30 June 2017

Friday Fifteen: Carolyn Miller

Today I'd like to welcome Carolyn Miller to Iola's Christian Reads. to share her Friday Fifteen: fifteen authors who have influenced her life and writing. Except she's cheated, and given us sixteen!

She is also here to introduce her new release, The Captivating Lady Charlotte, the second book in the A Legacy of Grace series. I read and enjoyed the first book, The Elusive Miss Ellison, and I'm looking forward to reading about Lady Charlotte ... and Miss DeLancey (which releases in October)

Welcome, Carolyn!

1. Jane Austen 

Who can surpass the Queen of English literature? Her wit and observations of early 1800s English society have given us such memorable novels as Pride and Prejudice, and the countless TV and film adaptations have caused many a heart to flutter faster, thanks to such characters as Mr. Darcy. (Thank you, Jane!)

My favourite: Persuasion beats Pride and Prejudice due to its heartbreaking poignancy - but only just!

2. Georgette Heyer

Considered by many to have established the historical romance genre, whose witty novels and extraordinary degree of research (she once bought a letter by the Duke of Wellington to emulate his style of phrasing!) are so inspiring to this author. My favourites: The Unknown Ajax, The Nonesuch, Frederica, Arabella, Venetia, (the list goes on…)

Having read The Elusive Miss Ellison, it doesn't surprise me that Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer top your list!

3. LM Montgomery

The Canadian author of Anne of Green Gables (one of my favourite novels when I was growing up) also wrote the poignant and wonderfully evocative The Blue Castle. One of my top five novels of all time!

4. Jean Webster

Another classic author whose work I enjoy is Jean Webster, author of Daddy Long Legs and Dear Enemy. These stories of spirited, likeable young females overcoming hardships of birth and prejudice also possess heart, wit and satirical social commentary that ensure a good read.

I've read both, but have to admit I prefer Daddy Long Legs to Dear Enemy.

5. Agatha Christie

Speaking of classics, I love to read Agatha Christie. I enjoy the depiction of England in a time when manners mattered, and those responsible for crime were always guaranteed to be brought to justice.

Miss Marple or Poirot? I preferred Miss Marple, but I've just bought an audio version of the Bible narrated by David Suchet, who played Poirot. Lovely voice!

6.Janet Evanovich

A far more contemporary crime series I enjoy reading is that created by Janet Evanovich, whose main character, Stephanie Plum, has all the sass and wit I can ask for (even if some of the later novels aren’t nearly as good as the first ten)

7. Mary Grant Bruce

I’m Australian, so it’s my patriotic duty to ensure that Mary Grant Bruce gets a mention. Her Billabong series of children’s stories depicted life in the Australian bush in the early 1900s, and featured vivid descriptions of country life, humorous colloquialisms, slow burning romance, and were considered to help shape a sense of Australian identity, particularly in regards to patriotism and ideas about the bush.

I remember reading stories of Blinky Bill, but never Mary Grant Bruce.

8. Kate Morton

Continuing the Australian theme, I’m a more recent convert to the writing of Kate Morton. Her haunting stories of family and tragedy shift between the present and the past, and the poignant, evocative prose in novels such as The Lake House is guaranteed to stir the soul.

9. Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is another Aussie author I’ve recently come to enjoy. Her bestselling contemporary fiction show aspects of life I can relate to, such as the challenges faced by school parents depicted in Big Little Lies. Funny, incisive, insightful writing.

10. Melina Marchetta

Another author of Australian fiction I enjoy is Melina Marchetta, whose novel Looking for Alibrandi was on the High School Certificate English course for very good reason. Her insights into teen angst, and the challenges faced by migrants in urban Australia are heart-breakingly good.

11. John Marsden 

John Marsen is another Aussie author whose Tomorrow When the War Began series is exciting, tense, and teen-true. A great, though slightly unnerving, read, especially for young adults.

So many Australian authors I've never read!

12. William Shakespeare

I love some of the plays and poems by William Shakespeare, so I’m going to include him here too, due to his keen use of drama, romance, wit, and perceptive social observations. Twelfth Night is one of my favourites.

13. Marina Fiorato

Marina Fiorato is an author who used the story of Much Ado About Nothing in her lovely novel Beatrice and Benedick. Gorgeous writing!

And what a fabulous book cover!

14. Roseanna M White

A Christian historical author I enjoy is Roseanna M. White. I recently read her novel The Reluctant Duchess and loved it. Powerfully intense, yet threaded by wit and a sense of God’s grace.

Roseanna M White is one of my favourite Christian historical authors. 

15. Becky Wade

A Christian contemporary author I enjoy is Becky Wade. My ultimate favourite Christian novel is My Stubborn Heart, as much for the realism of its flawed main characters, as the wit and banter found within. Oh, and the ice hockey hero. I’ll always love an ice hockey hero J.

Yes, I definitely vote for Becky Wade!

16. God

Can I add the ultimate Author? The book that has influenced me more than any other is, of course, The Bible. So let’s include God – definitely leaving the best for last!

Yes, you can add a #16!

About Carolyn Miller

Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked part-time as a public high school English and Learning and Support teacher.

A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer’s Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her debut Regency The Elusive Miss Ellison released in February 2017, and her next, The Captivating Lady Charlotte released June 27. Both are available from Amazon, Book Depository, Koorong and more.

Connect with her:

About The Captivating Lady Charlotte

Responsibility, romanticism, and true love...

As the daughter of the Marquess of Exeter, Lady Charlotte Featherington always knew she was destined for great things on the marriage mart. Little did she imagine falling in love with a man on the eve of her parents announcing her betrothal - to someone else.

William Hartwell might be a Duke, but he suspects neither his title nor wealth will prove enough to hold the heart of the young lady who has captured his. The scandal surrounding his first wife's death makes trusting again difficult, while the mysterious happenings at his ancestral home, Hartwell Abbey, seek to separate before they are wed.

How can a young Lady negotiate her future when her heart demands the opposite of duty? Can they both learn to truly love from the legacy of Grace?

Now available from these leading retailers: Amazon.com, Amazon.com.au, Amazon.co.uk, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Christian Book, Book Depository and Koorong

29 June 2017

Book Review: You'll Think of Me by Robin Lee Hatcher

A Great Christian Romance

Eighteen-year-old Brooklyn Myers left her home town of Thunder Creek, Idaho, to marry Chad Hallston—who left her just months later, when she announced she was pregnant. She’s spent the last ten years trying to raise Alycia on her own, with the help of the neighbour who introduced her to a loving God:

A God who loved her, a Savior who had willingly died for her, a Spirit who renewed her mind and gave her strength.

Now Esther, her babysitter and best friend, is leaving town and Brooklyn has no idea how she’ll juggle working with caring for Alycia. Until she finds Chad is dead, and she’s been left the Hallston property back in Thunder Creek.

 Derek Johnston is looking forward to buying the ten-acre Hallston property from Chad, to expand his organic farm. He isn’t pleased when he finds Chad, his best friend, is dead and has left the land and house to Brooklyn. To complicate matters, Chad has also asked that Derek be the father Chad never was …

Yes, it’s a great set-up. And it’s a great novel.

I loved all the characters, even while they struggled to love themselves and each other. I loved the developing relationships, the witty dialogue:
“Don’t ask what I think of that oversight. I might tell you.” 
“I’ve hardly seen you lately. When would I have had the chance to tell you?”
“Ever heard of a telephone?” 
That sounds like something my grandmother would have said. I also loved the way Brooklyn’s Christian faith was woven into the story:

She unfurled her hands, turning them palms up. Hands empty and open. And suddenly she understood that open hands were the only way she could receive anything new.

And I loved the way we discovered more about the histories of each character—Brooklyn, Derek, and Chad—as the story progressed, and the way those character histories explained and deepened their present journey.

Because this is a romance, and romance is all about the journey. 

 A great story of love and second chances. Recommended for contemporary romance fans.

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

28 June 2017

22 June 2017

Book Review: The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber

The Hunger Games meets V Meets …

I don’t read a lot of Christian speculative fiction, because a lot of it is fantasy, a genre I don’t enjoy. I do enjoy science fiction, and I especially enjoy a good dystopian thriller. I picked up The Evaporation of Sofi Snow believing it was Christian dystopian, which was half right. It was dystopian, but it also had an element of science fiction.

What it didn’t have was any Christian content—almost the opposite, in that there was a lot of almost-swearing that I was surprised to see in a book from a major Christian publisher (e.g. gad knows, pissed, heck, WTF, mentions of sex and alcohol). Having said that, it’s obvious from the content, the comparisons, and the notable authors who’ve endorsed Sofi Snow that it’s not aimed at the Christian market. If you’re looking for a Christian dystopian novel, Sofi Snow is not the novel you’re looking for.

But if you’re looking for a fast-paced young adult dystopian thriller, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow may be perfect for you. 

It’s set in near-future Earth, eleven years after the Delonese arrive and sort out the problems of the Fourth World War. They also set up the games, a curious mix of the Hunger Games and the Triwizard Tournament, where teams of real-life gamers work through a maze created by their online gaming teammates.

The trouble begins when there is a terrorist attack at the games, leaving Sofi and her brother both declared dead. But Sofi is very much still alive … and she’s convinced Shilo is as well. So begins the race to save herself, find help, and locate and save Shilo.

The story is told in third person from two points of view—Sofi, and Miguel, the youngest of the thirty human ambassadors to Delon. I don’t know how a teenager got appointed to such an important role, but Miguel is more convincing than, say, Princess Amidala in the first Start Wars movie. Anyway, Miguel is a useful ally because he knows all the right humans and Delonese—even if Sofi is convinced he loathes her.

There were a couple of things which bugged me. 

I’m from New Zealand, so I didn’t understand many of Miguel’s lapses into Spanish (bobo, pierdete, cuate). Yes, I’ve heard of Google Translate. But that takes me out of the story. I didn’t like the cliffhanger ending, but I’d been warned it was coming, so I was annoyed at the suddenness and lack of resolution rather than being vitriolic at the feeling of having been cheated. And there was a “plot twist” towards the end that the characters seemed surprised by, but which had seemed obvious to me from page one. Maybe that’s because I’d read the book description and the characters hadn’t. Or maybe it’s because I watch a lot of TV sci fi.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you speak even a little Spanish and don’t mind cliffhanger endings, this won’t bother you. It’s the start of a series (it better be, with that cliffhanger ending!), and parts of the story are a little rough at the beginning as we are introduced to a future earth with an entirely new system of government.

Overall, The Evaporation of Sofi Snow is a fast-paced story with a lot happening all the time. 

Although I didn’t find it as compelling as The Hunger Games or the first two Divergent novels (let’s not mention the end of that trilogy), I’m sure it will find an audience with YA readers.

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

20 June 2017

Review: Dark Deception by Nancy Mehl

Playing dead was harder than she ever could have imagined.

Well, the first line certainly drew me in. Unfortunately, the rest of the novel didn’t live up to that early promise. After that gripping first scene, the story jumps forward several years. The first few chapters of the novel were mostly backstory and setup, explaining what happened between the prologue and the present. This meant the novel didn’t really start until around the 10% mark—which felt slow and not at all suspenseful.

Long story short, Kate survived the attack from a serial murderer which killed her twin sister. She’s now part of the witness protection programme, living in the middle of nowhere. New evidence says the man her testimony put in jail can’t have been the killer, which means a new trial ...which places her in danger as she’s the sole living witness.

Then things get complicated as too many characters are introduced, too many of which seem to have little or nothing to do with the central plot line. This is romantic suspense, so you know they are related, and that got frustrating as well, when I worked out the linkages long before the police, the FBI, and the Marshals did. I didn’t enjoy their lack of joined-up thinking, which came off looking like incompetence.

Overall, the plot was best described by Kate:

This whole thing is so convoluted it almost hurts my brain.

I enjoyed the part of the novel which was straight chase-suspense, as Deputy Marshal Tony DeLuca tries to protect Kate. (Handsome Tony, who blonde with green eyes, despite the Italian name and heritage.) There were some odd scene breaks with no change in formatting, which made it somewhat confusing to read (hopefully that’s just an issue with my ebook version). The romance was okay, but definitely took second place to the suspense.

I read Fatal Frost, the first book in this series, and thought it was excellent. I’m disappointed Dark Deception didn’t measure up, and hope the next is better.

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

16 June 2017

Book Giveaway: Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Introducing Then There Was You

Kara Isaac is my favourite Kiwi Christian author … although Kiwi Christian authors is a very short list. So perhaps it’s better to say that she’s one of my favourite authors of contemporary Christian romance, and one of the reasons I love her work is because of the Kiwi angle. But I’m also biased because I edited Then There Was You, which means I got to read it before most people. Bonus!

Then There Was You is her third novel, following Close to You, and Can’t Help Falling. It has some minor characters in common with the previous books, but it’s a standalone novel. It starts in the States, moves to Sydney, and also has some scenes set in New Zealand (yay!).

Then There Was You releases next week. The ebook is currently on special for $3.99 (which will increase after release), and there is also a paperback. I’ve already ordered my copy!

And I''m giving away two copies - one paperback and one Kindle copy. Both giveaways close at midnight on 26 June 2017 (New Zealand time).

Click here to win a paperback copy (New Zealand postal addresses only)

Click here to win a Kindle copy (you must be able to receive a gift from Amazon.com).

I’ll announce the winners two weeks from today, at www.iolagoulton.com.

