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

9 June 2017

ACRBA Tour and Review: Unnoticed by Amanda Deed



5 - 9 May 2017


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

By 

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:

25 May 2017

Book Review: All of You by Sarah Monzon

Great Dual-Timeline Story!


All of You is book two in Sarah Monzon’s Carrington Family series, following Finders Keepers. I haven’t read the first book, but it didn’t matter—this worked well as a standalone novel.

It’s set in two separate timelines. In the present day, ex-Navy pilot Michael Carrington is trying to rebuild his life after losing two limbs in a freak accident. He’s promised to look out for his friend’s baby sister. Vintage airplane restorer Jacqueline Rogers doesn’t want or need his help, but sees he might need hers.

The past story is set in England, in 1944, where American Alice Galloway has joined the Air Transport Auxiliiary, ferrying military aircraft around England and occasionally beyond. Flying planes is dangerous, but that’s not the most dangerous thing …

I enjoyed both timelines, although it did take a while for me to work out the link between them (logic said there has to be a link, right?). Anyway, I figured it out in the end, and it made perfect sense. But I think I enjoyed the contemporary story more, because I liked those characters best.

I thought Jack’s occupation was fascinating. I’ve visited more than my share of airplane museums, and while my husband and son might like the modern fighters, I’m more like Jack—interested in the older planes and the history that goes with them. I’m also fascinated by the varied and dangerous roles women have held over the years, so Alice’s story was interesting as well.

Michael was a great character. His accident has left him having to completely rethink his life and career, and that gives him a great character arc. It’s not so much that he’s mad at God. More than he’s wondering why God allowed this to happen. But it does mean he’s still in Maryland and can watch out for Jack. Because she needs it, whether she acknowledges it or not.

I read an early draft (thanks for the shout-out, Sarah!). I’m looking forward to rereading it as the final version—although maybe this time I’ll read Finders Keepers first. Recommended for contemporary Christian romance fans, military heroes, and those who like dual timeline stories.

You can find out more about Sarah Monzon at her website, and you can read the introduction to All of You below:


23 May 2017

Book Review: Swazi Sunrise by Donna Chapman Gilbert

Amazing True-Life Story

Swazi Sunrise is the story of missionaries Lula Glatzel and Harmon Schmelzenbach. They left America in 1907, bound for southern Africa on what must have felt like a one-way trip into the great unknown. But they both believed God had called them to minister to the African people, despite the distance and the likely hardships.

The first quarter of the story follows their sea journey to Africa via Southampton, England, and the development of their relationship. I knew from the Acknowledgements before Chapter One that Lula and Harmon were going to get married, and that they were pioneering missionaries to Swaziland (a small African kingdom just north of South Africa). This meant the first quarter was a little slow, as I was waiting for what I knew would happen (and I say that as someone who loves a good romance novel).

The pace picked up in the second quarter as Lula and Harmon arrive in Africa, marry, and journey to what will become their African home. Aspects of their story weren’t unlike stories of pioneers in America or other countries—endless travel in a covered wagon, geographic isolation, food shortages, lack of medical care, and general deprivation. Lula and Harmon bore all their hardships with good grace, knowing they were doing the work they had been called to.

The best part of this story is that it’s based on fact.


Lula and Harmon were real people, and their faith and legacy is inspiring. They toiled tirelessly, through threats and turmoil, including attacks on their property. The insight into Swazi culture was fascinating, especially the parallels between their beliefs and the Christian faith.

I was saddened when I read about some of the African customs, like not breastfeeding a baby for the first four days of life—we now know that’s the most important time, because the milk is full of antibodies and essential nutrients.

But I laughed when Harmon was complaining about “those awful avocado pears.” I love avocado, although I know they are an acquired taste, and would have been even more so when Harmon was in Swaziland (and they are also full of important nutrients).

The writing wasn’t necessarily as strong as in some novels I read, but this was more than made up for by the compelling true-life story. Recommended.


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


18 May 2017

Book Review: A Love So True by Melissa Jagears

A Historical Romance with an Edge

If David Kingsman had any chance of making his father proud, this next decision would be it.
David Kingsman is in Teaville, Kansas, to sell the A. K. Glass factory on behalf of his father. But he soon decides the business has more potential than his father realises, and that it would be better for them to build the business up before selling. Meeting Evelyn Wisely may or may not have anything to do with his desire to stay longer in Teaville …

Evelyn Wisely is not interested in men. Instead, she’s dedicated her life to working with her parents in the town orphanage, and to working with the children of the red light district. She’d like to reach out to their mothers as well, to give them a way to escape, but she can’t do that alone. She needs the help of local businessmen. Men like Mr Kingsman.

A Love So True is the third book in the Teaville Moral Society series, following Engaging the Competition (a novella, which I haven't read), and A Heart Most Certain (a novel, which I have read and reviewed). However, A Love So True can easily be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel. Even if you have read A Heart Most Certain, you’ll find a lot has changed in Teaville, as A Love So True is set three years later.

I thought A Heart Most Certain was excellent, and A Love So True is just as good. It’s historical romance, but historical romance with a difference. It’s not the rosy version of history painted by many Christian fiction authors. This version has all too many fallible characters, especially those stuck in the red light district. But it’s also an illustration of Christianity, of the need for Christians to shine God’s light into those dark places. As Evelyn comments, many people are only a couple of bad choices away from such a fate.

Recommended for those who like historical romance, and for those who like their fiction to have an edge of reality while still reflecting and reinforcing the Bible’s teaching.

Thanks to Bethany House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Melissa Jagears at her website, and you can read the introduction to A Heart Most Certain below:

11 May 2017

Book Review: The Long Highway Home by Elizabeth Musser

An Outstanding Story of Christian Faith


The Long Highway Home is the story of Bobbie, an ex-missionary who has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer at the age of 39. It’s the story of Tracie, Bobbie’s niece, who accompanies her to Europe, to visit the missionaries she used to serve with before tragedy sent her back to the US. It’s the story of Hamid, a devout Muslim who is forced to flee Iran after a well-meaning missionary gives his six-year-old daughter a New Testament. But my favourite character is Rasa, the child with a faith that puts mine to shame.

The structure of The Long Highway Home is more like a thriller novel than the women’s fiction and romance I’m more used to reading. There are a lot of viewpoint characters spanning the US, Holland, France, Austria, and Iran. Unlike most thrillers, it’s always obvious who the characters are and how they are related, which kept me turning pages to find out how they’d eventually be brought together.

The author has drawn on her own missionary experiences in writing this excellent novel.


This shines through in both the story of Hamid and his family, and in the advice from some of the minor characters (e.g. Peggy, the elderly prayer warrior who supports Bobbie). These sound like real conversations Ms Musser has had in her years as a missionary—stories of the refugees who survived the refugee highway and made it to The Oasis in Austria.

It’s a story of human courage in the face of adversity, persecution, and possible death. 


It’s a story of hope, of perfect love driving out fear. It challenges our views of refugees by introducing us to real refugees—we know Hamid and Rasheed and Rasa and Omid aren’t real people, but at the same time their stories have that ring of truth, of authenticity. They could be real stories. They may well be.

After all, significant elements of the story are real. 


The Oasis is a real place, and welcomes volunteers and short-term missionaries (and long-term missionaries!) to support its outreach to refugees in Austria. Elizabeth Musser is a missionary with International Teams, an organisation dedicated to helping those who survive the refugee highway. World Wide Radio was inspired by the real-life work of Trans World Radio, which broadcasts in 230 languages to reach listeners in 160 countries.

It’s inspiring and humbling to read about people like this—missionaries who are risking their lives to bring the gospel to others. Refugees who are risking their lives to escape a government that wants them dead. Normal, everyday people who are doing extraordinary things every day.

Recommended.


Thanks to Elizabeth Musser for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Elizabeth Musser at her website, and you can read her Friday Fifteen here.

You can read the introduction to The Long Highway Home below:

9 May 2017

Review: Broken Like Glass by E J McKay

Outstanding from Beginning to End


There are not many novels that manage to grip me from the very first line, but this was one:

“Lillian. Lillian? Can you hear me, Lillian?” My therapist’s voice grates on my. I’d say like nails on a chalkboard, but that wouldn’t accurately describe just how much I hate her voice.

By the end of the first page, we know Lillian is in court-ordered therapy. By the end of the second page, we know why:

“Help me understand why you stabbed your dad with a knife in the middle of the grocery store, and then went home and smashed everything.”

“Some people deserve a little knifing every once in a while and his furniture was a hundred years past vintage. I’d say I did him a favor.”

So Lillian is stuck in her home town for six months until she can explain why … which isn’t so easy. As the novel progresses, we see more and more glimpses of Lillian’s broken past as she opens herself up to Uriah, her teenage crush, to her therapist, and to Jesus—who she refers to as Papa. The title implies we’re going to see a broken person, and we do, but we also strength and character.

Lillian is a strong main character, although some people won’t be able to related to the writing—first person present tense—but I thought it was the perfect choice. It gave us an insight into Lillian, and the present tense gave the story the necessary sense of immediacy.

Reading a first person story narrated by a character who has secrets and hides them from the reader can be frustrating. I always feel that if the character knows the truth about a matter, the reader should know that truth as well. And that’s why I think first person worked so well in Broken Like Glass, because Lillian didn’t know. Her secrets were so deep, she hid them from herself.


Broken Like Glass combined some of the freshest writing I’ve read in ages. The use of first person present tense was inspired. The plot was layered, complex, and never predictable (the couple of minor plot points I almost predicted were minor in comparison to the major twists I ever saw coming).

But the true triumph of Broken Like Glass is Lilly’s relationship with Papa, something her therapist, Chrissy, sees as Lilly's strength:

“But this relationship you have. It’s so … tangible. I want that.”
“Then have it.”
Chrissy looks at me funny. “But how? How did you do it?”
“I clung to the only thing I could. He’s all I had. He’s all I ever had … my only friend was Papa.”

Lilly is the perfect embodiment of the Christian faith as a relationship with Jesus. The scenes where Papa talks and Lilly listens remind me of God speaking in The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. The themes and writing reminded me of Christa Allen and Varina Denman and Amy Matayo, and other newer writers in Christian fiction. But the most important thing is that Broken Like Glass makes me want to know Papa in the way Lilly does. And shouldn’t that be the aim of Christian fiction?

Recommended.

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

5 May 2017

ACRBA Tour and Review: Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman


1 - 5 May 2017


is Introducing 
(Waterfall Press, 2 May 2017)
By Varina Denman



About the Book:
A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations.

For most of her adult life, Cecily Ross has compared herself to other women—and come up short. After a painful divorce from her emotionally abusive husband, Cecily returns to her hometown of Canyon, Texas, looking to heal.

But coming home isn’t what she expects. In a town as small as Canyon, her pain is difficult to escape—especially with her model-perfect ex–sister-in-law working at the town’s popular coffee-shop hangout. With help from her father, a support group, and an old friend who guides her to see her own strengths, Cecily may have a shot at overcoming her insecurities and learning to love again.

The true test comes when tragedy strikes, opening Cecily’s eyes to the harmfulness of her distorted views on beauty—and giving her the perfect opportunity to find peace at last.




About the Author:
Varina Denman enjoys writing fiction about women and the unique struggles they face. Her novels include the Mended Hearts trilogy: JadedJustified, and Jilted, as well as her latest release, Looking Glass Lies. She seems to have a knack for describing small town life, and her debut novel, Jaded, won the ACFW Genesis Contest, the BRMCWC Selah Award, and the INSPYs Bloggers’ Award for Excellence in Faith-Driven Literature.
Varina attended three universities over a span of five years, majoring in four subjects and earning zero degrees. However, she can now boast sixteen years as a home educator, volunteering in her local cooperative where she has taught numerous subjects including creative writing and literature. Varina lives in North Texas where she volunteers in local marriage and family ministry. She is represented by Jessica Kirkland of Kirkland Media Management.
More information:
https://varinadenman.com/




Interview Questions

In Looking Glass Lies as well as the Mended Hearts series, you touch on subjects that are not often talked-about. How do you choose your topics, and what is your motivation? In all my books, my goal is to help women deal with issues in their lives, and generally the issues we women need the most help with are the ones we keep hidden, the secret ones that nobody likes to talk about. Those are the subjects I want to crack open, so that my readers and I can poke them with a stick, see what’s really happening in our lives … and heal a little.
All your books deal with female leads who are struggling with unique issues, but they seem to portrayed from the heart. How much of the plots come from your own life experience? Each book is different, but generally my books begin with a nugget of my own life story, or maybe just a feeling or an impression, and then I completely blow it up into an elaborate, exaggerated story. So I guess you could say, each plot line comes from my own life … but just barely.
Could your writing best be described as women’s fiction or romance? Why? It’s taken me a while to learn about myself as an author. At first, I thought I was a romance writer, but now I’m confident my books fit neatly into women’s fiction. All those issues I pile into the plots just don’t lend themselves to the romance genre, but I always add a touch of romance just for fun.
So far, all of your books are set in Texas. Do you have plans to pursue other settings in the future? Not yet, but I’m not limiting  myself either. As for now, my next book will be set in Texas, but after that, I’m not sure where my stories will take me.

What is your background, and how did you end up writing novels? When I was young, I never dreamed I’d be a writer when I grew up. In school, writing assignments were drudgery, but then again, most of my papers were research not creative writing. My lifelong goal was to marry an awesome guy, settle down, and have a bunch of kiddos. Once I did all that, I surprised myself by developing an increased interest in books which led to an interest in writing. Now I’m having the time of my life.


My Review

The book opens with Cecily married and sleeping in the walk-in closet, and by the end of the first chapter I was frustrated with her for staying married to such a life-sucking object lesson in how not to be a man or a husband. (In case you think I’m being unfair, I disliked him even more by the end.)

Fortunately, Chapter Two started with Cecily newly divorced and returning to her home town where she meets up with the new town hero, football star Michael Devins (who owns a coffee shop), and an old friend Graham Harper (who is now a therapist). It’s a book full of broken characters, and there are no easy answers in the journey to healing.

Looking Glass Lies isn’t Christian fiction, and there were a few times where I just wanted to shout at the characters and tell them to get to a church, or to start praying (especially given Varina Denman’s earlier books, which were based around a church community).

But I can see why it’s been written from a general market point of view, because the book touches on several issues that affect many people: pornography (although this was understated in comparison to, say, One Last Thing by Nancy Rue), and a range of mental health issues including self-harm. And these are issues that touch many women, Christian and non-Christian.

The main issue was around body image and body shaming—especially the way we judge others based on their looks at the same time as feeling bad about the way we look. It’s an intensely personal book, both in the way it was written and in the way different people will read it.

This makes it a difficult book to read, and to review. I didn’t connect with any of the characters (in this case, that’s probably a good thing), and there were some writing glitches which caught my attention once too often. It’s definitely worth reading, but it’s a long way from light and entertaining.

Thanks to ARCBA and Waterfall Press for providing a free ebook for review.

2 May 2017

Cynthia Ruchti's 'A Fragile Hope' Giveaway and Review

When your life's work revolves around repairing other people's marriages, what happens when your own marriage begins to fall apart? Find out what happens to Josiah Chamberlain in Cynthia Ruchti's new book, A Fragile Hope.

Feeling betrayed, confused, and ill-equipped for a crisis this crippling, he reexamines everything he knows about the fragility of hope and the strength of his faith and love. Love seems to have failed him. Will what's left of his faith fail him, too? Or will it be the one thing that holds him together and sears through the impenetrable wall that separates them?

Celebrate the release of A Fragile Hope by entering to win Cynthia's Sign of Hope Giveaway!


One grand prize winner will receive:
Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on May 3. The winner will be announced May 4 on the Litfuse blog.




My Review



One of my ‘rules’ for reading and reviewing is that I have to like the main character—it’s hard to like a book (especially a romance) if you can’t stand the hero.

A Fragile Hope is the exception to that rule.

Josiah Chamberlain is one of the most self-absorbed men you could ever hope to meet. He’s a Christian relationship counsellor who has given up counselling in favour of writing best-selling self-help books while his wife dabbles in some little hobby ‘business’, selling home-made greeting cards. But he’s forced to re-evaluate his life when Karin is involved in a fatal car accident, and ends up in ICU, unconscious. And she’s apparently pregnant … after they’ve been told Josiah can’t have children. This is the slightly frustrating cause of the Big Misundertanding, something that could have been sorted out early in the novel. But Josiah is the man who always has the right answer so it never occurs to him that he hasn’t.

I didn’t like Josiah, but I kept reading out of some kind of macabre fascination. Would Mr Intelligent get a clue? And when?

The other reason I kept reading was because of the writing. There were so much great writing, so many great lines. I appreciated the way the Christian themes were woven in, strong but not overwhelming or out of place. Overall, recommended for the outstanding writing, thought-provoking Christian themes, and a great character-driven story. Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read more about Cynthia Ruchti at her website. Ruchti pin1Cynthia Ruchti's 'A Fragile Hope' Giveaway

28 April 2017

Author Spotlight: Danny and Wanda Pelfrey



Danny and Wanda Pelfrey are longtime writers of non-fiction books in the educational and inspiration markets. They have for most of their lives been avid readers of mystery/suspense. AS A SHIELD and a previous mystery title are the result of a desire to entertain themselves and others as well as drive home important spiritual messages. Their passion is now “mysteries with a message.”






https://www.amazon.com/As-Shield-Danny-Pelfrey-ebook/dp/B01N4UBKXR
CLICK COVER to BUY
AS A SHIELD is one of four planned Davis Morgan mysteries set in a small North Georgia town. Davis, a pastor for almost twenty-five years, returns to his hometown after the death of his wife, to operate a rare and used bookstore. He is promptly appointed chaplain of the small police department and recruited by city officials to write a history of his home town. Mystery and romance seem always to be lurking around the corner for the popular bookseller.The reoccurring characters such as Charley Nelson, young police officer; Amy Morgan, Davis’s young daughter who is an English teacher; her roommate Deidre, who Davis is more and more drawn to as time passes; Miss Helen, the local historian and a host of others add to the fun and excitement.

 A visit to little Adairsville, Georgia will surely be a memorable event for anyone who chooses to drop-in. In AS A SHIELD, Davis, through his encounters with two strange villains, comes to experience for himself the truth of Psalm 5:12, “For surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.”



About the Authors: Danny and Wanda Pelfrey are a husband/wife team who in the past were active writers of non-fiction material, having, between them, cranked out several books. They are both graduates of Point University and Danny has a Masters from Kentucky Christian University. Danny has spent most of his adult life as a pastor and Wanda as a teacher.Their interest at present lies in the creation of mysteries with a message.

Danny and Wanda are the proud parents of two daughters and five grandchildren. They reside in a little Cape Cod style cottage in the small town in North Georgia that is the setting for their mysteries.

About the Book: Davis Morgan, having left the ministry after the death of his wife, returns to Adairsville, Georgia, his hometown. There he operates a used and rare bookstore while being appointed chaplain of the police department. He and Charley, a young policeman, after discovering the body of a tattooed man find themselves in a serious battle to bring justice to two strange villains who are threating the safety of Davis's daughter. While all this is going on, Davis is struggling with interpreting his relationship with a young history teacher who happens to be his daughter's roommate.

25 April 2017

Review: A Secret Courage by Tricia Goyer


Too Many Mistakes


Tricia Goyer has written over fifty novels, but I think this is the first I’ve read. The big-picture historical background was new to me, and fascinating. I’ve heard of the codebreaking work that went on at Bletchley Park in World War II England, but I’d never heard of the Photographic Reconnaissance Unit at Dansefield House near Henley, England. Reading about the work these men and women did was fascinating, and was the novel's greatest strength.

The details were less strong—tea with cream, a fried egg for breakfast (rationing, anyone?), references to sidewalks, signposts, the United Nations, and majoring in history in college (a Brit would read history at university).

There was unintentional comedy in the references to British efficiency (if we’re talking national stereotypes, Germans are efficient. The British are bureaucratic). And while I’d like to think the typos in my review copy were all were corrected in the final published version, I don’t think that’s the case. I was able to search the Kindle Look Inside and find Blenheim Place (should be Palace), and American accident (should be accent). Awkward …

In terms of the plot, I found the first quarter confusing. While it was obvious Will was a double agent, it was less obvious where his true allegiance lay. This made it difficult to engage in the developing romance as I didn’t know whether I was supposed to like Will or loathe him. This made it impossible to engage in what was supposed to be a romance. The middle of the novel often dragged to the point where I considered giving up several times, and I didn’t feel the suspense aspect of the plot really kick in until the last quarter.

This is the first book in The London Chronicles series, but I can’t say I’m interested enough to follow the rest of the series, even though World War II is one of my favourite historical fiction genres.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to A Secret Courage below:

24 April 2017

An Irish Hero and a Seattle Beauty



Guest post By Christine Lindsay

Sofi’s Bridge shows a variety of dialects from the many different immigrants who settled in Washington State. Here is a sample of Neil’s Irish-ness.
Neil returned the smile Sofi gave him. “To a new day then.” He took a sip and held the cup away from him, crinkling his face. “My, how you Swedes like your coffee strong.”

“Too robust for your delicate tastes, Neil Macph—.” Her eyes danced.

“Not at all. We Irish like our tea just as strong.”

“But is the coffee to your taste?”

He leaned against the wall, and his voice came out husky. “ ’Tis grand. Sure I prefer it, so I do.”

“If we’re starting off a new day, then tell me—you prefer tea, don’t you?”

“I do miss a pot of tea, one where the leaves have been stewing so long the spoon can stand straight up in the cup. Does that satisfy ye?”

Their combined laughter lifted to the eaves, filtered down on them, and their gazes locked.

While I know my Irish, I researched the correct phrasing and tone for my other immigrants. Sofi is second generation Swedish, but here is a sample of her mother’s strong cultural roots.
“As the child of poor Swedish immigrants I grew up on the old saying, ‘Manure and diligence make the farmer rich.’”
But the cadences of language and culture disappear in the universal language of a kiss.
Neil could have been strong if Sofi had stayed away. But with the perfume of her nearness, the low, melodious kindness of her voice she exposed his wants, his dreams for his life, a wife, a home. His blood ran brighter through his veins.

He took her upturned face in his hands, his breath going shallow.

If things were different, this girl, this woman could be his. Sofi was the only woman who’d ever penetrated his self-reliance and made him aware of his own needs. She brought wholeness to him, healing to him.

She closed the gap between them. Wind whispered through the pines and cedars as he grazed his lips along hers. He trailed his mouth upward, along her cheek and down the warm softness of her neck. He returned to her lips, drawing in the sweetness of her mouth.

But it wasn’t right, and he pushed away from her. He may be a lot of things, but his father had taught him to be an honest man. By kissing her he was saying he wanted to marry her. And he could never marry Sofi.

Ah yes, the language of human love.



About Christine: Irish born Christine Lindsay is the author of multi-award-winning Christian fiction and non-fiction. Readers describe her writing as gritty yet tender, realistic yet larger than life, with historical detail that collides into the heart of psychological and relationship drama.

Christine's fictional novels have garnered the ACFW Genesis Award, The Grace Award, Canada’s The Word Guild Award, and was a finalist twice for Readers’ Favorite as well as 2nd place in RWA’s Faith Hope and Love contest.

This author’s non-fiction memoir Finding Sarah Finding Me is the true-life story that started this award-winning career in Christian fiction and non-fiction. This book is a must for anyone whose life has been touched by adoption. Christine is currently writing a new fictional series set on the majestic coast of Ireland and loaded with her use of setting as a character that will sweep the reader away. Subscribe to her newsletter on her website www.christinelindsay.org




https://www.amazon.com/Sofis-Bridge-Christine-Lindsay-ebook/dp/B015M9SR6CAbout the Book: Seattle Debutante Sofi Andersson will do everything in her power to protect her sister who is suffering from shock over their father's death. Charles, the family busy-body, threatens to lock Trina in a sanatorium—a whitewashed term for an insane asylum—so Sofi will rescue her little sister, even if it means running away to the Cascade Mountains with only the new gardener Neil Macpherson to protect them. But in a cabin high in the Cascades, Sofi begins to recognize that the handsome immigrant from Ireland harbors secrets of his own. Can she trust this man whose gentle manner brings such peace to her traumatized sister and such tumult to her own emotions? And can Nei, the gardener continue to hide from Sofi that he is really Dr. Neil Galloway, a man wanted for murder by the British police? Only an act of faith and love will bridge the distance that separates lies from truth and safety.


Buy Now: 
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Visit all the stops along the tour



21 April 2017

Friday Fifteen: Pamela Poole

This week I'm pleased to welcome author Pamela Poole to share her Friday Fifteen—the fifteen authors who have most influenced her life and work. Welcome, Pamela!

Fifteen Authors that Changed My World

I grew up when classics were still revered as required reading in school, so they shaped me at an impressionable time. Looking back, I’m grateful that such powerful literature filled my heart and mind, in contrast to the book market of today.

Christ will always be first in my life for every role model, and His words have molded me as no other author can. Scripture is the sieve through which I filter my comparisons of worldviews and morality, and it inevitably influenced the choices I settled on for this post.

1.      Robert Louis Stevenson
I love anything by Stevenson, but the two books that often still come to play in my life are Treasure Island and A Child’s Garden of Verse. I truly admire this man, for he conquered the pitiless adversary of chronic illness and used the forced periods of rest to write books that contributed immeasurably to the world. He’s also a terrific example of how writers can enthrall audiences by creatively crafting rough characters and situations to make them readable without course language.

2.      James Herriot
When I was a teenager, I babysat for a professor and his wife who lived across the street from me. They introduced me to James Herriot’s work by giving me All Creatures Great and Small. Herriot’s true accounts of his escapades as a veterinarian in the English countryside were profoundly insightful peeks into human nature, and he told them in ways that left me gasping in laughter!

3.      Margaret Mitchell
This author’s classic story of the war-torn South has always been a favorite for me because of her fascinating characters in Gone With the Wind, though I personally think that she failed readers in the ending. The line that shocked so many was also the point where Rhett had a chance to shine as a hero, but he fell, and Mitchell left readers unfulfilled. I’m so glad another author, Alexandra Ripley, came through in the 1990’s with the sequel, Scarlett. The sequel was satisfying in her redemption of Scarlett and Rhett.

4. Jane Austen
I know, this is predictable. But on so many levels, she is the ultimate in classy romance writing.

5. Catherine Marshall
Christy was the novel that opened my teenage eyes and heart to the need for missionary work in the mountains not far from my own home. She also taught me that romantic love doesn’t conquer all.

6. Jules Verne
I love adventure, and Around the World in Eighty Days is unforgettable!

7. Lew Wallace
Ben-Hur, a Tale of Christ was a story that deeply affected me, and the movie adaption is still one of my all-time favorite Biblical tales. This profoundly moving story covers almost every universal situation in one timeless epic.

8. C.S. Lewis
Narnia, Mere Christianity, and the Screwtape Letters are truly books to study, not just read through.

9. J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are gold mines of life truths and encouragement for spiritual battles.

10. Bram Stoker
Many people don’t realize that the original Dracula is written from a deeply Christian perspective, and that we battle spiritual “monsters” every day. Hollywood deviations are far from the spirit of Stoker’s masterpiece.

11. Frank Peretti
This Present Darkness gave me new eyes to imagine the dimension of the spiritual battles I already knew were raging around us.

12. Robert Whitlow
The List was another nudge for me in the direction of Southern fiction and the spiritual dimension behind so much that happens in our lives, sometimes for generations.

13. Jeanette Windle
This author’s missionary background and the way she crafted rough, dark settings and characters into art, rather than communicate with offensive words, inspired my writing style. Crossfire and DMZ are so well written that she’s been interviewed by governments about her knowledge of the settings!

14. Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye
The Left Behind series was eye-opening for my family, for we were reminded of the impact that scripture could have when presented in a dramatic story.

15. Edgar Rice Burroughs
While there is a wide gap between this author’s outlook and philosophies compared to my own, he created an amazing character in Tarzan. Derivatives of this novel stirred my imagination for years, and a few elements from it influenced Jaguar, my latest novel release in the Painter Place Saga. My worldview of Tarzan leans toward marveling at God’s provision for a man whose only environment in his formative years was survival in the jungle, and how the man’s reactions play out with the Biblical truth that we are not evolved from animals but created in God’s image, with His moral truth stamped into our very essence of heart, soul, and mind.


About Jaguar, Painter Place Saga Book 3

Caroline and Chad Gregory are happy on their island home at Painter Place. But an old vendetta against them puts Caroline in terrible danger. Her enemies are closing in, and the future of Painter Place is at stake. Her only hope of escape is a man known as the Jaguar, a legendary international operative and Caroline’s one-time boyfriend. Even if he and a miracle can save her, Caroline will never be the same sheltered woman who has been groomed from childhood to inherit the island.


About the Author
Pamela Poole’s love for the South inspires all her books and paintings, and is why she describes her work as Inspiring Southern Ambiance. She became an author after endlessly returning unread books to the library and her son challenged her to write the kind of novel she wanted to read. She and her husband Mark live in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and ACFW-NC.

Where to Find Pamela Online
Main Website: www.pamelapoole.com
Southern Sky Publishing Website:
www.southernskypublishing.com
YouTube Channel:
https://www.youtube.com/user/PamelaPooleFineArt