Category: #ThrowbackThursday

#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:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

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:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

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.

#ThrowbackThursday | The Hearts we Mend by Kathryn Springer

It’s Throwback Thursday, which means it’s time to revisit an old favourite. Today it’s The Hearts We Mend by Kathryn Springer, one of my top reads of 2016.

About The Hearts We Mend

Planning and Post-It notes are the epitome of Evie’s life. But when she meets Jack, her life gets more than a little complicated.

Thirteen years ago, Evie’s firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty, leaving her to raise their young son, Cody, alone. Now, Cody is marrying the love of his life, and as he packs up his belongings, the house feels as empty as Evie’s heart. But for all her planning and mad organizational skills, Evie could never have anticipated the dramatic shift her life is about to make.

Tattooed, rough-around-the-edgesJack raises quite a few eyebrows in the tight-knit community of Banister Falls. Where Evie’s life is stream-lined, Jack’s approach to living is moment-by-moment. But as Evie gets drawn into Jack’s world—a world that isn’t as safe or predictable as the one she’s worked so hard to create—he challenges her to open her eyes to the problems outside the walls of the church.

Jack doesn’t make Evie feel comfortable, but he definitely makes her feel something. Something she hasn’t felt since Max passed away—or, maybe ever. Because even though Jack isn’t anything like her late husband, he just might be everything she needs.

Recommended Second-Chance Romance

One of the challenges of writing a series must be around how much of the early books you include in later books in the series. I’ve read some truly awful examples, including one which shall not be named where the author spent the first half of the novel (yes, over 150 excruciatingly boring pages) rehashing the backstories of characters I already knew from the first 22 books in the series.

At the other end of the spectrum are novels where the author must assume readers will recall every minute detail of the earlier book/s, because nothing is explained. It’s equally excruciating, because it’s like finding yourself at a party where no one introduces you to anyone because everyone assumes you know everyone else, except you know no one.

The Hearts We Mend initially felt like the party. Actually, it did begin at a party, but I didn’t know anyone although it was obvious I was supposed to. Too many characters too quickly, and I couldn’t work out who was who, and who was meant to be important. Yes, I had read—and enjoyed, and recommended—The Dandelion Field, the first of the Banister Falls series, but that was more than a year ago. I’ve read a lot of books since . . . Yes, Chapter One of The Hearts We Mend was beyond awkward.

But it improved with Chapter Two, because we got to meet our hero, Jack Vale, and he’s new in town so felt as lost as I did. And the book suddenly got a whole lot better. As time went on, I remembered Evie from the first novel: she’s the widowed mother of Cody, who is getting married to his pregnant girlfriend despite them both being a mere eighteen (as Cody tells Evie, the age she was when she married).

A lot of romance readers are looking for novels about “older” couples.

I’m not convinced Evie and Jack count as older—they’re both in their mid-thirties, scarcely older than the first-love couples in many novels (especially romantic suspense novels). But Evie is about to become a grandmother, which certainly places her ahead of me in terms of life experience category, if not years.

Anyway, Jack is new in town, here to look out for his deadbeat brother and his family. He’s got a temporary job at the church where Evie is director of women’s ministries, which brings the two of them together a lot. They’re opposites in many ways: he’s never married and never had children, she’s widowed and about to become a grandmother. He’s from a rough upbringing and his family have had more than a few brushes with the law. She’s not had an easy life, but none of it involved excess alcohol or drugs, and her relationship with the law is as friends, not foe.

But they find they have things in common: their faith, their concern for Lily, Jack’s niece, and their attraction for each other. Evie’s faithful friends aren’t going to make it easy for Jack, and nor is he.

I thought The Hearts we Mend was excellent, a great sequel to The Dandelion Field.

I loved all the characters, especially Lily, and Jack’s unorthodox neighbours. And Jack was the perfect hero, the way he brought Evie out of the shell no one even realised she was in. I especially liked the way the Christian themes were shown in the way Jack reached out to his neighbours. Recommended.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Kathryn Springer

Kathryn SpringerKathryn Springer, winner of the 2009 ACFW Carol Award (Family Treasures), grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child, she spent many hours sitting at her mother’s typewriter, plunking out stories, and credits her parents for instilling in her a love of books – which eventually turned into a desire to tell stories of her own. After a number of busy years, when she married her college sweetheart and became a stay-at-home mom, Kathryn rediscovered her love for writing. An unexpected snow day from school became the inspiration for a short story, which she submitted to Brio magazine. She went on to publish over a dozen more short stories for Brio, but it wasn’t until her youngest child started school that she decided to pursue her dream to write a novel. In August 2004, her Love Inspired® debut novel, Tested by Fire, was published.

Encouraging women in their faith journey is the reason Kathryn loves to write inspirational fiction. She hosts a women’s Bible study in her home and volunteers in a local MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) ministry. When she isn’t at the computer, you’ll find her curled up with a good book, spending time with family and friends or walking on the trails near her country home.

You can find Kathryn Springer online at:

Website | Facebook

You can read the introduction to The Hearts We Mend below:

Click here to find The Hearts We Mend and other recommended Christian fiction in my Amazon store!

#Throwback Thursday | Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

It’s Throwback Thursday!

My Monday book reviews are of new releases. Throwback Thursday is my opportunity to reshare my older reviews of some of my favourite books, or to share a new review for an older book.

Today I’m resharing my review of Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke, a dual timeline story originally published in August 2015. Cathy Gohlke is releasing her latest World War Two-era novel this month, Until We Find Home, and I’m looking forward to reading and reviewing that!

Here’s the book description for Until We Find Home:

For American Claire Stewart, joining the French Resistance sounded as romantic as the storylines she hopes will one day grace the novels she wants to write. But when she finds herself stranded on English shores, with five French Jewish children she smuggled across the channel before Nazis stormed Paris, reality feels more akin to fear.

With nowhere to go, Claire throws herself on the mercy of an estranged aunt, begging Lady Miranda Langford to take the children into her magnificent estate. Heavily weighted with grief of her own, Miranda reluctantly agrees . . . if Claire will stay to help. Though desperate to return to France and the man she loves, Claire has few options. But her tumultuous upbringing—spent in the refuge of novels with fictional friends—has ill-prepared her for the daily dramas of raising children, or for the way David Campbell, a fellow American boarder, challenges her notions of love. Nor could she foresee how the tentacles of war will invade their quiet haven, threatening all who have come to call Bluebell Wood home and risking the only family she’s ever known.

Set in England’s lush and storied Lake District in the early days of World War II, and featuring cameos from beloved literary icons Beatrix Potter and C. S. Lewis, Until We Find Home is an unforgettable portrait of life on the British home front, challenging us to remember that bravery and family come in many forms.

In the meantime, Cathy has some great books you can check out while you wait, including Secrets She Kept.

About Secrets She Kept

All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love—but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

My Review

I was a little apprehensive about reading Secrets She Kept, because I was one of the three judges who awarded Cathy Gohlke the 2015 Inspy Award for General Fiction, for her novel Saving Amelie. After reading a book as good as Saving Amelie, I’m always a little worried that the author’s next book won’t meet the high expectations set by the earlier title.

Well, Secrets She Kept blew Saving Amelie out of the water. Yes, it was that good. Goosebump good.

It’s a split timeline story—the modern story is set in 1972, where Hannah Sterling’s mother has just died, and Hannah finds her mother was never entirely honest with her. For starters, Lieselotte wasn’t Austrian . . . No. She was German, living in Germany during the rise of Hitler and during World War II. The past story is Lieselotte’s, during those life-changing war years. It’s not a happy story, but as we journey with both Hannah and Lieselotte, we discover what made Lieselotte the distant mother she was: the secrets she kept.

The writing, the research, the characters, the plot—all were outstanding, and it’s one of the few split timeline stories I’ve read where the past and the present stories were equally compelling. Recommended.

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

About Cathy Gohlke

Cathy GohlkeCathy Gohlke is the three-time Christy Award-winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Secrets She Kept (winner of the 2016 Carol and INSPY Awards), Saving Amelie (winner of the 2015 INSPY Award), Band of Sisters, Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008), which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award.

Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between Northern Virginia and the Jersey Shore, enjoying time with their children and granddaughters.

You can find Cathy Gohlke online at:

Website | Facebook | Pinterest

You can find Secrets she kept at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

Read the introduction to Secrets She Kept below:

#ThrowbackThursday | Book Review | Unspoken Rules

It’s Throwback Thursday! My review of Unspoken Rules by Lora Inak first appeared at Australasian Christian Writers on 31 August 2107—so it’s actually still a new release. It’s not your typical Christian fiction novel—instead, it’s a young adult novel looking at the difficulties immigrants face in integrating into their new culture.

Natalie is a Syrian Orthodox Christian, the child of immigrants to Australia, currently in her final year of high school. Her older sister wants nothing more than to marry a Baba-approved man from the Syrian expat community, but Natalie is falling for a guy from school. An Australian. And she wants to become a journalist and travel the world, not get married and start her own family.

She has many of the same struggles as normal seventeen-year-old girls, but she also has the struggle of straddling two worlds—the conservative patriarchal culture of her Syrian family and community which is full of unspoken rules, and the more liberal Australian culture of her school. And things are difficult at home. Her older sister is moody, but that’s nothing new. Her mother is acting out of character. Baba carries on making bad jokes.

Natalie might hide her Syrian culture from most of her schoolmates, but she can’t hide it from the reader.

Instead, we see that the girls at her church are just as focused on clothes and boys as the girls at school. What was good to see was that none of the characters experienced any racism—although that could be more because racism wasn’t the focus of the book than because it doesn’t exist in modern Australia.

One thing that bugged me was that while the family were strict Syrian Orthodox Christians, the focus seemed to be on the cultural aspect rather than the spiritual. Natalie’s sister was the only character who seemed to pray—I never really understood whether Natalie believed in what the church taught or not.

She followed the rules, but that’s a matter of outward behaviour, not inner faith. I guess I’d have liked to have understood that a little better.

Unspoken Rules was a fascinating insight into other cultures—the Syrian Orthodox culture, the tightknit Syrian community (which can’t really be separated from the Orthodox), and modern Australian teen culture. And it’s a warts-and-all insight, told from Natalie’s point of view. The writing has a slightly foreign flavour, especially when Mama and Baba are talking. But that makes sense, because their first language is Arabic.

A fascinating and engrossing Young Adult novel that shows growing up is hard no matter what your culture.

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

About Lora Inak

Lora InakHi. I’m Lora Inak and my debut novel Unspoken Rules is out now.

Unspoken Rules is about walking the tightrope between being Australian and being of your birthplace (or the birthplace of your parents). If you, like around 35% of Australians including me, are born in another country (or perhaps your parents and grandparents were) then this is a story that will hopefully resonate with you.

You can find Lora Inak online at:

Website | Facebook | Twitter

About Unspoken Rules

Seventeen-year-old Natalie has two lives.

At home, her life is governed by the unspoken rules of her Christian Orthodox background. At school, she is the Syrian girl who never goes to parties. She pretends she doesn’t care, but deep down she just wants to be like everyone else.

Natalie wants to have the freedom to choose her own destiny … to fall in love with the new boy without fear of repercussions.

Unspoken Rules is a fresh story about family, first love, walking a cultural tightrope and freedom.

You can buy Unspoken Rules here:

Amazon US | Amazon UKRhiza Press