Tag: Book Recommendation

As for her safety, God already knew when the end of her days would be.

Book Recommendation | Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Where We Belong starts in 1890, in the Sinai Desert, with forty-five year-old Rebecca Hawes traveling to St Catherine’s Monastery to search for ancient copies of the Bible. It’s a start that hooked me immediately, both because of the historical setting, and because of the age of the heroine—it’s refreshing to read a novel where the heroine is out of her twenties.

I was also intrigued because I could relate to Rebecca’s thoughts about the desolate nature of the Sinai between Cairo and St Catherines. Her journey took seven days by camel. In comparison, mine took seven hours by minibus, but that was quite long enough to feel for the stubborn Israelites, condemned to spend forty years in the heat and dust.

It's one thing to learn a language and another thing to understand the people who speak it.But then Where We Belong left the Sinai in 1890, and travelled back to 1860 Chicago—and I wasn’t impressed. It was still Rebecca’s story, but now Rebecca was a pampered teenager in the days before the Civil War (which I knew was coming, even though she didn’t). Fortunately, it soon became apparent that Rebecca was no ordinary Victorian-era teenager, and nor was her sister, Flora.

The novel followed Rebecca and Flora from their teenage years in Chicago through to showing why they are travelling to the Sinai in 1890 with only a couple of young servants for protection. The most fascinating thing is that Rebecca and Flora are based on real-life adventurers, Agnes and Margaret Smith, born in Scotland in 1843.

This explains one of the strengths of the novel—the feeling of historical authenticity that can only be gained by extensive research (and then leaving out most of the detail of that research). The other strength was related, and that was the Christian element. Rebecca and Flora (like the real-life Agnes and Margaret) were women of deep faith. They were intelligent women who had the strength of character to choose to follow God, not society, and who had endless compassion for the poor.

Lynn Austin has yet to write a novel I haven’t enjoyed, but I do think this is her best yet. Recommended for Christian historical fiction fans, especially those who enjoy authors such as Elizabeth Camden and Jody Hedlund.

I’m a history fan, and I loved it from the first line to the last. (I don’t think I stopped in between). Even better, a recent article from the Smithsonian shows new manuscripts are still being discovered at St Catherine’s:

Lost Languages Discovered in One of the World’s Oldest Continuously Run Libraries

Isn’t that cool?

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

About Lynn Austin

Lynn AustinFor many years, Lynn Austin nurtured a desire to write but frequent travels and the demands of her growing family postponed her career. When her husband’s work took Lynn to Bogota, Colombia, for two years, she used the B.A. she’d earned at Southern Connecticut State University to become a teacher. After returning to the U.S., the Austins moved to Anderson, Indiana, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and later to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

It was during the long Canadian winters at home with her children that Lynn made progress on her dream to write, carving out a few hours of writing time each day while her children napped. Lynn credits her early experience of learning to write amid the chaos of family life for her ability to be a productive writer while making sure her family remains her top priority.

Along with reading, two of Lynn’s lifelong passions are history and archaeology. She and her son traveled to Israel during the summer of 1989 to take part in an archaeological dig at the ancient city of Timnah. Lynn resigned from teaching to write full-time in 1992. Since then she has published 24 novels.

Find Lynn Austin online at:

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About Where We Belong

The Adventure of a Lifetime for Two Indomitable Socialite Sisters
In the city of Chicago in 1892, the rules for Victorian women are strict, their roles limited. But sisters Rebecca and Flora Hawes are not typical Victorian ladies. Their love of adventure and their desire to use their God-given talents has brought them to the Sinai Desert–and into a sandstorm.
Accompanied by Soren Petersen, their somber young butler, and Kate Rafferty, a street urchin who is learning to be their ladies’ maid, the two women are on a quest to find an important biblical manuscript. As the journey becomes more dangerous and uncertain, the four travelers sift through memories of their past, recalling the events that shaped them and the circumstances that brought them to this time and place.

Click below to find Where We Belong online:

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Book Recommendation | Magnolia Storms by Janet W Ferguson

Magnolia Marovich is a meteorologist who lost her father, a river bar pilot, in Hurricane Katrina. Now another hurricane is bearing down on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts, and she receives a phone call that calls her home—her sister is in hospital, and Maggie is needed to take care of Cammie’s daughter, and their elderly aunt.

Josh Bergeron has followed in the footsteps of his teenage idol, Mr Marovich, and become a ship’s pilot—a decision that cost him his relationship with Maggie. But now they are brought back together when she returns to her childhood home in Ocean Springs … next door to where he lives with his son.

I loved Magnolia Storms.

I think I read it all in one sitting (or I would have if my family hadn’t tried to talk to me). Magnolia was an excellent character—an intelligent and competent professional woman, but not perfect. A long way from perfect. But someone I could like and relate to and want to spend time with.

Josh (great hero name, by the way) was an equally strong character. He’s a boat pilot, and it was great (if scary) to see him in action in his work. He was also an excellent father—a testament to his relationship with Mr Marovich, because his own father was nothing like that.

The writing was excellent, and I especially liked the humour, and the way both Maggie and JD had a Christian faith that was central to the plot without being overwhelming or preachy. Okay, so maybe the end was a little cheesy, but this is a romance. It’s to be expected. There was also a lot of yummy-sounding Southern food like etouffee and beignets.

Recommended for fans of contemporary Christian romance, with an emphasis on the Christian.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

Have you eaten etouffee? I’d love to try it – do you have a recipe you can recommend?

About Janet W Ferguson

Janet W FergusonJanet W. Ferguson grew up in Mississippi and received a degree in Banking and Finance from the University of Mississippi. She has served her church as a children’s minister and a youth volunteer. An avid reader, she worked as a librarian at a large public high school. Janet and her husband have two grown children, one really smart dog, and a few cats that allow them to share the space.

Click here to read my interview with Janet W Ferguson.

Find Janet W Ferguson online at:

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Find Magnolia Storms online at:

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Book Recommendation | Portrait of Vengeance by Carrie Stuart Parks

About Portrait of Vengeance

 

An unsolved case. A tempest of memories. The future’s at stake—and time is running out . . .

Portrait of Vengeance cover image

Gwen Marcey has done a good job keeping the pain of her past boxed up. But as she investigates the case of a missing child in Lapwai, Idaho, details keep surfacing that are eerily similar to her childhood traumas. She doesn’t believe in coincidences. So what’s going on here?

 

No one knows more about the impact of the past than the Nez Perce people of Lapwai. Gwen finds herself an unwelcome visitor to some, making her investigation even more difficult. The questions keep piling up, but answers are slow in coming—and the clock is ticking for a missing little girl. Meanwhile, Gwen’s ex-husband is threatening to take sole custody of their daughter.

As Gwen’s past and present collide, she’s in a desperate race for the truth. Because only truth will ensure she still has a future.

My Review

A Portrait of Vengeance is the fourth Gwen Marcey novel, following When Death Draws Near, The Bones Will Speak, and A Cry from the Dust. Each novel centres on a crime or series of related crimes, with an underlying thread about Gwen’s relationship with her teenage daughter (not good) and her ex-husband (even less good).

But Portrait of Vengeance was unique in that it gave some of Gwen’s own personal history.

This gave an insight into the person she has become, and showed us what she has overcome–not just the breast cancer and divorce we learned about in the earlier novels, but something of her childhood and upbringing.

As Gwen investigates the disappearance of a native American child from a small town in Idaho, she finds details which are similar to her own childhood memories. Is the person behind this disappearance the same person who destroyed her childhood? And what happens when the memories don’t make sense.

I don’t want to say too much, because it’s impossible without giving away spoilers. If you’ve read the previous Gwen Marcey novels, you’ll want to read this—it’s the best yet in terms of both the characters and the suspense. If you haven’t read any Gwen Marcey novels yet, and you enjoy Christian thrillers from authors such as Colleen Coble, then you’ll want to read this—but you might want to start with When Death Draws Near.

Recommended for those who enjoy fast-paced thrillers with great characters.

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

About Carrie Stuart Parks

Carrie Stuart ParksCarrie Stuart Parks is a Christy finalist as well as a Carol award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Find Carrie Stuart Parks online at:

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You can read the introduction to Portrait of Vengance below:

Quote from Freedom's Ring

Book Recommendation | Freedom’s Ring by Heidi Chiavaroli

For Liberty and Freedom

Freedom’s Ring is a dual-timeline romance set in Boston. The modern story follows Anaya, a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing, which left her afraid to run and suffering guilt over her niece’s injuries. The historical story follows Liberty, a single woman alone in 1770’s Boston, left to raise her son after being raped.

Both women have their traumas to overcome.

Anaya responds by withdrawing—from her family, and from running. Liberty also runs away, but that’s understandable in a time when society had definite opinions about unwed mothers, no matter the circumstances.

What connects the two women is a ring, which Liberty stole from her employer, and which Anaya is given by the stranger who rescues her after the bombing The present story shows Anaya and Brad meeting and seeking to find the story behind the ring—Liberty’s story.

It’s an engaging and intriguing timeslip story.

Freedom’s Ring the difficult task of making each timeline as compelling as the other. Recommended for fans of dual timeline novels, especially those with a patriotic American feel.

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

About Heidi Chiavaroli

Heidi ChiavaroliHeidi Chiavaroli is a writer, runner, and grace-clinger who could spend hours exploring Boston’s Freedom Trail. She writes Women’s Fiction and won the 2014 ACFW Genesis contest in the historical category. She makes her home in Massachusetts with her husband, two sons, and Howie, her standard poodle.

Find Heidi Chiavaroli online at:

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Click below to buy Freedom’s Ring:

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You can read the introduction to Freedom’s Ring below:

Book Recommendation: Chasing the Wind by Pamela Binnings Ewen

Chasing the Wind … an exercise in futility?

Amalise Catoir is a second-year associate with the firm of Mangen & Morris in New Orleans in 1977. She has just returned to work after several months recovering from an accident that left her a widow. Amalise is assigned to Project Black Diamond, working for property magnate Bingham Murdoch to develop a new hotel in the city. She has also realised she is in love with Jude, her best friend since childhood, but thinks he is falling for her Rebecca, her co-worker.

There is a vague feeling that all is not as it seems, particularly regarding Bingham, the man behind the deal to build a hotel and casino on a piece of prime New Orleans real estate. Interspersed with the main plot were a series of flashbacks to 1975 Cambodia, chilling scenes with a woman named Samantha Barlow rescuing a small boy and trying to escape Phnom Penh before the Khymer Rouge arrive.

The story is told from several different points of view. The style seems remote at times, but it works. Chasing the Wind is very well-written, with characters that drew me in, and a tightly-woven suspenseful plot with some very interesting twists (one I saw coming, one I did not). This is one of those books that I think would be worth re-reading, as that way you could catch the nuances and clues to the ending.

My one complaint is that between the lawyers, bankers and property tycoons, there were too many male characters with middle class names, and I found it difficult to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, the major characters have memorable names, so it didn’t matter that the others all blurred into one.

Chasing the Wind is an interesting insight into women in the professions (and working in general) in the 1970’s. Smoking in the conference room, long lawyer lunches, asking the woman to fetch coffee and donuts, a reference to a single mainframe computer, and research in libraries and on microfiche readers. Other scenes have the secretary clacking away on her typewriter and sending documents down to the typing pool. It reminded me how much working life has changed in a  short time with the introduction of computers and the internet. Recommended.

Thanks to B&H Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing a free book for review.
You can find out more about Pamela Binnings Ewen at her website, and you can read the introduction to Chasing the Wind below:

Edited: I have just been browsing on Amazon, and have found that Chasing the Wind is the sequel to Dancing on Glass, which appears to be the story of Amalises’s marriage. It appears that the stories are quite different: while this is  a romance within a legal thriller, the first book seems to be a story of a disintegrating relationship. Knowing there is an earlier book makes some of the oblique references to the past more understandable, but Chasing the Wind can easily be read as a stand-alone story.

Review: The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have received 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 The Pounamu Prophecy, the debut novel from New Zealand author Cindy Williams. It’s a sensitive and compelling look at part of New Zealand history.

Cover image - The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams

A Compelling Debut

James and Helene are both too busy chasing their respective careers (as graphic designer and doctor, respectively) to have time for each other, and after five years, the spark has gone out of their marriage. Mere comes to stay, looking for a quiet place where she can write her memoir without interruption. Helene especially values Mere’s quiet advice, shared from a place of having come to terms with knowledge, suffering and forgiveness.

The Pounamu Prophecy is a split timeline story.

In the present, it’s the story of Brisbane couple James and Helene, their disintegrating marriage. And it’s the story of Mere, their visitor from New Zealand visitor, and the way Mere subtly encourages them to think with a different mindset. In the past, it’s Mere’s story, the story of a Ngati Whatua child growing up in Okahu Bay, Auckland, in the midst of the Maori land protests. It’s also the story of Mere working through her reactions to the age-old grievances.

I live in New Zealand.

I remember the Bastion Point protests. I was only a child and too young to understand what they were about—or how far back the grievances went. I’ve driven past Okahu Bay more times than I can remember. I’ve visited Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World (now Kelly Tarlton’s SeaLife Aquarium), which is built in the old sewage tanks mentioned in The Pounamu Prophecy.

I enjoyed that combination of familiarity and new information, and I thought The Pounamu Prophecy was an outstanding novel. I liked the characters (well, I liked Mere better than Helene or James, who both needed a good talking to). I liked the way the two stories were integrated.

I especially liked the sensitive way the novel brings out the Maori culture and the injustices of the time—a combination of greed and perhaps patriarchal thinking. The injustice is plain. It seems the New Zealand Government of the time had a lot in common with the biblical Laban.

Overall, The Pounamu Prophecy is an excellent story of rising above difficult situations, and learning to forgive what some might think can’t be forgiven.

Recommended.

You can read the introduction to The Pounamu Prophecy here:

Review: Mistaken by Karen Barnett

If you’ve signed up for my monthly Newsletter, you’ll already have received 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 Mistaken by Karen Barnett, an original historical romance with echoes of Pride and Prejudice.

Excellent Debut Novel

Cover image: Mistaken by Karen Barnett
Laurie’s brother is involved in a local gang running illegal booze from Canada during Prohibition, and the new man in town, Daniel Shepherd is involved as well. Laurie hates the business the effect alcohol has had on her family, and she hates the fact that all the men in her life seem to be controlled by alcohol.

Yet she finds herself attracted to Daniel.

Things get complicated when another new face arrives in town: Samuel Brown. Brown is a handsome federal agent working to eliminate the illegal trade in alcohol, and he’s also interested in Laurie. Although her head says Samuel is the better choice, her feelings are conflicted, not least because of her brother’s involvement in rum-running.

We get a hint of one of the main plot conflicts in Mistaken’s subtitle:

First Impressions Are Never What They Seem.

Literary buffs may recall that the original title of Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions, and there is something of the Lizzie Bennett in Laurie Burke (not merely the initials). Like Lizzie Bennett, Laurie is embarrassed by her family: in her case, by her alcoholic father. Her initial impressions of people are incorrect, and she makes other errors of character judgement in the same way as Lizzie did. I’ll let you figure out the other similarities yourself.

Mistaken is Karen Barnett’s debut novel, and it’s excellent.

I find that a lot of Christian fiction, especially historical fiction, starts to get repetitive in the themes, plots, characters and settings. Mistaken is set in a small coastal town about twenty miles south of the Canadian border. It’s set during the Prohibition era, so alcohol plays a major role in the story. It’s an original time setting, and an original plot, and I liked that.

And the author doesn’t shy away from the problems alcohol causes and the effect it has on family members. Her writing is more challenging than most Christian fiction, as Laurie has to negotiate some difficult moral choices with no black and white answers. The characters are real, facing problems in a world where the right thing to do isn’t the easy thing to do. And while this is Christian fiction and Laurie’s faith ultimately helps her in finding the answer to her conundrum, the Christian aspect is very understated.

Recommended.

Thanks to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Karen Barnett at her website, and you can read the introduction to Mistaken below:

Review: Illusion by Frank Peretti

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 Illusion by Frank Peretti, who practically invented the modern Christian speculative fiction genre with This Present Darkness.

Illusion

Mandy’s death in a car accident means the end of her forty-year career in magic.

Or does it? Because Mandy is not dead. She’s nineteen again, but nineteen in 2010, not the 1970 she remembers. Mandy struggles to adjust to modern life, trying to practice her father’s advice: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. Meanwhile, husband Dane is struggling to adjust to life without his wife … until one day he sees a young magician who reminds him of a young version of Mandy.

As is typical of a Peretti novel, nothing is what it seems. Characters that appeared harmless at first then appear to have some ulterior motive. There is Mandy’s new manager, who helps her get a valid social security number. There is also the mysterious Mr Stone and Mr Mortimer, who appear at Mandy’s funeral, then follow Dane to his new home in northern Idaho to spy on him.

And underneath, there is the mystery of how a dead woman has suddenly appeared again, forty years younger. It’s like there is more than one Mandy, but she is real because she eats and sleeps and talks. And other people talk to her, so it’s not like she’s a ghost – just a teenager in 2010 who only knows the sixties songs and slang.

I try not to read other people’s reviews before I read a book for review, because I don’t want to be influenced by someone else’s ideas. But I did happen to glimpse a couple of reviews before starting to read Illusion, and one commented that they found the beginning of the book confusing.

Well, yes, it was. But I think that was the intention.

Just imagine it. One moment you’re nineteen and enjoying the County Fair with your friends. You sit down to eat lunch, and the next thing you know, the Fair has vanished, everything that is familiar is gone, and people are talking into small plastic boxes and telling you it is 2010 when you know it is 1970. What’s not to be confused about?

So, yes, Illusion was confusing.

It was also engaging and intriguing and I wavered between trying to work out who was who and exactly what was happening, and just wanting to read more and read faster so I could find out for myself. And weird things keep happening. Illusionis not a spiritual warfare novel like Peretti’s early Darkness novels, but it is a fast-paced thriller with a touch of science fiction, albeit from a Christian point of view. I was reading at night and found it hard to keep my eyes open, but even harder to stop reading. Recommended.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

Review: Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon

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 Nine Days in May by Ninie Hammon. I also interviewed Ninie, and you can read our conversation here.

Five Days in May

Five Days in May starts with the end: the “Big Ugly”, a massive tornado that strikes the town of Graham, Oklahoma, in May 1963. It then goes back five days to show in detail the lives of the townspeople—who know nothing. The reader knows what’s coming, but the characters are tied up in their everyday lives. There is no warning of the coming disaster.

There are four main characters.

Princess (Emily Prentice) is due to be executed in five days for murdering her baby sister. Mac, the widowed preacher has lost his faith in God. Jonas, Mac’s father-in-law, is caring for a wife with “old-timers” disease. Joy, Mac’s teenage daughter, has her own set of problems. There are also some fascinating yet disturbing minor characters, including Wanda and Jackson.

The characters are excellent. Princess has a distinct and engaging voice, and who “sees” things in a way that’s a cross between the movies Green Mile and Being John Malkovich. Joy is a typical teenager, so tied up in her own problems that she can’t see the wood for the trees. Mac is the typical father of a teenage daughter, in that he can’t relate to her and can barely hold a conversation with her. (I could relate—their relationship had a lot of similarities to the relationship between my husband and my daughter.)

The plot was complex, a tangled web of relationships. While I did guess one of the major plot points before it was revealed, that only added to the tension. Was I right? What would the characters think and say when they found out? I was right, but the reaction of one character in particular surprised me. Another behaved exactly true to character … but justice was served in the end, albeit not in the tidy way I perhaps expected.

There are ‘rules’ of writing.

These rules say authors should limit the number of viewpoint characters, and shouldn’t use omniscient point of view. Hammon ‘broke’ both rules in Five Days in May, yet in such a way that it didn’t detract from the story. Rather, it added to the tension (especially given how unhinged some of these characters were …)

While Five Days in May isn’t specifically Christian fiction, there are strong Christian themes of love and sacrifice. These themes underpin a story that is, quite simply, brilliant in both concept and execution. Recommended.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Ninie Hammon at her website, or check out our interview. And here’s the book trailer:

And you can read the beginning below:

What Are You Reading?

What were you reading in March?

What Christian fiction have you been reading over the last month? And what are you planning to read in April? Here are my recommended reads from March, and what I’ll be reading in April.

Reading March 2016

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

Step by Step by Candace Calvert (click here to read my review at Suspense Sisters Reviews)
The Hearts we Mend by Kathryn Springer (click here to read my review)
The Pounamu Prophecy by Cindy Williams (click here to read my review)
Hidden by Vannetta Chapman (click here to read my review at Reality Calling)

I’m looking forward to my April reads: I’ve got Close to You, the debut novel from Kiwi author Kara Isaac (great to see something set in my part of the world!), as well as some mysteries and a family drama, Breaking Free by Jennifer Slattery.

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