27 January 2017

Friday Fifteen and Giveaway: Janet Bly

It's time for another Friday Fifteen! Today I'd like to welcome Janet Chester Bly, Janet is the widow of author Stephen Bly, and she's here today to introduce her new novel, Dawn ... and to tell us about her fifteen favourite authors. Welcome, Janet!

Fifteen Authors Who Influenced my Life and Writing by Janet Chester Bly

1. George MacDonald

Historical 19th century Scottish romances, edited and made available for contemporary readers by Michael Phillips

This was my introduction to Christian fiction. Great stories.

2. Louisa May Alcott

Little Women and character Jo’s writing journey and advice given, “Write what you know.”

3. Eugenia Price

Strangers in Savannah, a Civil War epic, longest novel I ever read that kept my interest throughout until Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

4. Frank Peretti 

This Present Darkness, 1989 groundbreaking early Christian fiction bestseller that brought hope of dusting off and re-writing manuscripts hidden in drawers for lack of publisher interest

5. Edgar Lee Masters 

Spoon River Anthology, fascinating story style through a collection of post-mortem autobiographical epitaphs of former citizens of the fictional Spoon River town.

6. Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God, introduced to me in a black heritage college literature class

7. Catherine Marshall

Nonfiction, inspirational, and fiction works including Christy and Beyond Ourselves – the story of her writing journey as a widow inspired me early on.

Christy and Julie are two of my favourite Christian novels.

8. Anne Perry

English historical detective fiction, best known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk series

(She used to live in New Zealand, where she's better known for inspiring Heavenly Creatures, one of Peter Jackson's early movies)

9. Mary Higgins Clark

Her use of three names, including maiden name, and her suspense novels

10. Sue Grafton

The clever development of her A-Z titled series

11. Brandilyn Collins

Author of memorable, contemporary fiction standalones and well developed, unpredictable Seatbelt Suspense® novels

Aren't they great?

12. Randy Alcorn

Intriguing novels with concurrent scenes in heaven

13. Karen Kingsbury

Fast writer of family and relational stories with emotional impact

14. Kristin Heitzmann

Excellent contemporary romantic suspense

15. Stephen Bly

My late husband, award-winning western author who was my partner in writing and editing, research and publishing.

Introducing Down Squash Blossom Road

Cowgirl Reba Cahill’s schedule is full. Save the family ranch. Free her mom from a mental institute. Solve a murder and kidnapping. Evade a stalker. Can she also squeeze in romance?

Reba Cahill focused on the duties of the ranch, along with her widowed grandmother. But a crippled Champ Runcie returns to Road’s End in a wheelchair and seeks revenge for the accident that put him there. He blames Reba's horse. Meanwhile, a letter from her estranged mom forces her and Grandma Pearl back on the road: I can leave now. Come get me. Love, Mom

When they arrive in Reno, her mother issues a demand and refuses to return to Idaho. They head west instead. In California, Reba’s friend Ginny’s marriage is on the rocks. The family business is threatened. And squabbles turn deadly.

Reba digs deep to find the courage to forge a relationship with her mom and escape a crazed man’s obsession. She also hopes for a future with a horse trainer who offers her a new horse to replace the one she lost in the accident. But why does he have a photo of a pretty woman on his wall? 

Leave a comment to be entered in drawing to receive copy of Down Squash Blossom Road, Book 2, Trails of Reba Cahill, Janet Chester Bly’s newest release.

Giveaway ends midnight Central Time on 3 February. Winner will be contacted on 6 February.

About Janet Bly

Janet Chester Bly is the widow of Christy Award winning western author Stephen Bly. Together—his, hers, theirs--they published 120 fiction and nonfiction books for adults and kids. Janet and their three sons finished Stephen’s last novel, Stuart Brannon’s Final Shot, a Selah Award Finalist. Down Squash Blossom Road is Book 2 in the Reba Cahill contemporary western mystery series. Book 1 is Wind in the Wires. Find out more at www.BlyBooks.com

Connect with Janet Chester Bly on these Social Media links:

'Like' Bly Books on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BlyBooks
Bly Books Blog: http://www.blybooks.com/blog/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janetchesterbly
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/janetcbly/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/269265.Janet_Chester_Bly
Twitter: https://twitter.com/blybooks/
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/janetchesterbly
Google+: http://bit.ly/2iXYwaQ
Check out other favorite authors at On the Western Trail blog: www.blybooks.blogspot.com

26 January 2017

Review: Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Warning: Triggers

If you’re looking for a light-hearted fun romance, Maybe It’s You isn’t the book you’re looking for (but I’d recommend Kara Isaac or Jen Turano). While there is no on-the-page sex or violence, the main character is an ER nurse with a history of hanging out with the wrong people, and a habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You have been warned.

But if you’re on the lookout for a true-to-life medical drama with a side of Christian hope and forgiveness, then Maybe It’s You could be the book you’re looking for. It's the third book in the Crisis Team series, but you don't have to have read the earlier books in the series to enjoy this.

Sloane Wilder has changed her name, address and job to escape her past … but now it seems to be catching up with her. She's working as an ER nurse in LA and trying to stay under the radar, but that's difficult when a nosy reporter sees her rescue a teenage girl, and when the hospital's marketing manager wants to put her face on a billboard as the 'face' of Hope Hospital.

That's what's happening on the surface. Underneath, we come to know Sloane as a damaged person—an alcoholic, and a victim of abuse—who is trying to overcome her past. I think this is the strongest part of the novel, as she gradually learns to believe in God, and believe that He can love even someone like her.

The romance and suspense parts of the plot were also well done. There was an excellent twist at the end (excellent meaning I didn’t see it coming, but it fits in hindsight), and I appreciate that. Overall, an excellent medical thriller with unexpected spiritual depth.

Thanks to Tyndale House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Candace Calvert at her website.

24 January 2017

Review: A Harvest of Thorns by Corban Addison

It's hard to know how to rate this book. I selected it from NetGalley for review because it was a new-to-me author (and a male!), in a genre I enjoy (legal thriller), and from Thomas Nelson (an imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, which is important to me when I'm choosing books to review. Hey, my blog is called Iola's Christian Reads. The clue is in the title. I want to read and review Christian fiction).

As far as I can tell, this is Corban Addison's first book with Thomas Nelson. 

His previous highly acclaimed books were from a general market publisher. As this should have been, because A Harvest of Thorns is a general market legal thriller, not Christian fiction.

It has swearing and a rape scene and while a couple of characters go to church a couple of times, it's clearly because that's what people 'do'. The only people of faith were Muslim--and I have no objection to reading fiction about Muslims if that's what I'm looking to read. But in this case, it wasn't (see point above about the name of my blog!).

Okay, that's enough ranting about the genre. What about the book?

Some of the writing was outstanding, like the opening line:
The sparks danced like fireflies in the semi-dark of the storeroom. 
Some of the writing was below average, like the awkward dialogue tags. Some was overly intellectual. I have a pretty large vocabulary, but found myself stopping to look words up at least half a dozen times while reading (hurray for the Kindle dictionary!). I also found the structure awkward, as it flip-flopped back and forward in time, and was written in several Parts, each of which started at Chapter One.

Now to the actual plot and theme of the novel. 

Cameron Alexander is head legal counsel for Presto, a multi-billion-dollar retail chain, and the centre of a scandal involving a factory fire in Bangladesh. Cameron is responsible for putting out the resulting PR fire, and for improving internal compliance so Presto’s reputation isn’t compromised again. Almost two years later, Joshua Griswold is the journalist challenged with finding the truth behind the fire and Presto’s real involvement, and bringing it to the world’s attention through a legal case.

There were a lot of excellent things about A Harvest of Thorns. 

The author obviously has an extensive understanding of the law, business, global supply chains, and how easily things can go wrong (which makes me wonder how many other companies have such irregularities in their supply chains). It also reinforces that people do what you pay them to do, even if you tell them otherwise.

The underlying theme of A Harvest of Thorns is social justice: can we in the First World truly justify our never-ending consumption of cheap imported goods, made by sweatshop workers and slaves? And if we do have a problem (and as Christians, we should), what do we do? From this point of view, it’s certainly a novel that Christians should be reading.

Overall, I think this is a 4-star book. 

The writing ranged from average to outstanding. The plot, characters and overall theme were solid to excellent. But it wasn’t Christian fiction … which is what I expect from Thomas Nelson, an imprint of HarperCollins Christian Publishing.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

19 January 2017

Review: Authentic Living by Richard Exley

Authentic Living: 365 Devotions for Deliberate Faith. 

I liked the sound of the title. I liked the description. Unfortunately, the content didn’t match up.

The Amazon description says:

To live an authentic, fulfilled life we need to both understand and practice the core beliefs of the Christian faith. Being intentional about pursuing Christ is often challenging in our confusing, messy world, but like the biblical character Daniel who did not compromise his values, we must take small, deliberate steps to grow in spiritual integrity. The short, inspirational devotions in Authentic Living illustrate how we can be more deliberate in our faith each and every day through small actions like asking forgiveness, offering guidance, praying specifically, and more. With these simple yet profound readings, we can realize a more fulfilling life and faith one thought, one action, one day at a time.

Well, the devotions are certainly short. And simple. Profound? Not so much. At least, not for anyone who has read the Bible and has anything more than a basic understanding of the core beliefs of Christianity. And I certainly didn’t see it illustrating how to be more intentional or deliberate or authentic in my faith … which was what I was interested in.

I haven’t read the whole book, and I’m unlikely to. I can’t tell you how far I’ve got, because all the days run together in my review copy, with no dates or even ‘Day 1’, ‘Day 2’ etc. to separate them (which got a little confusing at times, as he often speaks on the same theme for several consecutive days. And that got a little repetitive).

It’s not bad. It’s all good, solid stuff. It’s biblical. It’s preaching God, not man. It’s just not what I was looking for.

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

17 January 2017

Review: Counterpoint by Marji Lane

New Romantic Suspense Series

Amazon Description

Someone is determined to finish a murdered hit man's final assignment.

Her father's gone. Her diner's closing. Her car's in the lake. Cat McPherson has nothing left to lose. Except her life. And a madman's bent on taking that away.

Her former boyfriend, Ray Alexander, returns as a hero from his foreign mission, bringing back souvenirs in the form of death-threats. When several attempts are made on Cat’s life, she must find a way to trust Ray, the man who broke her heart.

Keeping Cat safe from a fallen cartel leader might prove impossible for Ray, but after seeing his mission destroyed and several godly people killed, he knows better than to ignore the man’s threats. Cat’s resistance to his protection and the stirring of his long-denied feelings for her complicate his intentions, placing them both in a fight for their lives.

Can she survive when ultimate power wants her dead?

My Review

I didn't enjoy this as much as I enjoyed Marji Lane’s previous Grime Beat series. The writing and editing might be better in Counterpoint, but the characters didn’t have the same enjoyable quirkiness as those in Grime Beat (hey, I think there is something intrinsically interesting about someone who makes a living cleaning up crime scenes). And it probably didn’t help that I guessed the identity of the evildoer too early, so spent half the book wondering when Cat and Ray would catch on (frustrating!)

The other frustrating thing was it was obvious Cat and Ray should be together, but Ray has male issues i.e. don’t sit down and have a sensible conversation about why you left your high school sweetheart without telling her. Just be the strong, silent type and tell yourself it’s never going to happen. Of course it’s never going to happen if you don’t do anything! Men. No matter whether it’s fiction or real life, they’re always last on board with the idea of talking about problems. On the other hand, it’s that frustration which kept me turning the pages. Will they or won’t they? Is this suspense, or am I going to get the romance hit I’m looking for?

However, there was plenty of suspense and that kept me turning the pages. There was the obvious—was someone trying to kill Cat (yes), and who? Then there was the question about the diner, and the ministry it supported—would Cat get to keep the diner? How would she keep feeding the homeless?

Then there were Cat’s own feelings of inadequacy, which were a classic lesson in how other people always see us differently to how we see ourselves. Cat worried that she wasn’t the minister her father was, that she wasn’t doing a good enough job in sharing the gospel of Jesus. Yet it was obvious to me, the reader, she was doing more than most of us, and she was using her gifts to the best of her ability. That’s all God asks of any of us.

Overall, a solid thriller with excellent characters, lots of action, and a strong underlying Christian message.

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

16 January 2017

Behind the Scenes of Shoba Sadler's CHILD OF DUST


Today we'll sit down to chat with Shoba Sadler, author of the contemporary title Child of Dust. Shoba will take us behind the scenes of her unique new novel and give us a glimpse into her writing.

Shoba, why did you choose to write this type of novel?

Social status and cultural barriers makes for great conflict. Child of Dust is like a modern-day classic of Romeo and Juliet only instead of opposing families, these lovers, Kim and Bryan have cultural and social barriers to contend with.

Kim, the rich and spoilt socialite who loses her money is taken under the wing of her reluctant chauffeur, Bryan, who has his own struggles to deal with. They find love under the most unexpected circumstances.

Can you tell us why you started with an Asian setting for your first two novels?

I was founder of Agape Christian magazine in Malaysia. I also freelanced for the leading English, secular newspaper in Malaysia, The Star. My feature stories forThe Star were several page write-ups with gorgeous photos. Many of my stories were selected by the features editor to be cover stories as well.

As I interviewed people all over the world for Agape, I saw God moving powerfully in Asia and yet there were so few stories coming from there especially in the Christian romance genre.

In Asia, Christianity is seen very much as a Western culture. Yet so many Asians have had powerful encounters with Jesus Christ. Then there is the struggle to validate their faith in the midst of culture, tradition, loss of identity, social stigma and so on.

There alone you have so much material for backdrop, tension, drama, conflict and final resolution.

An example of what I mean can be seen in my short story Finding Enlightenmentthat was awarded second place at faithwriters.com. It can be read here:http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level3-previous.php?id=54362

Talk a little about your unique setting.
When I read novels I am drawn to the backdrop and setting. A great description of the setting subtly woven into the story is what makes the difference between being a narrator who takes a person on a journey through his "telling" and a facilitator who steps out of the way altogether to allow the reader to explore the journey on his own. The writer should aim to be the facilitator and not the narrator.

There is nothing like a great setting to make the reader feel like they are there with the characters. It is like the difference between watching a 2D and 3D movie.

Unfortunately, many formulaic romance novels that are churned out in quick production-line succession fails to capture this allure of setting because it takes research and time. It is also not easy to write setting discreetly in the background and that is the only way to write it. Otherwise it will seem like reading lecture notes instead of a story.

I read one review of a multi-cultural romance set in an Asian country where the reviewer said she felt like she was reading a tour company's brochure and that is the wrong emotion to invoke.

So another reason I wrote Child of Dust was to give romance readers a chance to explore unique settings and backdrops not normally experienced by a reader in the current trend of romance novels available out there.

We'd love to hear a little about the historical background for your novel. Will you talk about that?

The main character, Bryan, Kim's chauffeur has been deeply affected by the Vietnam war in the sense that he is the illegitimate child of an American GI and a Vietnamese woman. This historical background sets a different dimension to the story and adds intrigue and authenticity.

Who would you say is the audience for this novel?

Child of Dust is an appealing read for anyone. As I have also written for the secular press, I am able to write in a manner that appeals to all walks of life both Christian and non-Christian. I have had non-Christians tell me they were so engrossed in the story that they didn't not notice the message of the gospel woven into the story. Yet that message is undoubtedly there.

I am an inspirational writer and everyone loves a good inspirational story just as they love watching a Hallmark movie.

What readers have to say about the novel:
"Make sure when getting ready to read Child of Dust that you don't have anything else planned for the day, you won't be able to put this book down. I could go on and on about this book. Highly and strongly recommend it. Is it possible to give a book 10 stars?" 
--- Deborah Dunson, reviewer at The Edgier Christian Fiction Fan

"I found the writing of this story to be close to excellent.... I found this book to be one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time. It was interesting, the story kept moving along, and I learned a lot as I read this story. I found myself intrigued with the constant difficulties faced by the protagonists – and their stories were presented so much more like real life stories than any other book I have read in a long, long time." 
--- Marina, Community Writer, California

"This novel has a consistent rhythm, adding surprise after surprise, twisting our emotions at each new difficulty Kim faces. I couldn't put this book down, waiting to see if any or all the ends would be tired up. I would actually like to see the novel transcend into a movie. An amazing read." 
--- Brices Mice Christian Book Reviews

About Child of Dust: 

Beautiful but spoilt Vietnamese socialite, Cao Kim Lye, learns of her parents shocking death from the dashing Amerasian family chauffeur, Bryan Nguyen.

Kim steps out of a world of crystal and chandelier to enter the dust and chaos of working-class Hanoi. She finds herself living under the roof of a shop cum living quarters with Bryan and his adoptive family.

Ever conscious of the privileged class, Kim struggles against the emotional ties she forms towards Bryan, the reluctant saviour, who considers her an unnecessary hitch to his already complicated life.

He still bears the scars of abandonment by his mother and his American GI father when U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam.

Eventually Bryan and Kim's powerful attraction to each other begins to break down the wall between them.

About the author: 

Shoba Sadler has been a journalist for 20 years and founder of Agape magazine in Malaysia. She is a versatile inspirational author that likes to write in multiple genres. She has pioneered a new genre in Christian multi-cultural writing with her novel Child of Dust and her many award-winning short stories can be read here http://shobasadler.com/?page_id=250

Her passion for writing is matched only by her passion for cooking with farm fresh produce. She lives a healthy lifestyle on a farm with her husband, Kevin, a talented musician, who also loves to surf and ski. They grow their own vegetables and fruits and share their home with a multitude of animals and wildlife. They are passionate about buying directly from local farmers who practice organic farming.

12 January 2017

Review: An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

A Must for Christian Regency Romance Fans!

Lord Trent Hawthorne has just got married … a forced marriage of honour to Lady Abigail Bell, daughter of one of the most irritating women he knows. Being forced into marriage to salvage Abigail’s reputation isn’t how he’d planned on marrying, but it’s a done deed and he has to make the best of it. But he has no idea how to be a husband.

And Abigail has no idea how to be a wife. All she knows is that she doesn’t want to be the kind of wife (or mother) her mother is. After an awkward first week of marriage, Trent decides they need to get to know each other before they can have a real marriage, so he decides he needs to court his wife. An uncommon courtship, to be sure.

An Uncommon Courtship has two awkward characters in an awkward situation, and Hunter tells their story with skill and wit. An Uncommon Courtship is Christian Regency Romance. It follows all the Regency Romance normal conventions, except that both Trent and Abigail are Christians, which gives the plot added depth.

Trent is a true gentleman. He’s been forced into this marriage, but is determined to get to know Abigail and turn it into a real marriage. He makes a lot of mistakes, but he’s always willing to fix them (once he actually realises he’s made a mistake. He is a male, so that sometimes takes a while).

Abigail also makes her share of mistakes, although she isn’t as good at fixing them. Not because she doesn’t want to, but more because she’s spent her life being dominated by her mother and doesn’t actually know how to deal with Trent—who is the complete opposite of her unprincipled mother. Mother is a piece of work, and it’s good to see both Abigail and Trent learn how to deal with her.

This is Kristi Ann Hunter’s fourth book in this series, and it’s as good as the previous stories (and has the advantage of being able to be read as a standalone novel—Trent and Abigail dominate the first part of the novel, while the characters from the earlier stories are reintroduced in the second half).

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kristi Ann Hunter at her website

10 January 2017

I'm Reviewing Buried Memories by Carol J Post at Suspense Sisters Reviews

I'm over at Suspense Sisters Reviews today, reviewing Buried Memories by Carol J Post.

Click here to read my review. Here's the Amazon book description:


After her broken engagement, Nicki Jackson hoped her move to Cedar Key would give her a fresh start—instead she quickly learns someone's out to destroy her. Are the attacks tied to her mother's recently reopened murder case…or to the nightmares Nicki's beginning to suspect are actually hidden memories? With the threats against her escalating, former soldier Tyler Brant vows to keep Nicki safe. He refuses to lose the woman who's swiftly becoming more than a childhood crush. But when danger circles closer, is Nicki's traumatic past better left forgotten…or are her memories the key to something far more sinister?

5 January 2017

Review: A Hope Unseen by Nerys Leigh


The first book in this series, No One’s Bride, was one of the best books I read in 2016, so author Nerys Leigh had a keen volunteer when she was looking for reviewers for A Hope Unseen, the second novel in her Escape to the West series … but she’d also given herself a hard act to follow.

But she managed it.

Sara Worthing wants a marriage where she is loved for herself, not for her dowry. She becomes engaged to Daniel Raine, a man she has met only through his letters but who she is confident doesn’t want her for her money. When she meets she is pleased to find he’s as attractive in person as he was in his letters. And he seems just as attracted to her.

But, at the risk of using a cliché, the course of true love never did run smooth and it’s practically a rule of romance novels that trouble must come. As it does. And while I’m not going to spoil the story by telling you what happens, I will say it was great to see both characters turn to and rely on God in their difficulties.

Despite the romance, I think my favourite character was Will, Daniel’s brother who lives on the farm with Daniel and Sara. He is a loveable reprobate who provides a lot of the comic relief in the drama with lines like this:

I do hope Will gets his own happy-ever-after at some point in the series …

The unusual thing about this series is that the books aren’t sequential – A Hope Unseen takes place on the exact same timeline as No One’s Bride. This does provide a few moments of confusion when it references No One’s Bride—while I thought it was excellent, I don’t remember every plot detail and I’ve read dozens of books since then. On the plus side, this concurrent setting means it doesn’t matter what order you read the books in.

Recommended for fans of Christian Western romances, especially mail order bride stories.

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

3 January 2017

Review: Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson

Calling Anne Fans ...

I know there are a lot of Anne of Green Gables fans out there. Well, this book is nothing like Anne, but it is set on Prince Edward Island … so if you like Christian romance and you love Anne, you’ll want to read this.

Now, a proper review for the rest of us, those of us who read and enjoyed Anne but acknowledge there are other books.

Where Two Hearts Meet is the second book in Liz Johnson’s Prince Edward Island Dreams series, following The Red Door Inn. No, you don’t have to read The Red Door Inn first—I hadn’t, and I don’t feel I missed anything. Yes, I have bought it to read now.

The novel is set in The Red Door Inn, and centres around Caden, the chef with an inferiority complex, and Adam, a long-term guest at the inn who is suffering from guilt. He invades her kitchen while hunting for coffee, she lets him because she and her boss think he’s a journalist from a big magazine who could break—or make—the inn. So we have two flawed individuals thrown into close proximity, neither of whom is prepared to share themselves with the other.

Caden is, in many ways, a difficult character to like. She’s one of the main viewpoint characters, and she comes across as a competent enough cook, but doesn’t come across as a particularly engaging character. I was about halfway through the novel before I realised this is because she doesn’t value herself, doesn’t see anything in herself to value. She sees herself as a frightened failure.

But that’s not how Adam sees her, and that’s where the novel goes from solid to excellent: as we begin to see Caden through Adam’s eyes, and as Adam begins to thaw and become the person he’s meant to be … through Caden’s influence, and the influence of others. Anyway, the story improved a lot once I made this connection.

Overall, Where Two Hearts Meet is a lovely story of discovery and redemption with a hint of mystery, and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in the series.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.