Category: Book Recommendation

#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:

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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:

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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.

Quote from Ladies of Ivy Cottage

Book Recommendation | The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage is the second book in the Tales From Ivy Hill series by beloved Christian Regency author Julie Klassen. There are a lot of characters to keep straight, so while this is a standalone story, it might help if you’ve read the first book in the series, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill. And recently. I’ve read it, but it was over a year ago. I remembered the main plot points, but had forgotten some of the minor characters who are now major characters.

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage is historical romance but only to a degree. Ivy Hill has plenty of single ladies (and single gentlemen), but it’s less a romance and more a gentle ongoing story of everyday village life, complete with village intrigues. It’s not a fast-paced novel, but neither does it drag.

I enjoyed the slower pace, the reminder of a time when life wasn’t ruled by phone notifications but by the arrival of the Mail coach. I enjoyed the slow getting-to-know new characters, and being reintroduced to familiar characters. As always, I enjoyed the subtle-but-there presentation of Christianity (although The Ladies of Ivy Cottage certainly has even less of a faith message than some of her previous works).

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage was a delightful step back into another time.

Recommended for fans of village tales such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, Lawanna Blackwell’s Gresham Chronicles, or Jan Karon’s Mitford. And fans of Jane Austen. Of course.

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

About Julie Klassen

Julie KlassenJulie Klassen loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. She worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her novels have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. Her book, The Silent Governess, was also a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards, and Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota.

Find Julie Klassen online at:

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About The Ladies of Ivy Cottage

Living with the two Miss Groves in Ivy Cottage, impoverished gentlewoman Rachel Ashford is determined to earn her own livelihood . . . somehow. When the village women encourage her to open a subscription library with the many books she has inherited or acquired through donations, Rachel discovers two mysteries hidden among them. A man who once broke her heart helps her search for clues, but will both find more than they bargained for?
Rachel’s friend and hostess, Mercy Grove, has given up thoughts of suitors and fills her days managing her girls’ school. So when several men take an interest in Ivy Cottage, she assumes pretty Miss Ashford is the cause. Exactly what–or who–has captured each man’s attention? The truth may surprise them all.
Meanwhile, life has improved at the coaching inn and Jane Bell is ready to put grief behind her. Now if only the man she misses would return–but where is he?
As the women of Ivy Hill search for answers about the past and hope for the future, might they find love along the way?

Find The Ladies of Ivy Cottage online at:

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Read the introduction to The Ladies of Ivy Cottage below:

Book Recommendation | You’re Gonna Love Me by Robin Lee Hatcher

Samantha Winters broke up with Nick Chastain because he was a professional daredevil, a college professor whose out-of-class adventures mean he’s an adrenaline-seeking modern Indiana Jones. Two years later, she’s back in her home town of Thunder Creek for three months, to help her grandmother recover from a riding accident. Nick is there, working on her brother’s farm. Why?

Nick was injured in a white-water rafting accident not long after he and Sam broke up. He suffers from memory loss, which means he can no longer teach, and he’s been told to stay away from the daredevil activities, as another accident could kill him. So he’s installing irrigation systems in Idaho. On Sam’s brother’s organic farm.

It doesn’t take long for the two to reconnect.

It also doesn’t take long for the sparks to fly, as the two realise their old problems are still bubbling under the surface. I found Samantha frustrating. I could understand her fear that something might happen to Nick as he’s off doing all these dangerous things, but people choke to death on vegetables. We can’t live our lives in fear, or we’d never leave the house.

We're made in the image of God and God is the creator. Thus, we are all called to create.But that is Sam’s problem: she wants to feel safe.

That’s why she’s stuck in a job she doesn’t really enjoy, because that’s easier than looking for another job. I can relate to that. If the current job allows you the time, money, and mental headspace to pursue hobbies, why change?

But I also found Nick frustrating, for not telling Samantha about his accident, and for not telling her the extent of his injuries. Especially for not telling her he was no longer the adventuring daredevil she’d broken up with.

I guess the plus part of these character quirks is it made them feel like real people. The opposites-attract plot isn’t original. It’s a romance so we all know how it’s going to end (if you weren’t sure, the clue is in the title). But the author manages to take what could be a cookie-cutter romance up a level with well-developed characters who are anything but cliche. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I wanted to see it play out on the page.

I especially liked the way the Christian faith was woven into the plot.

It gave an added depth to the plot and to the characters, but it didn’t provide an “easy out”. The characters couldn’t just pray and have everything be fixed. That’s not real life, and it’s not good fiction either.

You’re Gonna Love Me is the sequel to You’ll Think of Me (Derek and Brooklyn’s story), but can easily be read as a standalone. Personally, I’d recommend starting at the beginning of the series—while You’re Gonna Love Me was good, I thought You’ll Think of Me was better. I’ll be interested to see whose story we get in the next visit to Thunder Creek.

Recommended for fans of family-based contemporary Christian romance stories.

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

About Robin Lee Hatcher

Robin Lee HatcherBest-selling novelist Robin Lee Hatcher is known for her heartwarming and emotionally charged stories of faith, courage, and love. Winner of the Christy, the RITA, the Carol, the Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and many other industry awards, Robin is also a recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from both Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. She is the author of 75+ novels and novellas with over five million copies in print.

Robin enjoys being with her family, spending time in the beautiful Idaho outdoors, reading books that make her cry, and watching romantic movies. Her main hobby (when time allows) is knitting, and she has a special love for making prayer shawls. A mother and grandmother, Robin and her husband make their home on the outskirts of Boise, sharing it with Poppet, the high-maintenance Papillon, and Princess Pinky, the DC (demon cat).

Find Robin online at:

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About You’re Gonna Love Me

Who knew fate could twist a tragedy into a second chance at love?

Samantha Winters lives her life the way a good accountant should—measured, deliberate, and safe. After watching her father die in a tragic skiing accident, she decided never to allow risk into her life again. But she didn’t count on falling for Nick Chastain, who embodies everything she doesn’t want in her safely constructed world.

Against Samantha’s warnings, Nick plans a dangerous kayaking trip over spring break. Furious that he’s so careless with his life, she ends their fledgling relationship with harsh words.

Two years later, Samantha is desperately in need of a change. When she learns her grandmother has had an accident and is in need of a caretaker, Samantha quickly packs her bags and heads to Thunder Creek, Idaho. But nothing could prepare her for the surprise awaiting her in her grandmother’s hospital room . . . Nick.

With the charming backdrop of small-town friends, beloved cousins, and a whole church congregation rooting for them, can they set aside the disastrous ending of their first try at love? Has Nick changed enough to meet Samantha in the middle—and can she realize that a risk in love might be worth taking?

Find You’re Gonna Love Me online at:

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Quote from Holding the Fort

Book Recommendation | Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings

Lovely Lola Bell was raised in a saloon, but her singing voice has meant she’s managed to keep from working upstairs. Except now she’s been fired, and no one in town is going to give a saloon girl a respectable job. Then she hears her brother—her only family—is in trouble. She has no choice but to become Miss Louisa Bell, find Bradley at Fort Reno, find a respectable job, and hope her past never catches up with her.

Major Daniel Adams is a widower with two daughters. When Miss Louisa Bell arrives at the Fort to teach his daughters, he’s so grateful he doesn’t bother to check her details. The girls like her, and anything to keep them out of trouble in a fort filled with soldiers and surrounded by potentally hostile Indians …

In some ways, Holding the Fort was a typical Western romance. Beautiful heroine meets handsome hero, fall in love, and so on.

But that would be missing the best parts: the comedy, and the Christian element.

Regina Jennings writes comedy. Well, this had a lot of comedy—awkwardly comedic situations, similar to Karen Witemeyer or Jen Turano. There can be a fine line between comedy and cringefest, but I definitely found Holding the Fort was comedy (especially a couple of the riding scenes).

It was also Christian. Lola aka Louisa was not a Christian. She’d been raised in a saloon, hardly the kind of place you’d find a preacher. She does a so-so job of pretending, but when it comes out that she’s not a Christian, Daniel has a dilemma. He’s attracted to her, but … Anyway, that ended up being one of the strengths for me.