If you can’t wait that long, you can click here to pre-order Then There Was You from Amazon.

To find out more about Kara Isaac, click here to visit her website.

15 June 2017

Book Review: Sweetbriar Cottage by Denise Hunter

Discovering Unconditional Love

Noah Mitchell is less than impressed when he finds his ex-wife is actually still his wife—she forgot to file their divorce papers, so the divorce was never final. Now he has to get those papers filed to get the IRS off his back. But getting them filed means visiting Josephine Dupree Mitchell again—not something he’s looking forward to.

Josie knows how much Nate doesn’t want to spend time with her. And why would he, after what she did? So she decides to be helpful and save Nate a trip into town by driving out to his ranch to deliver the signed papers. She can get his signature, file the papers with the judge, and the divorce will be done. At last.

Only things never work out as planned, because a snowstorm hits as Josie arrives at the ranch, and she’s trapped there with Nate, the ex-husband she still has feelings for. Then things get worse …

Sweetbriar Cottage is a sweet (!) yet powerful exploration of the nature of unconditional love. It starts in the present, but has flashbacks to three and a half years ago, when Nate and Josie first met, and to Josie’s childhood—the childhood she never discussed with Nate. The flashbacks gradually reveal what she did—but they also show why she did it.

It was always obvious Nate was the one who had instigated the divorce, and this got me wondering why. How can you meet, marry, and divorce in just three years? (This seems unbelievably fast, partly because I live in New Zealand where it takes at least two years to get a divorce.) What had she done that he couldn’t forgive? And why did he marry a non-Christian in the first place?

It was also obvious that Josie was one emotionally messed up woman, and that whatever she’d done was the result of her messed up teenage years (triggers!) and her subsequent belief that there is no such thing as unconditional love. Spoiler: there is. But that’s something they both need to learn.

I’d been a little apprehensive about reading Sweetwater Cottage, but it captured me from the beginning and never let up. A great second chance romance with some deep Christian themes.

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

13 June 2017

I'm Reviewing Enemy Action by Mike Hollow at Suspense Sisters Reviews!

Today I'm visiting Suspense Sisters Reviews, to review Enemy Action by Mike Hollow. It's the third book in his Blitz Detective series, and now I want to read the first two. Click here to find out why!

9 June 2017

ACRBA Tour and Review: Unnoticed by Amanda Deed

5 - 9 May 2017

is Introducing 
(from Rhiza Press, 1 March, 2017)


Amanda Deed

About the Book:

Plain Jane O’Reilly is good at being unnoticed. Detested by her stepmother and teased by her stepsisters, Jane has learned the art of avoiding attention. That is until Price Moreland, an American with big dreams, arrives in her small town.
Does she dare to hope someone might notice her?
However, Price Moreland may not be the prince that the whole town thinks him to be. Was his desire to be a missionary a God-given call, or just a good excuse to run from his past?
Complete with an evil stepmother, a missing shoe and a grand ball, Unnoticed takes the time-old Cinderella fairy tale and gives it an Australian twist.

About the Author:

Amanda Deed has penned several Australian Historical Romances, including The Game, winner of the CALEB Prize for Fiction in 2010. She resides in the South Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne with her family, where she works full-time in her local church office.

Outside of work and family, Amanda loves to write stories filled with intrigue and adventure using her favourite themes as a backdrop: Australia, heritage, romance and faith. Her books include UnnoticedEllenvale GoldBlack Forest Redemption and Henry's Run. For more information, go to www.amandadeed.com.au.

My Review: An Excellent Australian Historical Cinderella Story

Unnoticed is a Cinderella story, although there were also hints of Pride and Prejudice in the characterisation of Mr and Mrs O’Reilly—at times, Mrs O’Reilly made Mrs Bennett seem astute and intelligent, and Mr O’Reilly made Mr Bennett seem like an attentive father.

Jane O’Reilly is our Cinderella figure, the unloved daughter forced to take second place to her stepmother and stepsisters—all ugly in attitude if not in looks. The description of Jane brings to mind a young Nicole Kidman, so she’s far from the Plain Jane people call her. But she doesn’t see that. She also doesn’t see that beauty is as much about who we are on the inside as on the outside, nor does she understand that God sees her and loves her for who she is. She doesn’t have to be beautiful.

Prince Charming is Price Moreland, an American who has left the country of his birth with noble intentions to bring the gospel to Australia. At least, that’s what he tells himself. But he’s soon distracted by Jane, who he thinks of as anything but plain. It’s good to see a romance where the hero and heroine both have personal faith journeys.

What raised Unnoticed above other fairytale retellings was the way the character histories were woven in. Not just for Jane and Price, but for Mrs O’Reilly (and her sister, the family cook), and Mr O’Reilly. It showed their neglect and mistreatment of Jane wasn’t because of any wrongdoing by Jane, but was a product of their own backgrounds. I especially liked the way I didn’t feel manipulated into feeling sorry for Jane’s parents.

The writing was solid, although there were a few places where it wasn’t as strong. But these are insignificant in the face of an excellent fairytale retelling with a unique historical Australian setting.

Thanks to ACRBA and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Deed at her website, and you can read the introduction to Unnoticed below:

6 June 2017

Book Review: Fatal Mistake by Susan Sleeman

He was coming for her, and he was close.

Great opening line. Tara Parrish is visiting her aunt, and checks the outbuilding Aunt June rents to Oren Keeler, Tara’s childhood friend. Only the building is full of bomb-making materials and plans. Oren is the Lone Wolf Bomber the FBI are chasing. And she’s just heard his car pull up …

The front of the book had glowing endorsements from several of my favourite authors. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as they did. 

The first chapter promised non-stop thrills from Tara, a translator with the State Department, and Cal Riggins, an FBI agent on the team tracking the Lone Wolf bomber. Her occupation interested me, but it was barely mentioned.

The opening chapter also promised Tara was a Christian—and she was, but her faith seemed to be more of a foxhole faith—she called out to God when trapped and said she trusted Him, but spent most of the novel trying to survive on her own strength. It was as though the spiritual thread was more of an afterthought. Based on the opening chapter, I’d expected it to be woven in more organically.

Once the opening sequence ended, the plot jumped three months into the future.

That took something away from the suspense.

What followed was a cat-and-mouse chase of Cal trying to protect Tara from Oren. It was solid. It just didn’t live up to the level of suspense promised in the opening chapter. I also found the writing a little simplistic. There were no ‘wow’ lines—my only highlights are things that came across as plot glitches (can an FBI agent really afford tailormade business shirts? It’s more common to read novels where money is a problem for the characters.)

Oren was a great character—driven and talented, the evildoer who is the hero in his own eyes. His character was revealed layer by layer as the novel progressed, and we were able to unpeel his particular brand of mental instability. I liked that the author didn’t try and manipulate my emotions to paint Oren as some kind of victim (other than as a victim of his own misguided thinking). He was evil, pure and simple, but didn’t see that himself.

Overall, Fatal Mistake was a miss for me because it didn’t deliver on the outstanding opening.

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

1 June 2017

Book Review: Time Sniffers by CS Lakin

A YA Sci-Fi Adventure Romp that Delivers

A great first line. The first-person narrator is Bria, a science geek who is the daughter of two scientists—Dad designs parts for the Mars Rover (they’re up to the 2055 model), and Mum is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who works at the Greenfield National Laboratory undertaking laser experiments for the Department of Energy.

And one of those experiments apparently killed Mom—the entire lab disappeared. But Bria has her mother’s notes and is trying to recreate some of her experiments in their basement laboratory. (I’m thinking as I write this that this should be unbelievable, that Bria has the knowledge and equipment to undertake top secret research in her basement. But I believed it. It works.)

Anyway, Bria’s experiment works, and she creates a singularity. But there are consequences, and soon Bria is on a big adventure to find her mother and save the world. She is accompanied by her autistic younger brother, Dylan, Debby (Dylan’s babysitter), and three friends from school: Ryan, Jace, and Lauren. And it is an adventure.

I thought Time Sniffers was excellent. Okay, it may have benefitted by comparison to the book I read immediately before—a Christian speculative young adult novel, but one with no Christian content, a trying-too-hard element to the world building, a big reveal that should have been obvious to anyone who has ever read a sci-fi novel or seen a sci-fi movie, and a cliffhanger ending—the wrong kind, where the story feels like it’s finishing in the middle.

In comparison, Time Sniffers was brilliant. It’s not Christian fiction (and not advertised as such), although there is a clear theme of the battle between good and evil. The world-building was excellent and flowed nicely out of the story. The things which were obvious were meant to be obvious, and there were no major surprises—it’s a sci-fic adventure romp and the focus is on the journey. It even has a cliffhanger ending—but the right kind, where the story finishes, and the cliffhanger is of more a teaser for the next adventure.

This is the first book in the Shadow World series. It’s a young adult novel, but the presence (and importance) of Dylan means advanced middle grade readers could also read and enjoy it (as long as they can overlook the innocent romantic subplot). Recommended for sci-fi fans, and those looking for a good adventure story.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Time Sniffers below: