30 September 2015

Reading Challenge: It Happened at the Fair by Deeanne Gist

A book I own but have never read

Amazon Description

Gambling everything—including the family farm—Cullen McNamara travels to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with his most recent invention. But the noise in the fair’s Machinery Hall makes it impossible to communicate with potential buyers. In an act of desperation, he hires Della Wentworth, a teacher of the deaf, to tutor him in the art of lip-reading.

The young teacher is reluctant to participate, and Cullen has trouble keeping his mind on his lessons while intently watching her lips. Like the newly invented Ferris wheel, he is caught in a whirl between his girl back home, his dreams as an inventor, and his unexpected attraction to his new tutor. Can he keep his feet on the ground, or will he be carried away?

My Review

It Happened at the Fair followed the pattern of Gist’s other recent novels, in that it’s more “clean fiction” than “Christian fiction”, and I’m sorry to see this (although at least this didn’t have the world’s worst sex scene, which is what her next book boasted. Authors, if you’re not comfortable writing a sex scene, don’t. A bad sex scene isn’t going to win you any readers, but may well lose you some).

There were other issues. I don’t like the “other woman” (aka the man can’t make up his mind) plot. There were a lot of misspelled words, meant to illustrate Cullen’s hearing problem. While I can see what the author was trying to do, I found it irritating. The novel seemed to end too quickly, partly because I could feel there were a lot of pages left, but these were actually the author’s notes (she did a lot of research, and it was excellent. I really enjoyed reading the notes).

The pictures of the Fair at the beginning of each chapter also annoyed me … not because of the pictures, but because the captions underneath turned out to be chapter spoilers (as an aside, she used these in Tiffany Girl  as well. I read that on my Kindle, and they were even more annoying on the Kindle than in the paper book).

The historical aspects of the Fair were interesting: automatic fire extinguishers, the Cold Storage fire, the debate between teaching deaf children lipreading vs sign language, the discrimination against the deaf. But being interested in the historical aspects isn’t enough. That’s not why I read fiction.

Deeanne Gist used to be one of my favourite authors because of her combination of excellent research, excellent writing, great plots and characters, and her ability to write Christian fiction that challenge the norm of “Christian fiction”. But while her last few books have been competent, they haven’t been memorable in the way books like A Bride Most Begrudging or Courting Trouble were memorable. The result, I’m sorry to say, is that she’s no longer a must-read author for me—one really good book out of the last four isn’t enough, not when her early books were all hits. I might read and review her next book, but I’m not going to buy it.

It’s not that It Happened at the Fair is a bad book. It’s not. It’s just not excellent or outstanding or memorable or a book I want to make all my friends read, and her early books were all those things.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book I own but had never read.

28 September 2015

Review: The Trespasser by Karen Cossey

One of my freelance editing clients!

As some of you know, I’m a part-time freelance fiction editor, and I edited The Tresspassers which makes this a slightly biased review.

It’s set in England, near Plymouth, where Logan trespasses on an exclusive country retreat to climb a cliff … and is caught by the imaginative Meeka, who is escaping from the Mines of Certain Doom and Death, and her father, Captain Blackbeard. Logan is pleased to make a new friend, especially one as interesting and adventurous as Meeka, but they soon find themselves getting a little more adventure than they had bargained for. Well, the West Country has long been known as pirate country. There are secrets hidden in those caves …

The Trespassers is a fast-paced adventure story with a healthy dose of comedy (illustrated by Meeka’s extensive vocabulary and penchant for made-up words). There is plenty of conflict, with a good balance between the external adventure conflict and Logan’s internal journey, and an underlying theme of family belonging. It’s not specifically Christian fiction, but it’s definitely written from a Christian world view and would make a great read-aloud story for school-aged children, or a read-alone story for middle grade readers.

25 September 2015

Friday Fifteen: Sara Goff

Today I'd like to welcome debut author Sara Goff to Iola's Christian Reads. Sara has recently released her first novel, I Always Cry at Weddings, and she's here today to share her favourite 15 authors. Welcome, Sara!

I grew up in a hundred-year-old house with bookshelves lining every wall of the downstairs level, floor to ceiling. You could almost believe that the house was constructed of books, dusty books, I might add. Living with those titles day in and day out reminded me of the books I had read, the emotions they invoked and the lessons I took away. It’s something we’ve lost in the digital age, where books are filed out in cyber space or deleted with a click of a button. Now, recalling 15 of the most influential stories I’ve read is like pulling them off their bookshelves. The characters and themes come alive inside me yet again!

1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway has been my favorite author since high school. As an icon of WWI expatriate writers, he popularized the term Lost Generation, which captures that feeling of displacement and worthlessness I imagine we have all experienced at some point in our lives. I appreciate the headstrong women in his novels, especially at a time when women's rights, responsibilities, and respect in society were still new. But what really draws me to Hemingway's books is his writing style--succinct, subtle, and yet rich in tone and meaning. I wish he were alive and still writing today.

2. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

I don’t enjoy Faulkner's writing, but I admire his nerve, writing from a place within himself that few people can fully understand. In my twenties, I went through a Faulkner phase, reading his books, looking up one obscure word after another. Well, it was the worst thing I could've done for my own writing, as obscure words started sneaking into my story, totally confusing and foreign to my characters.

3. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I love reading about London during the Industrial Revolution, especially through the fatherly eyes of Charles Dickens. My mother read The Christmas Carol to me every December 24th until I was in high school!

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

This was the first book I read on my own in my pre-teens and will forever associate Jo March’s coming of age with my own feelings of freedom and independence.

5. Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout

In a shocking story, Strout finely, delicately, and absolutely captures the evolving relationship between a mother and a daughter. She taught me to write between the lines.

"Write between the lines". I love that phrase - it's definitely what turns an average novel into a great one!

6. Three Junes by Julia Glass

A deep and brilliant look at humanity. Reading Glass is a lesson on characterization.

7.--9. What is the What by Dave Eggers

I'm interested in the plight and resilience of people, and especially children, innocently caught in the middle of war. Though I can't relate to or understand their struggle, I want to listen to their stories. Two other books I have great respect for in this category are Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro's The Bosnia List and Elie Wiesel's Night.

10. Heaven's Prey by Janet Sketchley

Sketchley, in my opinion, is the boldest, most talented Christian fiction writer out there. And Heaven's Prey is packed with proof . . . and suspense.

11. Twilight of the British Raj series by Christine Lindsay

Beautiful writing. I could stop there. Lindsay is a master of creating setting, and when you're exploring lush and wild India during the British Raj, that's what you want! She also effortlessly weaves contrasting plot lines that represent India in flux.

I thought this series was excellent, especially the final book.

12. They Almost Always Come Home by Cynthia Ruchti

When I need reminding that stories show; they don’t tell, I turn to They Almost Always Come Home. In her story about a middle-aged couple facing a marital slump, with the wife at home and the husband lost in the wilderness, Ruchti keeps you deep in the action.

13. & 14. Lost in Siberia by Ian Frazier and Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

These authors make me laugh. Frazier makes me think mostly, but he’ll drop in his humor, in just the right places, and be both funny and thought provoking.

15. The Cheer Leader by Jill McCorkle

The Cheer Leader (1984), one of McCorkle’s earliest novels, portrays the angst weighing on Jo Spencer in her teens, and how that stress finally brings her down in her twenties when she goes for the wrong guy in college. The story has lingered with me since I read it years ago and is, in part, behind Lift the Lid, the charity I founded, which encourages students to use the power of writing to shout, This is what I’m dealing with! Listen to me! I mean something! I’m grateful for McCorkle’s inspiration and look forward to reading her latest novel Life After Life.

Thanks, Sara! It's always interesting to find out what authors like to read, and to pick up a few ideas ...

About Sarah Goff

Sara Goff recently moved to Darien, Connecticut with her husband of 14 years and their two sons after living in Sweden and then London for nearly seven years. I ALWAYS CRY AT WEDDINGS, her debut novel about figuring out life and finding love in New York City, was recently released by WhiteFire Publishing. A part of the proceeds from the book will go towards her educational charity Lift the Lid, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Visit www.lift-the-lid.org for more information on the charity.

~ Places to Connect with Sara ~ 

Review and Giveaway: Second Chance Ranch by Liz Isaacson

Today I have a spotlight for a new book, SECOND CHANCE RANCH by Liz Isaacson. It's a Western inspirational romance, and it hit shelves on Tuesday, September 15.

About Second Chance Ranch: After his deployment, injured and discharged Major Squire Ackerman returns to Three Rivers Ranch, anxious to prove himself capable of running the cattle operation so his parents can retire. Things would be easier if the ranch wasn’t missing 1.6 million dollars, which forces Squire to hire Kelly, the girl who rejected his high school prom invitation, as his accountant.

She’s back in town with her four-year-old son, living in her parent’s basement until she can get her life back together. With fresh ink on her divorce papers and open gashes on her heart, she’s not ready for much beyond her new job on the ranch.

Squire wants to forgive Kelly for ignoring him a decade ago. He’d like to provide the stable life she needs, but with old wounds opening and a ranch on the brink of financial collapse, it will take patience and faith to make their second chance possible.

For fans of inspirational western romance authors Kimberly Krey, Becky Wade, and Denise Hunter.

Add on Goodreads | Buy on Amazon

About Liz Isaacson: Liz Isaacson writes inspirational romance, usually in a Western setting because of her love of horses and cowboys. In her real life, she is Elana Johnson, hybrid author of several YA and adult romance novels. She is a teacher of technology and she wants to travel the world.

Blog | Twitter | Facebook

My Review

Kelly Armstrong has returned with her son to her tiny home town following her divorce. She applies for a job at Three Rivers Ranch, working for Squire Ackerman, the younger brother of her best friend in high school. She needs the job, so she can afford to move out of her parent’s basement. Squire doesn’t want to work with the girl who rejected him many years ago, but there’s a problem in the ranch accounts and he needs Kelly’s help to find it …

I liked both main characters—important in a romance. Squire was the all-American hero, an Army major who has now retired following an injury. Yes, he’s probably too good to be true, but this is a romance novel. We don’t hold that against him. Kelly is an equally good character—strong, intelligent, hard-working, reliable and caring. Her main fault is that she appears to have no faults. No matter: there is still plenty of conflict and tension, both from the missing money and the growing feelings between Kelly and Squire.

The one thing which bothered me about Second Chance Ranch was the timing. Four months ago Kelly discovered her husband was having an affair. Now she’s been divorced one month and is living back in her home town … and this is a romance novel, so she’s about to find her Happy Ever After. Really? Four months ago she was in love with husband number one, and now she’s ready to move on? No going through the stages of grief for the death of a marriage? No trust issues? Or are my views tarnished from living in New Zealand, where it takes at least two years to get a divorce, to ensure couples have adequate time to attempt to reconcile?

Aside from that, I really enjoyed the characters and the story. The writing was excellent (marred only by a couple of proofreading errors and overuse of “he thought” and “she thought). In fact, some of the writing was outstanding, like the description of dinner delivered by Squire: “chicken noodle soup with a side of male goodness”. Funny!

Recommended for those who enjoy fun-filled contemporary Christian romance by authors like Becky Wade, Andrea Grigg and Rose Dee.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. While this is her first contemporary romance, she has previously published YA fantasy as Elena Johnson.

23 September 2015

Reading Challenge: A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

A book based entirely on its cover

The cover is beautiful! And what’s even better: the rest of the book lived up to the promise. This is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. I think. I read it so quickly I might have to go back and read it again just to be sure …

A Noble Masquerade is Regency romance, my favourite historical period and one that is woefully underrepresented in Christian fiction. It’s also got a strong suspense plot, and it’s no secret romantic suspense is my favourite genre. The book is off to a good start …

Lady Miranda Hawthorne might titled and have been raised to be a lady, but she’s not a lady at heart. She has unladylike thoughts and sometimes does unladylike things, and she’s currently bemoaning her single state. For years, she’s been pouring her unladylike heart out to Marsh, her brother’s best friend since his school days. Not that she’s ever posted the letters. A single woman writing to a man is most unladylike.

But after one particularly stressful evening, in which Lady Miranda realises her shallow younger sister is going to eclipse her socially once she is “out”, Miranda finds herself in conversation with her brother’s new valet—his handsome new valet--and writing yet another letter to Marsh. Only the valet finds the letter and posts it, and a week later, Miranda gets a response from Marsh, the mysterious Duke of Marshington who no one has seen for nine long years. Oops.

Things soon get complicated as Miranda finds herself fighting an attraction to Marlow, completely the wrong man, and getting to know Marsh through his letters … and finding herself attracted to him as well. Then the suspense plot takes hold, and I don’t want to say anything more because that would be a spoiler. You’ll just have to read it for yourself to find out what happens.

There were times when it didn’t seem like A Noble Masquerade was the first novel in the series at all. It wasn’t as though I felt I was missing information, more that it felt like the characters had more history together than I was seeing on the page. When I checked Amazon, I found I was right: Kristi Ann Hunter also has a free prequel novella available, A Lady of Esteem. I obviously downloaded this immediately, and am planning to read it right after I finish this review ...

A Noble Masquerade will appeal to fans of historical romance, especially Regency romance. The writing is excellent, with plenty of plot twists and turns, quirky characters and plenty of humour, along the lines of general market author Julia Quinn. But it’s definitely Christian fiction, and the faith elements are handled especially well. Recommended.

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

This book contributes towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book based entirely on its cover.

22 September 2015

This week is US Banned Books week

Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read since 1982, is observed the last week of September. Each year, librarians, booksellers, teachers and countless others take this opportunity to highlight the importance of intellectual freedom and remind us not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted

There are a great many trees which have died in the services of books which never should have been printed (a list which probably includes every book written by a reality TV star). However, that's no reason to ban books, or worse, burn them, simply because they contain ideas or topics I disagree with (if I was permitted to ban books, we'd start with the complete works of E L James).

Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.
Them that begin by burning books, end by burning men.


Have you read any banned books? Why were they banned? Was that justified?

21 September 2015

Review: Dreaming on Daisies by Miralee Ferrell

Secrets, Lies and Deception

Amazon Description

When her father's debts, brought on by heavy drinking, threaten Leah Carlson's family ranch, she fights to save it. When handsome banker Steven Harding must decline her loan request, he determines to do what he can to help. Just as he arrives to serve as a much-needed ranch hand, Leah's family secrets—and the pain of her past—come to a head. They could destroy everything she's fought for. And they could keep her from ever opening her heart again.

This is western historical romance that offers hope and healing to the deepest wounds in a woman's past.

My Review

Based on the beginning, I thought Dreaming on Daisies was going to be a standard historical romance. While the first half of the novel certainly focused on the attraction and developing relationship between rancher’s daughter Leah Carlson and banker Steven Harding, the second half almost ignored that relationship and instead focused on Leah’s relationship with her drunken stepfather, dead mother and wayward brother.

The Carlson/Pape family had a lot of issues, which had left Leah feeling as though everyone she ever loved abandoned her—and that if she fell for Steven, he’d abandon her as well. There were some strong Christian themes of the dangers of pride and the need to offer forgiveness. These were addressed well, but I couldn’t help feeling the plot was being driven by the need to demonstrate these themes. This was particularly the case with the character of Charlie Pape, whose personal journey detracted from what the romance plot.

I also didn’t like the fact that so much of the plot was centred around secrets, lies and deception. Leah was the victim in most of these secrets and lies, and it seemed her personal journey to deal with the lies she’d been told was the most important factor in the plot. I’m not saying it shouldn’t have been important, but not at the expense of the romantic relationship. This resurfaced out of nowhere towards the end and seemed a little too convenient, because it hadn’t been threaded throughout.

Having said all that, Dreaming on Daisies was a solid read. I’d probably get more out of it if I read it a second time, but it didn’t interest me enough (and there are dozens of books on my to-read list which interest me more!)

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

18 September 2015

Friday Fifteen: Alicia G Ruggieri

Today I'd like to welcome author Alicia G Ruggieri to share fifteen books and authors who have influenced her life and writing. Welcome, Alicia!

This was difficult! How does one narrow down the most influential writers on their own writing and life to a list of fifteen? Here are fifteen of my favorite writers who have had the strongest impact on my own life and writing.

1. C.S. Lewis 

My mom reading aloud The Chronicles of Narnia is one of my earliest memories. Lewis’ down-to-earth, often-humorous, but utterly deep fiction and nonfiction has challenged and encouraged me each time I read him. His ‘Til We Have Faces makes it into my top three fiction books.

2. Oswald Chambers 

Not only does My Utmost for His Highest have a near-permanent spot on my bedside table, but his other works – I’m thinking of his study of the Book of Job, Baffled to Fight Better – have fortified my walk with Jesus Christ.

3. George MacDonald 

Can anyone write more realistic fantasy, more childlike novels about bonny Scotland, or sermons more passionate about the love of God? My sister first gave me a volume of MacDonald’s sermons when I was in high school, and I will be forever grateful that she did. It’s hard to choose a favorite among his writings, but I’d say Phantastes and Sir Gibbie rank very high.

4. Elisabeth Elliot 

A woman unafraid to stand for the truth and to place everything she had and was in the Lord’s hands. Her first husband’s quote sums up her life and writings: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

5. L.M. Montgomery 

Her The Story Girl and The Golden Road display a level of simple yet heart-rending beauty that I’d love to imitate in my own work.

6. E.B. White

Wilbur the pig, Templeton the rat, and Stuart Little show us that some of the deepest themes in the world can find their channel through the most common of characters.

7. Brother Yun 

The Heavenly Man has provided focus and widened my vision of what God does in and through those who stake their all in Him. I can’t recommend Yun highly enough.

8. Hannah Hurnard 

God used this Quaker’s little book Hearing Heart to soften my own heart toward true obedience and listening to Him, the real and personal God.

9. Janette Oke 

She was perhaps the first Christian novelist I ever read, and her gently insistent Seasons of the Heart series continues to encourage me toward writing about ordinary folk who have an extraordinary God.

10. Charles Dickens 

How could I leave him out? His characters make me weep, roar with laugher, and cry with indignation.

11. Ravi Zacharias 

His Great Conversations series has helped me more deeply understand how our Christian discipleship makes all the difference.

12. J.R.R. Tolkien 

The Lord of the Rings brings a remarkable level of layering and fictitious history that leaves me in awe.

13. John Bunyan 

Pilgrim’s Progress is a spiritual eye-opener. I cannot recommend any book more highly.

14. John G. Paton 

This missionary’s autobiography has done a great deal to cement my commitment to the Lord Jesus. My favorite story about him: When an elderly woman in a Scottish congregation protested his upcoming missions work in the New Hebrides, saying, “But Mr. Paton, you will be eaten by cannibals!” His reply? “Madam, you will be eaten by worms.”

15. Shakespeare 

Who can do tragedy so well? I re-read Hamlet every couple of years and find something fresh every time.

Thanks for having me, Iola! Readers, I hope that you find something new to explore in my list!

About Alicia G Ruggieri

Alicia G. Ruggieri writes Christ-centered fiction that speaks of redemption. She received her B.A. in Communications and History from Rhode Island College and lives with her husband and their emotionally-disturbed pug on the New England coast.

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AliciaGRuggieri
Blog: http://www.abrighterdestiny.blogspot.com
Twitter: @aliciaruggieri
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/AliciaGRuggieri
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/author/aliciagruggieri

Alicia's second book releases on 29 September, and is currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Click here!

Review: Miracle Drug by Richard Mabry

Too Many Glitches

After a colleague dies of a heart attack, Dr Josh Pearson finds himself personal physician to David Madison, former President of the United States. And he’s sick. Very sick. And not responding to any of the usual treatments. If that wasn’t bad enough, Josh’s girlfriend, nurse Rachel Moore is showing the same symptoms as the ex-President …

Sounds simple enough. Two sick people: will the good doctor find a cure? But it wasn’t that straightforward.

Here’s where I got confused. The medicine came in liquid form, but it was measured in milligrams. I was raised on the decimal system of measurement: I know a milligram is one-thousandth of a gram (one gram is a little less than a quarter of a teaspoon, so one milligram is tiny). 

However, grams are a measure of weight, not volume. Liquids are generally measured in litres, with a millilitre being one-thousandth of a litre. A litre of water weighs one kilogram, and is the amount of liquid that would fit in four metric cups. The doctors say they have 270 milligrams of medicine, but it’s clearly a liquid, so why are they measuring a liquid by weight, not volume? Do they actually mean millilitres?

But if the doctors actually have 270 millilitres of medicine, then that is just over a metric cup—which would be stored in a bottle, not a “small vial”. Later on they refer to bottles with 1000 millilitres (that's a litre, which is around a quarter of a gallon). Storing a litre of liquid in a bottle seems reasonable … if it’s millilitres, not milligrams. Because 1000 milligrams is just one gram—less than a quarter of a teaspoon.

Yes, this is getting pedantic and someone who grew up with pounds and fluid ounces probably wouldn’t notice. But doctors prescribing medicines should know that one gram is equal to one thousand millilitres (people, that’s the simplicity of the decimal system. A litre is the amount of water that fits in a 10cm x 10cm x 10cm container, and it weighs approximately one kilogram, 1000 grams. Everything is in 1’s, 10’s, 100’s and 1000’s, and it’s all related).

Another place I got confused was with the actual medical dosage (and here I hoped either I was reading it wrong or that this has been fixed in proofreading, because otherwise Dr Josh has some serious medical malpractice suits pending). Derek says the correct dosage of RP-78 is one milligram per kilogram of patient body weight per day.

The two patients have a combined body weight of 134 kilograms, which means 270 milligrams (or millilitres—I’m now going to take a leaf out of The Martian and call them milliwhatevers) of medicine is enough for TWO doses each, not one (equally, that 270 milliwhatevers is enough for three doses for just the President, or five doses for just Rachel).

I’ve got this horrible feeling they’ve mixed up pounds and kilos, because if the correct dose was 1 milliwhatever per pound of body weight, 270 milliwhatevers would be about right for one dose (technically, they’d need 290 milliwhatevers, but its obvious exact amounts aren’t important). Anyway, these simple conversion errors can happen to anyone. Just ask the people who did the calculations for the Mars Climate Orbiter and didn't get the conversion right. Yeah, so that didn’t go so well. Oops.

Also, we were supposed to believe that 270 milliwhatevers was only enough for one dose each, but 2000 milliwhatevers was enough for the other nine doses despite 2000 divided by 270 being just 7.4 doses … no, the maths simply doesn’t add up. We were also supposed to believe it was a major catastrophe when the last three doses of the President's medicine went missing, when it was obvious all along that they would have to give him some doses out of the second vial (Rachel's). (Sorry, that was a spoiler. But it was supposed to be a major source of tension—will the President get the medicine in time?—whereas the tension was actually when will this stupid doctor realise the obvious).

The net result of all this is I found the medical plot frustrating rather than thrilling, which just left the who-was-trying-to-kill-the-ex-President plot, and the romance and faith subplots. The murder plot had potential … until we found out whodunit, and on whose orders.

I wasn’t convinced.

If Mr X wanted the President dead, why didn’t he simply lie when asked if he had some of the medicine? (We’ll leave aside the complete cheese factor in the eventual identity of Mr Big who wanted the President dead. That came completely out of left field and broke one of the central rules of the whodunit: that it must be a character in the novel. Like, in the novel proper. Not appearing for the first time when the police arrive to arrest him. And as for question 6 in the Discussion Guide at the end … there are no words. Oh, yes there are. Cliché stereotype).

The romance subplot was fine, but not enough to redeem the other issues. The faith subplot was so-so, but I didn't understand why Rachel, a Christian, was going out with Josh in the first place, as he wasn't. No, I'm not a believer in mission dating.

This isn’t the best Richard Mabry medical thriller I've read. In fact, I think it’s the worst, which sounds awful (but, realistically, as soon as you read more than one book by an author, one has to be the worst). Miracle Drug was an excellent concept, and could have been a great medical thriller. But there were too many glitches which had a material effect on the plot, and those glitches ruined my ability to believe in the plot or care about the characters. Although I’m glad no fictional characters had to die because of Dr Josh’s bad maths.

P.S. In countries which use grams and litres, its maths (short for mathematics), not math.

Thanks to NetGalley and Abingdon Press for providing a free ebook for review.

16 September 2015

Reading Challenge: This Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof

Reading Challenge: Book That Made Me Cry

I actually “read” the Audible audiobook, narrated by Gail Shalan. She had a beautiful voice with a youthful, breathy tone, which made it easy to believe she was a teenager from Rocky Knob, Virginia, in the mid-1880’s, especially as the book is written in first person present tense, and entirely from Sarah’s point of view.

There were a couple of words I didn’t understand because of her accent—I worked out pecan, but others remained a mystery (in case you were wondering, in New Zealand we put the emphasis on the first syllable, so it’s pea-kin, whereas she pronounced it pi-can with a very short p). However, the voice and accent were authentic and well-portrayed, and not understanding the odd word didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story at all.

This Quiet Sky is the story of Sarah Miller and Tucker O’Shea, the oldest students at the one-room school in Rocky Knob. Sarah is new in school and behind in algebra; Tucker is a math whiz who is asked to tutor her. A hesitant friendship develops, hesitant mostly on Sarah’s side because of the rumour that Tucker is dying from some unknown cause. Those who have read Bischof’s earlier Cadence of Grace series will recall Sarah Miller is Lonnie’s aunt.

That was my first surprise, and it wasn’t entirely welcome. I only read the first book in the Cadence of Grace trilogy, because I didn’t enjoy the characters or the plot (the setting and the writing were excellent, but that’s not enough to make me read a novel!). Also, first person present tense suggests contemporary Young Adult fiction to me, and the cover also made me think this was a contemporary novella. So the time setting was another surprise.

No matter. I found I liked Sarah a lot more than Lonnie, and Tucker reminded me of Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars. Actually, there were a lot of similarities between This Quiet Sky and The Fault in Our Stars (thankfully, not the awful support group), but certainly in the theme and tone. Of course, This Quiet Sky is Christian fiction set in the 1800’s, which means Sarah and Tucker have a whole different set of challenges, but they also have the one thing Hazel and Gus didn’t have: faith.

And this faith aspect gives the novella a depth The Fault in Our Stars lacks, even in the much-shorter length. Recommended … but not if you’re in the mood for a light-hearted and relaxing read.

This story counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book which made me cry.

14 September 2015

Review: Intertwined by Jennifer Slattery

Not as Good as Her Debut Novel

I was impressed by Jennifer Slattery’s first novel, Beyond I Do, mostly because of the way she integrated the Christian faith seamlessly into the novel. I’m sorry to say I was less impressed by Intertwined.

The whole plot of Intertwined seemed driven by external circumstances, and it seemed that no sooner had one Bad Thing happened than another happened (to both Nick and Tammy), and I suspect the plot points would have had more impact if they didn’t keep stacking up, one on top of another. Also, the two ex’s were too stereotypical with no redeeming qualities. Marianne seemed more interested in keeping Nick away from their children to anger Nick than for any concern for the children, and Brody was the opposite—bordering on neglectful.

Most novels, especially romance novels, find ways to convince the characters—and, by proxy, the readers—that they shouldn’t be together. With Intertwined, it seemed obvious early on that Nick and Tammy were supposed to be together and nothing was stopping them except their own blind selves. That was frustrating as well. Yes, I’m pleased their wasn’t insta-lust, but some attraction would have been nice …

I also thought the Christian elements seemed more forced than in Beyond I Do (which I reviewed and recommended), especially when it came to the teenage daughter with more attitude than sense. I’ve got one of those myself, and I simply can’t imagine a child who loathes family devotions enjoying Hinds Feet in High Places and having insightful views about the allegory. It didn’t fit the character as she had been portrayed.

Overall, the writing was solid but unconvincing. It’s a long way from the worst book I’ve read recently (hey, I liked it enough to finish it!), but it wasn’t the best. It wasn’t the best I’ve read, and it wasn’t the author’s best.

Thanks to New Hope Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

11 September 2015

ARCBA Blog Tour: Signs in Life by Deanna Nowadnick

7 - 11 September
is introducing

Signs in Life Finding Direction in Our Travels with God

Rhododendron Books (May 8, 2015)


Deanna Nowadnick

About the Book:

Signs in Life begins with a late night encounter with local law enforcement. In the harsh glare of a flashlight, Deanna Nowadnick learns the consequences of speeding through a stop sign. Other incidents follow. All are linked to the divine signs she’s encountered in that bigger journey through life.

Deanna shares humorous anecdotes and inspirational lessons from her travels with God. Readers will see the signs in life. She might be speeding through a stop sign–yet again!–while you’re carefully navigating a busy street, but we’re all part of a bigger journey, a greater purpose. We’re all part of God’s great story.

As she used to tell her  young sons, “Buckle up. We’re going for a ride.”

About the Author

Deanna Nowadnick is a native of the Pacific Northwest. When not writing, she serves at the Client Service Coordinator for The Planner's Edge, an investment advisory firm in Washington State.

Deanna is active in her church, playing the violin and editing the newsletter. She loves to knit, adores chocolate, and most important, enjoys a blessed marriage to Kurt. She's also the proud mother of two adult sons. Her first book, Fruit of My Spirit, began as a short story for Kyle and Kevin about how she met their father. It quickly became a much larger story about God's love and faithfulness.

Deanna has just finished her second book: Signs in Life: Finding Direction in Our Travels with God.

9 September 2015

Review: Red Like Crimson by Janice Thompson

A Book with Antonyms in the Title

(I know red and crimson aren't exactly opposites, but they clash, and should never be seen together. That's why I'm counting this as a book with antonyms.)

Adrianne left college eight years ago when she found out she was pregnant because she didn’t want to destroy Chris’s calling to serve as a missionary in Central America. She now lives in Philadelphia, and is beyond surprised when Chris visits her workplace one day as a member of a wedding party. For his part, Chris is shocked but pleased to see Adrianne again, as he never understood why she left college with no warning, or ignored his letters (like, posted letters. So quaint).

The persistent difficulty of a secret baby plot is the secret. There has to be a good reason why the woman never told the man she was pregnant, because many readers will find it hard to like a heroine who deliberately keeps that kind of information from a man, especially if he’s a good and likeable man (which we hope he is, because we want to see the couple together by the end). We need to see the heroine make at least reasonable attempts to contact the father, or have some major yet believable reason why she doesn’t.

