Book Recommendations January/February 2017

Christian Fiction January February 2017

I’m still playing catch-up on my book recommendations. Today I’m covering the best books I read in January and February of 2017, and I’ll be back in two weeks with my top picks for March and April.

What’s unusual about my list this is that the books are four different genres, but none of them are my usual favourite—contemporary romance.

An Uncommon Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

An Uncommon Courtship is the fourth book in Kristi Ann Hunter’s award-winning Regency romance series. It focuses on the forced marriage of Lord Trent and Lady Abigail, and their ability to try and turn an awkward situation into a real marriage. I especially enjoyed the fact they were both strong Christians, which gives the plot added depth. Click here to read my review.

Maybe It’s You by Candace Calvert

Maybe It’s You is the third in her Crisis Hope medical drama series, and it’s a strong finish. It’s not a light drama—Sloane has a damaged past, and she’s learning to trust God for her future. I thought this was a real strength of the novel. The romance and suspense didn’t hurt! Click here to read my review.

As an unrelated aside, I got to meet Candace Calvert last month! She and her husband took a cruise around New Zealand and docked in my home town. If you’re ever lucky enough to be cruising around New Zealand, let me know when you’re in Tauranga or Mt Maunganui so I can take you for coffee!

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

Murder on the Moor is the fifth in the Drew Fathering series, and I think it’s the best yet. The whole series is a must-read for fans of historical mystery novels from authors like Agatha Christie. Murder on the Moor sees Drew and Madeline visiting Yorkshire to investigate the murder of the local vicar. Excellent. Click here to read my review.

Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

Long Way Gone is a modern retelling of the story of the Prodigal Son, set against the backdrop of the Nashville music industry, and in high-country Colorado. Everything about it was outstanding, from the opening line to the end. You can read my review at Australasian Christian Writers, and you can find the book on Amazon.
Long Way Gone by Charles Martin

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year?

What's your favourite fiction series?

Bookish Question #4: What’s Your Favourite Series?

What’s your favourite fiction series, and what makes it so special?

I have two possible answers to this question. Or maybe three favourite series. Yes, definitely three. All Christian fiction, which shouldn’t come as any surprise.

 

The Mark of the Lion series by Francine Rivers

I loved Hadassah, I loved Marcus, and I loved the way her quiet witness had such an impact on him. An Echo in the Darkness remains one of my favourite Christian novels.

 

The Love Comes Softly series by Janette Oke

I loved Clarke and Marty and the way two strangers came together and form a strong, godly family. I loved the way Clarke introduced Marty to God. And I loved the way the series covered generations, and didn’t shy away from the trials of life.

 

The O’Malley series by Dee Henderson

These were the first Christian romantic suspense novels I read, and I loved the mix of faith, romance and suspense. I especially liked the relationship between the seven O’Malley “siblings”, and the way each of them had a different journey to  Christ. I also read and loved the two prequels—Danger in the Shadows, and Jennifer.

 

What’s your favourite fiction series, and what make it so special?

My Top 10 Christian Novels of 2016

I’ve missed a few of my monthly book recommendation posts, so I’m going to catch up over the next few weeks. This week I’m covering the top 10 Christian novels I read last year, in a post originally published at Australasian Christian Writers in December 2016.

How many of my Top 10 Christian novels have you read? What did you think?

Every year I write a post of the top ten novels I read, and every year I struggle. How to condense a year of reading into just ten books? In 2016, I decided the only way I could do it was to stick to novels published in 2016—cutting non-fiction and novellas.

So here are my Top Ten Christian Novels published in 2016 (in alphabetical order. It was enough trouble to narrow them down to ten without having to rank them!):

Since You’ve Been Gone by Christa Allan

Since You’ve Been Gone starts with a twist on a cliché: a groom who doesn’t show up to the wedding, and a bride-to-be who is left to work out why. The obvious is soon discovered (he’s dead in a car wreck), but that doesn’t answer the important questions … Click here to read my review.

Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin

An excellent dual timeline story from Lynn Austin, showing the difficulties faced by early American settlers, and their determination to succeed. And their faith. Click here to read my review.

The Cautious Maiden by Dawn Crandall

This is the fourth novel in The Everstone Chronicles, and it’s as good as the rest. Don’t worry—you don’t have to read them all. But you’ll want to. Excellent historical romantic suspense. Click here to read my review.

Quote from Waves of Mercy by Lynn Austin

Intermission by Serena Chase

Intermission isn’t Serena Chase’s first novel, but it’s the first one I’ve read—an excellent Young Adult novel with some valuable lessons about God and obedience. Click here to read my review.

Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac

Kiwi author Kara Isaac has actually released two books this year: Close to You, and Can’t Help Falling. While I’ve read and enjoyed both, Can’t Help Falling is definitely my favourite. Click here to read my review.

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears

A Heart Most Certain looks like a typical romance novel set in the American West in the late 1900’s—a sweet romance between two almost-perfect characters. Bland, predictable. But it’s anything but, and that’s what makes it so good. Click here to read my review.

No One’s Bride by Nerys Leigh

I love a good mail order bride story, and this one was excellent. Even better, it’s the start of a series and I’m already holding the date to review book two. Click here to read my review.

The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo

Everyone has been telling me I need to read Amy Matayo’s work. I finally did, and everyone was right. She’s brilliant—real characters with real strengths and failings. I’ll certainly be reading more. Click here to read my review.

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L Rubart

No, I didn’t include this simply to include a token male author (although I do read a lot more female authors than male). James L Rubart is an excellent writer of almost-speculative fiction. I say ‘almost’ because we serve a God of miracles, so who is to say these things couldn’t happen? Click here to read my review.

On the Edge by Theresa L Santy

On the Edge won the FaithWriters 2013 Page Turner Contest … and it certainly was a page turner. I’ll be watching for more from this debut author. Click here to read my review.

Although my choices are a mix of contemporary and historical, American authors and authors from England and New Zealand, they all have one thing in common. No, they’re not all romance novels (although yes, most are).

No, the one thing they all have in common is flawed characters doing their best to become better people.

Just like we all do in real life.

What's your favourite genre?

Bookish Question #3: What’s Your Favourite Genre?

What’s your favourite genre?

When I read non-fiction, it’s either a Christian inspirational title, or something to do with writing, editing, publishing or marketing—and a lot of that reading is blog posts rather than books.

When I read fiction, it’s Christian fiction. My favourite genre is romance. Contemporary romance, historical romance, and especially romantic suspense. But I also enjoy women’s fiction and some young adult and new adult authors. I even like science fiction. Basically, anything with strong, intelligent female characters. I don’t do stupid.

My favourite authors? That’s a different question! (But if you really want to know, click here to sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a list of my favourites.)

So what’s your favourite genre?

Book Review: Catch of a Lifetime by Candee Fick

I’ve watched a lot of American football* on TV. I’ve read The Blind Side and seen the movie. I watched and enjoyed Friday Night Lights. I’ve even attended one college game (in Hawaii), and a couple of pro games for my ‘local’ pro team (the San Francisco 49ers).

But I was lost for the first couple of chapters of Catch of a Lifetime. I’m not sure whether this was an intentional decision to throw the reader in the deep end (in the same was as Cassie was), or whether it was just me.

*I lived in London for ten years, where ‘football’ was a game played with a round ball, aka soccer. I’m from New Zealand, where we have rugby football and rugby league. None of the players wear helmets, and their protective gear consists of a mouthguard and duck tape around their ears. And what US referees penalise as unnecessary roughness, we call a fair tackle.  

Whatever.

If you start reading this and find the first couple of chapters difficult, don’t let that put you off. The story definitely grabbed my attention in Chapter Three, and never let up until the last page. And this from someone who would rather read than watch football. (Yes, the college game I attended was fun, but my personal highlight was seeing the marching band).

Onto the story …

Cassie has come to Colorado to get her Master’s degree. She has a part-time job with the college football team as a physical therapist, helping players recover from injury. She also works as an academic advisor, helping ensure the players get the necessary academic grades to keep playing.

I know this wasn’t the point of the novel, but I learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes in a college football team.

The biggest eye-opener was the amount of money that must go into football programmes. Pro sports didn’t really exist when I was at university, and we certainly didn’t worship the top players the way some of the characters in Catch of a Lifetime appeared to be worshipped.

But college football was just the backdrop for an excellent romance novel with themes of forgiveness and not judging others.

Cassie isn’t happy about being assigned to the football programme. We soon find out why, but I’m not going to spoil it for you. It doesn’t help that the first players and coaches she meets seem to reinforce all the negative stereotypes she believes about student athletes.

Reed is the assistant coach she runs into the most often, because his players seem to have the most injuries and academic issues. There is an immediate attraction, but also the potential issue of a student dating a member of staff. Reed was a great hero—a kind and caring Christian who looked out for the players on his team as he coached them in football, and tried to mentor them in life.

Catch of a Lifetime has plenty of action, both on and off the field.

I thought the way this was blended with Cassie’s spiritual journey was excellent. She’s clearly a Christian, but not to the point of it being preachy. Instead, she and Reed face the struggles common to many dating Christians, and they do it with class.

Overall, I enjoyed Catch of a Lifetime a lot more than I expected based on the first two chapters. I’ll certainly watch out for more novels from Candee Fick. And maybe even some more football novels.

Recommended for readers looking for a Christian New Adult novel with intelligence, action, and romance.

Thanks to the publisher and Reading Deals for providing a free ebook for review. Find out more about Candee Fick at her website, and read the introduction to Catch of a Lifetime below:

Where is your favourite place to read?

Bookish Question #2: Where is your favourite place to read?

Where is your favourite place to read?

My favourite place to read is any place where no one is talking to me. It’s like an evil spell: I pick up a book or my Kindle, and someone (like a family member) starts talking to me. They’re usually talking about something I either know nothing about (sports), or something I don’t want to know anything about (politics).

If it’s a fine summer’s day, I enjoy reading outside in the sun—either in my back garden, or at the beach. I think it’s the combination of nature and words which makes this relaxing. Sometimes the cat will join me, but not for long—she’s black, and gets too hot.

My favourite place to read in the evening or in winter is in my chair in the lounge. I can see the TV, but it’s to the side which makes it easy to ignore if my husband is watching something I’m not interested in. And it’s right beside the fire, which makes for cozy winter evenings.

So what’s your favourite place to read? Share in the comments!

April 2017 New Releases in Christian Fiction

Just when you thought it was okay to go back to the bookstore without burning a hole in your budget … there are a whole bunch more books to read. And your budget is gone.

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

Contemporary Romance:
sandpiper-cove

Sandpiper Cove by Irene Hannon — When a police chief and an ex-con join forces to keep a young man from falling into a life of crime, sparks fly. Given their backgrounds, it’s not a promising match—but in Hope Harbor, anything is possible. (Contemporary Romance from Revell [Baker])

oh-baby

Oh Baby by Delia Latham — Dawni Manors seeks peace in Angel Falls, Texas. What she finds is a cowboy, an abandoned infant, and emotional chaos. If the Heart’s Haven angels really are there, what in the world are they thinking? (Contemporary Romance from White Rose Publishing [Pelican])

General:

a-fragile-hope

A Fragile Hope by Cynthia Ruchti — Where does a relationship expert turn when his wife leaves him and carries a tiny heartbeat with her? (General from Abingdon Press)

I’ve read this, and it’s outstanding!

Mystery

sunset-in-old-savannahSunset in Old Savannah by Mary Ellis — When a philandering husband turns up dead, two crack detectives find more suspects than moss-draped oaks in charming old Savannah, including a scheming business partner, a resentful mistress, and a ne’er-do-well brother. (Mystery from Harvest House Publishers)

Historical:

above-rubies

Above Rubies by Keely Brooke Keith — In 1863, young teacher Olivia Owens establishes the first school in the remote settlement of Good Springs while finding love. (Historical, Independently Published)

I’ve read this as well, and it’s excellent.

Historical Romance:

a-rose-so-fair

A Rose So Fair by Myra Johnson — Caleb Wieland would give anything to win farm girl Rose Linwood’s heart, but Rose’s stubborn independence is proving as thorny as the flower for which she’s named. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)
under-the-same-sky

Under the Same Sky by Cynthia Roemer — In 1854 Illinois, Becky Hollister wants nothing more than to live out her days on the prairie, building a life for herself alongside her future husband. But when a tornado rips through her parents’ farm, killing her mother and sister, she must leave the only home she’s ever known and the man she’s begun to love to accompany her injured father to St. Louis.

Catapulted into a world of unknowns, Becky finds solace in corresponding with Matthew Brody, the handsome pastor back home. But when word comes that he is all but engaged to someone else, she must call upon her faith to decipher her future. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)
the-pony-express-collection

The Pony Express Romance Collection by Barbara Tifft Blakey, Mary Davis, Darlene Franklin, Cynthia Hickey, Maureen Lang, Debby Lee, Donna Schlachter, Connie Stevens and Pegg Thomas — Nine historical romances revive the brief era of the Pony Express. Join the race from Missouri, across the plains and mountains to California and back again as brave Pony Express riders and their supporters along the route work to get mail across country in just ten days. It is an outstanding task in the years 1860 to 1861, and only a few are up to the job. Faced with challenges of terrain, weather, hostile natives, sickness, and more, can these adventurous pioneers hold fast, and can they also find lasting love in the midst of daily trials? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

plain-targetPlain Target by Dana R. Lynn — Horse trainer Jess McGrath only wants to clear her disgraced brother’s name, but enemies keep coming out of the woodwork and danger only gets closer. Jess soon learns that no place is safe—and no one can be trusted…except for the last white knight she’d ever expect to ride to her rescue. Paramedic Seth Travis was the boy behind her high school humiliation, but he’s also the man keeping her alive. When they find sanctuary in the Amish community, can they uncover answers in time to stop a killer—and resolve their past in time to build a future together? (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])
dangerous-testimony

Dangerous Testimony by Dana Mentink — Four weeks before she’s set to testify at a gang murder trial, someone is determined to make sure that Candace Gallagher Andrews never takes the stand. When nowhere is safe for the private investigator or her little girl, Candace turns to the only person she can trust—longtime friend and former navy SEAL Marco Quidel. For Marco, protecting Candace is not just another duty. As the trial date nears and the killer stalks ever closer, Marco knows fear for the first time—the fear of losing Candace and her daughter. But while Marco begins seeing Candace as more than just a friend, her late husband’s memory is never far from her mind. So he must keep Candace alive—and not get emotionally involved—long enough to put away a killer. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

deep-extractionDeep Extraction by DiAnn Mills — Special Agent Tori Templeton is determined to find who killed her best friend’s husband. Tori finds an unexpected ally in the newest member of the task force, recently reinstated Deputy US Marshal Cole Jeffers. As Tori and Cole dig deeper into Nathan’s personal and business affairs, they uncover more than they bargained for. And the closer they get to finding the real killer?and to each other?the more intent someone is on silencing them for good. (Romantic Suspense from Tyndale House)

final-verdict

Final Verdict by Jessica R. Patch — When Aurora Daniels becomes the target of someone seeking their own twisted justice, Sheriff Beckett Marsh is the only one who can rescue her. As a public defender, Aurora has angered plenty of people in town—and in her past. And while Beckett constantly clashes with the feisty lawyer professionally, it’s his duty to protect and serve. Guarding her 24/7 is now his sole assignment. He may not have been able to save his fiancée from a dangerous felon, but he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Aurora alive. Even if working with her to catch and convict this ruthless killer puts his heart in the crosshairs. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])
guardian

Guardian by Terri Reed — When a fellow FBI agent is kidnapped and a protected witness vanishes, Leo Gallagher will stop at nothing to find them both. So when he discovers a link between the case and a single mother in Wyoming, Leo and his trusty K-9 partner rush to question Alicia Duncan. Could she be the key to locating the missing persons? Not if a killer has anything to say about it. Someone is determined to keep Alicia from talking, so Leo and his chocolate Lab must keep her and her little boy safe on their family ranch. With danger lurking around every corner, Leo must work overtime to not lose another person who’s important to him. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])
witch

Witch by Denise Weimer — Having restored Michael Johnson’s ancestors’ house and apothecary shop and begun applying the lessons of family and forgiveness unearthed from the past, Jennifer Rushmore expects to complete her first preservation job with the simple relocation of a log home. But as her crew reconstructs the 1787 cabin, home to the first Dunham doctor, attacks on those involved throw suspicion on neighbors and friends alike. And while Jennifer has trusted God and Michael with the pain of her past, it appears Michael’s been keeping his own secrets. Will she use a dream job offer from Savannah as an escape, or will a haunting tale from a Colonial diary convince her to rely on the faithfulness of his love? (Romantic Suspense from Canterbury House Publishing)

Speculative Romance/Fantasy:

the-fairetellings-series

The Fairetellings Series (Books 1 through 3) by Kristen Reed — Discover a trio of enchanting novellas inspired by three beloved fairy tales: Cinderella, Snow White, and Beauty and the Beast. (Speculative Romance/Fantasy, Independently Published)

Bookish Question: When is your favourite time to read?

Bookish Question #1: When is your favourite time to read?

When is your favourite time to read?

I’m a freelance editor, so always feel a little guilty if I’m reading during the day—unless it’s a book I’m writing or editing (mine, or someone else’s).

I prefer to read in the evenings after dinner, or in the weekends after the jobs are done.

So when is your favourite time to read?

Happy New Year! (Not every year starts on 1 January)

Happy New Year! 

Okay, so I’m three months late in terms of the calendar New Year. But this is my first post for 2017 …

Today is 31 March, which is the final day of the New Zealand tax year. This means tomorrow isn’t just April Fools Day. It’s also the first day of the 2017/18 tax year. So while Americans should now have finished the painful task of annual taxes, those of us Down Under are just about to start.

This might seem a little odd, but there is a reason for it. And as with so many things in New Zealand, that reason goes back to jolly olde England, where the new tax year begins on 6 April. On the face of things, that seems even less logical than 1 April, but there is a reason.

If you’ve ever researched family history, you’ll know 1 January wasn’t always the beginning of the calendar year. Way back in history, when the great minds were debating these matters of importance, they decided the year should begin on 25 March.

Lady Day

Why? Because Jesus was born on 25 December. Therefore the angel must have visited Mary on 25 March, which is known as Lady Day. So it was only logical that 25 March should be the start of the Christian year.

Then Pope Gregory introduced the Gregorian calendar in 1582, because the existing Julian calendar had got out of sync in terms of calculating the correct date for Easter (a debate which has still not been settled). Great Britain adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, a move which many people resented because they were ‘robbed’ of eleven days—the difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

This short year impacted on people who paid (or earned) rent or other monthly or annual payments. A rather complicated set of decisions and an Act of Parliament meant England and Wales shifted New Year’s Day from Lady Day to 1 January. They also moved the beginning of the tax year forward to ensure the 1752 tax year still had the correct number of days. And that hasn’t changed, so the English tax year still starts on 6 April.

The original lawmakers in New Zealand must have thought a tax year starting on 6 April was a historical anomaly they could and should fix. As a result, our tax year runs from 1 April to 31 March. Except for public sector organisations, most of which run a 1 July—30 June financial year. And except for international companies, which often use the calendar year. So basically we’re all over the place.

Okay, so I’m a bit of a history nerd even though I write contemporary fiction.

Today…

I’ll be spending today in a café overlooking the beach, having my first ever annual planning day (thanks to Randy Ingermanson for the idea). I dropped the ball on some of my social media and other commitments last year, and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I also want to make sure I move forward on my writing—fiction and non-fiction—and turn some of my almost-finished drafts into books or courses.

And I’ll be praying, to make sure God is in the plan. It’s His job to set the strategy and direction, and my job to execute it. To do that well, I need to hear His direction.

I’d ask for your prayers as well, that I’ll know His will, and that I’ll be obedient to the call he has for me this year.

Introducing Intermission by Serena Chase (and a giveaway)

Today I’d like to introduce Serena Chase, and her new Young Adult novel, Intermission: 

We are starlight on snow. The reflection of something already beautiful—absorbed, reflected, and remade into something . . . more.

And this kiss . . .

This kiss is everything I’ve needed to say . . . and longed to hear.

Intermission by Serena ChaseSixteen-year-old Faith Prescott eagerly awaits the day she will exchange her small Iowa hometown for the bright lights of Broadway, but her success-driven parents want her to pursue a more practical career, labeling “artsy” people—including their daughter—as foolish dreamers worthy of little more than disdain.

When Faith meets nineteen-year-old Noah Spencer she discovers someone who understands her musical theatre dreams . . . because he shares them.

Faith’s mother despises everything about Noah—his age, his upbringing . . . even his religious beliefs—and she grasps at every opportunity to belittle his plans to study theatre and pursue a stage career. When those criticisms shift further toward hostility, resulting in unjust suspicions and baseless accusations, an increasingly fearful stage is set for Faith at home, where severe restrictions and harsh penalties are put in place to remove Noah Spencer from her life.

But Faith has never connected with anyone like she has with Noah, and no matter how tight a stranglehold her mother enforces to keep them apart, Faith will not give him up. Behind the curtain, Faith’s love for Noah continues to grow . . . as does her determination to hold on to her dreams—and him—no matter how high the cost.

Intermission is a heart-wrenching contemporary YA romance set against a backdrop of musical theatre and family drama. With coming-of-age themes that honestly explore gray areas of moral dilemmas, this novel traces the path of one talented teen girl as she crosses painful thresholds of first love, faith, and betrayal to take the necessary steps toward adulthood, independence, and the dreams that set her heart on fire.

I’ve just read Intermission, and I loved it. Click here to read my review at Australasian Christian Writers. 

And there’s a giveaway!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Advance Praise for Intermission

“FINALLY someone has written a YA for all of us musical theater nerds! Intermission will pull you in like a big Broadway show with its swoony romance and a heroine you can root for. Serena Chase brings the theater world alive with this tale of first love, family drama, and a character who’s searching for her place in this world.”

Jenny B. Jones, award-winning author of I’ll Be Yours and the Katie Parker Production series

“This book sings! A masterfully written story that broke my heart one moment and had me cheering for the main character the next. If you’re looking for a stunning and emotional read, look no further than Serena Chase’s Intermission.”

Heather Burch, bestselling author of One Lavender Ribbon and the Halflings series

“A multifaceted coming-of-age love story that explores the depth of self-doubt, difficult family dynamics, and a faith built in the midst of heartache. Beautifully-crafted prose with a timely message.”

Nicole Deese, author of the Love in Lenox series and The Promise of Rayne

Intermission is a singularly captivating YA novel. It delivers a wistful holding of breath while exploring the emotions experienced in the gap between what happened before and the hoped-for promise of what might happen after. This book, as with all the very best coming-of-age stories, will resonate with readers of all ages as it encourages us to come out from behind the curtain, step into the spotlight, and have the courage to live without masks.”

Sandra Byrd, author of A Lady in Disguise, and the London Confidential series

Intermission is both heartbreakingly real and poignantly hopeful. Dipping her pen into issues of faith, friendship, and family, Chase had me holding my breath and experiencing the highs and lows as if I was personally involved in Faith and Noah’s lives. Brava!”

Jill Lynn, author of Falling for Texas

Intermission is a love story for the heart and the spirit. You’ll fall head over heels for Faith and Noah!”

Lorie Langdon, author of Gilt Hollow

Intermission by Serena Chase

About Serena Chase 

SERENA CHASE is the author of the critically-acclaimed Eyes of E’veria series and a regular contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After blog. A lifelong performer who sometimes speaks in show tunes, Serena lives in Iowa with her husband Dave, teen daughters Delaney and Ellerie, and a 100-pound white Goldendoodle named Albus, who is the biggest star of her Instagram account. Connect with Serena Chase by visiting her website and signing up for her newsletter, “like” her official Facebook page to stay up-to-date on new release news, and enjoy her sometimes poignant, but more often chuckle-inducing random observations of life on Twitter.