Month: July 2017

which novel have you read the most

Bookish Question #19: Which novel have you read the most times?

Which novel have you read the most times?

Last week I talked about rereading—and how I used to read and reread my favourite novels. This was partly out of necessity. I’d read all the books in the house (or all the books I was interested in reading), so reading meant rereading.

I often noticed different things the second time I read a book.

The first time, I’m reading for the plot. What happens? Will they fall in love? Will they catch the evildoer? The second time I read a book, I know the main plot points. So I’m reading for the characters and the writing—and I often enjoy it even more.

Some books can be read over and over without losing their shine.

I’ve met people who say they re-read Pride and Prejudice or some other favourite novel at least once a year. I reread, but I’m not that disciplined. Or obsessive.

Rereading a book over and over is like visiting an old friend—they get better the more time you spend with them.

So which novels have I read over and over?

Many—but the one that stands out is An Echo in the Darkness by Francine Rivers. It’s the middle book in her Mark of the Lion series, and remains my favourite because it’s the one where Hadassah gets her happy ending with Marcus (I hope that’s not a spoiler—the book has been out for more than twenty years, and the series has sold more than two million copies, so if you haven’t read it yet … read it).

What about you? What’s the novel you’ve read the most times?

Giveaway - Introducing Author Interviews

Introducing Author Interviews (and a Giveaway)

Some background …

I started my book review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, in September 2011, after winning an ebook in an online giveaway. I’d just bought a Kobo (Kindles weren’t yet available here in New Zealand), and was keen to build my electronic library.

The book was delivered via NetGalley, and I found that I could get free ebooks from many of my favourite authors and publishers if I promised to write a review on a blog, and on sites such as Amazon. Paperbacks cost around $30 each in New Zealand at the time, so this seemed like a good deal.

Iola’s Christian Reads was born.

Back then, most book blogs were just that: book blogs. Posting book reviews. But the world has changed, and blogging has changed to keep pace.

It’s no longer enough to have a basic Blogger blog with just book reviews. Readers want to get to know authors, and a low-risk way of trying books from new-to-them authors. They want author interviews and giveaways.

I have reached a milestone at my original Blogger blog, Iola’s Christian Reads. I’ve posted my 1,000th post. And it will be my last (I think. I do reserve the right to change my mind if that’s where I think God leads).

Instead, I’m going to focus more on developing this website, getting into a regular blogging schedule and having more of what readers want. In fact, I asked my email newsletter subscribers what they wanted, and the overwhelming response was author interviews. (Gulp.)

So here is my proposed schedule for the rest of 2017:

  • Monday: Bookish Question
  • Tuesday: Review of a new Christian fiction release
  • Wednesday: Author interview or general blog post
  • Thursday: Repost of a review of an older Christian novel
  • Friday: #FirstLineFriday

Note that these are New Zealand time … which is a day ahead of most of the US! (I think we’re 23 hours ahead of Hawaii. When we visited last year, we arrived 17 hours before we left after a 12-hour flight. Go figure).

I’ve been posting my #BookishQuestions since April.

Each week I post a question, and give my answer. I also post the question on Instagram, and find I get more interaction there than her on my website (click here to follow me on Instagram).

Book reviews—well, you know what book reviews are.

First Line Friday? I’ll tell you more about #FirstLineFriday next week.

Today I want to ask you about author interviews.

Although my preference would be to interview contemporary Christian romance authors, I’m open to interviewing any Christian author. If you write Christian fiction and would like to be interviewed (say, to promote a new book), drop me a line via the contact form on the About page.

If you’re a reader, which authors would you like me to interview? What do you want to know about your favourite authors? Do you want to ask about their book, their writing process, their reading habits, or more personal questions like whether they like cats or dogs better?

Tell me your ideas!

As a thank you, one commenter will win a Kindle copy of one of the four RITA finalists pictured here (winner’s choice):

It's RITA Time!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Writing Desk

Book Review: The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck’s most recent novels have all featured a present-day romance and a historical romance, with something that connects the two.

No prizes for guessing what the connection is in The Writing Desk …

In the present, Tenley Roth has just won a major writing award, but she’s convinced she’s only won because she’s the great-great-granddaughter of the author for whom the award is named. Not to mention that she’s just a hack who wrote a romance novel, and she’s exactly zero words into the manuscript that’s due in less than three months. And now she’s in Florida, caring for her estranged mother as Blanche recovers from chemo.

In 1902, Bridie Shehorn has recently graduated from Wellesley. Now Mama insists she marry and move into her rightful role as leader of the Four Hundred. Mama even has a groom picked out—Alphonse, who is from a good family, suitably rich, yet far too fond of the ladies. And he’s not Eli, the handsome Earl who is back in New York after serving in the Boer War.

I have to say that at the beginning, I was a lot more intrigued by Bridie’s story than by Tenley’s.

Most of Tenley’s problems appeared self-inflicted. She’s got an almost-fiance she stays with for no known reason, and a bad case of writers block made worse by constant lying to her agent and editor. On the other hand, Bridie’s problems were mostly caused by a controlling Mama whose idea of good parenting was to do what was best for Mama with little or no regard for anyone else. Bridie least of all.

But I grew more and more interested in Tenley’s story as the novel progressed.

She befriends Jonas, who has the large, close-knit family she always dreamed of, and begins to investigate his Christian faith. Yes, this is Christian romance, although the faith aspects are subtle to the point a reader might not even notice.

Bridie had her own subtle faith journey as well, although the focus of her story was more on her impending marriage, and her writing. Yes, Bridie was also a writer. I thought I’d picked up the connection between Tenley and Bridie early on (and the twist), but there was a lot more to the connection.

Recommended for those who enjoy dual-timeline stories.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing an ebook for review.

About Rachel Hauck

Author Photo Rachel HauckRachel Hauck is an award winning, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

Her book The Wedding Dress was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times. She is a double RITA finalist, a Christy and Carol Award Winner.

Rachel sits on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers, and is the comical sidekick to Susan May Warren at the amazing My Book Therapy. She is a worship leader and speaker.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, Rachel is a devoted Ohio State football fan. She lives in sunny central Florida with her husband and ornery cat.

Visit her at or

Click below to buy The Writing Desk

Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Christian Book | Kobo | Koorong

Do you reread?

Bookish Question #16: Do you reread?

I’m a reader. Obviously. I figure you are as well—I mostly post about books and bookish things, so that makes sense.

But are you a rereader? Do you read and reread your favourite books?

I used to. As a child, there were a lot of books at home. There was a school library, and my mother took me to the town library once every week or so (although back then we were only allowed to borrow three books). So there were always new books for me to read. But I’d usually run out of new books to read between trips to the library.

So I’d reread.

Rereading favourites books continued into my grown-up years, especially once I started reading Christian fiction. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of Christian fiction around and I don’t think there was any in my local library. So I’d visit the local Christian bookshop (conveniently located a five-minute walk from work), and check out what was new. These books I read and reread—Frank Peretti, Janette Oke, Linda Chaikin, Donna Fletcher Crow, Michael Phillips.

Then the world changed.

Amazon invented the Kindle, and other ereaders followed. With the Kindle, the Kobo, the Nook and others came a never-ending stream of new books, often free and always cheaper than the $25-$30 I was used to paying for Christian paperbacks here in New Zealand.

Now my reading habits have changed. I rarely re-read, because I hesitate reading an ‘old’ book—even a favourite—when there is always a new book, a potential new favourite, waiting on my Kindle.

What about you? Do you re-read?

It's RITA Time!

It’s RITA Time!

It’s time for the 2017 RITA Awards! For those who don’t know, the RITA Awards are the annual published author awards presented by Romance Writers of America.

They are a big deal, the Oscars of the romance writing world. I read Christian fiction, so I’m most interested in the Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements category.

The four finalists for 2017 are:

  • My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray
  • Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Close to You by Kara Isaac (who also finalled in the Debut novel category)
  • Trust My Heart by Carol J Post

I’ve read and reviewed all four books, and I’m glad I’m not a judge!

All four books were excellent, and it’s going to be a tough decision for someone (or several someones). I’d love for Kara Isaac to win, because Close to You is set in New Zealand and she’s finalled in two categories. And I edited her latest book, Then There Was You. Not that I’m biased or anything.

Here are links to my reviews:

Close to You
Keeper of the Stars
My Hope Next Door
Trust My Heart

My review of Keeper of the Stars was a guest post at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, as part of their annual RITA challenge. They ask for guest reviewers to volunteer to review each of the (many) finalists. They post two reviews of each book in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the winners.

These reviews are interesting to read because they are mostly written by readers who don’t usually read Christian romance. You’ll see the reviews aren’t nearly as glowing as those usually seen on Christian fiction review sites.

Here are links to the other SBTB reviews:

A B- review for Close to You from Bluetomarto.
A C- review for Close to You from Hope.

A B- review for Trust My Heart from LauraL.
A C- review for Trust My Heart from DonnaMarie.

A C+ review from Julia for Keeper of the Stars.

A D review for My Hope Next Door from Samantha.

If you go by the SBTB grades, the winner will be Keeper of the Stars. But that’s based on my B+ review, and I’d have given B+ or better grades to all four finalists!

The winners will be announced at the Romance Writers of America conference, on 27 July.

Have you read any of these RITA finalists? Which do you think should win?

What format do you read?

Bookish Question #15: What format do you prefer to read?

What format do you read? This used to be an easy question—everyone read hardcover books, because that was what books were. Then they invented paperbacks. Most of my childhood books were paperbacks. They didn’t last as well as the hardcovers, but they were cheaper. Librarians would reinforce the covers and protect them with a clear plastic cover.

Then came computers, and the ability to buy pdf files to read on the computer screen.

This never appealed to me—I spend all day looking at a computer screen. When I came home and want to read a book, I want to read a proper book. A paper book. Not something on a screen that made my eyes tired.

Then Amazon invented the Kindle, a dedicated ereader that didn’t have the bright backlit screen computers have. It used e-ink, which made the reading experience a lot easier on the eyes.

My first ereader device was a Kobo, because that was the first one available on the New Zealand market. It cost me $299, about the same as 10-12 paperbacks. But the ebooks were so much cheaper that it soon paid for itself (and actually, I paid the whole $299 using vouchers I’d earned by using my credit card to buy groceries).

I found the Kobo awkward at first. The screen was a lot smaller than the screen on a regular novel, and it took a while to get used to the small delay in changing screens—even though the delay was only as long as it would have taken to turn the page in a regular book. I enjoyed the Kobo, but did get frustrated because the store wasn’t as user-friendly as Amazon (where I still shopped for paper books). I also couldn’t help noticing that Amazon’s ebook prices were often lower than those on the Kobo site …

Then the Kindle arrived in New Zealand.

And I’ve been a dedicated fan ever since. I probably do 90% of my fiction reading on the Kindle (I’ll only read paper in the spa pool, or if there is no other option). I prefer reading non-fiction in paperback, so I can highlight the pages and make notes, but I still find I read maybe half my non-fiction books on the Kindle, partly because the books are cheaper (and there is no additional charge for shipping to New Zealand).

When I have the choice between picking up the Kindle, and picking up a paper book, the Kindle almost always wins.

Then there is audio. I can see the benefit of audio for people who spend a lot of time in the car. But that’s not me. Audiobooks take longer to listen to than regular books take to read, and they are more expensive. I’ll always choose to read if I have the option.

What about you? What format do you read?

New Releases in Christian Fiction: July 2017

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary Romance

On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson — When Natalie O’Ryan’s fiancé books their wedding in her hometown, Natalie didn’t know the only reception venue available would be an old barn belonging to Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them. (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

Their Ranch Reunion by Mindy Obenhaus — Single mom Carly Wagner is surprised to learn she’ll have to share ownership of the home she’s inherited with her first love—and first heartbreak—Andrew Stephens. The man who fled their tiny Western town is back and standing in the way of her dreams to expand her B&B.

Now a successful businessman, Andrew has eight weeks to buy Carly out. But Carly’s too stubborn to persuade—and too beautiful to ignore. When fire ravages her inn and she and her daughter move in to their shared property, Andrew’s in over his head. Time is running out and Andrew must decide: leave and chase another deal…or stay and chase Carly’s heart. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Time and Tide by Kristen Terrette — Recovering from addiction and a near death experience, Chad moves to Moanna Island, a small island close to Savannah off the Atlantic coast, to begin a job with his family’s real estate empire, a job he was supposed to have taken years ago. Free-spirited Ryan Mason is a Moanna local girl from a blue-collar family. She’s dropped her own dreams to help her father care for her schizophrenic brother.

When Chad and Ryan meet at the rehabilitation center where her brother lives, feelings develop between them. Can their crazy worlds ever fit together once he learns her secret and she finds out he is the sole heir to the Cusher Empire? (Contemporary from Hartwood Publishing Group)

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh — When a workaholic interior designer returns to her hometown to check on her brother’s welfare, she reconnects with a soldier, secretly in love with her, over a renovation project that will help the struggling town. (Contemporary Romance from Tyndale House)

If there is one book on this list I want to read, this is it.

Cozy Mystery

A Tempting Taste of Mystery by Elizabeth Ludwig — Judging a pie contest leads Cheryl Cooper and friends into mayhem and mystery after someone begins methodically sabotaging the entries. (Cozy Mystery from Guideposts Publications)

Over Maya Dead Body by Sandra Orchard — FBI Special Agent Serena Jones arrives on Martha’s Vineyard with her family, ready for a little bit of R&R and a whole lot of reminiscing as they celebrate the engagement of an old family friend. But crime doesn’t take a vacation, and she’s soon entangled in an investigation of a suspicious death tied to an antiquities smuggling ring.

When her investigation propels her into danger, Serena must stay the course and solve this case before anyone else dies. But just how is she supposed to do that when the two men in her life arrive on the scene, bringing with them plenty of romantic complications–and even a secret or two? (Cozy Mystery from Revell [Baker])

Historical Romance

The American Conquest (Window to the Heart Sage, Book 3) by Jenna Brandt — Margaret must leave behind her title and wealth in Europe in order to escape and start a new life in the Colorado Territory. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Michelle Griep, Anne Love, Gabrielle Meyer, Natalie Monk, Jennifer Uhlarik, Erica Vetsch, Jaime Jo Wright, and Kathleen Y’Barbo — Journey along in nine historical romances with those whose lives are transformed by the opulence, growth, and great changes taking place in America’s Gilded Age.

Nine couples meet during these exhilarating times and work to build a future together through fighting for social reform, celebrating new opportunities for leisure activities, taking advantage of economic growth and new inventions, and more. Watch as these romances develop and legacies of faith and love are formed. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

A Rebel in My House by Sandra Merville Hart — Promises can be impossible to keep–especially when a Confederate soldier trapped behind enemy lines looks to a Gettysburg seamstress for help. (Historical Romance from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas)

A Match for Melissa by Susan Karsten — Wanting a godly husband, Melissa’s only choice is to follow her father’s wishes, even when doing so may not achieve the desires of her heart. (Historical Romance from Prism Book Group [Pelican]).

My Heart Belongs on Mackinac Island by Carrie Fancett Pagels — Moor your heart on Mackinac Island along with resident sweetheart Maude Welling, an heiress trying to prove her worth by working incognito as a maid at the Grand Hotel. Meet Ben Steffans, a journalist posing as a wealthy industrialist who has come to the island to uncover a story about impoverished men pursuing heiresses at the famed hotel. Will a growing love between Maude and Ben be scuttled when truths are revealed in this Gilded Age romance? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Salvation by the Sea by Kristen Reed — Life has been anything but easy for Muirigan thanks to a series of life-altering calamities, but she’s found peace with her new, understated life by the sea. However, the maid’s past comes back to haunt her when she saves the shipwrecked Prince Halvard one morning.

Failing to recognize one of his dearest childhood friends, the prince invites Muirigan to live at court as a reward for her valiant heroism. As the two reconnect, something deeper than friendship blossoms, but will their newfound affection survive when Muirigan’s lies are revealed and Halvard learns the truth about what has befallen since their tragic separation? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble — As a 911 dispatcher, Dana Newell takes pride in being calm in tough circumstances. In addition to her emotionally-charged career, she’s faced enough emergencies in her own life. She recently escaped her abusive fiancé to move to tranquil Rock Harbor where she hopes life will be more peaceful. But the idyllic town hides more danger and secrets than it first appeared.

Dana is continually drawn to her new friend Boone, who has scars inside and out. Then she answers a call at her job only to hear a friend’s desperate screams on the other end. Soon the pain in her past collides with the mysteries of her new home—and threatens to keep her from the future she’s always wanted. (Romantic Suspense from HarperCollins Christian Publishing [Thomas Nelson and Zondervan])

I’m reviewing Beneath Copper Falls at Suspense Sisters Reviews next Monday.


The Genesis Tree by Heather L.L. FitzGerald — Deception is rampant, the enemy is subtle, and love dares to tug at Sadie’s heart amid the turmoil that forces her and her family back to the Tethered World below. (Speculative/Contemporary Fantasy from Mountain Brook Ink)

What Makes a Good Book Review?

Bookish Question #14: What Makes a Good Book Review?

The objective of a book review is to help a potential reader decide whether or not they will like a particular book.

Should they spend their hard-earned money buying this book? Is it worth their time to read? My time is valuable. I don’t want to waste hours reading a bad book, even a free book, when I could have been doing something more enjoyable (like scrubbing the toilet, or better still, reading a good book).

So I read reviews to make sure I’m not wasting my time. And I write reviews to help others in the same way.

But what makes a good book review?

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there are five main aspects that contribute to my enjoyment of a book, and these are the questions I try to address when I write a review:


Does the plot make sense? Do the sub-plots add to the overall story? Is it believable? Is it original, or do I feel I’ve read it before?

Do I like the characters? Are they people I’d want to know and spend time with in real life? Or are they too-stupid-to-live clichés?


Does the book conform to the expectations of the genre? If it’s Christian fiction, does the protagonist show clear progression in their Christian walk? If it’s romance, is there an emotionally satisfying ending? If it’s fantasy or science fiction, has the author succeeded in convincing me the world they have created is real?

Writing and editing

With many books, especially those from small publishers or self-published authors problems with the writing or editing take me out of the story (like a heroin wearing a high-wasted dress). Bad writing or insufficient editing makes a book memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The Wow! Factor

Some books, very few, have that extra something that makes them memorable for the right reasons. The Wow! factor is usually a combination of a unique plot and setting, likeable and intelligent characters (I loathe stupid characters), and a distinct and readable writing style, or ‘voice’. This is highly subjective and other readers might not agree with my taste. And that’s okay.

Some reviewers, especially Christian reviewers, are of the view that “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”, or that a positive review is building up God’s Kingdom.

I see their point, but I don’t entirely agree.

I don’t believe God’s Kingdom is built on second-rate work.

Praising books with basic writing faults encourages mediocrity, and we should be aiming to give God our best. This takes a combination of (God-given) talent and (our) hard work. I say this as a reviewer, and as an aspiring fiction writer.
Readers deserve to know whether a book is worth their time and money. Even a free book takes several hours to read, hours the reader can never get back, so the book needs to be good enough to justify that time.
I believe it’s important to be truthful and honest in my reviews.  It’s also important to understand that honest may not be positive. But it’s only my opinion. You might disagree—and that’s great.
Going forward, I’m going to focus on reviewing books I like and can recommend, based on the above criteria. Because that’s what I think makes a good book review. It’s what I look for in reviews I read, and it’s what I seek to write.
What do you think makes a good book review?