Overall, I loved Holding the Fort. Recommended for fans of romantic comedy, especially historical Westerns.

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

About Regina Jennings

Regina JenningsRegina Jennings is the winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. A graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a minor in history, Regina has worked at the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children when not traveling the world.

Find Regina Jennings online at:

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About Holding the Fort

Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she’s able to make ends meet, but lately he’s run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.
Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn’t find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she’ll take them.
When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she’s mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess–they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty–but he’s left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess’s methods. Louisa’s never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?

Find Holding the Fort online at:

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Read the introduction to Holding the Fort below:

Words are my superpower. When I use them, things happen and events change.

Book Recommendation | Imperfect Justice by Cara Putman

Emilie Wesley is a lawyer working in a women’s shelter. She’s in court, expecting to file a protective order on behalf of client Kaylene Adams, but Kaylene doesn’t show. Because she’s dead … and suspected of shooting her two daughters. Emilie suspects murder, and worries that Kaylene’s surviving daughter will be in danger.

No one believes her except Reid Billings, Kaylene’s brother, and even he takes some persuading. Now it’s up to Emilie and Reid to find out the truth before Kinley regains consciousness. Because that will mean she goes home, to live with her abusive father. But it’s not going to be easy. All the evidence points to Kaylene, Emilie’s boss wants her to focus on her living clients, the ones she can still help. And her stalker is back.

Imperfect Justice is an excellent mix of legal thriller and romantic suspense. There is plenty of suspense, lots of legal problems, and enough romance to make sure it doesn’t all get too heavy. And while it’s dealing with women in abusive situations, it’s hard-hitting without being explicit.

I didn’t really consider the implications of the title as I was reading, but they certainly hit me as I came to write this review. Our earthly justice is imperfect. Even if we’re able to identify and punish a criminal, the victims of crime still have to live with the aftereffects. We can’t turn back time as if the crime never happened. Equally, God’s justice is perfect … but we don’t get that now, either. We have to wait, which often means learning lessons like patience and forgiveness.

Imperfect Justice is the second book in Cara Putman’s Hidden Justice series, following Beyond Justice. The stories follow a group of female attorneys, so work as standalone stories. Recommended for fans of legal thrillers and romantic suspense from authors such as Rachel Dylan, Carrie Stuart Parks, Colleen Coble and Lynette Eason.

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

About Cara Putman

Cara PutmanAs a preteen Cara Putman watched lawyers change legislative opinions at an important legislative hearing in Nebraska. At that time, she wondered if she became an attorney if people would give her words the same weight. An honors graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln, George Mason University School of Law and Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, Cara has turned her passion for words into award-winning stories that capture readers. Her legal experience makes its way into her stories where strong women confront real challenges.

The award-winning author of more than 25 titles, Cara writes legal thrillers, WWII romances, and romantic suspense because she believes that no matter what happens hope is there, waiting for us to reach for it.

When she’s not writing, Cara is an over-educated attorney who lectures in law and communications at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University and homeschools her children. She and her family live in Indiana, the land of seasons.

You can find Cara Putman online at:

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About Imperfect Justice

The police say the woman was a murderer. Emilie Wesley knows they can’t be talking about her client . . . can they?

To the world it seems obvious: Kaylene Adams killed her daughter and then was shot by police. Attorney Emilie Wesley knows a different story: Kaylene would never hurt anyone and was looking for a way out of a controlling, abusive relationship. Her death shakes Emilie’s belief that she can make a difference for women in violent marriages. Self-doubt plagues her as she struggles to continue her work in the wake of the tragedy.

Reid Billings thought he knew his sister—right up until he learned how she died. He discovers a letter from Kaylene begging him to fight for custody of her daughters if anything should happen to her. No attorney in her right mind would support an uncle instead of the father in a custody case, but Kaylene’s letter claims Emilie Wesley will help him.

Thrown together in the race to save Kaylene’s surviving daughter, Emily and Reid pursue the constantly evasive truth. If they can hang on to hope together, can they save a young girl—and find a future for themselves in the process?

Find Imperfect Justice online at:

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Book Recommendation | The Heart of an Agent by Tracey J Lyons

The Heart of an Agent is the sequel to A Changed Agent, which centred on the romance of Pinkerton agent Will Benton and schoolteacher Elsie Mitchell. Lily Handland was a minor character, Will’s Pinkerton partner. Now Lily has left the Pinkertons and wants to settle down in Heartston. Start a fresh life.

But Lily needs a job, and she’s not cut out to sew seams or serve in a boarding house restaurant. The banker suggests she consider investing in a local Great Camp, owned by widower Owen Murphy. The camp used to bustle with day visitors and vacationing guests, but it has fallen into ruin since the death of the perfect Rebecca Murphy.

The setting of one of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks was fascinating.

I’ve heard of the Adirondack chair (hasn’t everyone?). I may even have read a previous book set in an upper class camp in upstate New York. But that was just the setting. In The Heart of an Agent, the Great Camp is almost a character as the repair and resurrection of the Great Camp reflects Owen’s personal journey of healing and finding love again.

The one anticlimax was when Owen found out Lily’s big secret. It felt to me like he overreacted—possibly because we’d known her big secret almost from page one (that she was an ex-Pinkerton agent, and worked under cover as a saloon girl). It might have seemed fitting if he’d thought she was a gently raised choir girl, but she’d already told him parts of her past.

No matter. The conflict was short-lived, and we were able to get back to the main event, the romance. The Heart of an Agent was a classic Golden Age romance that achieved the difficult task of bringing a widower out of his slump, and focusing almost more on the characters and setting than the romance. It was all the better for that slow build.

Recommended for fans of Christian historical romance with a Golden Age setting, from authors such as Jen Turano and Karen Witemeyer.

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

About Tracey J Lyons

Tracey J LyonsTracey J. Lyons is the author of many historical romance novels, including The Women of Surprise series and The Adirondack Pinkertons series. An Amazon Top Ten bestselling historical romance author, she is a member of Romance Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Novelists, Inc. Her books have been translated into several languages, and she has appeared on the award-winning Cox cable television show Page One. Tracey lives with her family in Orange County, New York. When not busy writing, she enjoys making her husband crazy with renovation projects at their 1860s home.

You can find Tracey online at:

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About The Heart of an Agent

Former Pinkerton spy Lily Handland has always dreamed of a quiet, safe life, free from chasing criminals and putting herself at risk. So when the opportunity to invest in a failing Great Camp in the Adirondacks comes to her attention, she quickly jumps at the chance.

Filled with grief, widower Owen Murphy wants to run away from it all. Though he’s worked hard to forge a future for himself, his guilt has kept him mired in the past. But all that changes when a headstrong, mysterious woman shows up at Owen’s door. Together, as Lily and Owen restore the beauty of the Great Camp, he begins to finally see a future. But will learning about Lily’s past destroy it all?

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to The Heart of an Agent below:

Book Recommendation | Birds and Bees by the Book by Patricia Weerakoon

13 – 17 November 2017

Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

Is Introducing
Publisher CEP, July 19, 2017

Book Description

People have been talking about the birds and the bees since Adam and Eve walked the earth. Yet the conversation hasn’t become easier! With so many messages about sexuality, gender and identity around them, our children need a safe space to learn about these topics now more than ever.
Designed for parents and carers to read with children aged 7 to 10, Birds and Bees by the Book has been created to help you to have these conversations at your own pace.
Written by renowned sex educator Patricia Weerakoon, the six books in this set are designed to be read in whichever order suits you and your child. They cover three foundational topics that help children to understand the family structures in the world around them, and how their body and brain are developing as they grow. There are also three extension topics that teach children what is involved in sexual activity, what it means to be a boy or a girl, and how to protect themselves against pornography if they stumble across it.
All of these topics are framed within the Bible’s message that children are unique creations of God, and that sex is a precious gift to be used carefully and wisely in the context of marriage.

About the Author

Patricia Weerakoon is a Sexologist and Writer. She trained in medicine in the University of Sri Lanka. She is an evangelical Christian. She is married to Vasantha. Her son Kamal is a Presbyterian minister. As a Sexologist she has translated her passion to bring good holistic sexual health to all people into practical sex education, sex research and sex therapy.
Her writing and speaking brings together her enthusiasm for sex and her love for the glory of God. The Christian framework of sex therapy she offers has enriched and empowered the sex life of couples and singles. She has a recognised media presence and is a highly regarded public speaker and social commentator in sexuality and sexual health.
Patricia retired in 2011 after a twenty-three year career as an academic with the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Sydney, the last eight years of which she was the director of an internationally acclaimed graduate program in Sexual Health.

My Review

Like it or not, sex is everywhere in our culture, and no one can escape the fact. Not Christians, not children, not even Christian children. As Christian parents, we need to raise our children to understand sex, and understand its place in our lives. The easiest time to introduce many of these concepts are when children are young, before it becomes the topic of playground discussion, and when they are young enough that they actually listen to us and respect our parental opinions.

Birds and Bees by the Book is a set of six books for children about sex. It is written by Patricia Weerakoon, an Australian Christian sexologist, and published by Growing Faith, an imprint of Anglican Youthworks. The books are beautifully illustrated by Lisa Flanagan. Penny Reeve, a popular Australian children’s author, served as an editorial consultant, and Alyson Officer was the Child Psychology Consultant.

The books are:

  • Me and My Family
  • Me and My Body
  • Me and My Brain
  • Learning About Sex
  • Learning About Gender
  • Learning About Pornography

I admit those last two gave me pause! However, I soon found the books are designed to be read in order, so each builds on the previous book.

Me and My Family

Me and My Family presents a traditional Christian view of marriage and family: that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. It is made clear this was God’s plan right back from the time of creation. Yes, it does include broad details of the sexual act, but I believe this is necessary. If a child knows and believes sex outside marriage is wrong but doesn’t know what sex is, how are they to truly know right from wrong? This lack of knowledge provides fertile ground for sexual abuse.

The book also recognises the practicalities of modern life, that “not all families have one mother, one father, and children who come from that mother and father”, and there are many reasons for that, including fostere ing and adoption. Me and My Family touches on same-sex relationships in a non-judgemental manner in that it doesn’t say these are outside God’s plan (although that could be implied). Instead, it emphasises the fact that God loves all children, no matter their family circumstances. It finishes with an invitation to join God’s family.

Me and My Body

Me and My Body tackles the inaccurate views on body image we subconsciously absorb from the media. Girls don’t have to be tall and skinny. Boys don’t have to be strong and muscly. (Yes, there are a couple of lessons here for adults as well). God made us, and we are special just the way we are. There is also a brief mention of cyber-bullying.

It moves on to point out that we cover certain parts of our bodies because they are special, and that no one should touch those parts. It’s bad touching, and children should always tell an adult if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel bad. Again, the book finishes with a brief gospel message, an invitation to become part of God’s family.

Me and My Brain

Me and My Brain manages to get into some heavy brain science in a child-friendly way, explaining that it is important to feed our brains in a good way, so we make good decisions. This means not playing lots of violent video games or watching TV programmes with adults having sex (again, probably a message for parents as much as for children). The book again ends with a promise that if we do make bad desicions, Jesus will forgive us.

Learning About Sex

Learning About Sex helps children understand why sex is meant only for marriage—becuase it binds us at a brain level (Patricia’s books for teens and adults explain this in medical terms). She goes on to explain that our bodies mature sexually before our brains, and that we have to grow up (literally and figuratively) before we are ready for marriage and sex (in that order!). It also reinforces some of the messages from the previous books in the series.

Learning About Gender

Learning About Gender talks about the biological differences between males and females, and the difference between sexual love and friendship love. It also introduces the idea that some children (very few) are born as intersex or transgender. This isn’t their fault—Patricia says ït’s just one way that our world has moved away from how God intended it to be. And this is why everyone needs Jesus.”

The key point in Learning About Gender is that it encourages children not to bully other children who don’t look or behave according to their view of “normal”, and especially not to call other people gay or lesbian or bi as an insult. Jesus never insulted or bullied people, and nor should we. He loves us as we are. I’ve come across more than a few adults who say they are Christians but have yet to learn this lesson.

Learning About Pornography

Learning About Pornograhy again builds on the previous books, using lanugage children will understand. It defines pornography as “pictures and videos that are bad and unhealthy for your brain”, and “sexual activity without love or marriage.” It takes us back to Jesus, the perfect example of how God wants us treat other people, and contrasts that with the way pornography treats people. It encourages us to use our thinking brain when we see these pictures, to like what is good, and to find something else to do so our brains don’t trick us into looking at more wrong things.

Summary

Overall, Birds and Bees by the Book strikes an excellent balance between being too vague and being too explicit. It explains some complex scientific concepts in language a child can understand, but without getting too detailed. That’s the mark of a true expert.

My one criticism is that the books occasionally feel as though they might be talking down to children, referring to “children of your age”. This probably won’t bother younger children, but it might feel patronising to older children. Having said that, the books are designed to be read to children rather than being read independently. That’s not to say they can’t be read independently. They can, and I suspect most 7 to 10-year-olds would be able to read these unaided.

But I loved the way the topics were dealt with in an age-appropriate manner, and the way God was woven in throughout. After all, God designed sex, and He made all things to be good. Including sex. It’s time we as Christians reclaimed that.

Yes, I get these are difficult subjects. I get that children shouldn’t have to know about these things. But they do—my son first saw pornography at the age of nine on a school computer that (obviously) had insufficient content controls. We need books like this to explain difficult subjects like sex and pornography in an age-appropriate and child-friendly way. And it’s even better that these books are written from a Christian point of view.

Recommended for all parents of young children.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a free set of the books for review.

Book quote

Book Recommendation| The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

Love Jane Austen?

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Katherine Reay’s books, some more than others (isn’t that always the case?). I am an Austen fan, so I was looking forward to reading The Austen Escape. But after meeting Isabel and the other characters I suspect I’m less an Austen fan than someone who has read all her books a few times. “Fan” is apparently short for “fanatic”, and these characters are fanatics. They know their Austen.

But The Austen Escape will be fun even for those readers like me who can’t find an appropriate Austen quote for every situation. (I’ve even refused to even watch the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, because no one can top Colin Firth’s Darcy). Once the characters arrive at Braithwaite House, they not only dress in Regency costumes but take on the identities of Austen’s characters.

This has the potential to get confusing.

However, the novel starts with a useful summary of all the main Austen characters mentioned in the book—which I glossed over, and shouldn’t have. If I’d been reading a paper copy rather than a Kindle review copy, I’d probably have been flicking backwards and forwards to keep up. As it was, I also glossed over some of the identities the characters took on, and focused on Isabel and Mary.

Mary is an intelligent and competent woman, an engineer with a small start-up in Austin, Texas, designing I didn’t understand what (but it didn’t matter). I liked her passion for her work, and her quirks such as using electrical wire to tie her hair back. She’s facing conflict at work from a new boss who wants to professionalise and systematise her workplace. She doesn’t exactly jump at the offer of a two-week all-expenses-paid first-class trip to Bath, England, with her best friend, but she does agree to go.

The story lost impetus for me at this point.

I’d enjoyed seeing Mary in her home environment, even with the conflict from her boss, and the not-conflict from her avoiding the consultant she had a crush on. But when they got to England, there were a couple of things which made me lose interest.

Isabel lost her memory (really, that’s a spoiler. But it’s in the book description so blame them, not me), Mary receives a phone call, and the story picked up again … and kept going full tilt until the finish. I loved the end—so much I read those last few chapters three times. The end definitely made up for the middle, and it had all the aww! factor required for a romance.

The air stilled ... book quote

I enjoyed visiting Bath through Mary’s eyes—she didn’t have the parking problems or the disinterested husband I had when I visited. Mary also didn’t have the jetlag most of us experience after trans-Atlantic flights.

One maybe-complaint is that The Austen Escape is published by Thomas Nelson, so some readers may pick it up expecting Christian fiction. It isn’t.

I didn’t notice as I was reading, but there was no faith aspect to the story—something which in hindsight seems odd, as Austen was a minister’s daughter and church played a major role in the lives of several of her characters. On the other hand, Austen was never overt about her faith in the way many readers expect of modern Christian authors. In this way, Reay reflects Austen, and I’m sure many readers will see that as a good thing.

Overall, recommended for Austen fans and Katherine Reay fans. That should pretty much cover most people.

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

About Katherine Reay

Katherine ReayKatherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries—who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. She is the author of three previous novels, and her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist, winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut, and winner of two Carol Awards for Best Debut and Best Contemporary.

Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, and tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago.

Find Katherine Reay online at:

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Would you enjoy an Austen escape to Bath, England?

 

Her plan had completely backfired. And that was the key right there. It had been her plan.

Book Recommendation | Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter

A few months back, I was asked to provide feedback on the cover for Blue Ridge Sunrise (probably because I’m a member of the publisher’s blogging programme). I don’t actually recall what feedback I gave … but I doubt this was my first choice of cover. So for those of you like me who think this is a pretty meh cover, remember the old adage:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

I’m also not entirely sold on the book description. Yes, it’s a (mostly) fair description of the novel. But I’m not convinced it’s a great sales pitch. But don’t let that put you off either.

Zoe Collins is back in Copper Creek for her grandmother’s funeral, accompanied by her musician boyfriend and four-year-old daughter. She’s only planned to stay the day—she and Kyle have to get back to Nashville for a concert, and she has no desire to reconnect with her father. But her plans change when she finds out she’s inherited Granny’s peach orchard, the only place she’s felt at home since her mother died.

What no one has told her in the five years she’s been away is that the orchard manager is Cruz Huntley, her first love and Gracie’s father. Now the two are thrown together as Zoe tries to save her family orchard, against the advice of everyone else—especially Kyle, and her father. And it seems someone is prepared to do more than tell her running the orchard is a stupid idea.

Someone seems prepared to go to great lengths to ensure she gives up and goes back to Nashville.

Zoe and Cruz were both great characters, and I wanted them to get back together right from the start. It was good to see a romance where the couple isn’t apart for the whole novel. I think that’s why I like romantic suspense, because of the way the external suspense plot serves to both bring the characters together and keep them apart. Blue Ridge Sunrise did a great job in this regard.

There were lots of great lines. Unfortunately, I can’t share most of them because they might give something important away (although I did share the opening line last week as part of #FirstLineFriday). Let’s just say the writing is excellent, and there are many nuggets of truth hidden in Blue Ridge Sunrise. Like this line at the top of this post.

The other thing I liked …

While there is a happy-ever-after ending (this is a romance. There has to be a happy-ever-after ending), the ending isn’t all roses and pink unicorns. Relationships are messy, and can’t always be tidied up nicely to fit a 80,000 word novel (or however long this is).

Blue Ridge Sunrise is the beginning of a series, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing some of those relationships develop and improve in future novels. As an aside, while it’s the beginning of a series, it’s the same setting as Denise Hunter’s last book, Sweetbriar Cottage, and there are a couple of references.

Overall, recommended for those who enjoy Christian romance with a faith focus, and plenty of suspense.

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

About Denise Hunter

Denise HunterDenise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 30 books, including “The Convenient Groom” and “A December Bride” which have been made into Hallmark movies. She has appeared on the The 700 club and won awards such as The Holt Medallion Award, The Carol Award, The Reader’s Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist.

Denise writes heartwarming, small-town love stories. Her readers enjoy the vicarious thrill of falling in love and the promise of a happily-ever-after sigh as they savor the final pages of her books.

In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

When Denise isn’t orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking good coffee, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband raised three boys and are currently enjoying an empty nest.

Find Denise Hunter online at:

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About Blue Ridge Sunrise

Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she’d never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe—a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she’s the only person in town who doesn’t expect her to give up the life she’s established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?

Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their “break,” not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now—five years later.

As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe’s head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn’t sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.

You can find Blue Ridge Sunrise online at:

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Life isn't about how much I've accomplished or what I've done. It's about who I've loved and how well I've loved them.

Book Recommendation | Hometown Girl by Courtney Walsh

Beth is the sensible one in the Whitaker family, a fact she’s reminded of when younger sister Molly shows up announcing she’s bought the derelict Fairwind Farm. Molly wants to restore the apple orchard and Christmas tree farm into the centre of the community it used to be. Beth is convinced she’ll never succeed … but somehow finds herself a partner in the venture.

The solitary Drew Barlow is returning to Willow Grove and Fairwind Farm for the first time in twenty years. He volunteers in a community working bee, and ends up being recruited as the farm’s all-round Mr Fixit. Maybe this will help him remember what happened, help him solve the mystery, help him find closure. Or maybe he’ll just fall for his pretty yet reserved employer …

This is the second Courtney Walsh book I’ve read this year.

The first was Just Look Up, which was a romance novel with a deeply symbolic title that made me think on many levels (click here to read my review). Hometown Girl was a little different—it had plenty of romantic and situational tension, but it also had a suspense thread around Drew’s history with the Fairwind property.

Drew and Beth both had secrets that came out during the story. Drew’s secret was hinted at from his very first scene, with his reluctance to return to Fairwind, and the knowledge that something bad had happened. His reluctance to revisit the past made his secret feel natural. It helped that he had no memory of the actual event, just the knowledge he was there.

Beth’s secret wasn’t so obvious, but it was something recent, something she knew about, and something she didn’t share. It made it feel as though she wasn’t a trustworthy character, yet she was obviously supposed to be the heroine. That annoyed me, as it left me feeling conflicted. Was I supposed to sympathise with her, or not? This was probably the weakest aspect of the novel for me.

But this was more than made up for by the rest.

I especially enjoyed by the underlying suspense thread of the mystery over Jess’s disappearance twenty years ago. Yes, I would have liked for Drew to fess up to his prior knowledge of Fairwind earlier, but I could see why he didn’t. In the end, that aspect of the plot was just plain sad.

It was also good to watch the relationship develop between Beth and Drew, especially the way Beth was able to draw him out. I also enjoyed the minor characters—I do hope this is part of a series, because I’d like to see Ben and Callie together, and I wonder who might be right for the flighty Molly.

Overall, Hometown Girl is an excellent contemporary Christian romance. Recommended for fans of Brandy Bruce, Kara Isaac, Melissa Tagg, and Becky Wade.

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

About Courtney Walsh

Courtney WalshCourtney Walsh is a novelist, artist, theater director, and playwright. Change of Heart is her fifth novel and is set in the same town as Paper Hearts. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller lists and was a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. She has written two additional books in the Sweethaven series, as well as two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives in Illinois where she and her husband own a performing and visual arts studio. They have three children.

Find Courtney Walsh online at …

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About Hometown Girl

Beth Whitaker isn’t supposed to be a small-town girl. She’s always dreamed of leaving Willow Grove, Illinois, for the big city, but she feels trapped, struggling to make up for a mistake that’s haunted her for years. Just when Beth is finally ready to break free, her sister impulsively buys a beloved but run-down farm on the outskirts of town, and she begs Beth to help with the restoration. Reluctantly, Beth agrees to help—and puts her own dreams on hold once again.

Drew Barlow hasn’t been back to Fairwind Farm since he was a boy, and he’s spent all these years trying to outrun the pain of a past he thought he buried long ago. When he learns that the owner has passed away, his heart knows it’s finally time to do the right thing. Returning to Willow Grove, Drew revisits the old farm, where he attempts to piece together his memories and the puzzle of the crime he witnessed so long ago.

Both on a journey to find peace, Beth and Drew are surprised when they begin to experience a restoration of their own. But when long-buried secrets break through the soil and the truth unfurls, will it threaten their budding relationship—and the very future of the farm? 

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You can read the introduction to Hometown Girl below: