30 March 2015

Review: Together with You by Victoria Bylin


Ophthalmologist Dr Ryan Tremaine has a problem. Not only has he promised his ex-wife that he’ll look after their two sons for the summer while she’s on a short-term missions trip, but he’s also recently taken custody of Penny, his five-year-old daughter from the affair that ended his marriage. And Penny is a problem: she has FASD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and her behaviour has already run off three nannies.

Carly Jo Mason is working at the Animal Factory while completing a PhD specialising in the prevention of FASD. A chance meeting with Penny and Ryan leads to a job offer: as Penny’s new nanny. Carly is initially reluctant to get involved because of her own personal history of working with FASD children, but is persuaded to take the job … and ends up more involved than even she had anticipated.

I thoroughly enjoyed Until I Found You, Victoria Bylin’s first contemporary novel for Bethany House, and I enjoyed Together With You even more. The plot, driven largely by Penny’s issues as a special needs child, was a unique combination of entertaining and educational. I also liked the way the Christian elements of the plot were dealt with, particularly the conflict between Carly and Ryan, and the sympathetic and non-judgemental way FASD was dealt with.

The characters were excellent, and it was good to see the stuffy and barely competent Dr Tremaine loosen up a bit as the plot progressed. The minor characters were also excellent, even Penny’s Aunt Denise, who wants to have custody of Penny for herself. It’s clever writing when the viewpoint character dislikes another character, yet the writing manages to get across a degree of sympathy for that ‘unlikable’ character.

One word of warning: if the cover puts you off because it’s a little too cliché romance, think again. While Together With You definitely has a strong romance plot, it’s just as much a story about the consequences of bad choices, the difficulties in raising a child with special needs, and truly understanding God’s forgiveness. Recommended.

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

27 March 2015

Review: Saving Justice by Susan Crawford

Not up to my expectations (even for a first novel)

Teacher Kinley Reid works in a rough area of Oklahoma City, doing her best to provide disadvantaged children with a quality education, with God’s help. When Justice, one of her students, gets into trouble for vandalism, she steps in to help him.

Nash McGuire is the real estate professional who grew up in the rough suburb, and who is now renovating his childhood home to sell (personally, if I owned a house in an area run by gangs, I wouldn’t waste money renovating to make it “the nicest house in the neighbourhood”. I’d sell to the first person who made an offer. I certainly wouldn’t park my late-model car outside. After all, real estate is "Location, location, location", and this isn't the location they're meaning).

Nash is concerned by what he sees as Kinley’s naïve approach, while Kinley trusts God to keep her safe and finds Nash’s lack of faith disturbing.

Saving Justice had interesting characters and a noble ideal, but the plot lost me early on, when Nash wants Justice to pay for vandalising his car. Isn’t that what insurance is for, repairing things when the culprit can’t be found or isn’t able to pay? It also seemed completely unreasonable (unjust?) that the child was sentenced to community service within days of the alleged crime, with no apparent input from witnesses or social services, and no defence or advice provided by legal professionals. Really?

Of course, this is the US, a country which only outlawed capital punishment for minors a decade ago. Basically, this felt as though it was nothing more than a contrived plot device to bring Kinley and Nash together, and while I understand plots are (by nature) contrived, I prefer them not to be so obvious.

Between the injustice of Justice’s situation and Nash’s illogical renovations, I was left reading a plot that I felt was too contrived to be believable, particularly in the beginning. It did improve once the relationship between the three main characters was established, but it still felt unrealistic (yes, I know it’s fiction, but the overall tone seemed to be trying for sweet romance in a setting of gritty realism).

Susan May Warren has recommended this novel, and she's one of my favourite authors. I think she's looking at the heart of the novel, which touches issues similar to those raised in some of her own novels (such as Tying the Knot). She certainly can't be recommending the writing, which isn't a patch on her own.

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

26 March 2015

I'm Reviewing at Australasian Christian Writers

One Last Thing by Rebecca St James and Nancy Rue

Today I'm reviewing One Last Thing over at Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to read my review.

Here's the book description:

Tara had always imagined her happily ever after. But her fiancé’s secrets are changing this story into one she doesn’t even recognize.

Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom grew up next door to each other in Savannah’s historic district. Their parents are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences all the time. Their fairytale wedding is a foregone conclusion . . . until Tara discovers another side to Seth three weeks before the wedding.

Reality has crashed in on Tara’s fairytale—but hope will lead her to a future she couldn’t have planned for herself.

This isn't an easy read, but I think it's the best book I've read so far this year. One Last Thing does an excellent job in sensitively fictionalising a growing problem in society. It’s not easy reading, and it’s not nice. But it is real. Unfortunately.

25 March 2015

Review, Kindle Giveaway, Blog Tour, and Author Chat Party with Colleen Coble

2015 Reading Challenge: A Popular Author's First Book

A Heart's Disguise was first published by Heartsong Presents in 1997 as Where Leads the Heart. Check out that cover!

The cover might have changed (improved!), but the blurb is still the same:

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a young woman searches for her lost love at the edge of the West.

The Civil War has destroyed Sarah Montgomery’s marriage before it’s even begun.

After Sarah receives word that her fiancé, Rand Campbell, has been killed fighting for the Union, her brothers and ailing father persuade her to pledge herself to Ben Croftner—despite her strong misgivings. But when Sarah finds out that Rand is in fact alive—and that Ben Croftner knew it—she indignantly breaks off the engagement and goes in search of Rand.

But Ben Croftner does not take rejection lightly—and a single woman with a sick father makes an easy target. When Sarah is abducted by her treacherous fiancé, Rand finally comes to her aid . . . only to reveal that he has been posted at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and intends to take her there as his wife.

But could Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the love of her life? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

It’s hard to review this novella. I usually read the book descriptions when I request a book for review and have often forgotten it by the time I come to read the book. But this time I hadn’t, because the book description was right there in the front—which was a shame, because it wasn’t a teaser. It was a plot summary.

Publisher fail.

The result was a novella where I kept waiting for something to happen. And waiting. And waiting. The writing was good, and the characters had potential, but the two plot twists in the story (Rand being alive, Ben hiding that from everyone, and Ben trying to kidnap Sarah) were covered in the book description, which took away any suspense the story might have had.

This is the first of six novellas in the series, being released each month for the next six months. After reading the description, there’s no point in reading this novella. I’ve signed up to read and review the whole series, but I won’t read any more of the descriptions. Maybe that way I will be surprised and enjoy them.

Amazon is already offering a 6-in-1 volume which goes on sale in September (at only $14.99 for the paperback, compared to $6.99 for this paperback). If you’re interested in reading A Heart's Disguise, I’d suggest waiting until then and not reading any of the book descriptions or reviews in the meantime.

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

In the midst of end-of-war celebrations, Sarah discovers her betrothed was keeping a devastating secret in Colleen Coble's A Heart's Disguise. Will Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the only man she’s ever loved? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

Celebrate book one in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series by entering to win a Kindle Fire and RSVPing to her May 5th author chat party!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession (blog tour coming in April)
  • A copy of The Inn at Ocean's Edge (blog tour coming in April)
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 7th. Winner will be announced May 8th on Colleen's website. Plus be sure to clear your calendar on the evening of May 5th because Colleen is hosting an author chat party on Facebook to celebrate her A Journey of the Heart series and the release of The Inn at Ocean's Edge! RSVP here!


RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on May 5th!

23 March 2015

Review: Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason

She thought her days of hiding were over . . . but the danger has just begun.

The day Danielle Harding takes her eleven-year-old son and flees from her abusive husband is the same day Kurt Harding dies. A relieved Dani believes she and her son are finally safe--but in reality, things are just heating up. When Kurt was alive, he took something important from a mysterious individual--who wants the item back and believes Dani now has it. As she and her son run for their lives, they have nowhere to turn, until she hires Adam Buchanan of Operation Refuge and goes into hiding. Unfortunately, she won't be able to hide for long . . .

From the first breathless scene, this tension-laced story will hold you in its iron grip as bestselling author Lynette Eason propels you along in a race to discover the truth.

Well, no. I yawned through the first quarter of Nowhere to Turn, then put it aside for a couple of months before forcing myself to finish it. Romantic suspense is my favourite genre, so I should have enjoyed this, but I didn’t. I didn’t relate at all to Dani, and I didn’t understand why it took her twelve years to leave Kurt. Yes, I know her husband threatened to murder her son in front of her if she ever left, but there are ways to hide from the authorities. Criminals do it all the time, and women’s refuges exist to help (we know there was a refuge—her neighbour gave her the details).

And I know this is fiction, but I found Operation Refuge too unbelievable, with their seemingly never-ending resources and hot line to the state governor (because, you know, the governor has nothing better to do than wait for telephone calls from ex-US Marshals who need a favour). It was Hawaii Five-O without the sunshine and scenery.

However, I do have sympathy for Dani and other women in her situation. Around a third of the way through the book, Dani thinks:

Was she really that needy? Was she so brainwashed that she was actually afraid to be on her own?

I think the answer is “yes”, and that’s why she couldn’t leave. But as a reader, I needed to understand this from the beginning. It was at this point where I (finally) felt able to engage with Dani.

But this wasn’t enough to rescue the novel for me. There were parts of the plot which were excellent, like the twist at the end about who was behind everything. Then there were parts which just seemed contrived, like the other plot twist at the end. And there were a couple of other plot devices which were simply too obvious. Overall, not a book I enjoyed.

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

20 March 2015

Review: A Faith of Her Own by Kathleen Fuller

Still Not Sold on Amish Fiction

I went through a phase of reading Amish romance by Beverley Lewis about ten years ago, but gave up after realising that they seemed to be rehashing variations of the same plot over and over (and the one which had a different plot ended up having the same “twist” as the last of Michael Phillips’s Stonewycke books, which meant I found it too predictable).

Since then I’ve read a few mysteries set in Amish country by authors such as Mindy Starns Clark and Vanetta Chapman, and I enjoyed those more because the focus of the plot was the mystery rather than romance. I’ve also read some other novels by authors who mostly write Amish fiction, such as Anna Schmidt, Beth Wiseman and Beth Vogt, and have found the quality variable. At their best, they are as good as any authors writing in the Christian market. At their worst, they have stupid cliché characters, predictable plots and uninspired writing.

I picked out A Faith of Her Own to review because I thought it was time I gave Amish fiction another chance, and because the plot sounded interesting. It appeared to have more of an emphasis on the faith elements than some Amish fiction I've read (this has been one thing which has always bugged me about Amish fiction: the notion that if an Amish teen chooses not to be baptised into the Amish church, he or she has rejected both God and family when actually all they’ve done is acknowledge there are other ways to serve God than through the Amish church).

Even Anna Mae made this point when considering whether she was going to join the church:
It’s not like I take my faith lightly. I’m not turning my back on God.”
The blurb says:
Ever since Anna Mae’s childhood friend Jeremiah left their Amish community, she’s questioned her own place in the Amish world.  The Amish life feels as if it’s closing in on her, and with her mother trying to set her up with potential suitors, Anna Mae feels trapped in a life she’s not sure she wants any more. But she’s never told anyone that she longs for a tiny taste of freedom—freedom that could be very costly.

When Jeremiah suddenly reappears in Middlefield to help his mentor, Yankee veterinarian Dr. Miller, new questions surface for Anna Mae,along with feelings she’d never fully acknowledged before.

As Anna Mae and Jeremiah rekindle their friendship, old feelings take on new meaning. Yet the question still lingers: What is God’s plan for her life? Should she stay, keeping loyal to her Amish family, or does God have a bigger plan—one that provides more freedom than she could imagine? The answers do not come easily, and the answer to God’s call may lie indifferent directions . . . for both of them.

Based on this I was expecting the main focus of the plot to be on Anna Mae and Jeremiah. It was and it wasn’t: there were also significant subplots about Jeremiah’s relationships with his father and brother, and his cousins and their horse farm. This was rather confusing at the beginning as the reader is introduced to a variety of characters with no understanding of how they are related to Anna Mae, to Jeremiah, or to the plot. Perhaps this would have been clearer if I’d read the earlier books in the series.

Anyway, once I worked out who was who, I enjoyed the book. The writing was solid but not outstanding (a bit too much backstory and telling at the beginning, and a lot of introspection throughout the story which slowed the pace). Despite this, I would have liked to have had more introspection from Anna Mae, as even at the end I didn’t feel I knew her as a character, or could understand why she’d made the decisions she had. In fact, I felt I knew Becka, Caleb and Amos better than either Anna Mae or Jeremiah.

My other problem was with the constant use of Deitsch (German). I don’t mind the occasional foreign word, especially when it’s a proper noun (Daed, for Dad) or a word that doesn’t have a straightforward English equivalent (like kapp, for the Amish headcovering).

But I found the constant use of simple Deitsch words like yes, no, and me to be intrusive because each time I got to one I had to stop reading to mentally translate the word, then reread the sentence to get the context right. It pulled me out of the story, and it didn’t feel natural (the people I know who speak two languages speak one or the other at any given time. They speak English to me, and English or their native language when talking amongst themselves. They don’t interject words from one language into another, and if they do use a word from their native language, it’s because they are asking for the English equivalent).

Overall I found A Faith of Her Own okay. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been more consistent with the blurb, either by focussing on Anna Mae and Jeremiah, or if the blurb had made clear that it was really the story of two related couples.

Will I read more Amish fiction from Kathleen Fuller? I don’t know. I liked the way A Faith of Her Own acknowledged that people have different Christian callings, and I especially liked the sensitive way the characters related to Amos (who has developmental difficulties), but overall? Better than most Amish fiction I've read, but ultimately forgettable. Quite simply, that isn't good enough.

18 March 2015

Review: Completely Smitten by Kristine Grayson

2015 Reading Challenge: A Book with Magic

Kristine Grayson is one of many pen names of Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I’m a regular follower of her blog, as she has extensive experience in writing and publishing, and writes some excellent blog posts on the subject. I’ve also read and reviewed her marketing book, Discoverability, which was also excellent.

However, writing about writing isn’t how Rusch/Greyson has made her name (names?). She’s written widely across fiction genres, including romance, paranormal romance, science fiction and fantasy, including for popular lines such as Star Trek. I have been interested in sampling some of her fiction, so was pleased when I found this in my local library, and even more pleased when I found it could count towards my 2015 Reading Challenge, as A Book With Magic.

Completely Smitten is the story of Darius, cursed by the Fates for mocking true love, forced to live in an ugly body until he unites one hundred pairs of soul mates. It’s been three thousand years, and he has just united his ninety-eighth and ninety-ninth couples when he meets—and falls for—Ariel Summers. Unfortunately, he can see she has a soul mate, and his job isn’t to fall for Ariel, but to find and match her with the lucky man. But the path of true love never did run smooth, and Darius has to use more than a little of his magic with Ariel.

And there’s plenty of magic, along with plenty of humour, witty dialogue (truly, some of the dialogue is a study in excellence), excellent characters, and a plot that twists and turns throughout history while remaining firmly anchored in the present.

Best of all, while it was a paranormal romance in the sense that Darius is three thousand years old and has an interesting background (among other things, he inspired many of Shakespeare’s plays), it was a sweet romance with little bad language, no violence, and no sex.

It's not Christian romance, but it is a clean, fun read. Recommended for those looking for an enjoyable general market romance with no inappropriate content.

16 March 2015

Review: Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd

4 stars, but not recommended

Having survived the Indian mutiny of 1858 which killed her parents, Miss Rebecca Ravenshaw returns to her family home in England only to discover that the property has been awarded to a distant relative … and that she is the second Miss Rebecca Ravenshaw who has arrived to claim the property.

She comes to an agreement with Captain Whitfield, who generously allows her to stay in the house until her claim can be proved—or disproved. Rebecca knows who she is, so this leaves a mystery: who was the imposter, and how did she know so much about the Ravenshaw family that she was able to pass herself off as Rebecca. How did she die … and is Rebecca safe in this strange environment where she has no friends?

I liked Rebecca. Growing up as a missionary child in India meant she wasn’t as sheltered or naïve as many ladies, although she still managed to make a couple of errors of judgement (virtually compulsory for gothic romance). The story is written entirely in the first person, something I’m seeing more and more of in historical fiction. I know some readers don’t like first person, but I do, and Rebecca is a sufficiently strong character that she can carry the story.

My complaint with Mist of Midnight is an issue of basic theology (which, for Christian fiction, is a pretty big complaint). Romans 5:8 (NIV) says:
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
God didn’t wait for us to repent and confess our sins in order to forgive us: He died first, in the hope we would repent and ask for forgiveness. This is also illustrated by Jesus when He tells the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), where the father forgives the son before the son repents and asks forgiveness.

Yet in Mist of Midnight, Rebecca says, “Scripture requires repentance before forgiveness can be offered.” I disagree, and while this doesn’t affect the story and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story (which I enjoyed a lot), it misrepresents the gospel in a way that would make me uncomfortable recommending this book, especially to a non-Christian.

What do you think?

13 March 2015

New Book from Rachel Hauck | ‘How to Catch a Prince’ Royal Giveaway and my Review

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck's new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a "royal" prize pack! 


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel's blog.



My Review: Disappointing

American heiress Corina Del Ray has spent the last five years mourning the loss of her twin brother, Carlos, in Afghanistan. Now she’s working for online megapaper, the Beaumont News, and her boss assigns her to go to the kingdom of Brighton to attend a movie premier and interview the lead actor. She doesn’t want to go—she has history in Brighton, and with Prince Stephen …

I wanted to like How to Catch a Prince. After all, I read for enjoyment. However, I had two major issues. First, and most important, I simply couldn’t get into the imaginary kingdom the author has created. It’s not England, but has too many similarities with England to ignore—some of which make no sense, like the fact they play rugby, a game which wasn’t invented until 200 years after their independence from England. Why don’t they play Brightonian football?

There is a king who married a commoner (Wills and Kate, anyone?), a prince who spent time in the army (Harry?) and now plays rugby for his country (which sounds a lot like Zara’s husband. You know, Zara, Prince William's cousin?). Everyone in America seems to have visited or lived in Brighton at some points. Even the name Brighton is irritating, as it continually reminded me of the famous town on England’s south coast. And then there were the slightly magical elements, like the hotel only the hero and heroine could see.

My other issue was the language glitches. A movie premier. A prince being coronated. The King’s mother being called the Queen Mum. Bugger (we’re not allowed to use the f-word in Christian fiction, so why is the homosexual equivalent appropriate?). Every time I came close to becoming engrossed in the story, something would pull me out and remind me that it was all made up, an allegory.

The writing was okay. The characters were okay. The plot was okay. The Christian elements of the plot were, on average, okay (they ranged from being almost absent to too heavy-handed). But there were too many things pulling me out of the story, and “okay” wasn’t enough to overcome those issues. Overall, I had to force myself to finish How to Catch a Prince.

Thanks to Litfuse and Zondervan for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about the book and Rachel Hauck at the tour landing page.

11 March 2015

Review: Where Trust Lies by Janette Oke

2015 Reading Challenge: A book I started but never finished

(Well, now I've finished it.)

I wanted to like Where Trust Lies, because it’s by Janette Oke. I think I’ve bought, read and reread all her books—she was one of the first Christian romance authors I ever read. But I was disappointed, even though I read and enjoyed the first in this Return to the Canadian West series, Where Courage Calls.

Why? Well, the first reason was obvious: this wasn’t set in the Canadian West. Beth Thatcher has returned to her family back East for the summer vacation, which meant this book didn’t have any of the interesting characters featured in Where Courage Calls (although there are a couple of crossover characters). I didn’t know when this was set: obviously it was immediately after Where Courage Calls and it was some time between the end of the Great War and the beginning of the Great Depression … but when?

Then, I’m sad to say, there was the writing. It was slow. So slow that I put it down for a couple of months. The first three-quarters is basically a travelogue of the ladies on a cruise, and is as interesting as the last time you listened to someone you barely knew go on about their long holiday. “And then we … and then we … and then we …,” with occasional family arguments to inject some semblance of conflict.

Sure, Beth met some people along the way, but there was nothing engaging about either the travelogue, or Beth’s inner journey (which seemed to be centred around the fact her mother doesn’t understand her). The plot really didn’t get going until the last quarter, when the pace picked up considerably with the addition of some real conflict and tension, but it was all wound up too quickly, and everyone learned a valuable moral lesson and lived happily ever after.

Added to the plot and character issues, the writing felt old-fashioned and awkward, with too many adverbs (“she finally said playfully to her mother”), redundancy (“Beth thought to herself”. Really? No one read her mind?), and the outlandish dialogue tags (“she enthused”, or “directed Mrs Montclair”).

Overall, Where Trust Lies was a miss, and I don’t know if I care enough about Beth to read the inevitable sequel. Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

10 March 2015

I'm Reviewing at Suspense Sisters!

Today I'm reviewing Hidden Agenda by Lisa Harris at Suspense Sisters. 

Exciting Conclusion to Series

Journalist Olivia Hamilton has been receiving mysterious emails, emails which suggest her father, Antonio Valez, is more than just a real estate developer: he’s actually involved in a drug cartel. She visits his private island to find out more, but finds herself in danger after her younger brother witnesses her father’s head of security murder one man … and torture another. Ivan convinces her that they must leave the island, but they have to rescue the stranger, or he will be murdered in the morning ...

Now click here to head over to the Suspense Sisters Reviews blog to read the rest!

9 March 2015

Review: Heartsong by Nicola Furlong


Some families have hope. Others have faith. The Shepherds of rural Oregon have Faith, Hope and Charly, three quirky sisters whose lives change forever when they reluctantly answer a personal calling to help other make amends.

Thirty-something single parent Charly Shepherd is satisfied with her life raising two children and thousands of plants in her family owned Sweet Shepherd Nursery. Then tragedy strikes. As she and her siblings struggle to keep the nursery going, Charly begins to believe her family’s destiny is greater than raising flowers. When the three sisters reluctantly delve into family secrets to help their ailing father fulfill a promise, their lives change forever as they pursue a new inspirational path of discovery, heartache, humor and redemption.

Heartsong is the first novel in the proposed Sisterhood of Shepherds series. The characters are interesting and the writing is solid, but I found the story didn’t really deliver on the promise. It seemed to take a long time to get into the story, to the point where the plot wasn’t actually clear. It wasn’t about the Shepherd family recovering from the hailstorm after their insurance cover accidentally lapsed. It wasn’t about the mysterious vandalism occurring around the Sweet Shepherd Nursery.

It eventually got around to the idea that the Shepherd girls had some kind of spiritual destiny to help others, but this seemed like a minor subplot rather than the whole point. Their first “project” was to help their father make right a wrong committed many years ago. However, even this was underwhelming, as the leadup to the big reveal made it sound as though Barry had done something awful (had an affair and a child out of wedlock at the very least), but the actual secret was something much more low-key, and I felt his level of guilt was misplaced.

I did like the relevant quotes at the beginning of each chapter, especially this one from Cicero:
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.
Overall, Heartsong was a nice story, but it wasn’t a compelling plot, had a weak ending (which hinged on one coincidences too many—really, how many widowed-and-remarried retirees still send Valentine’s cards to the guy they didn’t marry over forty years ago?), and it didn’t deliver on what was promised in the blurb.

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

6 March 2015

ARCBA Blog Tour: Swallow Me Now! by Melissa Gijsbers

2 - 6 March 2015
is introducing

Swallow Me, Now!
(Lilly Pilly Press, October 2014)


Melissa Gijsbers

About the Book

All Sam wants to do is to fit in at her new school. Feeling alone, and desperately trying to find her place in the world, she concocts an AMAZING story - BUT it backfires on her, and she becomes known as the 'Evil Genius's Daughter!' Can her life get any worse?

About the Author

Melissa Gijsbers started writing when she was in High School during the 1990s, even winning some awards for a short story and a script. For many years, life got in the way of creative writing, however she did start blogging around 2006.

She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia with her two sons and a pet blue tongue lizard.

My Review

I think Sam is a character most children can relate to—starting a new school (or job) can be a scary experience. Sam has grown up in a missionary family, so isn't prepared for some of the behaviour of the children in her class, which leads to her making some bad decisions ... like not telling her parents when she has a problem, and lying to the other children in an attempt to fit in. 

I found myself getting frustrated with Sam at times, and had to remind myself she is only ten (or thereabouts—although we were told what grade she was in, I don't know exactly what age that is in Australia). 

Swallow Me Now! makes interesting points about school bullying—I think what impacted me the most was the different types of bullying, and how Sam didn't see the way the other girls were treating her was actually bullying. She put up with it for a long time before saying anything, which I guess is because she didn't know. But I knew, and I was getting cross with her, wishing she'd make better choices!

This would be a good story to share with primary-aged children, to help them understand what bullying is so they can tell a grown-up if it happens to them or to a friend, and hopefully show them that sometimes not doing something (like making friends with the new kid in class) can be just as bad as being mean. 

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

4 March 2015

Review: After a Fashion by Jen Turano

A New Jen Turano Series!

Miss Harriet Peabody is a ladies’ hatmaker in New York City in 1882. An out-of-the-ordinary request from her employer to deliver some hats to an important customer sparks a chain of events which finds Harriet as the hired companion of Mr Oliver Addleshaw, one of the wealthiest gentlemen in America. Harriet had asked God for “something wonderful” for her birthday, but surely He didn’t mean this? Sure, Mr Addleshaw is attractive, but he has some questionable views and associates with some inappropriate people.

Oddly enough, Oliver Addleshaw has the same complaints about Harriet: she is impulsive, knows all the wrong people, and has some quite inappropriate skills. But he needs a lady to act as companion when he meets with the Duke of Westmoore in regard to a business deal, and the previous candidate simply won’t do. Harriet is his only option.

I’m a big fan of Jen Turano’s writing. Her characters are intelligent, quirky, and funny, yet it never seems as though that’s the effect she’s trying to achieve (I recently attempted to read a title where I suspect the author was trying to be funny, but missed the mark and hit cringe-worthy instead. At least I hope she was trying to be funny. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate).

Jen Turano manages to infuse her writing with amusing quips (such as describing one character as having an “overabundance of personality”) without being cringey. And the over-the-top ridiculous situations her characters routinely get themselves into are well-paced comedy, not slapstick. After a Fashion is the first book in a new series, and is recommended for fans of Carol Cox and Karen Witemeyer.

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

This book is part of my 2015 Reading Challenge, as a book by an author I love that I haven't read yet (well, I have now!). 

2 March 2015

Review: Uncharted Redemption by Keely Brooke Keith

Solid Sequel

Uncharted Redemption is the second book in the Uncharted series, and takes us back to the Land, an island that is mysteriously hidden from radar and other navigation equipment, a land that has remained unknown except for one accidental intruder—Connor Bradshaw—and his wingman, Justin Mercer, who caught a glimpse of the island and is desperate to return. However, that’s the ongoing subplot.

The main plot of Uncharted Redemption follows the Colburn and Foster families as they solve the mystery of the missing lambs, a mystery that soon solves itself and leaves them with bigger problems—problems which relate back to the events in The Land Uncharted (yes, this is a series and I recommend you read it in order). I don’t want to say too much more for fear of giving spoilers.

The crux of Uncharted Redemption focuses on Levi Colburn, who is breaking with Land tradition by working as a carpenter rather than following in his father’s footsteps, partly because he blames his father for their mother’s murder many years ago. He is in love with Mandy Foster, who spurned his offer of courtship for her own reasons. Both need redemption in their own ways, but it doesn’t come easily.

While I enjoyed Uncharted Redemption just as much as the first book in the series (The Land Uncharted), I found the writing a little more stilted, a little less easy to read. This was mostly with the dialogue, and I suspect the stilted feel came because the inhabitants of the Land didn’t use enough contractions. Yes, I understand they have been isolated from the world for seven generations, but the English language has been using contractions in conversation since before then.

However, I will still be pleased to read the next book in the series, to find out what happens when Justin Mercer finds the island … assuming he does.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Keely Brooke Keith at her website.