And this is getting harder and harder with smart phones, email and social media: most people, especially young and new adults, own a smart phone, have an email account (that doesn’t change address even if they do) and are on some kind of social media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram). This makes it less and less likely that a woman simply wouldn’t be able contact her baby’s father. Red and Crimson got around this by being set in the near past—I found at the end the story was written in 2007, and the lack of mobile phones and the mention of a digital camera made it feel that old (and isn’t it ridiculous that only eight years ago feels ‘old’?). Despite this, the writing was strong enough that I never questioned the lack of email or social media as I was reading.

I got the impression from the ongoing “never the groom” comments that Red and Crimson was part of a series—it felt as though I was supposed to know Chris, Stephen and some of the other characters. But the story stood alone, and I never felt as though I was missing valuable character history in order to understand Red and Crimson. Nor did I feel as though I was being dumped with information about minor characters (something I have come across in other novels).

The theme of the story was forgiveness: God has forgiven us our sins, so we need to forgive ourselves and move on into the life God has planned for us. It’s a message many of us have heard before, but a message that bears repeating. It also reinforces the truth that we are called to be missionaries wherever we are placed, that we don’t have to be in some far-off developing nation to serve God (and while the author doesn’t specifically say so, some people serve God from their homes by writing Christian fiction).

Overall, Red and Crimson was an enjoyable if quick read that Christian romance lovers should enjoy. It was a sweet story with a plenty of conflict but not so much that it felt over-the-top (unlike the last novel I read …). There were a couple of typos (like Adrianne and Adrienne in the book description!), but nothing which interfered with my enjoyment of the story.

7 September 2015

Review: Seaside Gifts by Gayle Roper

Another Seaside Romance! Yay!

I’ve read and reread all five of Gayle Roper’s Seaside Christian romance novels, and it’s hard for me to pick a favourite (if asked, I usually pick whichever one I read most recently). My only regret with the series is that the only thing which stays constant is the location and the beachcomber—none of the novels make reference to any of major characters in the other novels. The advantage of this is you can read the novels in any order, but it would be nice to find out what happened to some of the other characters …

While Seaside Gifts is a novella, it takes the same approach as the novels: a romance with a light suspense subplot, but heavily focused on the developing relationship between the hero and heroine, with a heroine who usually has some issues around family to work through (Roper does tend to give her heroines overbearing or problem parents!).

This time the romance is between Nan Patterson, who has recently inherited Present Perfect, a well-known Seaside gift shop, and policeman Roger Eastman. Nan has an unusual problem: leavery. Someone has been sneaking into her store and leaving valuable gifts, such as Royal Doulton figurines. And she expects Roger to solve the mystery. Roger’s more confident with thievery than leavery, but he finds Nan endearingly attractive and wants to help …

Seaside Gifts is a novella, which means it was too short to develop the relationship between Nan and Roger to the degree I would have liked to have seen. It meant the whole romance felt a little rushed—Roger had only known Nan two minutes before he was offering to paint her apartment (well, that might be a slight exaggeration). It simply wasn’t long enough to give enough attention to the romance and the development of the main characters, not to mention the quirky minor characters who seem to inhabit Seaside.

I also thought the number and complexity of the subplots would have been better suited to a full-length novel: there was the main romance plot, the leavery subplot, the Nan-and-her-mother subplot, and another subplot around the store, and I would have liked to have seen them all covered in a little more depth (especially as the subplot added a cozy mystery/light suspense note to the plot, and I’m always a fan of a good romantic suspense).

The result was that while I enjoyed Seaside Gifts, I would have liked it to be longer. (But that’s better than wishing it had been shorter!)

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

4 September 2015

Friday Fifteen: Ric Derdeyn

Today I'd like to welcome debut author Ric Derdeyn to share fifteen books and authors who have influenced his life and writing. Welcome, Ric!

When Iola invited me to write a “Friday Fifteen”, I thought it would be easy. What actually happened is that it required some real introspection. I also discovered at least one common theme—I like authors who can weave an interesting, self-consistent and believable world in their stories.

Oops! I didn't mean this to be difficult!

1. C. S. Lewis

It is almost impossible for me to pick a favorite work from C. S. Lewis. His Chronicles of Narnia are enjoyable to read (and to reread). They also inspired me to write stories for my Goddaughters. But, it is in his other works where I think his real brilliance resides. It is hard to find a clearer thinker than Lewis as evidenced by his works like On Stories, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, God in the Dock, The Screwtape Letters - the list goes on.

My sci-fi self also has a soft spot for his space trilogy.

2. J.R.R. Tolkien

The man is a master story weaver. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is the first story I remember reading and then being disappointed that it was over. I wanted it to go on. His work is many layers deep and is an excellent study in how to “create a world”. His essay, On Fairy-Stories is a must read for any aspiring fantasy writer.

3. George MacDonald

MacDonald was a Scottish author as well as a Christian minister. He has a real gift for infusing his works with both the fantastical and the presence of God. His fantasy works (Lilith, Phantastes, The Princess and the Goblin and others) are amazing and influenced the likes of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Madeleine L’Engle. His more scholarly works contain flashes of brilliance, though they can be a bit hard to read.

It was George MacDonald who first introduced me to Christian fiction.

4. Georgette Heyer

I go from fantasy to Regency Romance. Heyer is the best I have read in this genre. Most of her work brings to life the Regency period in England with very real, likeable (and some not so likeable) characters. I was really caught by her ability to write interesting and entertaining dialogue. Her stories are fun to read. For the record, I particularly like The Nonesuch, Frederica and Arabella.

I've heard there are people who don't enjoy Georgette Heyer. Personally, I have trouble believing this. 

5. Shakespeare

From the time I was in a Shakespeare play (Romeo and Juliet) in High School, I have had immense respect for the way the Bard puts words together. We don’t really talk like that anymore, but it is still fun to read or see his plays and marvel at how he expresses things. The ways he uses words approaches the magical.

6. Plato

What can I say? I have a degree in Philosophy and Socrates, as channeled through Plato, was one of my early heroes.

7. Fyodor Dostoyevsky

They made us read Crime and Punishment in college. Once I got past the weird names, the writing was incredible. Dostoyevsky is a brilliant writer who opens up a whole, authentically Russian world that I knew nothing about. The Brothers Karamazov is another of his excellent works.

8. Edger Rice Burroughs

One of my earliest “binge” reads was the Tarzan series (there are 24 main books). Burroughs has a fertile imagination, and the Tarzan of the books is much more interesting than the Johnny Weissmuller movies (although those are fun too).

Burroughs was ahead of his time. We watched John Carter of Mars recently, and my husband was commenting on how derivative it was. Neither of us realised it was the original: everyone else copied Burroughs!

9. Victor Hugo

I have only read his work Les Miserables but it is one of the best and most moving books I have read. The hero is a true hero and the story paints an excellent picture of what Paris was like during the revolution.

10. Charles Dickens

Dickens is justifiably one of the greats. His stories like A Tale of Two Cities, and David Copperfield are classics. But some of the lesser known like The Old Curiosity Shop are interesting reads too. And, of course, who can forget A Christmas Carol (especially as done by the Muppets).

11. David Eddings

Back to Fantasy. David Eddings wrote my second favorite epic fantasy, The Belgariad. It is an engaging story from start to finish and it introduces some very interesting characters

12. Piers Anthony

Piers Anthony is one of the most fun fantasy writers I have read. His Xanth novels are somewhat tongue in cheek, but well-constructed and good reads. The Apprentice Adept series is also interesting fantasy.

13. Chaim Potok

Potok wrote a number of stories (The Chosen, The Promise, My Name is Asher Lev, etc.) that deal with life in and around the Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish cultures. The stories painted a very interesting world for me as someone with no prior knowledge or experience of those cultures.

14. Robert Heinlein

Heinlein was my introduction to Science Fiction. I read all of his “juvenile” novels before I discovered that he wrote other more “mature” works. I think he is brilliant at science fiction, though some of the characters in his later works take paths that I would not agree with. My interest in that genre, kindled by Heinlein, took me through Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, and others.

15. Ernest Hemingway

While I don’t always like where Hemingway goes with his stories, I like his simple writing style. And some of his stories are quite good, like The Old man and the Sea.

I want to thank you, Iola, for the opportunity to share information on some of the most inspiring authors I have read. Now, on to the next fifteen.

About Ric Derdeyn

As a Project Manager and Business Analyst, I took an unlikely route to writing my first book. Twenty two years ago, I was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s dedication to his Goddaughter, Lucy, in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. So I started a story for my Goddaughter. It was a fantasy, intended to be a fun story to read, but one that touched on the good one can (and should) do in the world. Then life intervened, and I put it away for twenty years. Two years ago I was moved to complete it. Bethany’s Tale, Book 1 of the Tales of Emradon was born. Since starting Bethany’s Tale, I have acquired five more Goddaughters whose tales need to be written.
Website http://raderdeyn.wordpress.com/
Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B010KSGQ7C

2 September 2015

Review: The Advocate by Randy Singer

A book at the bottom of my to-read list

The Advocate is the imagined memoir of Theophilus, the man for whom the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts was written. It begins with a memorable opening line:
“I was fourteen years old when I learned what it meant to be crucified.”
The narrator is Theophilus, who is training to be an advocate, a lawyer, a profession which brings him into contact with many of the famous figures from early Christian history. The author truly brings the time and place alive (perhaps too alive at times). Historical characters include Pontius Pilate, Caligula, and Nero, as well as Jesus and Paul.

The first half of the novel was written entirely from the viewpoint of Theophilus, and is excellent. He’s an intelligent man with an engaging voice. He is well able to analyse and interpret the historic events he finds himself part of, especially as he is writing across a passage of many years. I found this brought the days of the early New Testament to life, and provided an insight into the culture and politics of the times.

The story then moves into a combination of first person and third person, and I didn’t find that worked so well. The writing was still good, but I found the movements between Theophilus and the other viewpoint characters weren’t as smooth as I would have liked. But it then switched again, and the final portion of the book was a powerful and challenging read. Recommended.

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book from the bottom of my to-read list … because it was a paperback, and it was literally at the bottom of my pile because it was slightly bigger than most paperbacks.