Category: Book Review

Book Review: Unnoticed by Amanda Deed

 5 – 9 May 2017
is Introducing
Unnoticed by Amanda Deed
(from Rhiza Press, 1 March, 2017)
About the Book:
Book Cover - Unnoticed by Amanda DeedPlain Jane O’Reilly is good at being unnoticed. Detested by her stepmother and teased by her stepsisters, Jane has learned the art of avoiding attention. That is until Price Moreland, an American with big dreams, arrives in her small town.
Does she dare to hope someone might notice her?
However, Price Moreland may not be the prince that the whole town thinks him to be. Was his desire to be a missionary a God-given call, or just a good excuse to run from his past?
Complete with an evil stepmother, a missing shoe and a grand ball, Unnoticed takes the time-old Cinderella fairy tale and gives it an Australian twist.

 

Author Photograph - Amanda DeedAbout the Author:

Amanda Deed has penned several Australian Historical Romances, including The Game, winner of the CALEB Prize for Fiction in 2010. She resides in the South Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne with her family, where she works full-time in her local church office.

Outside of work and family, Amanda loves to write stories filled with intrigue and adventure using her favourite themes as a backdrop: Australia, heritage, romance and faith. Her books include UnnoticedEllenvale GoldBlack Forest Redemption and Henry’s Run. For more information, go to www.amandadeed.com.au.

My Review of Unnoticed by Amanda Deed

An Excellent Australian Historical Cinderella Story

Book Cover - Unnoticed by Amanda DeedUnnoticed is a Cinderella story, although there were also hints of Pride and Prejudice in the characterisation of Mr and Mrs O’Reilly—at times, Mrs O’Reilly made Mrs Bennett seem astute and intelligent, and Mr O’Reilly made Mr Bennett seem like an attentive father.

Jane O’Reilly is our Cinderella figure, the unloved daughter forced to take second place to her stepmother and stepsisters—all ugly in attitude if not in looks. The description of Jane brings to mind a young Nicole Kidman, so she’s far from the Plain Jane people call her. But she doesn’t see that. She also doesn’t see that beauty is as much about who we are on the inside as on the outside, nor does she understand that God sees her and loves her for who she is. She doesn’t have to be beautiful.

Prince Charming is Price Moreland, an American who has left the country of his birth with noble intentions to bring the gospel to Australia. At least, that’s what he tells himself. But he’s soon distracted by Jane, who he thinks of as anything but plain. It’s good to see a romance where the hero and heroine both have personal faith journeys.

What raised Unnoticed above other fairytale retellings was the way the character histories were woven in. Not just for Jane and Price, but for Mrs O’Reilly (and her sister, the family cook), and Mr O’Reilly. It showed their neglect and mistreatment of Jane wasn’t because of any wrongdoing by Jane, but was a product of their own backgrounds. I especially liked the way I didn’t feel manipulated into feeling sorry for Jane’s parents.

The writing was solid, although there were a few places where it wasn’t as strong. But these are insignificant in the face of an excellent fairytale retelling with a unique historical Australian setting.

Thanks to ACRBA and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Amanda Deed at her website, and you can read the introduction to Unnoticed below:

Book Review: Trust My Heart by Carol J Post

Trust My Heart: A Perfect Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: A Woman of Fortune by Kellie Coates Gilbert

Outstanding!

(And you know how often I say that)

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

It’s natural to not want to like Claire.

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

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

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

Recommended.

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

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

Book Review: The Wedding Shop by Rachel Hauck

A Beautiful Allegory

The Wedding Shop is a dual timeline story. In the present, there is Haley, ex-Air Force captain who has returned to her hometown of Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, to fulfil her childhood dream of reopening Miss Cora’s once-famous wedding shop. The past story is Miss Cora’s. While the two women initially appear completely different, over time we find they have a lot in common.

I thought these commonalities and the clever (and careful) way in which they were gradually revealed was one of the major strengths of the story. I often find one story in a dual timeline novel draws me in more than the other. In paper novels, I’ve been guilty of reading one timeline through to the end, then wondering if I even want to go back and read the other. Sometimes I wonder if the two stories are even linked, or if it’s simply two novellas with the same setting combined to make a “proper novel.”

That certainly wasn’t the case with The Wedding Shop.

I will admit I was initially more engaged in Haley’s story than Cora’s – until I started to see the linkages between the two. And I don’t want to say too much about that for fear of revealing a spoiler … I will say that if you find the beginning a little less than enthralling, keep going. All will be revealed. Including a big twist at the end which I had no idea was coming.

One of the issues of historical fiction is that there are elements of the plot which we know is coming. For example, Miss Cora’s story starts in the early months of 1930, not long after the 1929 stock market crash which triggered the Great Depression. We’ve heard the stories, read the novels. We know some of what is coming. And that adds external tension because we know something the characters don’t know.

And Rachel Hauck played this tension perfectly, and had matching tension in the contemporary part of the story. Combine this with two sets of great characters, and The Wedding Shop is a true winner with an underlying message of God’s forgiveness, our identity as children of God, and the lies we allow ourselves to believe.

I haven’t read The Wedding Dress or The Wedding Chapel, and it’s not necessary in order to enjoy The Wedding Shop. Those who have read the earlier novels will no doubt enjoy the references to both. Those who haven’t might not even pick up on them if they didn’t know there were previous novels.

Recommended.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rachel Hauck at her website, and you can read the introduction to The Wedding Shop below:

Book Review: The Name I Call Myself by Beth Moran

Beth Moran Gets Better and Better

Amazon DescriptionCover image: The Name I Call Myself

All Faith Harp wants is a quiet life – to take care of her troubled brother, Sam, earn enough money to stop the wolves snapping at her heels, and to keep her past buried as deep as possible. And after years of upheaval, she might have just about managed it: she’s engaged to the gorgeous and successful Perry is holding down a job, and Sam’s latest treatment seems to actually be working this time.

But, for Faith, things never seem to stay simple for long. Her domineering mother-in-law-to-be is planning a nightmare wedding, including the wedding dress from hell. And the man who killed her mother is released from prison, sending her brother tumbling back into mental illness.

When secretly planning the wedding she really wants, Faith stumbles across a church choir that challenges far more than her ability to hold a tune. She ends up joining the choir, led by the fierce choir-mistress, Hester, who is determined to do whatever it takes to turn the motley crew of women into something spectacular. She also meets Dylan, the church’s vicar, who is different to any man she has ever met before.

My Review

Beth Moran is an English Christian author. The Name I Call Myself is her third novel, following Making Marion and I Hope You Dance. If you’ve read either of those and didn’t like them for any reason, then I doubt you’ll enjoy The Name I Call Myself, so you can skip this review. But if you liked them or haven’t read them, read on.

I will admit I found The Name I Call Myself a little difficult to get in to. It had a lot of similarities to her previous novels, in that it centres around a young woman discovering her true self. This isn’t helped by some early scenes which reminded me of Bridget Jones at her least intelligent. Faith isn’t an easy character to get to know (even though the book is written in first person). But once we get past the awkwardness that is Faith’s engagement party, the novel really picked up both pace and interest.

Faith is a complex character.

She was raised by her grandmother (now dead) and her older brother, Sam, after their mother was murdered by her partner … as Sam watched. That experience drove the teenage Sam down a trail of alcohol, drugs and mental illness. And he’s never recovered. It left Faith with … well, ‘issues’ almost begins to describe it. She is a very private person, and it takes a long time before I understood enough of her history to really understand the reason she didn’t share a lot.

The Name I Call Myself is about Faith’s relationships. Her with relationship with Perry, her fiance. Her relationship with her brother and his new girlfriend. And her non-relationship with her future mother-in-law (who takes controlling passive-aggressive to new levels). Then there is her relationship with the Grace choir, including Hester the bully conductor. And her almost-relationship with Dylan, the pastor. It’s in her relationships with these supporting characters that we get to know the real Faith …

The Faith perhaps not even Faith knows.

Yes, there are touches of romance, of comedy and of suspense. But The Name I Call Myself is really about Faith’s search for love, acceptance and identity, a search many of us can relate to.

Recommended for fans of contemporary Christian fiction with an edge.

Thanks to Lion Fiction and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Book Review: Shattered by Dani Pettrey

Shattered by Dani Pettrey

I recently purchased Dani Pettrey’s first book, Submerged, from Amazon. I really enjoyed it, so I was very pleased to find a review copy of Shattered, the second in the Alaskan Courage series. I really enjoy Christian Romantic Suspense, and think the Alaskan Courage series is as good as anything else available today.

The books deal with the McKenna siblings from the (fictional) small town of Yancey, Alaska. Submerged was the story of Cole, the oldest McKenna brother, and Bailey Craig, an expert in Russian history and antiques who returns to the island after her aunt is murdered. Shattered follows Piper McKenna as she works to prove that Reef, the youngest brother, is innocent of murder.

Things aren’t looking good for Reef.

There are two witnesses who saw him holding the knife over the victim, and the District Attorney has a particular grudge against the McKenna family. Piper is determined Reef is innocent. So she drags Deputy Sheriff and long-time family friend, Landon Grainger, into her investigation. Landon isn’t so sure about Reef’s innocence … and is struggling to come to terms with his changing feelings for Piper.

I really liked the way the Shattered followed on so well from Submerged in terms of taking the Landon/Piper subplot and turning it into the main plot. I can also see how Shattered has set up future books in the series, which I will certainly want to read. The novel was well-written, with a fast-paced and exciting murder plot, a sweet romance subplot, and a cast of interesting characters.

I was particularly impressed (especially in Submerged, but also in Shattered) with the way the Christian elements were integrated into the plot. These characters face the same questions and temptations as we face in real life, and they respond in realistic (if sometimes flawed) ways.

Shattered can be read as a standalone novel, but readers will enjoy it more if they read Submerged first. Recommended for fans of Dee Henderson, Irene Hannon, Diann Mills, Susan Page Davis and Susan May Warren.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Dani Pettrey at her website, and you can read the introduction to Shattered below:

 

Book Recommendation: The Heir by Lynne Stringer

Have you signed up for my Newsletter? If so, you’ll already have received my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If not, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing The Heir, the debut novel from Australian author Lynne Stringer. The Heir is the first in her Verindon science fiction trilogy for young adults (and older adults). The must-read sequels are The Crown and The Regin.

The Heir by Lynne Stringer

Sarah is a normal American teenager.

Well, mostly normal.

She goes to a fancy private school where all the other kids are rich, her dad is an inventor who never quite seems to get it right, she’s being stalked at school by a creepy boy, and her English teacher is always picking her for class debates even though she hates them. Apart from that, she’s just a normal kid. She loves art, tries to survive high school and has a secret crush on Dan, her best friend’s kind-of boyfriend.

But things are not what they seem. When tragedy strikes and Sarah’s life changes overnight, things start to get even stranger. Melting tables, windows that don’t open, eyes in the bushes …

The story started slowly but there was a growing sense of foreboding and rising suspense. I soon realised this wasn’t the predictable Young Adult coming-of-age kind of story it started out as (but I’m not going to spoil the surprise by saying too much). Strange things started to happen and there were a few left-field comments from Sarah’s friends that made me think I was missing something. I was. So was Sarah. And when we got the big reveal it was both a huge surprise and not, because it answered all those niggles.

The Heir is told entirely in the first person, from Sarah’s point of view (which I know some readers don’t like). But she’s a strong character who can carry the story without being so perfect as to be annoying. She’s a realistic teen, with strong likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, a secret crush, and a secret history even she doesn’t know about…

I really enjoyed The Heir.

The Heir was well-plotted with good foreshadowing (but without making it obvious) and good characters. The ending was satisfying in the way it completed the current story, but left me wanting more.

An excellent debut novel. Recommended for those who like authors such as Kathy Tyers, or those who enjoy YA dystopian or science fiction.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lynne Stringer at her website, or in this interview, and you can read the introduction to The Heir below:

Book Review: Gone to Ground by Brandilyn Collins

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Invisible by award-winning suspense author Brandilyn Collins.

Amazon Description

Amaryllis, Mississippi is a scrappy little town of strong backbone and southern hospitality. A brick-paved Main Street, a park, and a legendary ghost in the local cemetery are all part of its heritage. Everybody knows everybody in Amaryllis, and gossip wafts on the breeze. Its people are friendly, its families tight. On the surface Amaryllis seems much like the bright and lovely flower for which it’s named.

But the Amaryllis flower is poisonous.

In the past three years five unsolved murders have occurred within the town. All the victims were women, and all were killed in similar fashion in their own homes. And just two nights ago—a sixth murder.

Clearly a killer lives among the good citizens of Amaryllis. And now three terrified women are sure they know who he is—someone they love. None is aware of the others’ suspicions. And each must make the heartrending choice to bring the killer down.

But each woman suspects a different man.

My Review

The Closet Killings have claimed five victims in three years in the town of Amaryllis (pop. 1700). All middle-aged women who lived alone. All killed in their beds, then stuffed in the bedroom closet. Now there is a sixth victim… young widow Erika Hollinger.

Gone to Ground is told from three different points of view, three women who are sure they know who the murderer is, and who have reason to want to hide that knowledge. Cleaner Cherrie Mae Devine knows the murderer is the mayor. Pregnant Tully Phillips knows it is her husband. And hairdresser Deena Ruckland knows it is her simple-minded younger brother. Who is right? Or are these simply red herrings, designed to distract us from the real murderer? The story is interspersed with articles from local Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Trent Williams, and these give background information about the town and the personalities involved in the investigation.

This is an excellent who-dun-it, with plenty of twists and turns to keep the investigators (and the reader) guessing. The three narrators were well-developed characters, with each woman having her own distinct voice, which makes it easy to understand the changing points of view. I liked each of them (although Cherrie Mae’s use of the word ‘police’ got old quickly – if the emphasis had to be included, I think I would have found ‘po-lice’ less intrusive).

While Cherrie Mae is a Christian and she prays with the other narrators, it is not clear whether or not they are Christians, nor is it relevant. Although Gone to Ground is not an overtly Christian novel, this is less of an issue to me in a mystery or thriller than it would being a romance, where it is vital that the hero and heroine share a relationship with God. Overall, Gone to Ground is well worth reading if you like mysteries. Recommended.

Thanks to B&H Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Brandilyn Collins and her trademark Seatbelt Suspense at her website, and read the introduction to Gone to Ground below:

Book Review: Invisible by Ginny Yttrup

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Invisible by award-winning author Ginny Yttrup. And if you think Invisible sounds good, it is—but Words is even better.

Invisible

Ellyn De Mossmid is in her forties, and is the owner and chef of her own restaurant. Sabina Jackson is a counsellor on leave with stress issues and mild depression. Dr Miles Becker is a healer recovering from the truth that he couldn’t heal his own wife, and Twila Boaz is a recovering anorexic who works in her mother’s health food store while waiting to see where God leads her.

Miles describes Ellyn as witty, intelligent and beautiful. Her voice certainly comes across as witty and intelligent, whereas Miles is more distant, his formality no doubt a product of his grief–and perhaps his guilt. Sabrina tries to be upbeat and professional, but there is something there that might be a lie, while Twila has a wisdom beyond her years. They form an unlikely group of friends, each learning from the others… and there might even be a little romance in there somewhere…

Ginny Yttrup’s first novel, Words, was a finalist for two Christy awards and winner of one, and after just three chapters of Invisible I could see why. I am in awe of her writing. What is even more amazing is that the writing is unobtrusive. I wasn’t reading it and thinking ‘oh, this is great writing’. I was totally engaged in her characters and the story she was telling. It was only as I paused to reflect on the story that I saw how good the writing is, how she has managed to write four quite different characters all in the first person (and in present tense, no less), each with their own unique voice.

Invisible is about finding beauty in God’s creation, including ourselves, and understanding that God’s standard for beauty is not the commercialised and sexualised standard we see in contemporary media. It’s a beautifully written reminder that we are created in the image of our mighty God. Recommended.

Thanks to and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ginny Yttrup on her website, and you can read the beginning of Invisible here:

Book Review: Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus

Book Review: Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep Paulus

Book Cover - Swimming Through Clouds by Rajdeep PaulusIf you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have receive my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If you haven’t . . . sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing Swimming Through Clouds, the debut novel from author Rajdeep Paulus. It’s the first in a trilogy, and you’ll want to read them all.

Edgy YA Contemporary Fiction

Talia Grace Vanderbilt is the strange girl at school, the one all the lids call ‘emo’. She’s not. She’s just hiding a home life where her every move is controlled by her father, immigration lawyer Gerard Vanderbilt, and where there consequences for not meeting expectations. She is responsible for caring for her younger brother, Jesse, as their mother is dead.

The whole book is written in first person, from Talia’s point of view.

This means we don’t always get to see or understand the motivations of some of the other characters, like Jesse, Lagan and Gerard. What we do see is filtered through Talia’s understanding, and while she is an intelligent high school senior, her insular upbringing means she is naïve in some respects.
Logan is an equally interesting character. He goes out of his way to befriend Talia, allowing the relationship to develop slowly and almost entirely on her terms. Logan sticks by her, and it’s only late in the book when we begin to get an idea of why.
Gerard, Talia’s father, is an equally interesting character, although in totally the opposite respect. He is, without a doubt, one of the most chilling antagonists I’ve come across is fiction. His entire life is a secret from his family, so we find out very little about him. But what we are shown gives the plot a string of tension that kept me turning the page, even though I was afraid to find out what might be coming. It’s outstanding writing, both compelling and repulsive.

I was particularly impressed by the way backstory was handled.

A lot of writers don’t understand the need to layer it through the story. Swimming Through Clouds dropped hints, so that when when we finally found out about a particular incident from Talia’s past, we wanted to know the details. The author also managed to write some of these scenes so the reader ends up understanding the incident better then Talia does, which is impressive.
This is the first book in a series, and while it had a sense of closure in itself, there were several unanswered questions as well, leaving plenty to cover in the sequel. Swimming Through Clouds isn’t a Christian novel per se, in that God, Jesus and Christianity aren’t mentioned. However, a Christian reader will find Jesus in the story.

Recommended for fans of gritty YA fiction and authors such as Theresa Santy, Trudy Adams and Michelle Dennis Evans. Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Rajdeep Paulus at her website, and you can read the opening here: