Category: Bookish Question

Do you have a favourite novel

Bookish Question #20: Do you have a favourite novel?

Last week we talked about the novel we’ve read and reread. This week I’m taking a slightly different spin:

What’s your favourite novel?

This is a hard question. I have a free download available from this website—my fifty favourite authors. Yes, that’s favourite authors, not favourite novels. And I need to update it, to add in new authors I’ve discovered since I originally compiled it.

It will have to be an expansion. There is no way I can cut any of those authors off my list of favourites.

If you’d like a copy, sign up for my email list in the box on the right of this page.

I also had a Friday Fifteen feature on my previous blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, where authors share their fifteen favourite books or authors. Most offer to contribute thinking it will be easy … but find it more difficult than they’d anticipated.

And narrowing that list down to one favourite novel? Hard. Very hard. (A favourite book would be easier for most Christians. We’d say the Bible. But that’s kind of cheating.)

Can you do it? Do you have a favourite novel? What is it?

Bookish Question 19

Bookish Question #19: What’s the best Christian Romance Novel?

This is another fact-finding post in preparation for my upcoming presentation at the 2017 Romance Writers of New Zealand Conference. In case you missed it, I’m presenting on Christian Romance: the biggest genre you’ve never heard of.

Last week we discussed the (not easy) question of how you define Christian fiction in general, and Christian romance in particular. Well, it’s a romance writer’s conference. That’s what they want to read.

As part of my presentation, I’d like to be able to recommend some excellent examples of Christian romance novels.

What’s the novel you’ve read over and over because you love it so much? What novel do you loan out to friends over and over again? What novel do you recommend to people who ask you what they should read?

More importantly, why?

Do you love and recommend that novel because of the plot? The subplot? The characters? The writing? The way it shows the Christian faith? The setting? The author? The emotion? The theme? The message?

What’s the best Christian romance novel?

Bookish Question 18

Bookish Question #18: How do you define Christian Fiction?

This is a cross-post with Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to add to the discussion.

I have an ulterior motive in asking this question.

I’m presenting at the 2017 Romance Writers of New Zealand conference later this month. My topic is Christian Romance: the biggest romance genre you’ve never heard of.

I’ve been to two previous Romance Writers of New Zealand conferences, and met many authors writing all kinds of romance, from sweet to erotica. Some of these writers are Christians, who confess their worry at breaking in to the writing world when they don’t want to include sex scenes in their novels. They’ve barely heard of “clean” or sweet romance, let alone Christian romance.

That’s what prompted me to pitch the topic to the RWNZ Conference organisers last year (among others). And I guess it intrigued them as well, because this is the topic they asked me to speak on.

Here’s what I pitched to RWNZ:

Romance is one of the most popular genres in the US-driven Christian fiction market, but many New Zealand authors—even Christian authors—don’t know it exists. This session will:

  • Introduce authors to the Christian fiction genre and the CBA market.
  • Highlight the main Christian fiction imprints and publishers.
  • Consider how Christian fiction (and especially Christian romance) differs from general market fiction.
  • Discuss Christian vs. inspirational vs. crossover fiction, and the emerging trends for ‘clean reads’ and ‘edgy Christian fiction.’

Parts of the presentation will be easy. Who publishes Christian fiction? Easy—check the free download available from my website,

Which agents represent Christian authors? Also easy, thanks to a free download compiled by Michael Hyatt, the ex-CEO of Thomas Nelson.

And where can you buy Christian books? At Christian book stores—like in Australia, or Manna Christian Books and Sonshine Books here in New Zealand. And at Amazon. Of course.

But this leaves one big question. How do we define Christian fiction?

It sounds easy, but it isn’t. I’ve written several blog posts on defining Christian fiction and Christian romance. There is no easy answer.

What do you think, either as a reader or as a writer (or both)? How do you define Christian fiction? Specifically, Christian romance?

I’d love to know what you think!

which novel have you read the most

Bookish Question #17: Which novel have you read the most times?

Which novel have you read the most times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

So which novels have I read over and over?

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

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

Do you reread?

Bookish Question #16: Do you reread?

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

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

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

So I’d reread.

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

Then the world changed.

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

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

What about you? Do you re-read?

What format do you read?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then the Kindle arrived in New Zealand.

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

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

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

What about you? What format do you read?

What Makes a Good Book Review?

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

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

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

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

But what makes a good book review?

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


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

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


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

Writing and editing

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

The Wow! Factor

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

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

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

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

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

Bookish Question #13: What Books are you Looking Forward to Reading?

It’s the end of June (already!), which means we’re halfway through the year. I’ve read a bunch of books, but there are still more books to read. There are always more books to read.

Here are the books I’m looking forward to reading (click on the covers to buy on Amazon):

Books from Debut Authors

Count Me In by Mikal Dawn

An accountant as a heroine? I don’t think I’ve seen that before, so I’m looking forward to finding out Allegra’s story.

Someplace Familiar by Teresa Tysinger

I’ve heard good things about Someplace Familiar. It’s a debut novel, and the start of a series. Well, it’s best to start at the beginning, right?



Books I Own But Haven’t Read Yet

(Don’t judge me. You have a mile-high to-read pile as well. Don’t you?)

Finders Keepers by Sarah Monzon

Finders Keepers has just won the Selah Award, and I’ve read (and reviewed) the sequel, but somehow haven’t managed to read this yet.

 The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo

I love Amy Matayo’s writing and the way she shows authentic faith in a real world. And the cover …

My Unexpected Hope by Tammy L Gray

My Unexpected hope is the sequel to My Hope Next Door, which is a RITA finalist, and was one of my top picks for 2016. So I have to read it, right?

The Wayward Heart by Nerys Leigh

The Wayward Heart is the third book in Nerys Leigh’s unique mail order bride series—unique in that each of the stories in the series is happening at the same time, so you can read the series in any order.


Books I’m Waiting For

Ghost Hunter by Lisa Harris and Lynne Gentry

Ghost Hunter is a suspense novel set in Tanzania and the United States. That’s all I know about it. But it’s by Lisa Harris, which pretty much guarantees a winner.

Ghost Hunter releases in August 2017.

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

I love the way Elizabeth Camden melds new-to-me historical research with faith and romance.

A Dangerous Legacy releases in October 2017.

The Captivating Lady Charlotte by Carolyn Miller

Regency romance is one of my favourite romance genres, and it’s great to see more Christian authors in this space.

The Captivating Lady Charlotte releases tomorrow! I can’t wait! Well, I can. Because I have to. But you know what I mean.

An Inconvenient Beauty by Kristi Ann Hunter

More Regency romance, from award-winning Kristi Ann Hunter. I’ve read and enjoyed every one of her books so far, so I have no doubts about this one. And the cover is gorgeous.

An Inconvenient Beauty releases in September 2017.

Deadly Proof by Rachel Dylan

Legal suspense. What more do I need to know?

Legal Proof releases in September 2017.


What book or books are you most looking forward to reading in the second half of 2017?

Have you judged a writing contest?

Bookish Question #12: Have you ever judged a writing competition?

Last week I talked about some of the awards for Christian fiction.

One of these is the INSPY Awards, which are judged by book bloggers and reviewers. I was privileged to be chosen as a judge for the General fiction category in 2015. It was a difficult job to pick a winner from five brilliant finalists, all of which were great books.

I’ve judged other writing contests as a first-round judge, including the Omega Writers CALEB Prize, and the Romance Writers of New Zealand Koru Award. I’ve also judged the Romance Writers of New Zealand short story competition, and the Genesis and First Impressions Awards from American Christian Fiction Writers.

Being a first-round judge in a contest for published books is a lot less pressure.

I read the book, complete my scoresheet, and send it off to the contest coordinator. They have the job of collating the feedback from the different judges and selecting the three or five highest-scoring books to make the final round, then coordinating the final round judges to pick the eventual winner.

Judging a short story contest is fun.

There is a strict word-count limit, so I know roughly how long each entry is going to take. It has to grab me quickly, and present a beginning, a middle, and an end all in that short word count (e.g. 1500 words—shorter than the average book chapter). It takes real skill to write a good short story!

I think the hardest is judging a contest for unpublished writers.

That’s because a good judge gives feedback on the entry. Good feedback—on what works, and what doesn’t. This can be difficult and time-consuming, but I think it’s important to do the best job I can because the entrant will be using the feedback to improve his or her novel.

Yes, it’s definitely easier to judge a published contest, where you only have to score!

Have you judged a writing contest?

What did you enjoy about the process? What was the hardest part?

Do You Read Award-Winning Books?

Bookish Question #11: Do You Read Award-Winning Books?

I’ve loved reading ever since I was a child. (Raise your hand if that sounds familiar!)

Most of the early books I read were from Scholastic, courtesy of the Lucky Book Club brochures that were delivered to school every few months. Mum would usually buy us a book out of the brochure. I also found many books from the brochure in the school library.

When I was about ten, I noticed that many of my favourite books had a picture of a medal on the cover—the Newbery Medal. I learned that if I was looking for a book, that medal often indicated a book I’d like.

Then I grew up, and grew out of Newbery Medal-winning books. Were there adult equivalents? My mother bought The Bone People by Keri Hulme, the first book by a New Zealand author to win the prestigious Booker Prize (back before it was sponsored by Man Group). She didn’t like The Bone People—she couldn’t get past the non-standard punctuation.

I think that put me off searching for adult equivalents to the Newberry Medal.

Now I read mostly Christian fiction, and I find there are a huge range of awards for Christian books, fiction and non-fiction. I enjoy following the fiction awards:

I find these four contests routinely have finalists and winners I enjoy—so if a book makes it to that coveted finalist position, I’m willing to give it a try even if I know nothing about the book or the author.

The Christy, Carol, and INSPY Awards all have several genre categories, and a first book category. I love checking out the lists of finalists in my favourite genres.

How many of the books have I read? Which did I like? Which would I pick to win?

I do find myself adding several books to my to-read pile. Sometimes I wonder how and why I missed them when they were first published.

So yes, I do read award-winning books, but only from the Christian contests I trust.

What about you? Do you read award-winning books?