Month: October 2016

Book Review: Trust My Heart by Carol J Post

Trust My Heart: A Perfect Romance

Jami Carlisle is a new journalism graduate who’s managed to snag a job in her tiny home town of Murphy, North Carolina. Her first assignment is to convince her friends and neighbours that she isn’t marrying long-term boyfriend Robert, no matter what he’s said. Her second assignment is to get an exclusive interview with Grant McAllister, heir to the intriguing McAllister estate.

Grant McAllister was burned by journalists over his divorce, and he’s got no intention of being made a fool of again. But this pesky reporter won’t give up, and despite everything he says to himself, he is attracted to her. And she’s helping him find his history … a history that’s different to the story he was raised on.

While this is a romance, there was also a little mystery in the story.

I thought the mystery behind Trust My Heart was excellent—the subplot around the McAllister mansion and the reclusive old lady who once lived there. And I admired Jami, for her passion, her faith, and her faithfulness. She’s a great character, one who deserves the best.

It took a while to convince me that Grant would be a good match for Jami.

She was so nice! And she was so much younger than Grant that it was tempting to think she was naïve. But she wasn’t: she’d just chosen to follow God and to pattern her thoughts and actions on Him. This gave her a depth of wisdom the older Grant didn’t have, and convinced me they’d be a great match. She also showed Grant grace and forgiveness when he messed up (which was a lot. Men).

The other thing which convinced me they should be together was that they both had the same ‘impossible’ dream … well, similar enough that they’ll complement each other. I liked that. Overall, Trust My Heart was a sweet romance built on a strong Christian foundation, but one that didn’t shy away from life’s difficulties.

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

What did you read in October 2016? (And a giveaway)

October has been a busy month for me—what about you?

But there’s always time to read another novel. Housework vs. reading. No contest.

I’ve had the opportunity to read more great Christian fiction. Yay! But I’ve now got two more favourite authors, Amy Matayo and Christa Allan, and they have a whole bunch of books I haven’t read (oh, no!).

I also love Lynn Austin (I think I’ve already read most of her books), and Kiwi author Kara Isaac (I know I’ve read both her published books). And I’ve got a giveaway below … so keep reading.

Best Christian Fiction October 2016

Here are links to my reviews:

 

Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac (click here to read my review)

Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin (click here to read my review)

The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo (click here to read my review)

Since You’ve Been Gone by Christa Allan (click here to read my review)

 

What was the best book you’ve read in the last month?

 

Giveaway Winners!

Congratulations to Narelle, who won a Kindle copy of My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray (click here to buy your own copy).

Congratulations to Joan, who won a Kindle copy of An Aussie Summer Christmas (click here to buy your own copy).

Joan, I’ve emailed you twice: I need you to check and confirm your email address for me (you might need to check your promotions or spam folder).

And a New Giveaway!


I’d also like to give away a Kindle copy of Can’t Help Falling to one lucky reader.

Click here to enter.

When you enter, make sure you check your email promotion and spam folders—if you don’t confirm your email address, you won’t know if you win. And remember, share the giveaway: the more you share, the more chances you have of winning.

Book Recommendation: Chasing the Wind by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Chasing the Wind … an exercise in futility?

Amalise Catoir is a second-year associate with the firm of Mangen & Morris in New Orleans in 1977. She has just returned to work after several months recovering from an accident that left her a widow. Amalise is assigned to Project Black Diamond, working for property magnate Bingham Murdoch to develop a new hotel in the city. She has also realised she is in love with Jude, her best friend since childhood, but thinks he is falling for her Rebecca, her co-worker.

There is a vague feeling that all is not as it seems, particularly regarding Bingham, the man behind the deal to build a hotel and casino on a piece of prime New Orleans real estate. Interspersed with the main plot were a series of flashbacks to 1975 Cambodia, chilling scenes with a woman named Samantha Barlow rescuing a small boy and trying to escape Phnom Penh before the Khymer Rouge arrive.

The story is told from several different points of view. The style seems remote at times, but it works. Chasing the Wind is very well-written, with characters that drew me in, and a tightly-woven suspenseful plot with some very interesting twists (one I saw coming, one I did not). This is one of those books that I think would be worth re-reading, as that way you could catch the nuances and clues to the ending.

My one complaint is that between the lawyers, bankers and property tycoons, there were too many male characters with middle class names, and I found it difficult to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, the major characters have memorable names, so it didn’t matter that the others all blurred into one.

Chasing the Wind is an interesting insight into women in the professions (and working in general) in the 1970’s. Smoking in the conference room, long lawyer lunches, asking the woman to fetch coffee and donuts, a reference to a single mainframe computer, and research in libraries and on microfiche readers. Other scenes have the secretary clacking away on her typewriter and sending documents down to the typing pool. It reminded me how much working life has changed in a  short time with the introduction of computers and the internet. Recommended.

Thanks to B&H Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.
You can find out more about Pamela Binnings Ewen at her website, and you can read the introduction to Chasing the Wind below:

Edited: I have just been browsing on Amazon, and have found that Chasing the Wind is the sequel to Dancing on Glass, which appears to be the story of Amalises’s marriage. It appears that the stories are quite different: while this is  a romance within a legal thriller, the first book seems to be a story of a disintegrating relationship. Knowing there is an earlier book makes some of the oblique references to the past more understandable, but Chasing the Wind can easily be read as a stand-alone story.

The Rotorua Museum and Bath House

I have lived in the Bay of Plenty for most of my life*.

I’ve visited Rotorua more times than I can count. Yet I’d never visited the Rotorua Museum until recently. We visited to view the Rembrandt Remastered exhibition, which I blogged about last week at International Christian Fiction Writers. Today, I’d like to introduce you to the museum and share some of what I discovered about its history.

Image via https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Gardens#/media/File:Rotorua_museum.jpg

The museum is located in the old Bath House, in Government Gardens, on the lakefront near the centre of the town city. Government Gardens is a 50-acre park gifted to “the people of the world” in 1882 by the local Maori tribe, the Ngati Whakaue. The gardens were originally a “scrub-covered geothermal wilderness”, which were transformed into an “oasis of Victorian charm” in the 1890’s by French engineer Camille Malfroy. The gardens are beautiful, with pristine bowling greens, tulips and a rose garden.

Thermal baths have been used in England to treat a variety of illnesses since Roman times.

All good Jane Austen fans will know everyone who was anyone would retreat to Bath to “take the waters”. There were hopes Rotorua would be able to capitalise on this northern hemisphere fashion by developing a world-class spa. I’d have thought the sulphurous smell enough to put anyone off.

The town was already well known for the healing waters available in the many thermal pools. Many of these remain, although most are too hot to swim in (the local Maori people traditionally used some for cooking).

The Pavilion Bath was the first spa in the area, erected in 1882 on the site of the Priest’s bath. This is a spring named for Father Mahoney, a Roman Catholic priest who experienced a marked improvement in his arthritis after bathing in the pool. Several other baths and sanatoriums were built over the next twenty years.

In 1901, the small town of Rotorua was taken over by the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts to develop into a spa town. The Bath House was the government’s first major investment in the tourism industry. It opened in 1908, and offered a range of treatments. These included massages, water baths and mud baths in either the Rachel waters or the Priest waters.  Other treatments, like x-ray therapy, have long since been discredited. Thankfully.

The Rachel waters are alkaline, and used in the management of diseases that required a “softening effect”—whatever that means. The Priest waters (containing free sulphuric acid), were used in the treatment of arthritis, rheumatism and “cases of nervous debility”).

2016-10-05-13-36-20-1

I like the sound of the massages. The mud baths … not so much.

Unfortunately, the arrival of World War One ended the tourist trade. During the war, the Bath House was used as a sanatorium for wounded soldiers. Later, the building fell into disrepair, as the local sulphuric waters are not kind to pipes or buildings. The Bath House was renovated and used as a restaurant and nightclub, then reopened as the Rotorua Museum of Art and History. And now it’s simply known as the Rotorua Museum.

While the Bath House is no longer operational, locals and tourists can still “take the waters” at the nearby Polynesian Spa. This still uses the waters from the Priest and Rachel springs. There is also the Art Deco Blue Baths, an outdoor pool, museum, tea rooms and event venue.

I haven’t visited either myself, but I can vouch for the relaxation properties of natural hot spring water. The Bay of Plenty is full of natural hot springs, and there is one just five minutes drive from my house.

Maybe I’ll take you there some time …

*The Bay of Plenty was named by Captain James Cook. He was the first European to circumnavigate New Zealand, and Mount Cook and Cook Strait are named after him. He reportedly named the Bay of Plenty for the plentiful food and fresh water he found here. He’d just come from East Cape, an area he’d been less impressed with. Yes, it’s still called Poverty Bay.

Have you ever swum in natural hot springs? What did you think? Are there any natural hot springs near where you live?

Review: A Woman of Fortune by Kellie Coates Gilbert

Outstanding!

(And you know how often I say that)

Claire Massey has it all. The mansion, the Maserati, the Jimmy Choo’s. The billionaire husband, the perfect son, and the daughter who is engaged to the man poised to become Texas’s youngest senator. Then it all goes wrong, when her husband is arrested as the mastermind behind a Ponzi scheme, a fall to rival that of Bernie Madoff.

It’s natural to not want to like Claire.

After all, she has everything, yet it was all built on smooth talking. That mind of success just isn’t normal. How could she not have known? Yet she doesn’t come across as the spoilt little rich girl (although her daughter, Lainie, certainly is). She’s honest, sincere, and hard-working, and believes in her husband against all the odds. Claire is one of the strengths of A Woman of Fortune. It’s tempting to not feel any sympathy for a woman who is left with a mere half million, yet somehow I did.

Another strength is Margarita, Claire’s housekeeper. While the Massey family are churchgoers, none of them show any evidence of a real Christian faith. Margarita does. In fact, all the characters are strong (they’re not all likeable, but that’s kind of the point).

A Woman of Fortune is a fascinating insight into the problems faced by a family who lose everything – money, reputation, friends – and have to navigate a range of unimaginable personal and social situations. It’s a strength of the novel that I actually sympathised with Claire, and even with her spoiled daughter, despite all the reasons not to.

Recommended.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Kellie Coates Gilbert at her website or watch the trailer:

You can also read the introduction to A Woman of Fortune below:

Kiwi Culture 101: Marmite

Marmite

There is a meme I’ve recently seen on Facebook:

Vegemite

It says Vegemite, but the exact same rules apply to Kiwi Marmite. It’s an acquired taste—like American root beer—and you either love it or you hate it. From what I’ve heard, most Americans like it about as much as I like root beer—they think it’s horrible and can’t understand how anyone could possibly consume the awful stuff.

As you can see, it’s a black paste, with a strong yeasty taste. New Zealand Marmite is produced by Sanitaruim, the food company established by members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They are vegetarians, and Marmite is packed full of Vitamin B and other essentials often missing from a vegetarian diet.

Marmite isn’t unique to New Zealand. There is an English equivalent, although it quite literally pales in comparison to the New Zealand product (they, of course, claim theirs was first and is therefore better. We beg to disagree). Ours is darker and stronger. Especially when you layer it on.

New Zealand Marmite has had a rocky history, literally. The sole factory is located in Christchurch, the site of the deadly earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. The earthquakes rocked the factory off its foundations, and New Zealand came to a standstill with the news that the factory would have to close.

Yes, a new factory would be built, but we were told the production process takes several months. As a nation, we were faced with the ultimate first-world problem.

No Marmite. For at least a year.

Marmite

What followed seems almost farcical in hindsight. Within hours of the factory closure being announced, Marmite had disappeared from shop shelves as addicts bought up all remaining jars to stockpile. There were rumours of fights. My brother-in-law spent an evening visiting every small shop in the vicinity to try and buy a year’s supply for his daughters. My sister-in-law rejoiced that she had two unopened jars. They could make it, as long as they saved it for their son and didn’t spread it too thickly.

As happens with any scarce resource, a secondary market appeared. TradeMe, the New Zealand equivalent of eBay, saw a rise in searches for Marmite as those who had won the stockpiling war began offering their excess jars for sale. One 500g jar, unopened. Starting bid: four times the normal retail price. And people bought … but it didn’t last long before all the jars were safely in the pantries of people who had no intention of sharing, let alone selling.

Others of us did the unthinkable:

We switched from Kiwi Marmite to Australian Vegemite (may we be forgiven). To understand the magnitude of this betrayal: inter-Tasman rivalry between the brands makes the Coke vs. Pepsi arguments look like a pebble next to the Rock of Gibraltar. Marmite and Vegemite are matters of national pride. Under no circumstances should you try to pass one off as the other, or offer someone the “wrong” spread.

Marmite v Vegemite

Eventually, the dark age ended and the good news was proclaimed.

Marmite was back in production, and was available in limited quantities. In order to allow as many people as possible to experience the resurrection for themselves, it would only be sold in small 250g jars.

Supermarkets would announced the times at which they would be refilling the Marmite shelf, and customers would politely hover while the shelf was filled … and then promptly empty it. Sales were rationed: no more than two jars at once.

Over time, the factory built up to normal capacity, demand fell back to normal levels, and Marmite was available on our supermarket shelves again, in the normal range of sizes. The great Marmite Scare of 2013 was over.

But not forgotten.

Book Review: The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo

Another great novel from my new favourite publisher

Amazon Description

Baseball star Will Vandergriff knows any number of women who would happily pretend to be his girlfriend. In a last-ditch effort to restore his good standing with his team’s higher-ups, he enlists the help of his neurotic, goody-goody neighbor. Schoolteacher Olivia Pratt might be a bit quirky and a bit of a loner, but she’s a lot more inviting than she knows. Will hopes that bringing her to his next game might revamp his reckless reputation and help get his career back on track. The only problem? The plan works a little too well. Not only do the higher-ups love Olivia, but Will plays his best game yet. Suddenly his losing streak is a thing of the past, and Olivia is his new good-luck charm. Will feels anything but lucky.

After years of keeping the world at bay, Olivia Pratt is pulling off the ultimate performance—not only reluctantly posing as Will’s girlfriend but also insisting that she’s oblivious to his major-league appeal. But she can only lie to herself for so long. Being by Will’s side feels good. Really good. Maybe it’s finally time to make a pitch for everything she really wants—and to find out just how exhilarating love can be.

My Review

The Thirteenth Chance is written in first person, from the points of view of Will and Olivia. That’s an interesting choice—most books I read are in third person point of view, and a lot of readers prefer that. Also, few authors can pull off alternative first person viewpoints (the worst have both characters sounding exactly the same).

But Amy Matayo can and does, and I liked it. Using first person gave an insight into both Olivia and Will’s personalities. Olivia has issues. Big issues. She grew up feeling second-best, because her brother was an up-and-coming baseball star, and everything the family did came behind his sport commitments. But something happened, she no longer speaks to her brother, her father abandoned them, and she has an everlasting hatred of baseball and everything associated with it. Which doesn’t bode well for her relationship with Will, her new next-door neighbour.

Will has issues as well, although his are perhaps a little more predictable. He’s a lad, who keeps getting media attention for the wrong (female) reasons, who isn’t playing well, and who needs to clean up his game (in more ways than one). Enter Olivia, the perfect temporary girlfriend …

Several people have recommended Amy Matayo to me.

They were all right. Her writing is excellent—she’s funny and clever and all those things I like in contemporary fiction. Her characters are real people with real problems, who grow and change as the novel progresses. The story was engaging and moved along at a good pace with no slow patches. Overall, it was close to perfect.

In fact, the only thing missing for me was the Christian aspect.

Although The Thirteenth Chance is published by Waterfall Press, Amazon’s Christian imprint, there was no faith aspect to the novel at all. This isn’t necessarily a weakness, but if you’re looking for fiction with a Christian thread or theme, then The Thirteenth Chance isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a fun contemporary romance with no sex or bad language, give this a chance.

Recommended for fans of authors like Christa Allen, Sally Bradley, Tammy L Gray and Tammy L Gray.

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

Kiwi Culture 101: Fish and Chips

Fish and Chipes
Food and culture are intertwined.

When we think of Italy, we think of pizza and pasta. With Japan, it’s sushi. India is curry. Germany, bratwurst sausage and beer. France, their fine wines and culinary “treats” like truffles and escargot. China, Thailand, Mexico … all have a rich culinary heritage that’s tied to their culture.

In New Zealand, we have fish and chips.

It’s not in exactly the same league. Our Australian and British friends would point out we don’t even say “fish and chips”, that we say “fush and chups”. We laugh and console ourselves that they say “feesh and cheeps” or “fash and chaps”.

But either way, fish and chips is a part of our heritage.

The meal comes in many forms. Fancy restaurants offer pan-fried fish of the day served with thick cut chips cooked in duck fat (let’s face facts: chips taste best when cooked in some kind of fat, and duck fat is currently the foodie fat of choice. It can’t be less healthy than canola oil). And the fish will be fresh line-caught snapper or tarakiki or hapuku, or one of the beautiful deep sea fishes found in New Zealand’s territorial waters—John Dory, perhaps.

Mid-range restaurants offer tempura-battered fish. They might serve the deep-fried chips in a one-portion metal basket, an echo of the large baskets used in the deep fryer. Family restaurants will have beer-battered fish and chips, and the fish will probably be hoki—the fish McDonald’s New Zealand use in their Filet-O-Fish burger. No farmed code or tilapia here, thank you.

New Zealand is an island nation.

Many people own small boats which they use for fishing in the local harbour, or in the shallow waters off the coast. Their fish and chips could be snapper or any of the huge range of species found in our coastal waters. Then there is the messy job of scaling, heading, gutting and filleting the fish so it can be fried or barbecued.

But for most of us, fish and chips are bought from the local takeaway shop, a Friday night treat. When I was a kid, our options were limited: battered fish, a hot dog*, a range of hamburgers, or a toasted sandwich. Some offered potato fritters or battered oysters. All served with chips, which could be ordered by the scoop or by the dollar.

The burgers and toasted sandwiches were cooked on the hot plate, but everything else was deep-fried in lard. Yes, a cardiologist’s nightmare. The fish and chips were dumped out of the fry basket onto a sheet of butcher paper, and the steaming mass wrapped in last week’s newspapers. We’d open the packets, add tomato sauce, and dig in with our fingers—a great indoor or outdoor meal. Most Kiwis will have memories of eating piping hot fish and chips on the beach, watching the children play in the shallows.

But New Zealand has moved with the times (!).

Our fish and chips are now cooked in canola oil and served in pristine white butcher paper. But the taste is pretty much the same, especially once we’ve added enough salt to preserve a pig, and doused it all with tomato sauce. Always called tomato sauce; never ketchup. (Unless you’re at McDonald’s.) Some people drizzle lemon juice over their fish, others drown the chips in malt vinegar. It’s a matter of taste.

And I love it.

* In case you were wondering, a Kiwi hot dog isn’t a frankfurter in a long bun. No, it’s a sausage on a stick, covered in batter and deep-fried. I think it’s similar to what Americans call a corn dog … although there’s no corn in the batter. And Australians have the Dagwood dog, which looks the same, but I have no idea where the name comes from!

What culinary treats do you remember from your childhood?

Review: Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano

Romance in Scotland: What more could you want?

Andrea Sullivan may have sabotaged her career with that last potential client. Now, as punishment, she has to convince TV chef James MacDonald, owner of three Michelin-starred London restaurants, that her company is perfect to help him renovate and market the family hotel he has inherited on the Isle of Skye. She has just a few days, and her job is on the line.

There is an immediate attraction when Andrea and James meet, but Andrea wants nothing to do with men, and especially wants nothing to do with a client. James has his own problematic romantic history, not to mention an even more problematic relationship with his brother, who owns one-third of the hotel.

I found all the characters to be intelligent and likeable, and I was especially impressed by the research. I’ve not been to Skye but I’ve lived in London and visited Scotland, and Five Days in Skye made me feel I was there. I had to laugh Andrea’s reaction to James calling her ‘love’. It’s a common term, particularly in the hospitality industry.

Right, love?

This is a Christian novel, but the Christian element is somewhat understated. Both Andrea and James come from rural backgrounds where the Christian faith was an integral part of the family. But both have abandoned that faith, yet realise on Skye that perhaps they need to pursue God once more.

Five Days in Skye has it all: an excellent opening, a funny first meeting between Andrea and James, intelligent lead characters who are both successes in their chosen careers, excellent attention to detail, and the Isle of Skye, a beautiful and unique setting. And the last line is a beautiful illustration of the eternal romance between us and God. Recommended for romance lovers.

Thanks to David C Cook and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Carla Laureano at her website, and you can read the introduction here: