged dreams of space travel.

9. Isaac Asimov

“The good doctor”, who taught me much science through his stories.

10. Craig Johnson 

For Longmire.

11. Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Not only for her fiction, but for her weekly business blogs for writers.

12. Jody Hedlund 

For “Luther and Katherina.”

13. Andy Weir

For showing how an indie tour de force could become a major motion picture.

14. Donald Bain (writing with "Jessica Fletcher") 

For the wonderful Murder, She Wrote books.

15. Ellery Queen 

For his (their?) famous 'play fair with the reader' mysteries.

About True Blue Murder

Lilliana Wentworth expects the First Annual African Violet Club Show and Sale at the Rainbow Ranch Retirement Community to be thrilling. The former librarian has developed her first hybrid, a plant with unusual deep blue flowers, and hopes to win a first place ribbon. Maybe even best in show. But her excitement turns to dread when the aggravating Bette Tesselink, her fiercest rival, turns up dead, and she becomes the logical suspect.

There’s never been a murder in the village of Rainbow Ranch, and it soon becomes apparent that the young Chief of Police is in over his head. Under pressure from the mayor, Lilliana is afraid he’ll arrest her in order to close the case. Her only option is to begin her own investigation and find the murderer before she winds up in jail.

The first in a new cozy mystery series sure to engage you with its fascinating characters and twisty plot.

About Elise

Elise M. Stone was born and raised in New York, went to college in Michigan, lived in the Boston area for eight years, and most recently moved to sunny Tucson, Arizona, where she doesn't have to shovel snow. Retired now, she spends her days doing her two favorite things: reading and writing. Agatha and Spenser, her two cats, keep her company while watching birds and lizards outside her office window. True Blue Murder is the first in a cozy mystery series that could be classified as geezer lit, but which she prefers to think of as fiction with mature characters.


Social media:

Twitter: @EliseMStone
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EliseMStone/