Month: July 2017

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!

Introducing First Line Friday | The Two of Us

First Line Friday (#FirstLineFriday or #FLF) is the baby and brainchild of Carrie Schmidt aka Meez Carrie at Reading Is My Superpower. It’s a fabulous name for a book blog, and I only wish I’d thought of it!

The premise is simple:


I will have to adjust that a little, as the “book” nearest me is most often my Kindle. The real books are usually either books on writing craft, or the Bible (sharing Genesis 1:1 each week could get boring).

I’ve been following the meme for a while, and I have noticed participants do tend to share the first lines of novels—specifically, Christian novels.

Today I’m sharing from The Two of Us by Victoria Bylin.

Mia Robinson couldn’t take her eyes off the man in a cowboy hat working a claw machine game, the kind where a child—or a boyfriend or father—put in a dollar and tried to grab a toy in thirty seconds or less.

I’ve played those games … and failed. But the man Mia is watching doesn’t fail … Does that whet your appetite? Keep an eye on the blog, because I’ve got a full review for The Two of Us coming up soon.

About the Book

Heartwarming and Touching New Contemporary Romance from Victoria Bylin

After two broken engagements, nurse practitioner Mia Robinson is done with dating. From now on, she only trusts herself and God, and she’s focused on her eighteen-year-old sister, Lucy, and caring for patients. Just as she applies to work for an international aid organization, a phone call from Lucy, who’s pregnant and running off to marry her twenty-one-year-old boyfriend, throws a wrench into all of Mia’s plans.

Jake Tanner may have recovered from the physical injuries he sustained on the job as a police officer, but his heart has yet to heal from losing his former partner in the tragedy. He’s poured himself into starting a camp for the sons of fallen officers and mentoring Sam, the adult son of his deceased partner, who’s asked him to be his best man at his wedding.

Mia is expecting a mess when she arrives to sort out the situation with Lucy, but she wasn’t expecting Jake. And Jake, who can’t help envying Sam and Lucy, doubts he’ll ever experience their happiness for himself. But maybe Jake’s courage and Mia’s caring spirit are just what they need to bring them a lifetime of healing and a forever kind of love …

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Goodreads

You can check out what some of these lovely FirstLineFriday bloggers are sharing today:

Bookworm Mama | Singing Librarian Books | Faithfully Bookish

Radiant Light | Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

All the Book Blog Names are Taken | Robin’s Nest

Fiction Aficionado | Bibliophile Reviews | Kathleen Denly

Lauraine’s Notes | With A Joyful Noise | A Baker’s Perspective

Joy of Reading | C Jane Read | Moments Dipped in Ink

Molly’s Cafinated Reads | Romances of the Cross

Reading Is My SuperPower

If you would like to join FirstLineFriday, contact Carrie at Reading Is My SuperPower.

Share your first line in the comments, and happy reading!

‘My Daughter’s Legacy’ Blog Tour, Author Chat Party, and Giveaway

Meet two women in different eras but both with unfailing conviction in Mindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould’s new book, My Daughter’s Legacy. Therese Jennings cannot abide the thought of owning slaves. But when trouble befalls her family, can she reconcile her obligations with her beliefs? Nicole Talbot’s life is back on track after years of substance abuse. But when facts she uncovers cast doubt on her family’s legacy, she must risk all that she’s gained—her fresh start, her family’s trust, and her growing relationship with a new man—to unlock the secrets of the past.

Celebrate the release of Mindy and Leslie’s new book by entering to win the $75 Visa Cash Card Giveaway (details below) and by attending their author chat party on August 1!

One grand prize winner will receive:

  • One copy of My Daughter’s Legacy
  • One $75 Visa Cash Card

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on August 1. The winner will be announced at the My Daughter’s Legacy Facebook party. RSVP for a chance to connect with Mindy, Leslie, and other readers, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 1st!

My Review

My Daughter’s Legacy is a split timeline novel with elements of both romance and suspense. It starts in the present with Nicole Talbot, who has just finished her first year of college … after a long stint in rehab. She is now going home for the summer, staying with her sister, and working as an equine therapy intern at a nearby equestrian centre.

A secret, a body, and a missing manuscript.

Nicole has a secret—something her deceased grandfather said she could never tell anyone. She knows it’s time to tell the truth, but she’s also worried that no one will believe her, especially not Nana, the family matriarch. As an ex-drug addict, she has a well-earned reputation for lying.

When she gets home, Nicole finds she’s not the only one with secrets. Her sister and aunt have been undertaking some family history research which may shed light on Nicole’s secret … but unearths a whole new set of questions about the body they found as children, which subsequently disappeared.

We then switch to the Civil War era.

This is Therese’s story (Nicole’s great-great-great-great grandmother. Plus or minus a great). Therese lives in the South, but her father was a prominent abolitionist, and she shares his views. She takes a job as a governess in Richmond. She also undertakes volunteer work at the local hospital where her friend, Polly Talbot, volunteers. Here she meets Polly’s handsome Northern cousin, Dr Alec Talbot, and also comes into contact with Polly’s brother, Michael, her teenage crush.

Although My Daughter’s Legacy is part of the Cousins of the Dove series, this is the first book I’ve read.

There were references to past events that read as though they’d been covered in more detail in previous books. I haven’t read them (although now I want to!), and I don’t think that was any loss, as I found it easy to pick up the story. There was also a nice summary at the end which rounded out the series.

A dual timeline story can be hard to read.

This is simply because there is one character or story I enjoy better than the other. I often find it hard to relate to the modern character. This is usually because the modern character has some issues that are self-inflicted, but there is no real acknowledgement that they are the author of their own problems:

My Daughter's Legacy

That was the thing I liked about Nicole. She knew she had problems. And she knew whose fault the problems were. Her own. And she was working hard to overcome those problems.

In contrast, many of Therese’s problems—internal and external—were the result of the Civil War and not knowing who she could trust. These are common conflicts in Civil War-era fiction, and meant it took me a little longer to warm to her as a character. What kept me engaged were the fascinating insights into Civil War America. For example the concept that working in a hospital was men’s work, and that hospitals were only for the destitute. Gentlemen were looked after at home.

But in the end, both stories delivered both in terms of suspense and in terms of romance.

Now I’m off to buy the first two books in the Cousins of the Dove series: My Brother’s Crown, and My Sister’s Prayer.

Thanks to Harvest House, Litfuse Publicity, and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Blog Tour and Giveaway: Grounded Hearts by Jeanne M Dickson

What do you get when you mix World War II, a brave midwife, a wounded pilot, and a risky secret? Jeanne M. Dickson’s new historical fiction novel, Grounded Hearts.

When midwife Nan O’Neil finds a wounded young Canadian pilot at her door, she knows she’s taking a huge risk by letting him in. Still, something compels Nan to take in “flyboy” Dutch Whitney, an RAF pilot whose bomber has just crashed over County Clare. While she tends to his wounds and gives him a secret place of refuge, the two begin to form a mutual affection—and an unbreakable bond.

Join Jeanne in celebrating the release of her new book by entering to win the Celtic Knots Giveaway!

One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on July 31. The winner will be announced August 1 on the Litfuse blog.

I’ve already reviewed Grounded Hearts—I thought it was excellent. Click here to read my review at International Christian Fiction Writers.

Grounded Hearts

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?

Giveaway - Introducing Author Interviews

Introducing Author Interviews (and a Giveaway)

Some background …

I started my book review blog, Iola’s Christian Reads, in September 2011, after winning an ebook in an online giveaway. I’d just bought a Kobo (Kindles weren’t yet available here in New Zealand), and was keen to build my electronic library.

The book was delivered via NetGalley, and I found that I could get free ebooks from many of my favourite authors and publishers if I promised to write a review on a blog, and on sites such as Amazon. Paperbacks cost around $30 each in New Zealand at the time, so this seemed like a good deal.

Iola’s Christian Reads was born.

Back then, most book blogs were just that: book blogs. Posting book reviews. But the world has changed, and blogging has changed to keep pace.

It’s no longer enough to have a basic Blogger blog with just book reviews. Readers want to get to know authors, and a low-risk way of trying books from new-to-them authors. They want author interviews and giveaways.

I have reached a milestone at my original Blogger blog, Iola’s Christian Reads. I’ve posted my 1,000th post. And it will be my last (I think. I do reserve the right to change my mind if that’s where I think God leads).

Instead, I’m going to focus more on developing this website, getting into a regular blogging schedule and having more of what readers want. In fact, I asked my email newsletter subscribers what they wanted, and the overwhelming response was author interviews. (Gulp.)

So here is my proposed schedule for the rest of 2017:

  • Monday: Bookish Question
  • Tuesday: Review of a new Christian fiction release
  • Wednesday: Author interview or general blog post
  • Thursday: Repost of a review of an older Christian novel
  • Friday: #FirstLineFriday

Note that these are New Zealand time … which is a day ahead of most of the US! (I think we’re 23 hours ahead of Hawaii. When we visited last year, we arrived 17 hours before we left after a 12-hour flight. Go figure).

I’ve been posting my #BookishQuestions since April.

Each week I post a question, and give my answer. I also post the question on Instagram, and find I get more interaction there than her on my website (click here to follow me on Instagram).

Book reviews—well, you know what book reviews are.

First Line Friday? I’ll tell you more about #FirstLineFriday next week.

Today I want to ask you about author interviews.

Although my preference would be to interview contemporary Christian romance authors, I’m open to interviewing any Christian author. If you write Christian fiction and would like to be interviewed (say, to promote a new book), drop me a line via the contact form on the About page.

If you’re a reader, which authors would you like me to interview? What do you want to know about your favourite authors? Do you want to ask about their book, their writing process, their reading habits, or more personal questions like whether they like cats or dogs better?

Tell me your ideas!

As a thank you, one commenter will win a Kindle copy of one of the four RITA finalists pictured here (winner’s choice):

It's RITA Time!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Writing Desk

Book Review: The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck’s most recent novels have all featured a present-day romance and a historical romance, with something that connects the two.

No prizes for guessing what the connection is in The Writing Desk …

In the present, Tenley Roth has just won a major writing award, but she’s convinced she’s only won because she’s the great-great-granddaughter of the author for whom the award is named. Not to mention that she’s just a hack who wrote a romance novel, and she’s exactly zero words into the manuscript that’s due in less than three months. And now she’s in Florida, caring for her estranged mother as Blanche recovers from chemo.

In 1902, Bridie Shehorn has recently graduated from Wellesley. Now Mama insists she marry and move into her rightful role as leader of the Four Hundred. Mama even has a groom picked out—Alphonse, who is from a good family, suitably rich, yet far too fond of the ladies. And he’s not Eli, the handsome Earl who is back in New York after serving in the Boer War.

I have to say that at the beginning, I was a lot more intrigued by Bridie’s story than by Tenley’s.

Most of Tenley’s problems appeared self-inflicted. She’s got an almost-fiance she stays with for no known reason, and a bad case of writers block made worse by constant lying to her agent and editor. On the other hand, Bridie’s problems were mostly caused by a controlling Mama whose idea of good parenting was to do what was best for Mama with little or no regard for anyone else. Bridie least of all.

But I grew more and more interested in Tenley’s story as the novel progressed.

She befriends Jonas, who has the large, close-knit family she always dreamed of, and begins to investigate his Christian faith. Yes, this is Christian romance, although the faith aspects are subtle to the point a reader might not even notice.

Bridie had her own subtle faith journey as well, although the focus of her story was more on her impending marriage, and her writing. Yes, Bridie was also a writer. I thought I’d picked up the connection between Tenley and Bridie early on (and the twist), but there was a lot more to the connection.

Recommended for those who enjoy dual-timeline stories.

Thanks to Zondervan and NetGalley for providing an ebook for review.

About Rachel Hauck

Author Photo Rachel HauckRachel Hauck is an award winning, New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestselling author.

Her book The Wedding Dress was named Inspirational Novel of the Year by Romantic Times. She is a double RITA finalist, a Christy and Carol Award Winner.

Rachel sits on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers, and is the comical sidekick to Susan May Warren at the amazing My Book Therapy. She is a worship leader and speaker.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, Rachel is a devoted Ohio State football fan. She lives in sunny central Florida with her husband and ornery cat.

Visit her at or

Click below to buy The Writing Desk

Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon AU | Christian Book | Kobo | Koorong

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?

It's RITA Time!

It’s RITA Time!

It’s time for the 2017 RITA Awards! For those who don’t know, the RITA Awards are the annual published author awards presented by Romance Writers of America.

They are a big deal, the Oscars of the romance writing world. I read Christian fiction, so I’m most interested in the Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements category.

The four finalists for 2017 are:

  • My Hope Next Door by Tammy L Gray
  • Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher
  • Close to You by Kara Isaac (who also finalled in the Debut novel category)
  • Trust My Heart by Carol J Post

I’ve read and reviewed all four books, and I’m glad I’m not a judge!

All four books were excellent, and it’s going to be a tough decision for someone (or several someones). I’d love for Kara Isaac to win, because Close to You is set in New Zealand and she’s finalled in two categories. And I edited her latest book, Then There Was You. Not that I’m biased or anything.

Here are links to my reviews:

Close to You
Keeper of the Stars
My Hope Next Door
Trust My Heart

My review of Keeper of the Stars was a guest post at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, as part of their annual RITA challenge. They ask for guest reviewers to volunteer to review each of the (many) finalists. They post two reviews of each book in the weeks leading up to the announcement of the winners.

These reviews are interesting to read because they are mostly written by readers who don’t usually read Christian romance. You’ll see the reviews aren’t nearly as glowing as those usually seen on Christian fiction review sites.

Here are links to the other SBTB reviews:

A B- review for Close to You from Bluetomarto.
A C- review for Close to You from Hope.

A B- review for Trust My Heart from LauraL.
A C- review for Trust My Heart from DonnaMarie.

A C+ review from Julia for Keeper of the Stars.

A D review for My Hope Next Door from Samantha.

If you go by the SBTB grades, the winner will be Keeper of the Stars. But that’s based on my B+ review, and I’d have given B+ or better grades to all four finalists!

The winners will be announced at the Romance Writers of America conference, on 27 July.

Have you read any of these RITA finalists? Which do you think should win?

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?