Month: July 2016

Review: The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have received my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing The Pounamu Prophecy, the debut novel from New Zealand author Cindy Williams. It’s a sensitive and compelling look at part of New Zealand history.

Cover image - The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

A Compelling Debut

James and Helene are both too busy chasing their respective careers (as graphic designer and doctor, respectively) to have time for each other, and after five years, the spark has gone out of their marriage. Mere comes to stay, looking for a quiet place where she can write her memoir without interruption. Helene especially values Mere’s quiet advice, shared from a place of having come to terms with knowledge, suffering and forgiveness.

The Pounamu Prophecy is a split timeline story.

In the present, it’s the story of Brisbane couple James and Helene, their disintegrating marriage. And it’s the story of Mere, their visitor from New Zealand visitor, and the way Mere subtly encourages them to think with a different mindset. In the past, it’s Mere’s story, the story of a Ngati Whatua child growing up in Okahu Bay, Auckland, in the midst of the Maori land protests. It’s also the story of Mere working through her reactions to the age-old grievances.

I live in New Zealand.

I remember the Bastion Point protests. I was only a child and too young to understand what they were about—or how far back the grievances went. I’ve driven past Okahu Bay more times than I can remember. I’ve visited Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World (now Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium), which is built in the old sewage tanks mentioned in The Pounamu Prophecy.

I enjoyed that combination of familiarity and new information, and I thought The Pounamu Prophecy was an outstanding novel. I liked the characters (well, I liked Mere better than Helene or James, who both needed a good talking to). I liked the way the two stories were integrated.

I especially liked the sensitive way the novel brings out the Maori culture and the injustices of the time—a combination of greed and perhaps patriarchal thinking. The injustice is plain. It seems the New Zealand Government of the time had a lot in common with the biblical Laban.

Overall, The Pounamu Prophecy is an excellent story of rising above difficult situations, and learning to forgive what some might think can’t be forgiven.

Recommended.

You can read the introduction to The Pounamu Prophecy here:

What Did You Read in July 2016?

It’s been a busy month. I’ve managed to produce almost 40,000 words of the first draft of my first novella (being the first in the series, not the first I’ve written). And I’ve read a few books …

Favourite Reads - July 2016

The best books I read in July 2016 were:

Missing by Lisa Harris, the newest thriller from this award-winning author (you can read my review here)

Deep Shadows by Vanetta Chapman, a thought-provoking near-future dystopian novel set in Texas (you can read my review here)

When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell, the second novel from an author who took Christian fiction by storm with her debut (you can read my review here)

The Things We Knew by Catherine West, a poignant look at family and love (you can read my review here)

Review: Mistaken by Karen Barnett

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have received my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Mistaken by Karen Barnett, an original historical romance with echoes of Pride and Prejudice.

Excellent Debut Novel

Cover image: Mistaken by Karen Barnett
Laurie’s brother is involved in a local gang running illegal booze from Canada during Prohibition, and the new man in town, Daniel Shepherd is involved as well. Laurie hates the business the effect alcohol has had on her family, and she hates the fact that all the men in her life seem to be controlled by alcohol.

Yet she finds herself attracted to Daniel.

Things get complicated when another new face arrives in town: Samuel Brown. Brown is a handsome federal agent working to eliminate the illegal trade in alcohol, and he’s also interested in Laurie. Although her head says Samuel is the better choice, her feelings are conflicted, not least because of her brother’s involvement in rum-running.

We get a hint of one of the main plot conflicts in Mistaken’s subtitle:

First Impressions Are Never What They Seem.

Literary buffs may recall that the original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions, and there is something of the Lizzie Bennett in Laurie Burke (not merely the initials). Like Lizzie Bennett, Laurie is embarrassed by her family: in her case, by her alcoholic father. Her initial impressions of people are incorrect, and she makes other errors of character judgement in the same way as Lizzie did. I’ll let you figure out the other similarities yourself.

Mistaken is Karen Barnett’s debut novel, and it’s excellent.

I find that a lot of Christian fiction, especially historical fiction, starts to get repetitive in the themes, plots, characters and settings. Mistaken is set in a small coastal town about twenty miles south of the Canadian border. It’s set during the Prohibition era, so alcohol plays a major role in the story. It’s an original time setting, and an original plot, and I liked that.

And the author doesn’t shy away from the problems alcohol causes and the effect it has on family members. Her writing is more challenging than most Christian fiction, as Laurie has to negotiate some difficult moral choices with no black and white answers. The characters are real, facing problems in a world where the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do. And while this is Christian fiction and Laurie’s faith ultimately helps her in finding the answer to her conundrum, the Christian aspect is very understated.

Recommended.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Barnett at her website, and you can read the introduction to Mistaken below:

2016 RITA, Grace and ICR Award Winners

Three more sets of writing awards have been announced this week … so I’m here to share the winners with you.

2016 Rita Grace Awards

The 2016 RITA® Award Winners

The RITA® Awards are run by Romance Writers of America, and are named after the organisation’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada. The Awards are specifically for romance novels, in a range of sub-genres (including Inspirational) and lengths (including long, short and novella).

Inspirational Romance

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

Historical Romance – Long

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist (Howard Books)

The 2016 Grace Award Winners

The Grace Awards were established in 2010 to “expand the tent pegs of Christian fiction”. They allow traditionally published and self-published novels, and make no distinction between paper or digital formats: anyone can enter, as long as the book is Christian Fiction. The 2016 winners were:

Womens Fiction/General Fiction

Annabelle’s Ruth by Betty Thomason Owens

Romance/Historical Romance

Bridge Of Faith by Catherine West

Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller/Historic Suspense

Trial By Twelve by Heather Day Gilbert

Speculative Fiction

Storming by K. M. Weiland

Action-Adventure/Western/Epic Fiction

Saving Eric by Joan Deneve

Young Adult

To Get To You by Joanne Bischof

2016 Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award Winners

The IRCA is run by the Faith, Hope and Love Chapter of Romance Writers of America.

Long Contemporary

Together With You by Victoria Bylin

Long Historical

To Win Her Favor by Tamera Alexander

Short Contemporary

Second Chance Reunion by Merrillee Whren

Short Historical

Out of the Ashes by Sandi Rog

Romantic Suspense

Gone Without a Trace by Patricia Bradley

Women’s Fiction

Ties That Bind by Cindy Woodsmall

Novella

Daughters of the Wind by DiAnn Mills

Congratulations to all these authors! And a huge thank you to the contest organisers and judges. It’s a big job.

Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Illusion by Frank Peretti, who practically invented the modern Christian speculative fiction genre with This Present Darkness.

Illusion

Mandy’s death in a car accident means the end of her forty-year career in magic.

Or does it? Because Mandy is not dead. She’s nineteen again, but nineteen in 2010, not the 1970 she remembers. Mandy struggles to adjust to modern life, trying to practice her father’s advice: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Meanwhile, husband Dane is struggling to adjust to life without his wife … until one day he sees a young magician who reminds him of a young version of Mandy.

As is typical of a Peretti novel, nothing is what it seems. Characters that appeared harmless at first then appear to have some ulterior motive. There is Mandy’s new manager, who helps her get a valid social security number. There is also the mysterious Mr Stone and Mr Mortimer, who appear at Mandy’s funeral, then follow Dane to his new home in northern Idaho to spy on him.

And underneath, there is the mystery of how a dead woman has suddenly appeared again, forty years younger. It’s like there is more than one Mandy, but she is real because she eats and sleeps and talks. And other people talk to her, so it’s not like she’s a ghost – just a teenager in 2010 who only knows the sixties songs and slang.

I try not to read other people’s reviews before I read a book for review, because I don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s ideas. But I did happen to glimpse a couple of reviews before starting to read Illusion, and one commented that they found the beginning of the book confusing.

Well, yes, it was. But I think that was the intention.

Just imagine it. One moment you’re nineteen and enjoying the County Fair with your friends. You sit down to eat lunch, and the next thing you know, the Fair has vanished, everything that is familiar is gone, and people are talking into small plastic boxes and telling you it is 2010 when you know it is 1970. What’s not to be confused about?

So, yes, Illusion was confusing.

It was also engaging and intriguing and I wavered between trying to work out who was who and exactly what was happening, and just wanting to read more and read faster so I could find out for myself. And weird things keep happening. Illusionis not a spiritual warfare novel like Peretti’s early Darkness novels, but it is a fast-paced thriller with a touch of science fiction, albeit from a Christian point of view. I was reading at night and found it hard to keep my eyes open, but even harder to stop reading. Recommended.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Movie Review: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

We spent a family night at the movies a couple of weeks back, seeing the latest New Zealand blockbuster, Hunt for the Wilderpeople. I thought we were the last people in the country to see it, because it’s already been playing cinemas for three months, so I was a little surprised to see the cinema was almost full.

Okay, so it only sat 70 people, but still …

Ricky Baker is a foster child, a kid who has grown up in the system and earned himself a reputation as a real bad egg. His placement with Aunt Bella is his last stop before juvie. So when the unthinkable happens he does what any normal teen would do: fakes his own death and runs off into the bush. Uncle Hector (aka Heck) is obliged to follow, because no responsible adult is going to leave a town kid lost in the bush. Especially not after he’s shown the level of bushcraft Ricky has shown.

One thing leads to another, and soon Ricky and Heck are on the run from the social worker, the police, the armed offenders squad (I suspect all of the armed offenders squad), intrepid hunters, a nutty conspiracy theorist, and some wild pigs.

It’s a toss-up as to who is the most dangerous, but I think Ricky wins. Or maybe the pigs.

Underneath the comedy and bluster and farce, Hunter for the Wilderpeople a tale of family. It’s based on a novel Wild Pork and Watercress by Barry Crump, and stars Sam Neill, Rhys Darby and Julian Dennison.

Those of us who were alive in the eighties and remember Crumpy’s TV ads for Toyota enjoyed the vintage Toyota ute in the film, and the cameo from Scotty, Crumpy’s townie offsider.

Yes, he’s looking a bit older 🙂

It is one of those movies where the extended trailer tells you most of the story. Here it is:

Yes, the New Zealand bush really looks like that.

Yes, the prison at the end of the movie is a real prison.

No, we don’t all have guns. Although if we were all going to meet pigs like that, we’d need them.

No, the New Zealand police don’t usually carry weapons.

Although some highway patrols do, in case they come across escaped sheep endangering traffic. I found this out on last week’s episode of Highway Patrol.

And with that, I think I’ve given you enough of a picture of the “real” New Zealand for one week.

Review: Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Nine Days in May by Ninie Hammon. I also interviewed Ninie, and you can read our conversation here.

Five Days in May

Five Days in May starts with the end: the “Big Ugly”, a massive tornado that strikes the town of Graham, Oklahoma, in May 1963. It then goes back five days to show in detail the lives of the townspeople—who know nothing. The reader knows what’s coming, but the characters are tied up in their everyday lives. There is no warning of the coming disaster.

There are four main characters.

Princess (Emily Prentice) is due to be executed in five days for murdering her baby sister. Mac, the widowed preacher has lost his faith in God. Jonas, Mac’s father-in-law, is caring for a wife with “old-timers” disease. Joy, Mac’s teenage daughter, has her own set of problems. There are also some fascinating yet disturbing minor characters, including Wanda and Jackson.

The characters are excellent. Princess has a distinct and engaging voice, and who “sees” things in a way that’s a cross between the movies Green Mile and Being John Malkovich. Joy is a typical teenager, so tied up in her own problems that she can’t see the wood for the trees. Mac is the typical father of a teenage daughter, in that he can’t relate to her and can barely hold a conversation with her. (I could relate—their relationship had a lot of similarities to the relationship between my husband and my daughter.)

The plot was complex, a tangled web of relationships. While I did guess one of the major plot points before it was revealed, that only added to the tension. Was I right? What would the characters think and say when they found out? I was right, but the reaction of one character in particular surprised me. Another behaved exactly true to character … but justice was served in the end, albeit not in the tidy way I perhaps expected.

There are ‘rules’ of writing.

These rules say authors should limit the number of viewpoint characters, and shouldn’t use omniscient point of view. Hammon ‘broke’ both rules in Five Days in May, yet in such a way that it didn’t detract from the story. Rather, it added to the tension (especially given how unhinged some of these characters were …)

While Five Days in May isn’t specifically Christian fiction, there are strong Christian themes of love and sacrifice. These themes underpin a story that is, quite simply, brilliant in both concept and execution. Recommended.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ninie Hammon at her website, or check out our interview. And here’s the book trailer:

And you can read the beginning below:

2016 Christy and INSPY Award Winners and Carol Finalists

It’s been a busy week in terms of awards for Christian fiction. American Christian Fiction Writers have announced the finalists in the Carol Awards (with the winners to be announced at their conference in August), and the 2016 Christy Award and 2016 INSPY Award winners have been announced.

Winners of the 2016 Christy and INSPY awards
Winners of the 2016 Christy and INSPY awards

So if you’ve been looking for a Christian novel to read, here are some great choices!

First up, the winners of the 2016 Christy Awards:

Book of the Year and Visionary:

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

Contemporary:

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate

Contemporary Romance/Suspense:

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

Contemporary Series:

Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth K. Vogt

First Novel:

Irish Meadows by Susan Anne Mason

Historical:

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Historical Romance:

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Suspense:

Twisted Innocence by Terri Blackstock

Young Adult:

The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker

The only surprise for me on this list was the winner of First Novel—I attempted to read it, but found the heroine so unlikeable I couldn’t finish it. I can only assume she improved a lot by the end.

The 2016 INSPY Award winners are:

Contemporary Romance / Romantic Suspense

The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer

Debut Fiction

Jaded by Varina Denman

General Fiction

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Historical Romance

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin

Young Adult

An Uncertain Choice by Jody Hedlund

Mystery/Thriller

The Bones Will Speak by Carrie Stuart Parks

Speculative Fiction

The Shock Of Night by Patrick Carr

I’m Thrilled To See Secrets She Kept On This List As Well—It Was An Outstanding Novel (And, In Fact, Cathy Gohlke Won This Category Last Year As Well, When I Was An Inspy Judge).

And the finalists for the Carol Awards are:

Contemporary:

Finding Me by Kathryn Cushman

The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

As Waters Gone By by Cynthia Ruchti

Historical:

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor by Melanie Dobson

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Luther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund

Historical Romance:

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Through Waters Deep by Sarah Sundin

A Worthy Pursuit by Karen Witemeyer

Mystery/Suspense/Thriller:

The Aleppo Code by Terry Brennan

Blessings in Disguise by Nancy Mehl

Finding Amanda by Robin Patchen

What’s interesting about this category is that none of these are from ‘major’ Christian publishers.

Novella:

A Bride for Bear from The Convenient Bride Collection by Erica Vetsch

A Palace on the Plains from The Most Eligible Bachelor Romance Collection by Erica Vetsch

The Archaeologist’s Find from The Homestead Brides Collection by Erica Vetsch

Huge congratulations to Erica Vetsch, who obviously has this category sewn up!

Romance:

The Beekeeper’s Son by Kelly Irvin

Until the Harvest by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Beth K. Vogt

Romantic Suspense:

No Place to Hide by Lynette Eason

Submerged by Elizabeth Goddard

Miracle Drug by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Short Novel:

Covert Justice by Lynn Huggins Blackburn

The Christmas Family by Linda Goodnight

The Doctor’s Second Chance by Missy Tippens

Speculative:

Vinnie’s Diner by Jennifer AlLee

Heir of Hope by Morgan L. Busse

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

Young Adult:

Angelhood by A.J. Cattapan

The Golden Braid by Melanie Dickerson

Dauntless by Dina L. Sleiman

Debut:

The Thornbearer by Pepper Basham

The Calling of Ella McFarland by Linda Brooks Davis

The First Principle by Marissa Shrock

Another category where all the books are from smaller publishers, which is great news for authors.

Book Review: Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke.

Secrets She Kept

Goosebump Good

I was a little apprehensive about reading Secrets She Kept. I was one of the three judges who awarded Cathy Gohlke the 2015 Inspy Award for General Fiction, for her novel Saving Amelie. After reading a book as good as Saving Amelie, I’m always a little worried that the author’s next book won’t meet my high expectations.

Well, Secrets She Kept blew Saving Amelie out of the water. Yes, it was that good. Goosebump good.

It’s a split timeline story—the modern story is set in 1972. Hannah Sterling’s mother has just died, and Hannah finds her mother was never entirely honest with her. For starters, Lieselotte wasn’t Austrian . . .

No. Lieselotte was German, living in Germany during the rise of Hitler and during World War II.

The past story is Lieselotte’s, during those life-changing war years. It’s not a happy story, but as we journey with both Hannah and Lieselotte, we discover what made Lieselotte the distant mother she was. It was the secrets she kept.

The writing, the research, the characters, the plot—all were outstanding. It’s one of the few split timeline stories I’ve read where the past and the present stories were equally compelling. Recommended.

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Cathy Gohlke at her website.

You can read the introduction to Secrets She Kept here: