30 March 2017

Book Review: The Memory of You by Catherine West

Thought-Provoking Christian Fiction

Natalie lost her twin sister in an accident when they were thirteen, and she’s been suffering the after-effects for the fifteen years since. Now she’s forced to return to the scene of the accident, her grandfather’s vineyard in California, where she reconnects with family and old friends.

And Natalie is disconnected. We see this early on—she's recently broken her engagement, she appears to have only one friend, and her relationship with her parents is distant, her relationship with her grandfather non-existent from having not seen him in fifteen years.
Natalie never knew what her mother was thinking, never knew how she felt. And couldn't imagine what it must be to live a life marked in half-finished sentences.
Her father would always find a flaw. Even her best was never good enough.

It’s rare to read a Christian novel about mental illness.

There are quite a few about returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. It’s even rarer to read a Christian novel where the heroine’s mental illness is treated with drugs. It’s as though taking drugs to treat a mental illness is seen as a sign of weakness, even though most of us happily pop pills for a headache, or get the flu jab every year. And don’t tell me physical pain is somehow different.

That painkiller isn’t stopping your body from hurting. It’s stopping your brain from telling you your body is hurting.

The Memory of You reunites two teenage almost-sweethearts fifteen years later. It's got the issues-driven emotional punch of other Catherine West titles I've read, but more of a focus on the developing relationship (aka romance) between Natalie and Tanner. It's a story of unearthing secrets, acknowledging truth, and finding reconciliation for both Natalie and Tanner.

It's a fascinating lesson in how wrong our assumptions can be—and how that can mess with our relationships, with God and with family and friends. 

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

28 March 2017

Review: Lost and Found by Kendra Fletcher

A Fascinating and Disturbing Read

Fletcher pin2Lost and Found provided a fascinating insight into one woman’s disturbing experiences within the US purity culture and homeschool movement. It shows how Jesus can be lost in a church bubble where doing things “right” is the most important thing, where grace was forgotten in the quest for performance. As she says:

It’s easier to follow a checklist and check off all the correct boxes than to listen to the gentle, faithful leading of the Holy Spirit.

But something was missing for me. The book description promised to show me *how* God used these events. I couldn’t see the how. I saw the what—the almost unbelievable (and ungodly) control present in her previous church, and the three health crises.

I saw the result, but I don’t see how she got from A to B. How did God speak to her? What caused her to change her view? How can others in similar situations use her experiences to get closer to God, to understand our freedom in Christ? We can’t imitate her journey—no one in their right minds is going to recommend running over a five-year-old as a way to get right with God.

Despite these gaps, Lost and Found was a fascinating read, and shared a message many Christians need to hear. I don’t live in the US, and Lost and Found highlighted theological superiority issues within the US church that may well have always been there, but which the omnipresence of social media now highlight for us all to see.

It seems to me that a lot of these views and actions are the opposite of a good Christian witness—as Kendra Fletcher illustrates so well. This book should be read as a challenge to the US church to focus on obedience to Jesus rather than on internal differences over theological trivialities.

Thanks to New Growth Press, Litfuse Publicity and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. Which is ironic: I reviewed an electronic copy, but there doesn't appear to be an ebook version on sale.

27 March 2017

Clash of the Titles: Four New Spring Reads

Clash of the Titles presents four new springtime reads! 
Peruse the images, read the blurbs, 
then vote on your favorite in the survey. 
I know which one is my favorite.
Enjoy, dear readers!


He's a nature photographer returning to make amends, and she's a camera-shy naturalist seeking privacy. Their love for a boy brings them together, but the camera could drive them apart.
~ ~ ~

Lifestyle magazine editor Heather McAlister was in the wrong place at the wrong time, witnessing a crime that shakes the roots of the town’s power brokers and sends her life into a tailspin. Previously burned by love, Detective Kyle Taylor has spent his entire adult life protecting his hometown, but now he’s protecting a woman he’ll risk everything to save.
~ ~ ~

She’s ready to fly free of a life-long cocoon; he’s looking for anything but Raine. Can Paradise Pines find a miracle for two unwilling hearts?

~ ~ ~

When a homeless man rescues Glorilyn Neilson from violent assault, he's not the man he seems. What powerful secret keeps him on the streets?

If you have trouble viewing the entire survey Click Here to load a dedicated page to the survey. 

23 March 2017

Review: Season of Miracles by Alexa Verde

Faith, but No Murder

Lana Smith is a visiting nurse in Rios Azules, Texas, having escaped from a rough upbringing being moved from home to home as a foster child, then from the shallow Los Angeles party scene. Arturo De La Vega is a star running back with the Houston Storm, home temporarily to visit his sick grandfather … and where he meets Lana.

Most of Alexa Verde's novels are romantic suspense, as promised by her tagline: Faith, Hope and Murder.

I’ve read and enjoyed some of her romantic suspense novels, but I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this nearly so much. The writing was fine, but the plot didn’t seem as developed as in her other novels. There was little external conflict, and the internal conflict was too understated—by the time I realised Lana’s real problem, she’d solved it. And, strangely, I didn’t find the romance as convincing as in her earlier novels. I never got the impression either character really "saw" the potential in the other.

Write What You Know

I also wasn’t convinced by Arturo—and this might come down to the fact that Verde admits she knew little about football before writing Season of Miracles. It shows. While there is no on-field action to highlight her lack of knowledge, I did question Arturo’s constant visits to Rios Azules, a five-hour-drive from his Houston home. It might have made sense if he was injured, but he was playing each weekend—so how did he come to have so much free time? Didn’t he have training sessions to attend each day?

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Alexa Verde at her website, and you can read the introduction to Season of Miracles below.

21 March 2017

Review: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden

Not Her Best

I’ve read most of Elizabeth Camden’s novels, and haven’t had a bad one yet. She avoids the more common time and place settings for historical fiction/historical romance, and her novels often feature women in unusual settings and occupations. To the Farthest Shores is similar, set in turn-of-the-century San Francisco, and featuring a civilian nurse in an Army hospital as the main characters.

But the beginning of To the Farthest Shores was shaky in comparison with Camden’s earlier novels, and I found it took a long time to settle. The story starts with Jenny Bennett and Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher professing their undying love as Ryan is about to be sent to fight in the Philippines in 1898. But he doesn’t come back … and when he does—six years later—he has a daughter in tow. And he’s pretending not to know Jenny. And lying to her. We soon find out what happened in the intervening years (through a big pile of backstory), but Jenny doesn’t find out until much later in the book.

There were a lot of secrets, and that annoyed me because it disobeyed one of my felt’ rules of fiction—that we can trust our point of view characters, that they have no secrets from the reader. I love the tension that comes from a novel where the reader knows something one of the main characters doesn’t know, and we’re then waiting with baited breath for the character to find out. When will they find out? How will they react? So much room for tension … that’s removed if the reader doesn’t know what the secret is (in Jenny’s case) or even that there is a secret (in Ryan’s case).

The story included references to early military intelligence, the search for the ability to culture pearls, and even a reference to the still-present conversation around equal pay. The research seemed solid, and never overpowered the story. The one glitch I did find was mercurochrome—something I’d never heard of, so looked up. The Kindle dictionary told me was a trademark for a disinfectant, dating from the early 20th century. In fact, it was first discovered in 1918, which means Ryan was unlikely to be using it in 1904. He was clever, but not that clever.

Overall, the story showed promise and ended well, but I found Jenny and Ryan’s secrets—and the fact they both hid them—took away a lot of the tension and therefore took away a lot of the power of the story. The story lacked in any Christian content, a trend I’m not altogether happy with, and not what I expect from a major Christian publisher like Bethany House.

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

14 March 2017

Review: The Second Bride by Katharine Swartz

An Intriguing Premise ...

The Second Bride is an intriguing dual-timeline story set in the wild north of England. The present-day plot centres around Ellen, a freelance proofreader married to Alex. It’s the second marriage for both of them—they each have a teenage girl from their respective first marriages, and they also have ten-year-old Sophie.

It’s a peaceful life, until Alex’s ex calls with the news that she’s leaving the country for a year and their sixteen-year-old daughter will have to come and live with them. This well and truly messes up the family dynamics as Ellen finds herself cast in the unwanted role of the wicked stepmother, and resenting the fact Alex leaves the parenting of Annabelle up to her. Ellen finds an old death certificate hidden in the boards of the spare bedroom … and that’s the link to the past storyline.

The death certificate is for Sarah Mills, who died in 1872 at the age of twenty-two, of ‘General Debility’. That provides instant conflict and suspense for the past story, which starts in 1868 as eighteen-year-old Sarah Telford and her ten-year-old sister are leaving their home town of Goswell for Kendal, to live with their aunt, their only surviving relative. Sarah’s story is revealed in the past as Ellen searches for it in the present, at the same time as trying to hold her family together.

I have to say that I found Sarah’s story a lot more engaging. Ellen’s problems were real, to be sure, and—like Sarah—she didn’t necessarily have a lot of control over what happened to her. That frustrated me as I like to see characters triumph over their circumstances, and that never quite happened for Ellen.

It didn’t happen for Sarah, either, but we knew from the first page that she was going to die young, so her story was tinged with that sadness. Also, Sarah’s misfortune wasn’t the result of her own bad choices—it was more the result of bad luck and circumstances she couldn’t see any other way out of. And that engaged me more than Ellen, especially when I compared Sarah’s self-sacrificing attitude with Ellen’s simmering resentment of Annabelle and her effect on their once-happy family.

So the present story was good, but the past story was better. The writing was solid but not spectacular, but there was plenty of conflict and it certainly kept me reading. The Second Bride is part of the Tales from Goswell series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel. I didn’t even realise it was part of a series at first, and don’t feel I missed anything.

Recommended for those who like British fiction.

Thanks to Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can click here to find out more about Katharine Swartz, and you can read the introduction to The Second Bride below:

10 March 2017

Friday Fifteen: Elizabeth Musser

Today I'd like to welcome Elizabeth Musser to Iola's Christian Reads. Elizabeth is an American missionary living near Lyon, France, and has just released her latest novel. The Long Highway Home

Welcome, Elizabeth!

1. Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess and The Secret Garden captured my heart as a child. Loved, loved, loved Sara Crewe and when I read her riches to rags to riches tale, I longed to write a story like that.

2. Walter Farley and 3. Marguerite Henry

I grew up around horses and when I wasn’t riding one or cleaning out a stall or tossing hay to my ponies, I was curled up with Farley’s Black Stallion series or Henry’s Born to Trot, Misty of Chincoteague and the sequels. I started writing horse stories because of these authors, and I would also illustrate them (inspired by the wonderful drawings by Wesley Dennis in Henry’s books.) Despite my obvious skill, ahem, I have never been asked to include my illustrations in my novels!

4. Carolyn Keene

I now know this was a pseudonym for various authors who penned the Nancy Drew series, but I didn’t know it as a child and I devoured these stories—I think I had the whole collection at the time (in the late 1960s), maybe 50 or 60. Nancy gave me my first taste of mystery tales—(and taught me a new word: sleuth)—and I determined I would write some myself.

5. Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” That first line! The mystery, the romance, the intrigue, I fell into those wonderful and exotic lands of du Maurier’s prose as a teen and wanted to stay there forever. This novel and a few others were also a big inspiration for me.

6. Charles Dickens

I wept when I read A Tale of Two Cities. The themes of sacrifice and redemption broke my heart and inspired me to try, try, try, in my small way, to show faith and hope in my stories. And I love Dickens’ ‘cast of thousands’ in his novels and the way he leads us down many paths with delightful twists and turns that ultimately come together.

7. Catherine Marshall

As a young woman, Marshall’s non-fiction, A Man Called Peter, To Live Again, Beyond Ourselves and The Helper profoundly influenced my spiritual life. Her novels Christy and Julie showed me a contemporary author (of the 20th century) doing what the great writers of centuries past had done—incorporate themes of faith into a wonderful story.

8. C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity and on and on. His words helped me understand God’s Word better and encouraged me to grow up in Christ.

9. Bodie Thoene (and hubby Brock)

Her Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles series provided endless hours of entertainment as well as history lessons for me and many other missionaries in Europe. We’d pass the books around til they were completely worn out. I admired the way she included great historical detail and non-stop action in her stories of faith. I learned so much about recent history from her novels, and they added to my desire to write recent historical fiction (20th century) that I call ‘entertainment with a soul’. She paved the way for the Christian fiction movement of the late 1980s on up through the present.

10. Mary Higgins Clark

When I needed a complete escape from life, I’d read her suspense novels in French (helped my language learning too) and off I went.

11. Randy Alcorn

His books Money, Possessions and Eternity and Heaven had me nodding in agreement, reflecting, reconsidering and challenging me to think more broadly.

12. Philip Yancey

I so admire the way Yancey tackles the most difficult questions with honesty and humility. He tells fascinating stories of real people that force me think outside a too-narrow box of faith.

13. Ann Lamott

When I first read Traveling Mercies as a young missionary wife and mom, I was deeply offended, highly entertained and ultimately so thankful for her very ‘out of the box’ unique voice. Her Bird by Bird has been a great encouragement as I write.

14. Sharon Garlough Brown

A few years ago, I began spiritual direction with a fellow missionary who lived in France. She gave me Sharon’s novel Sensible Shoes as the first book to read. A novel! And what a novel! The Sensible Shoes series (Sensible Shoes, Two Steps Forward, Barefoot) has been a life-changing adventure for me as Sharon brilliantly tells the story of spiritual transformation in the lives of four ordinary women. I find myself in each of the women and the spiritual exercises they work through have been extremely helpful for me, too, in this season of my life. I recommend the books widely and use the Companion Guides in my Member Care role with fellow missionaries.

15. Ann Tatlock

Her prose is breathtaking and her stories real, the characterization deep, the faith element subtle and true. One of our finest CBA authors today.

About Elizabeth

ELIZABETH MUSSER writes ‘entertainment with a soul’ from her writing chalet—tool shed—outside Lyon, France. Elizabeth’s highly acclaimed, best-selling novel, The Swan House, was named one of Amazon’s Top Christian Books of the Year and one of Georgia’s Top Ten Novels of the Past 100 Years. All of Elizabeth’s novels have been translated into multiple languages. The Long Highway Home has been a bestseller in Europe.

For over twenty-five years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in missions’ work in Europe with International Teams. The Mussers have two sons, a daughter-in-law and three grandchildren who all live way too far away in America. Find more about Elizabeth’s novels at www.elizabethmusser.com and on Facebook, Twitter, and her new blog. See photos from scenes in The Long Highway Home on Pinterest.

About The Long Highway Home

Sometimes going home means leaving everything you have ever known.

When the doctor pronounces ‘incurable cancer’ and gives Bobbie Blake one year to live, she agrees to accompany her niece, Tracie, on a trip back to Austria, back to The Oasis, a ministry center for refugees that Bobbie helped start twenty years earlier. Back to where there are so many memories of love and loss…

Bobbie and Tracie are moved by the plight of the refugees and in particular, the story of the Iranian Hamid, whose young daughter was caught with a New Testament in her possession in Iran, causing Hamid to flee along The Refugee Highway and putting the whole family in danger. Can a network of helpers bring the family to safety in time? And at what cost?

Filled with action, danger, heartache and romance, The Long Highway Home is a hymn to freedom in life’s darkest moments.

9 March 2017

ARCBA Book Review: Chocolate Soldier by Hazel Barker

6 - 10 March 2017

is Introducing 
(Rhiza Press, 1 October 2016)

By Hazel Barker

About the Book:
London. 1940.
When World War II breaks out and men over eighteen are conscripted, Clarence Dover, a conscientious objector, refuses to go rather than compromise his principles.  Instead he joins the Friend's Ambulance Unit.  From the London Blitz to the far reaches of Asia the war tests Clarence in the crucible of suffering.  In the end, will he be able to hold his head up as proudly as the rest and say, to save lives I risked my own?
One man will stand as God's soldier, not the war's soldier.
About the Author:
Hazel Barker lives in Brisbane with her husband Colin. She taught in Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for over a quarter of a century and now devotes her time to reading, writing and bushwalking. From her early years, her passion for books drew her to authors like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. Her love for historical novels sprang from Scott, and the love of literary novels, from Dickens. Many of her short stories and book reviews have been published in magazines and anthologies.
Hazel’s debut novel Chocolate Soldier, and Book One of her memoirs Heaven Tempers the Wind, will be released in 2016. Both books are set during World War Two – the former in England and the Far East; the latter in Burma.
For more information, visit her blog on:

Chocolate Soldier: The Story of a Conchie

England began conscripting men into the armed forces not long after the beginning of World War Two. That placed men like Clarence Dover in an award situation: did they go against their personal beliefs and sign up, or did they do the unthinkable and register as a conchie, a conscientious objector?

Clarence chose to register as a conchie, and was assigned a place in the Friends Ambulance Unit, from where the book gets its title. The FAU was run by the Friends, better known as the Quakers, and they trained near Bournville, home of Cadbury’s Chocolate. The Chocolate Soldier is the fictional retelling of Clarence’s war, based on his real-life diaries and surviving letters. Parts of the story are also from the viewpoint of his brother and sister, Doug and Eva, and his maybe girlfriend, Mary.

The book didn’t work for me as a novel. There was no overall plot, just a series of events. There was no great character growth or change in Clarence—he acknowledges towards the end that while he has a greater appreciation of different cultures and beliefs, he remains a Christian and an Englishman. The writing focused on the retelling of facts rather than inciting the reader’s emotions (I never really felt the horror of the situations Clarence found himself in). Much of the story read more like a diary than a novel, while other parts read more like the author than Clarence.

Despite those faults, I still enjoyed The Chocolate Soldier. I’ve lived in London and met Blitz survivors (including my great aunt). My grandfather served in Egypt, and Doug’s letters show some of what he may have experienced. I’m a history buff and a family historian, and I appreciated the insight into their lives.

It’s often the details which elevate a book from good to great, and The Chocolate Soldier had details in spades. Big details, like London in the Blitz and visits to tourist attractions like the Taj Mahal. And little details, like the fact soldiers received only six weeks of training before being sent into battle, trucks running on charcoal because there was no petrol, and the Chinese eating watermelon seeds for protein. Those snippets made the story.

Recommended for those looking for a first-hand look at life in London during the Blitz, life in Colonial India and wartime China.

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

6 March 2017

Author Interview: Judith Rolfs

This week we have a special treat! Author Judith Rolfs has been published in every genre. As an author and professional marriage and family counselor, Judith focuses on motivating people to live their best lives - emotionally, physically and spiritually. In her thirties, she researched the complexity of the natural world and moved from agnosticism to faith in God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today, she talks about her latest novel, Never Tomorrow.

Tell our readers about your new mystery novel Never Tomorrow.

Thanks for asking. It’s like having a new baby - I welcome a chance to talk about Never Tomorrow after literally years in the writing. This is a powerful murder mystery, plus more - a psychological thriller that probes the marriage relationship, infidelity and forgiveness. I use my insights and experiences as a psychotherapist for three decades to instill deep emotions in my characters– the grieving, the loves, and the deep joys, that we all experience in real life. These are integrated with a compelling murder mystery.

This is your seventeenth book but only your third mystery novel. Tell us about your switch to fiction from non-fiction.

My previous books were how-to books about marriage and parenting and family issues, also a devotional and a teen book. Mysteries are a huge change. They are much more difficult to write, but seem to have a greater impact on readers.

Which leads to my next question. I understand your slogan is Mysteries With A Message. Explain please.

My mysteries center on real life family issues while keeping the suspense steaming. Directive 99, my first self- suspense novel is about conflict between a woman’s career vs. family priorities. She makes major life changes when her husband is kidnapped. My next mystery novel Bullet in the Night with Prism Books is about genuine rehabilitation leading to life change and the value of nurturing friendships. I want readers to have a takeaway to ponder that can help them face situations in their own lives with more wisdom and confidence.

Tell us about where you like to write and a bit about your process.

My favorite writing places are my cottage in the woods in Fontana-on-Geneva Lake and a winter beach condo we rent in Venice, FL. I need solitude to create the story and develop my characters, but then I love to edit in coffee shops where I’m immersed in the energy of people. Relationships have always been fascinating to me, which is why I became a psychotherapist. Of course it’s helpful as an author to develop well-rounded characters. I also love to travel. In fact, Never Tomorrow starts out in Ballybunion, Ireland which I researched during a three-week trip there.

How and when did your writing career begin?

My writing career began at age ten creating stories for neighborhood children. I wrote newspaper editorials in high school, and was part of the Superior Student program at Marquette University, which published me in their literary journal. I love everything about writing especially contact with readers and other authors who are so gracious! I recently met Pat Gussin, New York Times Best Selling Author of After the Fall and she offered to read Never Tomorrow prior to publication. She blessed me with an amazing review: “Layer upon layer of intrigue—laced with murder–propels this novel to the pinnacle of suspense. An ingenious plot, dynamic and complex characters, and an insight into the troubled avenues of human behavior rarely exposed make NEVER TOMORROW a stand-out for readers of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense.”

In closing, where can we find your new book baby?

Never Tomorrow is available through Prism Book Group, on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and through local libraries. If it’s not at the local library I hope readers will request it. Thank you for featuring me on your blog. It’s been a pleasure.

Visit Judith at http://judithrolfs.com/Dr._Judith_Rolfs/Home.html

A compelling mystery with a powerful theme of forgiveness and healing...

Journalist Whitney Barnes investigates the mysterious death of her mother and three women from Cortland City seeking the thread that links them to an enigmatic killer. Why are women being murdered with no apparent motives for their death? Police are mystified at the lack of clues and a growing sense of fear surrounds the community. Who will be the next victim?

Determined to find the killer, Whitney discovers these women were dealing with wounds from their troubling pasts, but what was their connection? She teams up with Dr. Sarah Stevens, an expert on women's issues, to ferret out information while TV talk show host Rich and real estate broker Jordan vie for Whitney's affection.

Whitney discovers new strength within her, but is it powerful enough to cope with this dark force of evil? Suspense escalates as Whitney becomes the killer's next target.

3 March 2017

New Releases in Christian Fiction: March 2017

New releases in Christian fiction for March 2017, courtesy of American Christian Fiction Writers. More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance:

Reunion at Crane Lake
by Robin Bayne -- Colt's memory is returning after the accident that ended his career. Now he wants to take over his family's inn, but he'll have to partner with his former fiancée to be able to afford it. He'll need forgiveness to make that happen. Tia's goal is clear: to return the inn to its former grandeur. And she'll even work with Colt to do so. But like the inn, their relationship needs a lot of work. He broke her heart...can she ever trust him again? (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

by Fay Lamb -- She's a starving artist facing a serious illness; he's the doctor who's her only hope of survival. If only she hadn't caused his sister to die. (Contemporary Romance from Write Integrity Press)

Muffins & Moonbeams
by Elizabeth Maddrey -- Malachi Baxter is happy to hide in the background and manage the business-end of the family bakery. He'd much rather live in the online world of computer games where he can explore the galaxy and no one has to know he's deaf. Ursula Franks designs websites during the day and spends her evenings battling alien races online where relationships are easy and uncomplicated. When she agrees to design a website for the local Community Supported Bakery, she has no idea that Malachi is the real man behind her online persona's best friend and her own secret crush.As the two work together on the website, they uncover an attraction, but will they be able to put aside past hurt and insecurity to find love? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Then Came You: A Bradford Sisters Novella
by Becky Wade -- Garner Bradford, heir to the troubled Bradford Shipping empire, doesn't know much about babies. But he's going to have to learn fast because he's just become a single father to his newborn daughter. Career girl Kathleen Burke is wholly uninterested in settling down. She has big dreams, and none of them include Garner and his small hometown in Washington State. Yet she can't seem to get her handsome boss out of her head or her heart.... (Romance Novella, Independently Published).


When the Bough Breaks
by Ane Mulligan -- Her dream job has a Catch 22—and time's running outRookie lobbyist Sienna O'Shea is determined to make a name for herself in New York's capitol city and use that influence to gain easier access to her birth records. For years she's searched for her birth mother, but when she's handed her first assignment—to lobby support for the permanent sealing of all adoption records—her worlds collide. Swept up into the intrigue of backroom politics, falling in love was not on Sienna's agenda, but the candidate for Lt. Governor runs a formidable campaign to make her his first lady. When an investigative reporter discovers foreign money infiltrating political campaigns, the trail leads to Sienna's inner circle. (General, Independently Published)

The Memory of You
by Catherine West -- Thirteen years ago, Natalie lost a part of herself when her twin sister died. Will traveling back to the family winery finally put the memory to rest, or will it completely destroy her? (General from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])

Cozy Mystery:

Murder Is No Accident
by A. H. Gabhart -- When murder comes to call at a stately Victorian house, the town of Hidden Springs looks to Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane to solve the crime before anyone else dies. (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance:

A Rocky Mountain Romance
by Misty M. Beller -- When Zeche takes shelter from a blizzard in a remote cabin, he doesn't expect to find a beautiful woman and her father, a disturbed Civil War veteran. Zeche's instincts tell him Greta is endangered and he should stay and protect her, but his own presence aggravates her father's condition. With a dangerous snowstorm outside and growing hostilities inside, can he find a way to keep them all safe from harm? Or will it be to the detriment of his heart? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

a-stolen-heartA Stolen Heart by Amanda Cabot -- From afar, Cimarron Creek seems like an idyllic town tucked in the Texas Hill Country. But when former schoolteacher Lydia Crawford steps onto its dusty streets in 1880, she finds a town with a deep-seated resentment of Northerners--like her. Lydia won't let that get her down, though. All will be well when she's reunited with her fiancé. But when she discovers he has disappeared--and that he left behind a pregnant wife--Lydia is at a loss about what to do next. The handsome sheriff urges her to trust him, but can she trust anyone in this town where secrets are as prevalent as bluebonnets in spring? (Historical Romance from Revell [Baker])

My Heart Belongs in the Superstition Mountains: Carmela's Quandary by Susan Page Davis -- Experience the Wild West as Carmela seeks freedom of body and soul. Forced for years by her uncle to pose as a survivor of an Indian kidnapping so he can profit on the speaker circuit, she longs to end the lies. On a stagecoach in Arizona Territory, Carmela and her uncle are fellow passengers with a deputy US marshal and his handcuffed prisoner. When the stage is attacked, will Carmela's wish come true, or will she forever be branded by her past? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Desert Moon & Honor Bound
by Susan Page Davis and Colleen L. Reece -- Enjoy an Old West romance adventure from author Susan Page Davis. Julia Newman looked forward to moving home to Arizona, then she got word that her mother has died and Julie's stagecoach is robbed. If that wasn't enough, the first person she sees in town is Adam Scott—the man she always loved but could never have—and now he is accusing her brother of criminal activity. Also includes a bonus historical romance, Honor Bound by Colleen L. Reece. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Her Motherhood Wish
by Keli Gwyn -- En route to the Double T Orphanage to work on its expansion, carpenter Chip Evans and Caroline Hunt discover two orphaned children—and become their caregivers. But Chip's determined not to let himself get too attached to the children who just lost their widowed father…or to the lovely woman helping him care for them. Especially since Callie and the little ones just don't fit into his detailed plans for the future. Callie can't help but fall in love with the orphans, and despite her better judgment, she's falling for Chip, too. Her dreams of being a wife and mother were not quite like this. But Callie believes a plan bigger than Chip's brought them all together…and now she just has to help him see it, too. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

The Planter's Daughter
by Michelle Shocklee -- When her father's Texas cotton plantation faces bankruptcy, Adella must choose between the man who can her family's land and the man who can save her! (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

When Tides Turn
by Sarah Sundin -- When Quintessa Beaumont learns the US Navy has established the WAVES program for women, she enlists, eager to throw off her frivolous ways and contribute to the war effort. Lt. Dan Avery employs his skills in antisubmarine warfare to fight U-boats at the peak of the Battle of the Atlantic, but the last thing he wants to see on his radar is fun-loving Tess. As Dan and Tess work together in Boston, the changes in Tess challenge his notions--and his heart. (Historical Romance from Revell [Baker])

Medical Suspense:

Doctor's Dilemma
by Richard L. Mabry M.D. -- Young surgeon Tyler Gentry thought the offer to join the Hall Group of surgeons offered the answer to his problems, but things changed when he received a 3 AM phone call that told him such a move would be hazardous to his health. (Medical Suspense, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Her Baby's Protector
by Margaret Daley and Susan Sleeman -- Saved by the Lawman by Margaret Daley: As an unknown assailant attempts to kidnap family-court judge Kate Forster's infant son, police officer Chase Walker thwarts the attack—and vows to keep the pair safe. But who will protect the ex-marine's heart when the widowed mother and her little boy make him long for a permanent spot in their family? Saved by the SEAL by Susan Sleeman: The tragedy that killed Bree Hatfield's best friends--and left her with custody of their young daughter--has been ruled an accident. But Bree knows it was murder. Scared and alone, she turns to her ex-boyfriend, navy SEAL Clint Reed, who'll risk everything to protect baby Ella and the woman he never stopped loving. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

by Terri Reed -- FBI intern Zara Fielding and her K-9 partner, Radar, stumble across a robbery gone wrong and put themselves in the criminals' crosshairs. Her childhood friend FBI computer guru Dylan O'Leary works for the secretive FBI unit she longs to join, and he vows not to let anything happen to her. As they work to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, new feelings ignite. When she goes missing, it's only Dylan--and Radar--who can track her down. Will they arrive in time to save her and the future she and Dylan have started dreaming about? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Speculative Romance/Fantasy:

Ingrid's Engagement
by Kristen Reed -- When King Viggo marches through the kingdom of Schlagefilde in a relentless quest for retribution against its wicked king, the Count of Anselm attempts to make peace with him. As the two strike a deal that will protect the people of Anselm, the King of Villriket becomes enthralled with a portrait of the Count's oldest daughter, Ingrid. The vengeful king vows that he will leave Edmund's county in peace if he will allow him to marry Ingrid. To prevent her father from incurring the sovereign's wrath, the young lady hastily agrees and enters into an unforeseen engagement with the grim ruler. Ingrid's Engagement tells the enchanting tale of a beautiful young woman who softens the hardened heart of a beastly king with nothing more than her quiet wisdom and gentle spirit. (Speculative Romance/Fantasy, Independently Published)

2 March 2017

Review: Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley

Fascinating Insights into Islamic Life

Door to Freedom is the sequel to Side by Side, but can easily be read as a standalone. If you read Side by Side and enjoyed it, then I’ve no doubt you’ll enjoy Door to Freedom as well. If you felt there were some writing and characterisation issues, with Side by Side, then I suspect you’ll see those same issues in Door to Freedom.

Both books centre on the Weston family, living in Sudan while husband Michael works with a secular aid organisation, the Kellar Hope Foundation, doing we never find out what. Most of the story is told from the viewpoint of his wife, Mia, the stay-at-home mother to their three children. The remainder of the story is told from the viewpoint of Raina, a teenage Muslim girl from an upper-class family … whose sister converted to Christianity in Side by Side.

I was initially confused, as I thought Mia and her family were serving in Sudan as missionaries, yet her early behaviour didn’t seem very missionary-like (meaning, when it became apparent that they might have to leave Sudan, her first reaction was closer to whine than prayer). My error: Sudan is under Sharia law, so Christians have enough problems working with secular aid organisations, let alone actively working as Christian missionaries.

Having said that, Mia and Michael are both Christians, and they do experience a growth in their faith that brings them closer together and encourages them to attempt to share their faith. At the same time, it opens them to opportunities and threats from Muslims and Christians alike as they make opportunities to share their faith with friends and colleagues. There are some interesting insights into Muslim beliefs and practices. Despite this, I found the Mia scenes slow and the dialogue wooden.

I found the Raina scenes far more interesting. Raina is sixteen, and wants to study art at college, not get married. Especially not to some man old enough to be her father (as happens to one of her school friends), or some random cousin. She also wants to investigate that book her sister left behind … Raina’s scenes gave an insight into the mind of a teenage Muslim female living under Sharia law. She has more freedom than I might have assumed, but that doesn’t change the fact that all the big decisions in her life will be made by her father or her husband.

There were a lot of typos, but I was reading the unedited review edition so hopefully these have been fixed in the final print version. The writing ranged from below average with added Christianese (“this was a good time for Mia to extend some grace”) to excellent:

Mia and her family loved living in Sudan. Even when they hated it. It was wonderful and terrible all mixed up in one giant ball of confusion.

That pretty much describes Door to Freedom. Overall, my impression was that the writing style was best suited to middle grade students or early teens, but the subject matter more appropriate for older teens or adults. Recommended for those looking for an insight into Islamic beliefs or life in an Islamic country. Not recommended for children, despite the writing style.

Thanks to New Hope Publishers, Litfuse Publicity, and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can click here to read more about Jana Kelly at her website or click here for the Litfuse Publicity blog tour information, and you can read the introduction to Door to Freedom below: