Month: September 2016

What did you read in September 2016? (and a giveaway)

Well, I’ve (mostly) caught up on my reading and even managed to get some writing done (you can track my progress using the MyBookProgress counter to the right of the screen).

It’s been a great reading month, with some excellent choices. Here are my top four picks for September:

Favourite Reads

And here are the links to my reviews:

The Name I Call Myself by Beth Moran (click here to read my review)

My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray (click here to read my review)

A Lady Unrivaled by Roseanna M White (click here to read my review)

The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauck (click here to read my review)

 

And I promised you a giveaway … so here it is. Click here if you’d like to enter to win a Kindle copy of My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray.

What have you been reading this month? Leave a comment and let me know!

This is off-topic, but I have to share: this is where I live, and where I’m setting my stories. Read the article, and you’ll understand why 🙂

Book Review: The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauck

A Beautiful Allegory

The Wedding Shop is a dual timeline story. In the present, there is Haley, ex-Air Force captain who has returned to her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, to fulfil her childhood dream of reopening Miss Cora’s once-famous wedding shop. The past story is Miss Cora’s. While the two women initially appear completely different, over time we find they have a lot in common.

I thought these commonalities and the clever (and careful) way in which they were gradually revealed was one of the major strengths of the story. I often find one story in a dual timeline novel draws me in more than the other. In paper novels, I’ve been guilty of reading one timeline through to the end, then wondering if I even want to go back and read the other. Sometimes I wonder if the two stories are even linked, or if it’s simply two novellas with the same setting combined to make a “proper novel.”

That certainly wasn’t the case with The Wedding Shop.

I will admit I was initially more engaged in Haley’s story than Cora’s – until I started to see the linkages between the two. And I don’t want to say too much about that for fear of revealing a spoiler … I will say that if you find the beginning a little less than enthralling, keep going. All will be revealed. Including a big twist at the end which I had no idea was coming.

One of the issues of historical fiction is that there are elements of the plot which we know is coming. For example, Miss Cora’s story starts in the early months of 1930, not long after the 1929 stock market crash which triggered the Great Depression. We’ve heard the stories, read the novels. We know some of what is coming. And that adds external tension because we know something the characters don’t know.

And Rachel Hauck played this tension perfectly, and had matching tension in the contemporary part of the story. Combine this with two sets of great characters, and The Wedding Shop is a true winner with an underlying message of God’s forgiveness, our identity as children of God, and the lies we allow ourselves to believe.

I haven’t read The Wedding Dress or The Wedding Chapel, and it’s not necessary in order to enjoy The Wedding Shop. Those who have read the earlier novels will no doubt enjoy the references to both. Those who haven’t might not even pick up on them if they didn’t know there were previous novels.

Recommended.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rachel Hauck at her website, and you can read the introduction to The Wedding Shop below:

L&P: World Famous in New Zealand

L&P: World Famous in New Zealand

My husband and I spent ten years living in London, and the one of the things I missed most about New Zealand (after family!) was my favourite soft drink, L&P. You’ve probably never heard of it unless you’re a Kiwi or have lived here, but let me assure you: L&P is World Famous in New Zealand (yes, that’s their tagline. It’s certainly memorable, and no one dares disagree with it).

L&P – Lemon and Paeroa

L&P was originally a mineral drink made with natural spring water from the town of Paeroa, mixed with lemon (and, I guess, a lot of sugar). It’s light brown in colour, and I don’t know how to describe the taste—it’s unique. I guess my best comparison is that it tastes like a less sweet version of Pink Lemonade (which is one soft drink you can’t get in New Zealand, and one my kids lap up when we visit Australia or the United States). But it’s nothing like the clear 7-Up or Sprite, or Schweppes Lemonade (which is a cloudy yellow colour).

The mineral spa has been known of for generations, and the early Maori recognised the water for its medicinal benefits. It was first bottled in 1907, and marketed as Paeroa and Lemon by the Paeroa Natural Mineral Water Company. By 1947 it was known as Lemon and Paeroa, which was later shortened to L&P (around the time when Kentucky Fried Chicken was shortened to KFC). It was bottled in Paeroa until 1980, when the bottling was transferred to Auckland (where it is now bottled by the Coca-Cola company). To find out more, click here to visit the Paeroa town website.

L&P has become a Kiwi classic.

It’s currently available in three flavours: original, Sweet As (the diet version, which is my poison of choice), and Sharp As (a sour version that has just as much sugar as the original). It used to be available in Dry, but that has been discontinued—perhaps because it didn’t sell well, or perhaps because they couldn’t come up with a cool name for it. Dry As would have worked.

If nothing else, Dry As describes a lot of Kiwi humour.

The town of Paeroa has embraced its contribution to New Zealand culture.

Many L&P Bottle, Paeroa, New Zealandshops on the main street are decorated in L&P colours of yellow and brown, especially the dairies. (In New Zealand, dairies are corner shops selling milk, soft drinks, lollies, ice cream in a cone, milk shakes, and a range of overpriced household necessities.)

They also have the giant L&P bottle, a compulsory tourist stop that begs for a photo, and a visitor centre and café where you can buy L&P ice cream. Personally, I prefer the liquid version.

Have you ever tried L&P?

What did you think? Do you have local produce or drinks that aren’t available elsewhere?

Book Review: My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray

One of the best novels I’ve read this year

Amazon Description

Can love grow in the shadow of a broken past?

Former bad girl Katie Stone can feel the weight of her reputation settle over her as she drives home for the first time in years. Feeling deeply guilty about her past mistakes, Katie wants to do the right thing for once. But the small town where she grew up is not nearly as forgiving as she’d hoped. Despite it all, she’s determined to help her parents cope with her mother’s recent illness, and Katie finds a surprise ally in the man next door.

Asher Powell never minded being the son of a small-town pastor until a recent breakup leaves him wounded by lifelong members of his church. He remembers his new neighbor as a mean-spirited high school troublemaker, but he senses that her newfound faith and desire for forgiveness are sincere.

Through an unexpected friendship, two people from different worlds find peace, hope, and a second chance they never dreamed was possible.

My Review

Katie Stone escaped her home town of Fairfield four years ago and has felt guilty ever since. Now her dad needs help with her mother, so she’s home again. Reluctantly. Very reluctantly. But she’s changed: she’s no longer the drug addict who spends more time with her boyfriend than with her family. She’s become a Christian … as if anyone in Fairfield is going to believe that.

Once home, she finds her new next door neighbour is Asher Powell. Asher, pastor’s son and town good boy, the guy she teased for being so boring all through high school. And she finds her dad’s new best friend is her ex-boyfriend, the person she’s least in interested in spending time with. Oops.

Asher has his own issues with the church and mistakes and judgement. It’s not that he’s given up on God. Just the church his dad pastors, the church he’s attended all his life.

My Hope Next Door was one of the best Christian novels I’ve read this year. It had a clear Christian message—a message it delivers as much to the people in the church as outside:

Quote

 

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

Wellington Museum, and Word Stories from World War One

When my family last visited Wellington, we visited the World War One exhibition at the National Art Gallery and Wellington Museum, and the ANZAC memorial outside.

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This history buff in me thought it was an excellent exhibition—as well as giving the full history of the origins of World War one and the war itself, it also contained dozens of newly colourised photographs from the war. They were both eye-opening and horrific. We’ve all seen photos of World War One … in black and white. These photos are an education, a reminder that those who fought in World War One, the Great War, the War to End All Wars, saw it in unglorious colour: brown and khaki and red.

A lot of red.

For today, I’d like to share something a little different that the word-nerd inside me found fascinating: the phrases from World War One which have become part of our everyday language. Okay, that might depend on where you live and what kind of family you grew up in!

Souvenir

While this is a French word, Australians and New Zealanders only began using it during World War One. Prior to this, we would have said ‘keepsake’.

Bumf

My parents and grandparents often used this word to describe advertising brochures (aka junk mail), but it was originally used to refer to the masses of (unwanted?) official correspondence from headquarters … often used as toilet paper (needs must, I suppose). Yes, bumf is short for b** fodder.

Strife

Strife is taken from German, where strafe means to punish. It’s used to describe various forms of trouble

Blood bath

From a German description of the Somme in 1916. My great-grandfather was decorated for his service on the Somme, but he never talked about it. I guess this tells me why.

Tanks

When Armoured Landships were originally under development in 1915, they were given the code name of ‘water tank’, because of their box-like structure. The name stuck, and we still call them tanks.

Break new ground

A phrase we often use without thinking of the difficult origins. It now refers to something that hasn’t been done before, but the original meaning was to dig a new trench.

Bangers

If you’re American, you might not know about the food staple of bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potato). The sausages were called bangers because of their tendency to explode if the casing wasn’t pricked.

What word stories do you have?

Book Review: The Name I Call Myself by Beth Moran

Beth Moran Gets Better and Better

Amazon DescriptionCover image: The Name I Call Myself

All Faith Harp wants is a quiet life – to take care of her troubled brother, Sam, earn enough money to stop the wolves snapping at her heels, and to keep her past buried as deep as possible. And after years of upheaval, she might have just about managed it: she’s engaged to the gorgeous and successful Perry is holding down a job, and Sam’s latest treatment seems to actually be working this time.

But, for Faith, things never seem to stay simple for long. Her domineering mother-in-law-to-be is planning a nightmare wedding, including the wedding dress from hell. And the man who killed her mother is released from prison, sending her brother tumbling back into mental illness.

When secretly planning the wedding she really wants, Faith stumbles across a church choir that challenges far more than her ability to hold a tune. She ends up joining the choir, led by the fierce choir-mistress, Hester, who is determined to do whatever it takes to turn the motley crew of women into something spectacular. She also meets Dylan, the church’s vicar, who is different to any man she has ever met before.

My Review

Beth Moran is an English Christian author. The Name I Call Myself is her third novel, following Making Marion and I Hope You Dance. If you’ve read either of those and didn’t like them for any reason, then I doubt you’ll enjoy The Name I Call Myself, so you can skip this review. But if you liked them or haven’t read them, read on.

I will admit I found The Name I Call Myself a little difficult to get in to. It had a lot of similarities to her previous novels, in that it centres around a young woman discovering her true self. This isn’t helped by some early scenes which reminded me of Bridget Jones at her least intelligent. Faith isn’t an easy character to get to know (even though the book is written in first person). But once we get past the awkwardness that is Faith’s engagement party, the novel really picked up both pace and interest.

Faith is a complex character.

She was raised by her grandmother (now dead) and her older brother, Sam, after their mother was murdered by her partner … as Sam watched. That experience drove the teenage Sam down a trail of alcohol, drugs and mental illness. And he’s never recovered. It left Faith with … well, ‘issues’ almost begins to describe it. She is a very private person, and it takes a long time before I understood enough of her history to really understand the reason she didn’t share a lot.

The Name I Call Myself is about Faith’s relationships. Her with relationship with Perry, her fiance. Her relationship with her brother and his new girlfriend. And her non-relationship with her future mother-in-law (who takes controlling passive-aggressive to new levels). Then there is her relationship with the Grace choir, including Hester the bully conductor. And her almost-relationship with Dylan, the pastor. It’s in her relationships with these supporting characters that we get to know the real Faith …

The Faith perhaps not even Faith knows.

Yes, there are touches of romance, of comedy and of suspense. But The Name I Call Myself is really about Faith’s search for love, acceptance and identity, a search many of us can relate to.

Recommended for fans of contemporary Christian fiction with an edge.

Thanks to Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

What Did You Read in August 2016?

Well, the writing hasn’t gone so well in August 2016 in terms of word count, but I’ve attended the fantastic Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference, and read some outstanding novels:

Book Cover Images

The best books I read in August 2016 were:

When Death Draws Near, the third in the Gwen Marcy thriller series from Carrie Stuart Parks (you can read my review here)

Glasgow Grace by Marion Ueckermann, a short fun romance read (you can read my review here)

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears, a historical romance with a difference (you can read my review here)

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by award-winning author James L Rubart. It’s mind-bending and thought-provoking (you can read my review here)

 

What’s the best book you read this month? And what are you planning to read next month?

 

Book Recommendation: Lizzie & Jane by Katherine Reay

Excellent Foodie Fiction

Book coverElizabeth is the head chef at Feast, a chic New York restaurant. But she’s losing her touch, and when her boss brings in a celebrity chef/marketing expert to restore Feast’s reputation, Elizabeth decides it’s time for a break. She heads to Seattle, Washington, to a home and a father she’s barely seen since she left sixteen years ago. And home to an older sister who’s undergoing treatment for breast cancer, the same cancer that killed their mother.

Katherine Reay’s debut novel, Dear Mr. Knightley, was nominated for a Christy Award, nominated for two Carol Awards, and won the 2014 INSPY Award for a Debut novel. I read it. While I thought the writing and characterisation was excellent, I did wish Reay had written an original story. (Dear Mr. Knightley is a contemporary retelling of the Jean Webster classic, Daddy Long Legs—one of the first romance novels I ever read.)

Like Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy & Jane has links to Austen, in that sisters Jane and Elizabeth are named for the heroines of their mother’s favourite novel. Unlike Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane is a fresh story, not a retelling of a classic (or if it is, the retelling is unobtrusive enough that I couldn’t see what was coming in the way I did with Dear Mr. Knightley. As a result, I enjoyed it a lot more. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy Dear Mr. Knightley, more that I always found the ending of Daddy Long Legs a little contrived, and the ending of Dear Mr. Knightley was even more so.

Lizzy & Jane was different, in a good way.

It had all the strong writing and characterisation of Dear Mr. Knightley, with the added bonus of an original and compelling plot. Elizabeth has some deep-seated resentment towards Jane, who was never around while their mother was dying. While Elizabeth is in Seattle helping Jane face her health crisis, Elizabeth is also facing her own personal crisis, a crisis of identity and self-belief around her cooking. It’s the one thing she’s always excelled at, yet even that talent seems to be failing her.

There are touches of romance and an underlying Christian theme.

But Lizzy & Jane is very much women’s fiction, Lizzy’s story of personal, professional (and spiritual) rediscovery. Recommended.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Katherine Reay at her website, and you can read the introduction to Lizzy and Jane below: