Author: Iola Goulton

What's the one genre you can never read enough of?

Bookish Question #109 | What’s the one genre you can never read enough of?

Christian romance 🙂

On one hand, I love Christian romance and I’m always looking for my next great read, there are times when the stories can all start to feel a little samey, a little to formulaic.

Also, Christian romance is a broad genre—more than half of the Christian fiction published is romance in one from of another, from Biblical romance to Regency romance, from Amish romance to contemporary romantic suspense.

If I had to choose one subgenre, I’d have to say contemporary Christian romance.

Why? Because it’s always changing as the world around us changes. Twenty years ago, characters were just getting mobile phones and learning to text. Ten years ago, they got phones with cameras. Now everyone has a smartphone, complete with email and social media.

Online connection means a lot of the plots that used to work and that I used to enjoy (like the secret baby trope I mentioned last week) have fallen out of favour because they don’t work any more. Instead, we have dozens of billionaire romances (because apparently any guy with a six-pack can earn a cool billion by developing some cool new app. No matter that there are so many free apps that I’ve yet to pay for one).

What I like about a great contemporary Christian romance is that it reinforces the importance of real-life connection—with other people, and with God. Great contemporary Christian romance also features flawed Christian characters doing their best to live a godly life in an ungodly world.

And, of course, there’s the romance.

Christian romance is (or should be) focused on the meeting of minds and the development of a three-strand relationship, not on the physical attraction that categorises so many general market (and real-life) relationships. Finally, contemporary Christian romance models romantic relationships built on a firm foundation, and built to last.

And that’s a few reasons why I can never read enough Christian romance.

What about you? What’s the one genre (or subgenre) you can never read enough of?

Jude did not believe that the pen was mightier than the pistol when it came to confronting danger.

Book Review | The White City by Grace Hitchcock

The White City is Grace Hitchcock’s debut novel. It is also (I think) the first novel in Barbour Publishing’s new True Colors series, fictional accounts of some of America’s most infamous crimes. The White City is set around the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and the actions of the man considered America’s first serial killer, Doctor H. H. Holmes. Holmes owned a hotel not far from the fair.

A hotel filled with secret rooms that was later dubbed “Murder Castle”.

Winnifred Wylde is a wonderful heroine. She’s clever and funny. She loves reading fiction, especially the thrilling romance novels by Percival Valentine. But she has an unfortunate habit of seeing crimes wherever she looks—possibly the result of being the daughter of a police inspector, but possibly the result of reading too many thrilling novels featuring the noble hero saving the heroine from the clutches of the evildoer.

Winnifred is convinced she saw a man kidnapping a woman from the fair at gunpoint.

But even her police inspector father can’t arrest a man simply on his daughter’s say-so. He needs proof. So Winnie decides to get proof, by taking an undercover job as a secretary with the man she suspects is responsible for the kidnapping. Her father appoints Detective Jude Thorpe to watch over her and help in her investigation.

I will admit I was initially a little dubious about reading a novel with such a setting.

It had the potential to be far too gruesome for my taste. However, it was not. The humour and light-hearted style were the perfect balance for the less savoury elements of the plot, especially as it became obvious that Winnie was right and her boss was up to no good.

There was also the romance aspect. Jude is attracted to Winnie and thinks she might return his regard, but her father has made it clear that Winnie is not to marry a policeman. Her aunt is trying to set her up with a Mr. Covington, who is a perfectly nice gentleman but who doesn’t make her heart race. As an aside, I’m not usually a fan of the other man/other woman plot, but it worked perfectly in The White City.

Overall, The White City is an excellent historical romantic suspense novel.

The mix of fact and fiction reminded me of Elizabeth Camden’s historical fiction, while the light-hearted tone was more reminiscent of Jen Turano or Karen Witemeyer. Recommended.

Thanks to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Grace Hitchcock

Author Photo - Grace HitchcockGrace Hitchcock is the author of The White City and The Gray Chamber from Barbour Publishing. She has written multiple novellas in The Second Chance Brides, The Southern Belle Brides, and the Thimbles and Threads collections with Barbour Publishing. She holds a Masters in Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in History. Grace lives in southern Louisiana with her husband, Dakota, and son.

