Category: Contemporary Christian Romance

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: Close to You by Kara Isaac

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 Close to You, the debut novel from Kiwi author Kara Isaac.

Extremely Biased Review Ahead

Amazon Description

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?

My Review

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) should leave now and go back to … I don’t know. What do people who don’t like New Zealand or hobbits read? Do they read? Can they read?.

Hobbiton, New Zealand

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. seriously 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.

Boiling mud from Rotorua, New Zealand

The lush greenery of the Waikato, New Zealand

I loved all the Kiwi touches, from the nail-biting approach to Wellington Airport to the lush greenery of the Waikato, the “scents” of Rotorua, the majesty of Queenstown, and the Tolkien tourist mecca of Hobbiton (which is even better in real life). 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.

This review was previously posted at Iola’s Christian Reads. Thanks to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Book Review: The Goodbye Bride by Denise Hunter

We all have bad days, but none of mine have been like Lucy Lovett’s bad day: waking up in a strange diner with no idea how she got there, wearing a wedding dress she doesn’t remember buying, and wearing white shoes she remembers not buying because they were so expensive.

Now, that’s a bad day.

Zac Callahan’s bad day starts when he gets a telephone call from ex-fiance Lucy Lovett, the woman who ran out on him with no explaination seven months ago, just weeks before their wedding. Now she wants to pick up their relationship where it left off, because she has no memory of the last seven months. No memory of dumping Zac.

There is something about amnesia stories which intrigues me, and The Goodbye Bride was certainly intriging. Why had Lucy left Zac? How had she got herself engaged to someone else so quickly? And why was she in the diner in her wedding dress, when surely she should have been actually getting married?

It takes a while, but we eventually discover the answers to all these questions as we watch the exquisitely awkward dance between Lucy and Zac: Lucy, whose most recent memory is being head over heels in love with Zac, and Zac, who has spent the last seven months trying to get over Lucy.

The Goodbye Bride is a romance, but it’s also a story of rediscovery and of healing, as one character explains:

“Our reactions don’t always seem rational, but they make perfect sense in light of our experiences.”

As we discover more of Lucy’s past, her actions and reactions do make sense, but will it be too late for her and Zac?

The Goodbye Bride is the second book in Denise Hunter’s Summer Harbor series.

I read the first, Falling Like Snowflakes, thought it was excellent, especially the way it set up the whole series. I had hoped this second book would be Riley’s story . . . now I’m hoping the next book, Just a Kiss will be.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. This review previously appeared at Australasian Christian Writers.

What Are You Reading?

My picks of the top Christian fiction for April 2016

What Christian fiction have you been reading over the last month? And what are you planning to read in May? Here are my top Christian fiction picks for April 2016, and a quick look at some of the books I’m planning to read and review in May.

Top Christian fiction April 2016

The best novels I’ve read over the last month were:

Close to You by Kara Isaac (click here to read my review. My extremely biased because it’s set in New Zealand review)

On the Edge by Theresa Santy (click here to read my review)

Sit Stay Love by Dana Mentink (click here to read my review)

Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg (click here to read my review)

I’m looking forward to my May reads: I’ve got Dressed for Death, the latest in Julianna Deering’s 1930’s-era detective series (a must-read for fans of Agatha Christie), Someone Like You by Victoria Bylin (one of my new favourite authors), and Her One and Only (contemporary Christian romance from Becky Wade).

What were the best novels you read in April? And what are you planning to read in May?

Book Review: The Bridesmaid’s Hero by Narelle Atkins

Amazon Description

Serena Blaxland’s job at her parents’ B&B in Snowgum Creek, Australia, is only temporary. Sparks fly when hire car driver Harry Westmore saves the beautiful pastry chef from disrupting her sister’s wedding day, but the opportunity of a lifetime threatens to push them apart. Can Harry and Serena’s love and faith overcome the obstacles in their path?

My Review

Okay, I’m slow. I’d wondered why Bridesmaid’s Hero was part of a box set was called Love Blossoms. There was the obvious: that each of the seven stories had a flower or garden theme. But I’ve only just realised that it’s also around spring blossoms, because was published as the Northern Hemisphere was coming into spring. Duh. It’s high summer here. Spring is almost a year away.

Anyway . . .

The Bridesmaid’s Hero is a standalone story which is part of a series (although after reading it, you might just want to check out more in the series).

It was a fun Aussie story featuring two characters who have to decide if their attraction and common faith is enough to overcome the obstacles in their way. I did have to question the sanity and intelligence of one of the characters: surely no normal person would call a snake ‘pretty’! (However, it did provide the hero with an early opportunity to be a hero.

It’s a short story, but a fun easy read for a bright summer day (or a long winter night).

Thanks to Narelle Atkins for providing a free ebook for review. Disclosure: I edited Bridesmaid’s Hero, so there might be a slight element of bias in my review . . . This review previously appeared at Iola’s Christian Reads.

Book Review: Turnabout’s Fair Play by Kaye Dacus

As I am not an American, I had never heard of author (Mary) Flannery O’Connor, for whom the heroine of this novel is named (to the heroine’s continued annoyance). Apparently, O’Connor is a famous American author whose works are frequently studied by high school and college students. There, so I learnt something from reading a Christian romance novel!

Flannery MacNeill is a 30-something Christian fiction editor for a small publisher in Tennessee. She is feeling somewhat depressed because one of her best friends is about to get married, the other is engaged, and she is afraid that they will both have personality changes and no longer want to maintain the relationship once they marry. However, her friends would like to introduce her to some nice young men. Just as long as they don’t suggest Jamie O’Connor, the wedding usher and a gorgeous, overconfident Sports Marketing executive…

Jamie O’Connor is up for promotion to Sports Marketing Director at the Nashville advertising agency where he works – or so he thinks. A shock announcement forces him to rethink his career and his life, and he realises that fitting in with the boys at work may have meant that he has moved away from the person he really is, like the friends he used to have and the secret he is at pains to hide… Meanwhile, the grandmother who raised him is trying to marry him off, and that Flannery MacNeill seems like a good candidate, particularly when she is accompanied by her extremely attractive grandfather…

I really enjoyed Turnabout’s Fair Play – so much so that I read it twice, back-to-back.

I liked the interaction and friendly banter between the hero and heroine, I liked the way the hero and heroine had so much in common, I liked the way their ‘secrets’ came out as a natural part of the relationship so there was no dreading ‘big misunderstanding, I liked the way that their faith was woven into the plot without making a big deal about it, and I liked the way that the story did not just revolve around the hero and heroine, but had a very satisfying secondary romance as well as some real relationships with friends and family (good and not-so-good).

Only one thing was missing – the recipe for the Parmesan Smashed Red Potatoes that Jamie loved. I can live without the accompanying corned beef and cabbage, but those potatoes sounded good!

Although Turnabout’s Fair Play is the third in The Matchmakers series (following Love Remains and The Art of Romance), it can easily be read as a standalone novel.

Kaye Dacus was nominated for the 2010 Christy Award (Contemporary Romance) for her novel, Stand-in Groom .  This is now on my Wish List, and I look forward to reading Dacus’s backlist (including the first two in The Matchmakers series).  The 2010 Christy Award was actually won by Diann Mills for Breach of Trust, which I have previously mentioned as one of my favourite novels – so to come second behind Mills is no mean feat!

Thanks to Barbour and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. This review was previously published at Iola’s Christian Reads.