Month: January 2018

Bookish Question #43: Have you read any of the books you received for Christmas?

Book Chat #43 | Have you read any of the books you received for Christmas?

I didn’t receive any books for Christmas, but as I have previously mentioned, I did get an Amazon gift voucher (even better, if you ask me). I bought myself:

The River of Time series by Lisa T Bergren

I haven’t read this yet. Well, it’s a trilogy!

Evergreen by Susan May Warren

Another in Susan May Warren’s Christiansen family series, but this one is about the parents rather than the children. It’s a bittersweet story of misunderstanding and making up that reminded me what we see isn’t always what’s going on inside.

June Bug by Chris Fabry

This is an older title I picked up based on the intriguing question: what if you saw your photograph on the side of a milk carton? How could I not read that?

One Christmas in Winter by Bell Renshaw

A fun contemporary romance set in the town of Winter when a film crew comes to make a winter romance movie … and the control freak director has to hire a local man to play her romantic lead.

But that has only spent half my gift voucher. What do you recommend I buy with the rest?

And have you read any of your Christmas books yet?

Book Review | Aint Misbehaving by Marji Laine

I’ll get the less-good aspect of Aint Misbehaving out of the way first. Annalee Chambers was not an easy character to like in the early chapters. We’re first introduced to her as she is on trial for a hit-and-run accident, to which she pleads guilty (her only saving grace). As the story progresses it soon becomes apparent that Annalee is somewhat naieve, but not nearly as shallow, self-absorbed, or selfish as her mother. In fact, given her mother’s personality defect, it’s a wonder Annalee has turned into a decent person.

And she is—she’s had an extraordinarily privileged upbringing, living a charmed life until a car accident shows her exactly how privileged she is. She is sentenced to community service at a community centre providing free after school care for children from a lower socio-economic area. Annalee is enthusiastic, but finds the other workers are less than keen to have her there, to the point of obstruction.

Annalee also has a problem that she’s attracted to the janitor … someone who would be at the top of her mother’s list of inappropriate men. And CJ is hiding his own secrets: he’s not actually the janitor. He’s the manager, and he’s rich—rich enough to keep Mother happy.

I’ve read several of Marji Laine’s romantic suspense novels, but Aint Misbehaving (as far as I know) is her first straight romance novel. It’s a good read—partly frustrating (thanks to Mother), partly amusing (thanks to CJ and his secret), and another part frustrating (the social worker). It all provides lots of conflict, and made for a good read.

I also liked the faith aspect. Annalee has the typical upper class view of church and religion—it’s something for Christmas and Easter. Working with CJ and the children shows her another side of church and religion, faith and belief in Jesus. It was well done, and ensured Aint Misbehaving was more than an average romance.

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

About Marji Laine

Marji LaineMarji Laine is a home-schooling mom of four with twin seniors left in the nest. When she can’t indulge in her passion for story-telling, she’s transporting teenagers, teaching various high school classes at a local co-op, and directing the children’s music program at her church. She loves acting in musical comedy, has directed many stage productions, works with a youth group, sings in her church choir, coordinates high school classes for a large home-school group as well as maintaining their website, scrapbooks, and is the historian for the Dallas/Ft. Worth chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers. Her faith in Christ is central to her writing and her life.

You can find Marji Laine online at:

WebsiteFacebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Twitter

About Aint Misbehaving

Annalee Chambers: Poised, wealthy, socially elite. Convict.

Annalee Chambers floated through life in a pampered, crystal bubble until she smashed it with a single word. Dealing with the repercussions of that word might break her, ruin her family, and land her in jail. True, Annalee’s crime amounted to very little, but not in terms of community service hours. Her probation officer encouraged her with a promise of an easy job in an air-conditioned downtown environment. She didn’t expect her role to be little better than a janitor at an after-school daycare in the worst area of town. Through laughter and a few tears, Annalee finds out that some lessons are learned the hard way, and some seep into the soul unnoticed.

Carlton Whelen hides behind the nickname of CJ so people won’t treat him like the wealthy son of the Whelen Foundation director. Working at the foundation’s after-school program delights him and annoys his business-oriented father. When a gorgeous prima donna is assigned to his team, he not only cringes at her mistakes but also has to avoid the attraction that builds from the first time he sees her.

What can a bunch of downtown kids teach an uptown Texas princess?

You can find Aint Misbehaving online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to Aint Misbehaving below:

First Line Friday

First Line Friday | Week 26 | Aint Misbehaving by Marji Laine

It’s First Line Friday, which means it’s time to open the book nearest you and share the first line. Today I’m sharing from Aint Misbehaving by Marji Laine. Here’s the first line:

First Line: Her future wasn't the only thing at stake. Annalee Chambers slipped into the bare consultation room with her mother, father, and attorney.

About Aint Misbehaving

Annalee Chambers: Poised, wealthy, socially elite. Convict.

Annalee Chambers floated through life in a pampered, crystal bubble until she smashed it with a single word. Dealing with the repercussions of that word might break her, ruin her family, and land her in jail. True, Annalee’s crime amounted to very little, but not in terms of community service hours. Her probation officer encouraged her with a promise of an easy job in an air-conditioned downtown environment. She didn’t expect her role to be little better than a janitor at an after-school daycare in the worst area of town. Through laughter and a few tears, Annalee finds out that some lessons are learned the hard way, and some seep into the soul unnoticed.

Carlton Whelen hides behind the nickname of CJ so people won’t treat him like the wealthy son of the Whelen Foundation director. Working at the foundation’s after-school program delights him and annoys his business-oriented father. When a gorgeous prima donna is assigned to his team, he not only cringes at her mistakes but also has to avoid the attraction that builds from the first time he sees her.

What can a bunch of downtown kids teach an uptown Texas princess?

You can find Aint Misbehaving online at:

Amazon | Goodreads

Click the button to check out what my fabulous fellow FirstLineFriday bloggers are sharing today:

You can then click the link which will take you to the master page of all this week’s #FirstLineFriday posts.

And you can click here to check out my previous FirstLineFriday posts.

Share your first line in the comments, and happy reading!

2018 Australia Day Giveaway

2018 Australia Day Christian Fiction Giveaway

It’s Australia Day today!

And I’ve teamed up with twelve Australasian authors to offer an exclusive Australia Day Christian Fiction Giveaway!

All the books are either by Australian authors, or set in Australia (most are both). So it’s your chance to have a virtual holiday Down Under!

You can also win more entries by forwarding the unique code you’ll receive in your verification email. Note: if you don’t get the verification email, check your spam box, or the Promotions tab if you’re a Gmail user.

Good luck!

#ThrowbackThursday | Step by Step by Candace Calvert

It’s Throwback Thursday! Today I’m reviewing Step by Step by Candace Calvert, who I was lucky enough to meet when she visited New Zealand last year. Step by Step is the second book in her Crisis Team series.

I started out really enjoying Step by Step, but then had that awkward moment around a third of the way through when I realised it was supposed to be romantic suspense … but there wasn’t a lot of suspense.

I needn’t have worried. While Step by Step wasn’t a heart-stopping thriller like those by Brandilyn Collins or Terri Blackstock, or a puzzling mystery like Julianna Deering, it certainly ended up with more than enough suspense, from several angles.

There was the medical suspense of the setting in an ER room. There was the romantic suspense, of whether Taylor was ever going to realise Dr Perfect wasn’t (and therefore see that Seth was). And there was the underlying suspense: who is Sloane? Why does she have a problem with both Taylor and Seth? Who is chasing her? And how does this connect to Taylor? Or Seth?

So, yes, great plot. And great characters. Especially the animals. And excellent writing, with enough humour to break up the tension when needed—I especially liked lines like “Cross my heart, hope to pass a cholesterol test”. Recommended for medical suspense fans (or anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of blood and medical trauma in their fiction).

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Step by Step

Three years after a tragic accident left her a widow, ER nurse Taylor Cabot is determined to move on, checking off one item after another on her survival list. Her relationship with a handsome plastic surgeon even gives her hope for the last point―“fall in love again.” At least until crisis chaplain Seth Donovan steps back into her life, reawakening unanswered questions about her husband’s death.

While in San Diego to train community volunteers, Seth hopes to learn why Taylor is backing away from the crisis team and from their friendship. But nothing prepares him for the feelings that arise when he sees Taylor again . . . and sees her moving on with another man.

When a community crisis hits home and puts lives at risk, emotions run high and buried truths are unearthed. Will hope make the survival list?

You can find Step by Step online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

About Candace Calvert

Author Photograph - Candace CalvertOften called the author of “medical hope opera,” Candace Calvert is an ER nurse who landed on the other side of the stethoscope after the equestrian accident that broke her neck and convinced her love, laughter–and faith–are the very best medicines of all.

Her popular medical drama series (Mercy Hospital, Grace Medical and Crisis Team) offer readers a chance to “scrub in” on the exciting world of emergency medicine, along with charismatic characters, pulse-pounding action, tender romance, humor, suspense–and an encouraging prescription for hope. Think “Grey’s Anatomy finds its soul”!

A native northern Californian, mother of two and proud grandmother to eight, Candace is a passionate “foodie,” equally at home with a whisk in her hand as she is penning stories

You can find Candace Calvert online at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

And you can read the introduction to Step by Step below:

What is Success?

A Thought for Today | What is Success?

This post first appeared at Australasian Christian Writers in February 2015.

How do we define success?

I’ve recently read two Christian romance novels which looked completely different on the surface, but ended up both addressing two issues we all have to grapple with. I then read an article on Writer Unboxed which addressed the same issues, although not from a Christian perspective.

This got me thinking … if it came up three times in a day, it must be important.

The first novel was The Doctor’s Return by Narelle Atkins.

In the novel, Megan has to decide between chasing career success by pursuing an advanced degree in the city, or staying in her hometown and marrying her high school sweetheart. Towards the end, Megan says:

I don’t need to chase academic accolades to feel like I’m a success.

I’ve spent twenty years working in a corporate environment, and I’ve seen a lot of people chasing career success, whether measured by the degrees they hold, the promotions they are awarded, the position title they hold, or the salary they earn.

Yes, we all need to work, and many of us are lucky enough to be able to earn a living doing a job we enjoy. But degrees, money or position shouldn’t be our sole source of recognition, our sole measure of success.

As Christians, we have a higher calling.

The second book I read was Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg.

This is the story of Ellie, who meets the gorgeous Nate about ten minutes after declaring a six-month moratorium on dating. She realises that in the absence of her family (serving as missionaries in countries such as Papua New Guinea and Uganda), she has been turning to a succession of loser boyfriends to fill the void inside. She decides:

I want to allow God to fill up those spaces, not boyfriends or even my family.

I’m sure we all remember that girl at high school, the one who always had a boyfriend, and managed to acquire another one within days (hours?) of breaking up with the previous one. We’ve all seen the photographs of the ageing lothario with a beautiful new wife young enough to be his granddaughter.

This is another way of chasing success: instead of searching for identity and success in work, some people seek to find their identity in their partner or spouse. They don’t consider themselves successful without the right man (or woman) on their arm.

Expectations

Writers (and probably other creative types) have a third issue: the crushing weight of expectation, the temptation:

For our self-worth to become wrapped up in our commercial performance.

For the hope or dream that this will be:

the manuscript that validates me in the eyes of my family, my friends or my peers.

While the writer isn’t a Christian (as far as I know), it strikes me that many Christians experience this same compulsion to seek validation, to chase success.

Why?

We know the verses. God has a plan for my life. God shall supply all my needs. God will grant the desires of my heart.

But will He?

Yes. And no.

Whether we are writing as a calling from God or an offering to God, I believe he will honour that sacrifice as long as we are being obedient to Him and to His plan for us. To obey is better than sacrifice. We are deceiving ourselves if we believe anything else.

There can be a fine line between writing (or doing anything else) to serve God, versus writing to serve ourselves, and the emphasis on marketing ourselves can make it hard to see that line (like the log and the splinter).

There is a danger that we can turn our writing into an idol. A danger that we measure “success” by the number of sales or blog comments or website hits or Twitter followers. We look for external validation rather than seeking to obey the author and perfecter of our faith. It’s something I need to remind myself of all the time.

We are called to be His disciples: that means disciplining ourselves to follow His plan. Not our own.

God can’t bless our writing unless it’s His plan for our lives. And His plan for our writing might not be that we sell it for megabucks. It might be that we give it away (like on a free blog!). It might be that the “audience of one” you are writing to help is actually yourself.

Where do we seek validation for our writing? How do we measure success? Through God—or others?

Book Chat #42 | What’s your favourite real life setting in a novel?

Some novels make up their settings, while others use real-life places.

There is a danger in using real-life settings, in that authors have to get them right (or acknowledge when they have taken artistic liberties), as readers like accuracy … especially in settings they know.

I live in New Zealand and I mostly read Christian fiction.

Most novels are set in the United States, often in small towns (real or made-up). The result is I’ve read very few novels where I know the setting. But I’d like to read more 🙂

My absolute favourite real-life setting is Hobbiton, which has the curious distinction of being a made-up setting (in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien), and a real-life setting in Close to You by Kara Isaac. Yes, Hobbiton is now a real-life tourist attraction not far from where I live. My husband and I will occasionally take a drive to have brunch at The Shire’s Rest Cafe, which serves an excellent Second Breakfast. No, we don’t do the full tour (that costs money). But it’s a great place to stop for lunch.

Another favourite setting—and one which gets used more often than New Zealand—is London. I lived in London for ten years, so I enjoy novels with a modern London setting, such as London Tides by Carla Laureano. I also enjoy Regency romances and historical romances, many of which feature London as a setting.

And one final favourite setting is Aberystwyth, Wales, the main setting for A Song Unheard by Roseanna M White. Why Aberystwyth? Because it’s where I was born, and it’s a unique setting. I haven’t spent much time in the city, as I left Wales and emigrated to New Zealand as a pre-schooler. So I enjoyed seeing it through the eyes of Roseanna M White’s fictional characters.

What’s your favourite real-life setting in a novel?

Quote from The View from Rainshadow Bay

Book Review | The View from Rainshadow Bay by Colleen Coble

Fast-paced Romantic Suspense

Colleen Coble is the master of Christian romantic suspense, and The View from Rainshadow Bay is no exception. It starts with a murder in the Prologue, and the pace never lets up.

It’s been a year, but Shauna McDade still blames Zach Bannister for the death of her husband. Unfortunately, she needs his help as a father-substitute for her son’s class trip. Two murders and a mysterious box later, she needs Zach’s help for more than just the class trip.

One of the items in the box is a unique necklace that belonged to Shauna’s mother—one that was supposed to have been buried with her. Shauna and Zach chase clues together, but there are no easy answers. It’s a detailed plot, with lots of seemingly insignificant events coming together in an unexpected end twist (no spoilers, but I really hope this is fiction!).

And that makes it kind of hard to review—pretty much anything I might want to say could be giving away a significant plot point. So I’ll keep it simple and say that if you’re a fan of Colleen Coble, Christian romantic suspense, or both, then you’ll want to read this book.

The View from Rainshadow Bay is the first in the new Lavender Tides series from Colleen Coble, so it’s a great place to start if you’ve never read her books before. Recommended.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Colleen Coble

Colleen CobleBest-selling author Colleen Coble’s novels have won or finaled in awards ranging from the Best Books of Indiana, the ACFW Carol Award, the Romance Writers of America RITA, the Holt Medallion, the Daphne du Maurier, National Readers’ Choice, and the Booksellers Best. She has over 2 million books in print and writes romantic mysteries because she loves to see justice prevail. Colleen is CEO of American Christian Fiction Writers. She lives with her husband Dave in Indiana.

 

Find Colleen Coble online at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

About The View From Rainshadow Bay

After her husband, Jack, dies in a climbing incident, Shauna has only her five-year-old son and her helicopter charter business to live for. Every day is a struggle to make ends meet and she lives in constant fear of losing even more than she already has.

When her business partner is murdered, his final words convince Shauna that she’s in danger too. But where can she turn? Zach Bannister was her husband’s best friend and is the person she blames for his death. She’s barely spoken to him since. But right now he seems her only hope for protecting her son.

Zach is only too happy to assuage his guilt over Jack’s death by helping Shauna any way he can. But there are secrets involved dating back to Shauna’s childhood that more than one person would prefer to stay hidden.

In The View from Rainshadow Bay, suspense, danger, and a longing to love again ignite amid the gorgeous lavender fields of Washington State.

Find The View from Rainshadow Bay online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

#FirstLineFriday | Week 25 | Before We Were Yours

It’s First Line Friday, which means it’s time to open the book nearest you and share the first line. Today I’m sharing from Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. It’s an NYT bestseller. It’s also the winner of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for historical fiction (which is kind of odd, as it’s set in the past and the present). From what I’ve read so far, it totally deserves the award.

Here’s the first line:

First Line from Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate: My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

About Before We Were Yours

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Born into a world of wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all. A loving daughter to her father, a US senator, with her own ambitious career as a lawyer and a handsome fiancé waiting for her in Baltimore, she has lived a charmed life.

But when Avery returns to Aiken to help her father weather a health crisis and a political attack, a chance encounter with May Crandall, an elderly woman she’s never met before, leaves Avery deeply shaken. Avery’s decision to learn more about May’s life will take her on a journey through a hidden history of stolen children and illegal adoption. A journey that will reveal a secret that could lead to devastation…or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals–in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country–Lisa Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

(Yes, for some unknown reason, the Kindle and hardcover versions have different covers).

You can find Before We Were Yours online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

Click the button to check out what my fabulous fellow FirstLineFriday bloggers are sharing today:

You can then click the link which will take you to the master page of all this week’s #FirstLineFriday posts.

And you can click here to check out my previous FirstLineFriday posts.

Share your first line in the comments, and happy reading!

#ThrowbackThursday | Close to You by Kara Isaac

It’s Throwback Thursday! Today I’m sharing my extremely biased review of Close to You by Kara Isaac. It’s biased because Kara is a fellow Kiwi, and it’s the first Christian novel I’ve read that is set anywhere near what I call home.

To the best of my knowledge, Close to You by Kara Isaac is the first novel from a New Zealand author contracted and published by a major US Christian publisher. That alone is worth five stars, at least from this parochial Kiwi reader. Those of you who can’t see the appeal of a romance novel set in the Land of the Long White Cloud (and the land of hobbits) … I don’t know. What do people who don’t like New Zealand or hobbits read? Do they read? Can they read?.

Anyway, on to the novel.

Allie is short of money, as her funds are currently tied up in a messy divorce. She’s working as a tour guide delivering high-class (i.e. expensive) tours of New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations, making good use of her PhD in English literature. Unfortunately, she now loathes all things Tolkien.

Jackson’s company has just gone bust, and he’s accompanying a long-lost—and rich—uncle on Allie’s Lord of the Rings tour in the hope he can persuade uncle to invest in his next business idea. Unfortunately, he knows nothing about Tolkien, hobbits or Lord of the Rings … despite telling his uncle he’s a die-hard fan.

Naturally, Allie and Jackson start off on the wrong foot and equally naturally (this is Christian romance!), things change as they start to get to know each other. Throw in a tour bus full of seriously eccentric characters, a wily uncle and a weasly almost-ex-husband, and the stage is set for fun and romance.

I loved all the Kiwi touches.

The nail-biting approach to Wellington Airport. The lush greenery of the Waikato. The “scents” of Rotorua. The majesty of Queenstown. The Tolkien tourist mecca of Hobbiton (which is even better in real life. I love the Second Breakfast at The Shire’s Rest cafe). The writing was good, with a good dose of humour (people actually speak Elvish?) and a subtle underlying Christian theme.

Recommended for fans of Carla Laureano and Susan May Warren. And New Zealand, and Tolkien. So that should cover pretty much everyone.

Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Kara Isaac

Kara Isaac is a RITA® Award nominee who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, where her career highlights include working in tourism as Private Secretary for the Prime Minister. She loves great books almost as much as she loves her husband and three Hobbit-sized children.

You can find Kara Isaac online at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

About Close to You

A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.

Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.

Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.

When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?

You can find Close to You online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

You can read the opening to Close to You below:

Click here to find Close to You and other great Christian fiction in my Amazon store.