Find Grace Hitchcock online at:

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About The White City

Mysterious Disappearances Taint the Chicago World’s Fair
Step into True Colors — a new series of Historical Stories of Romance and American Crime

While attending the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Winnifred Wylde believes she witnessed a woman being kidnapped. She tries to convince her father, an inspector with the Chicago police, to look into reports of mysterious disappearances around the White City. Inspector Wylde tries to dismiss her claims as exaggeration of an overactive imagination, but he eventually concedes to letting her go undercover as secretary to the man in question—if she takes her pistol for protection and Jude Thorpe, a policeman, for bodyguard.

Will she be able to expose H. H. Holmes’s illicit activity, or will Winnifred become his next victim?

Find The White City online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

Read the introduction to The White City below:

And don’t forget to check out my Amazon shop for this and other outstanding Christian fiction!

First Line Friday

First Line Friday | Week 93 | No Ocean Too Far by Carrie Turansky

It’s First Line Friday! That means it’s time to pick up the nearest book and quote the first line. Today I’m sharing from No Ocean Too Far by Carrie Turansky:

Katie McAlister's heart pounded out a frantic beat as she gripped the rickety railing and rushed down the back stairs.

What’s the book nearest you, and what’s the first line?

About No Ocean Too Wide

Between the years of 1869 to 1939 more than 100,000 poor British children were sent across the ocean to Canada with the promise of a better life. Those who took them in to work as farm laborers or household servants were told they were orphans–but was that the truth?

After the tragic loss of their father, the McAlister family is living at the edge of the poorhouse in London in 1908, leaving their mother to scrape by for her three younger children, while oldest daughter, Laura, works on a large estate more than an hour away. When Edna McAlister falls gravely ill and is hospitalized, twins Katie and Garth and eight-year-old Grace are forced into an orphans’ home before Laura is notified about her family’s unfortunate turn of events in London. With hundreds of British children sent on ships to Canada, whether truly orphans or not, Laura knows she must act quickly. But finding her siblings and taking care of her family may cost her everything.

Andrew Fraser, a wealthy young British lawyer and heir to the estate where Laura is in service, discovers that this common practice of finding new homes for penniless children might not be all that it seems. Together Laura and Andrew form an unlikely partnership. Will they arrive in time? Will their friendship blossom into something more?

Inspired by true events, this moving novel follows Laura as she seeks to reunite her family and her siblings who, in their darkest hours, must cling to the words from Isaiah: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God”.

Find No Ocean Too Wide online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | ChristianBook | Goodreads

Click the button to check out what my fabulous fellow FirstLineFriday bloggers are sharing today:

You can then click the link which will take you to the master page of all this week’s #FirstLineFriday posts.

And you can click here to check out my previous FirstLineFriday posts.

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

And don’t forget to click here to check out my Amazon shop for my top picks in Christian fiction!

Quote: Do I believe miracles can happen? Sure. But we have to step aside and let them.

#ThrowbackThursday | Where Hope Begins by Catherine West

It’s Throwback Thursday! Today I’m resharing my review of Where Hope Begins, a powerful novel by women’s fiction queen Catherine West. If you’re looking for a Christian novel that goes deep into a broken marriage, I recommend Where Hope Begins.

About Where Hope Begins

Sometimes we’re allowed to glimpse the beauty within the brokenness . . .

Savannah Barrington has always found solace at her parents’ lake house in the Berkshires, and it’s the place that she runs to when her husband of over twenty years leaves her. Though her world is shaken, and the future uncertain, she finds hope through an old woman’s wisdom, a little girl’s laughter, and a man who’s willing to risk his own heart to prove to Savannah that she is worthy of love.

But soon Savannah is given a challenge she can’t run away from: Forgiving the unforgivable. Amidst the ancient gardens and musty bookstores of the small town she’s sought refuge in, she must reconcile with the grief that haunts her, the God pursuing her, and the wounds of the past that might be healed after all.

Where Hope Begins is the story of grace in the midst of brokenness, pointing us to the miracles that await when we look beyond our own expectations.

My Thoughts

Savannah’s husband of twenty years is leaving her for the other woman. Now the house is empty—their three children are at boarding school, college, and in a grave. Broken, Savannah goes to stay in her parent’s holiday home, where she meets the neighbours: an old woman, her nephew, and his daughter.

A daughter who is the spitting image of Savannah’s dead daughter.

Yes, Where Hope Begins has lots of angst. As the story progresses we find out more about how Shelby died, about how Savannah is convinced Shelby’s death was her fault, and convinced husband Kevin blames her, even though he says he doesn’t. We also see how this tragedy shaped their marriage, and paved the way for it’s destruction.

At the lake house, we see Savannah’s developing relationship with Brock, the bestselling author who is her new next-door neighbour. Her very attractive next-door neighbour. Why not? Her husband has left her for another woman and wants a divorce. That presents Savannah with a dilemma … and us as the reader. We’re convinced we don’t like Kevin, but does that justify Savannah’s growing relationship with Brock?

The intricacies of the relationships are compounded by Savannah’s Christian faith, a faith her husband supposedly shared. As Christians, we have clear views on adultery, but when is a marriage over? When is the wronged spouse allowed to move on?

Where Hope Begins is an intelligent, thought-provoking, and emotional read in a situation where there are lots of hard questions and no right answers.

The writing is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Catherine West. The characters are well-developed, the plot complex but not convoluted, and the Christian elements threaded through but not overwhelming. Oh, and I cried. It’s been a long time since a novel made me cry.

Recommended for anyone looking for Christian fiction that addresses some of the hard issues of life.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Catherine West

Author Photo: Catherine WestCatherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she’s not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border Collie for long walks or reading books by her favorite authors. She and her husband have two grown children and one beautiful granddaughter. Catherine is the winner of the 2015 Grace Award (Bridge of Faith) and the Romance Writers of America’s Faith, Hope & Love Reader’s Choice Award (The Things We Knew).

You can find Catherine West online at:

Website | Facebook | Goodreads | Instagram | Pinterest | Twitter

Find Where Hope Begins online at:

Amazon | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

You can read the introduction to Where Hope Begins below:

What's your favourite romance trope?

Bookish Question #108 | What’s your favourite romance trope?

Romance is full of tropes, and this is probably because romance readers can be voracious. If we find a story we like, we want to read all the books by that author. Then we want to read all the books with similar plots—which means we want all the books with that romance trope.

First, what’s a trope?

Reedsy says:

Tropes are plot devices, characters, images, or themes that are incorporated so frequently in a genre that they’re seen as conventional.

For example, the mail order bride is currently a popular trope, especially in Christian fiction.

I’ve seen box sets of fifteen or twenty mail order bride stories for sale on Amazon. I’m a fan of mail order bride stories (e.g. the Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh), but I don’t think I could manage a set of twenty!

Fortunately, there are dozens of popular romance tropes, including:

  • Friends to Lovers
  • Enemies to Lovers
  • Fake Romance
  • Love Triangle
  • Forbidden Love
  • Marriage of Convenience
  • Secret Royal/Billionaire
  • Secret Baby
  • Secret Romance
  • Second Chance Romance
  • Reunited Lovers
  • Trapped in an Elevator/Snowstorm
  • Mail Order Bride
  • Belated Love Epiphany
  • Opposites Attract
  • Soul Mate

I’m not a big fan of the love triangle.

It seems to me that a perfectly nice person ends up getting hurt. Mind you, that’s better than the alternative, where the guy thinks he’s in love with Woman A (who’s a real piece of work) but is also attracted to Woman B (the obvious best choice), but I’m left wishing he’d stick with Woman A because Woman B deserves someone with more depth.

That can also happen in reverse (and I can think of one far-too-long-running Christian romance series where the woman had the choice and chose who I think was the weaker man. One reviewer said that if the character was that shallow, then the second man was better off without her, and I had to agree (#TeamCody).

That’s the other problem with the love triangle: half your audience will be convinced the story ends with the wrong couple getting together.

I went through a phase of reading and enjoying secret baby romances, but then the improvements in technology and social media made it harder to believe that the woman couldn’t tell the father she’d had his baby. This meant she hadn’t, which meant she had to have a good reason for not telling him … and many didn’t. Also, secret baby is a more difficult trope to pull off in Christian fiction.

I’m also a big fan of friends-to-lovers (especially in novellas and short fiction—I’m a little wary of a novella where the couple go from first meeting to marriage in less than a hundred pages), and enjoy the occasional enemies to lovers (Maybe It’s You by Christy Hayes is a fun example).

And I enjoy most other tropes … in small doses.

So what’s your favourite trope, and what’s a great example of that trope in Christian romance?

I never imagined then that it would be my breaking place, too. Nor how beautiful the breaking would be.

Book Review | Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes

Whose Waves are These is a dual timeline novel, telling two related stories of the Bliss family.

In 1944, Robert Bliss watches as his twin brother marries, then is called up to serve in World War II. In 2001, Annie Bliss is called back to Ansel-on-the-Sea, Maine, but she doesn’t know why. All she knows is that her father and her great-uncle have been estranged for years, so it must be important.

Robert’s story progresses from 1944 to the present.

In the process, we see what happened to his brother in the war, what happened after the war, and brings us (slowly) to Robert’s present—2001. Annie’s story is about her journey back to Ansel-on-the-Sea and her attempt to discover the source of the amnity between Robert and her father.

Annie’s section of the story was written in first person, and Robert’s was written in third person—an unusual and often difficult combination for authors to write successfully. Both stories are written in present tense. I usually find present tense works best in a story that’s set in the present, so thought present tense was an unusual and perhaps a brave choice by the author.

It’s a testament to her writing skill that the combination works.

Yes, the writing was excellent. Well, if you don’t mind first person, and if you don’t mind present tense. I was a little uncertain at first, but was soon drawn in by the power of Robert’s story … and by the mystery of Jeremiah Fletcher.

Whose Waves These Are is a difficult novel to describe.

It has a strong voice, strong writing, strong characters, and a dual-level plot that offers lots of questions and answers them all. Yes, there were a couple of scenes towards the end which I’m not sure worked as well, but overall it’s an excellent first novel. Recommended.

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

About Amanda Dykes

Amanda Dykes is the author of Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, the critically-acclaimed bicycle story that invited readers together to fund bicycles for missionaries in Asia. A former English teacher, she has a soft spot for classic literature and happy endings. She is a drinker of tea, a dweller of Truth, and a spinner of hope-filled tales, grateful for the grace of a God who loves extravagantly.

Find Amanda Dykes online at:

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About Whose Waves These Are

In the wake of WWII, a grieving fisherman submits a poem to a local newspaper: a rallying cry for hope, purpose . . . and rocks. Send me a rock for the person you lost, and I will build something life-giving. When the poem spreads farther than he ever intended, Robert Bliss’s humble words change the tide of a nation. Boxes of rocks inundate the tiny, coastal Maine town, and he sets his calloused hands to work, but the building halts when tragedy strikes.

Decades later, Annie Bliss is summoned back to Ansel-by-the-Sea when she learns her Great-Uncle Robert, the man who became her refuge during the hardest summer of her youth, is now the one in need of help. What she didn’t anticipate was finding a wall of heavy boxes hiding in his home. Long-ago memories of stone ruins on a nearby island trigger her curiosity, igniting a fire in her anthropologist soul to uncover answers.

She joins forces with the handsome and mysterious harbor postman, and all her hopes of mending the decades-old chasm in her family seem to point back to the ruins. But with Robert failing fast, her search for answers battles against time, a foe as relentless as the ever-crashing waves upon the sea.

Find Whose Waves Are These online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | ChristianBook | Goodreads

First Line Friday

First Line Friday | Week 92 | Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass by Heather Day Gilbert

It’s First Line Friday! That means it’s time to pick up the nearest book and quote the first line. Today I’m sharing from Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass by Heather Day Gilbert:

The first time I saw Stone Carrington the fifth, I had a snake wrapped around my neck.

I’m not a fan of snakes, but this opening line certainly kept me reading!

What’s the book nearest you, and what’s the first line?

About Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass:

When exotic pet-sitter Belinda Blake moves into a carriage house in tony Greenwich, Connecticut, she’s hoping to find some new clients. Instead she discovers a corpse in the garden—and a knack for solving murders . . .

Pet-sitter Belinda Blake doesn’t rattle easily, but move-in day has been eventful, to say the least. The python in her care tried to slither to freedom—just as she met Stone Carrington V, her landlords’ disarmingly handsome son. With the constrictor back in its cage, she heads out to the garden, only to discover a designer shoe poking out of the boxwood hedge—attached to a woman’s dead body.

The victim, Margo Fenton, was a Carrington family friend, and no one in their circle seems above suspicion. Between client trips to Manhattan and visits to her family in upstate New York, Belinda begins to put the pieces together. But though she’s falling for Stone’s numerous charms, Belinda wonders if she’s cozying up to a killer. And soon, daily contact with a deadly reptile might be the least dangerous part of her life . . .

You can find Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Goodreads

Click the button to check out what my fabulous fellow FirstLineFriday bloggers are sharing today:

You can then click the link which will take you to the master page of all this week’s #FirstLineFriday posts.

And you can click here to check out my previous FirstLineFriday posts.

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

And don’t forget to click here to check out my Amazon shop for my top picks in Christian fiction!

#ThrowbackThursday | Someone Like You by Victoria Bylin

It’s Throwback Thursday! Today I’m resharing my review of one of Victoria Bylin’s earlier novels. Someone Like You is a great Christian romance set in the real world.

Victoria Bylin doesn’t shy away from the tough topics.

In fact, anyone who scoffs at romance novels in general and Christian romance novels in particular should read Someone Like You. Whether they like it or not, they can’t call it soft or shallow or any of the other less-than-complimentary terms people use.

As an aside, it’s fascinating how some Christians exhort others to follow their God-given calling at the same time as decrying romance novels. Do they forget God is the author of the ultimate romance? Or reject the idea that He might call authors to model godly sacrificial love in fiction as well as non-fiction?.

Anyway, Someone Like You covers it all.

Faith, loss of faith, premarital sex, single parenthood, men with control issues, men with personality issues, men with faith issues. Fortunately, these issues are balanced out with a good dose of sense.

Zeke Monroe is the General Manager of the Caliente Springs resort, a position that might be temporary if he can’t pull the resort out of a financial tailspin and convince the co-owner not to sell. He’s hoping to land a big contract with Carter Home Goods . . . but doesn’t expect the event planner here to review the resort to be his college girlfriends, Julia Dare.

Julia has recently left her partner, the father of her four-year-old son, and become a Christian—in part, because of the influence of her college boyfriend, Zeke—the guy she dumped to hook up with suave lawyer Hunter Adams, Max’s father.

She’s now struggling to set up an event planning business to support herself and Max, and manage a relationship with a narcissistic ex who seems set on sabotaging her childrearing methods and her life in general. Especially when he finds out she’s in contact with Zeke again. Even though that’s purely professional. Isn’t it?

Basically, Someone Like You had everything a Christian romance should have.

Loveable hero. Intelligent and likeable but flawed heroine. A strong Christian theme that achieves challenging without being preachy. And excellent writing. Recommended.

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

About Victoria Bylin

Author Photo - Victoria BylinVictoria Bylin is known for tackling tough subjects with great compassion. In 2016, Together With You, a story of grace and healing, won the Inspirational Readers Choice Award for Best Contemporary Romance.

Her other books, including historical westerns, have finaled in the Carol Awards, the RITAs, and RT Magazine’s Reviewers Choice Award. A native of California, she and her husband now make their home in Lexington, Kentucky.

Find Victoria Bylin online at

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About Someone Like You

Julia Dare is trying to run her own business, raise her young son, Max, and help her widowed mother. Her biggest worry, though, is keeping Max’s father from being a bad influence while still allowing the boy to spend time with his dad. When an account from her event-planning business sends her to Caliente Springs resort, she’s shocked to encounter Zeke Monroe, her college sweetheart.

Zeke is determined to keep Caliente Springs running despite financial trouble. When Julia walks back into his life, he’s surprised at the feelings she stirs up. As they work together on an important client’s wedding, the fate of the resort soon depends on their success. With Zeke and Julia both pushed to their limits, will their history put up walls between them or bring them together?

Find Someone Like You online:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | ChristianBook |Goodreads | Koorong

Read the introduction to Someone Like You below:

And click here to find Someone Like You (and other great Christian fiction) in my Amazon store!

 

 

Do you buy and/or read books from debut authors?

Bookish Question | Week 107 | Do you buy and/or read books from debut authors?

Yes—both.

I get a lot of books from debut authors from NetGalley. I’ve now been reviewing for several years, so some of these once-debut authors are now established writers who’ve been added to my must-read list—authors like Kara Isaac, Melissa Tagg, and Becky Wade.

I have also reviewed books for many debut indie (self-published) authors.

Some of my favourites are:

Grace in Strange Disguise by Christine Dillon
The Escape to the West series by Nerys Leigh
The Criss Cross series by CC Warrens
The Land Uncharted series by Keeley Brooke Keith

Here are some debut novels I’ve read this year that I recommend:

The White City by Grace Hitchcock
The Baggage Handler by David Rawlings
Northern Deception by Laurie Wood
Whose Waves are These by Amanda Dykes
Love and Other Mistakes by Jessica Kate

What about you? Do you buy or read books from debut authors?

What titles do you recommend?

It was said a wolverine could never be tamed. I suspected this was also the case for the Bolsheviks.

Book Review | Romanov by Nadine Brandes

It’s 2019, which means it’s over a hundred years since the Russian revolution overturned the Romanov dynasty, and the rumours about Anastasia have yet to die. In Romanov, Nadine Brandes has melded the facts with the rumours, added a fantastical element of spellmasters and magic potions, and created a brilliant novel in the style of Fawkes (but different).

Anyone who knows the Romanov story will know the basics of the plot of Romanov.

But I’m not going to spoil any of the details for those who don’t. I suspect readers who know the story will find it easier to get into Romanov, but the background knowledge isn’t necessary.

Romanov is the story of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna.

At sixteen, Anastasia is the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas of Russia. But Nicholas is no longer Tsar, and Nastya is no longer a princess. All she and her family want is the opportunity to live their lives as normal Russian citizens in a village somewhere. And Nastya wants to learn the secrets of spells, so she can care for and perhaps even heal Alexei, her younger brother.

The story brings out Nastya’s intelligence, determination, and devotion—both to her family, and to the Russian people. Brandes does a convincing job of showing her as a resourceful young woman who, despite her privileged upbringing, genuinely cares for the people and wants the best for them. But, like the rest of her family, she does not believe the Bolsheviks and the new Soviet government will bring that best.

Imprisonment brings out the best in Nastya and the rest of her family, and many of the guards are loyal to the family while still supporting the Bolshevik cause.

Yes, there is a fantasy element to Romanov—this is a world with magic.

However, the family pray to Iisus (Jesus), and are of strong faith. So while Romanov isn’t an overtly Christian novel, it has definite Christian themes. I enjoyed Romanov even more than I enjoyed Fawkes, and I look forward to seeing what historical characters Nadine Brandes next chooses to feature … and what fantastical twist she will put on them.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Nadine Brandes

Find Romanov online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

Click here to find Romanov and other great Christian fiction in my Amazon store.