Tag: iola’s christian reads

Book Review: The Thirteenth Chance by Amy Matayo

Another great novel from my new favourite publisher

Amazon Description

Baseball star Will Vandergriff knows any number of women who would happily pretend to be his girlfriend. In a last-ditch effort to restore his good standing with his team’s higher-ups, he enlists the help of his neurotic, goody-goody neighbor. Schoolteacher Olivia Pratt might be a bit quirky and a bit of a loner, but she’s a lot more inviting than she knows. Will hopes that bringing her to his next game might revamp his reckless reputation and help get his career back on track. The only problem? The plan works a little too well. Not only do the higher-ups love Olivia, but Will plays his best game yet. Suddenly his losing streak is a thing of the past, and Olivia is his new good-luck charm. Will feels anything but lucky.

After years of keeping the world at bay, Olivia Pratt is pulling off the ultimate performance—not only reluctantly posing as Will’s girlfriend but also insisting that she’s oblivious to his major-league appeal. But she can only lie to herself for so long. Being by Will’s side feels good. Really good. Maybe it’s finally time to make a pitch for everything she really wants—and to find out just how exhilarating love can be.

My Review

The Thirteenth Chance is written in first person, from the points of view of Will and Olivia. That’s an interesting choice—most books I read are in third person point of view, and a lot of readers prefer that. Also, few authors can pull off alternative first person viewpoints (the worst have both characters sounding exactly the same).

But Amy Matayo can and does, and I liked it. Using first person gave an insight into both Olivia and Will’s personalities. Olivia has issues. Big issues. She grew up feeling second-best, because her brother was an up-and-coming baseball star, and everything the family did came behind his sport commitments. But something happened, she no longer speaks to her brother, her father abandoned them, and she has an everlasting hatred of baseball and everything associated with it. Which doesn’t bode well for her relationship with Will, her new next-door neighbour.

Will has issues as well, although his are perhaps a little more predictable. He’s a lad, who keeps getting media attention for the wrong (female) reasons, who isn’t playing well, and who needs to clean up his game (in more ways than one). Enter Olivia, the perfect temporary girlfriend …

Several people have recommended Amy Matayo to me.

They were all right. Her writing is excellent—she’s funny and clever and all those things I like in contemporary fiction. Her characters are real people with real problems, who grow and change as the novel progresses. The story was engaging and moved along at a good pace with no slow patches. Overall, it was close to perfect.

In fact, the only thing missing for me was the Christian aspect.

Although The Thirteenth Chance is published by Waterfall Press, Amazon’s Christian imprint, there was no faith aspect to the novel at all. This isn’t necessarily a weakness, but if you’re looking for fiction with a Christian thread or theme, then The Thirteenth Chance isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a fun contemporary romance with no sex or bad language, give this a chance.

Recommended for fans of authors like Christa Allen, Sally Bradley, Tammy L Gray and Tammy L Gray.

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

Review: Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M White

Have you signed up for my Newsletter? If so, you’ll already have received my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If not, sign up on the right! Today I’m reviewing Ring of Secrets by Roseanna M White, one of my favourite historical romance novelists.

Introducing The Culper Ring …

Book CoverWinter Reeves’ pretty smile and vacant expression belie her intelligence. She’s a spy for the Culper Ring, collecting information in 1779 New York, a British stronghold. She must hide her true allegiance from everyone except Robbie Townsend, her childhood friend, and Freeman, a loyal family servant who is treated no better than a slave by her Loyalist grandparents.

Bennet Lane is a Yale professor sent to New York to try and find the source of the intelligence leaks. He meets Winter and is attracted to her—he believes that she is more than she appears. He also recognises that a courtship with the beauty will give him a reason for being in the company of New York’s elite, which should aid his quest.

Ring of Secrets is told in the third person from the viewpoints of Winter and Bennet, with occasional scenes from more minor characters (actually, I thought these were probably unnecessary). Winter and Bennet are both well-rounded and likeable characters. It is said that any character with an interesting secret has a good chance of coming alive, and this can certainly be said of both Winter and Robbie (her contact in the spy ring). There is also the added complication of Colonel Fairchild. Winter has cultivated a relationship with Fairchild in order to gain intelligence, but he wants a more permanent relationship.

Overall, I thought the romance was well-developed and the story excellent. I did find some of Winter’s prayers a bit long-winded (even for Christian fiction), and there were a couple of too-convenient coincidences towards the end.

I really enjoy historical fiction that is based on history, as Ring of Secrets is.

Even I, as a non-American, recognised some of the historical figures. A note at the end of the book enlightened me more about the founders of The Culper Ring, an organisation which may still exist—a rumour the CIA will neither confirm nor deny. Recommended.

Thanks to Harvest House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can read the introduction to Ring of Secrets below:

Book Recommendation: The Heir by Lynne Stringer

Have you signed up for my Newsletter? If so, you’ll already have received my entirely biased list of 50 novels from my favourite Christian authors. If not, sign up on the right!

Today I’m reviewing The Heir, the debut novel from Australian author Lynne Stringer. The Heir is the first in her Verindon science fiction trilogy for young adults (and older adults). The must-read sequels are The Crown and The Regin.

The Heir by Lynne Stringer

Sarah is a normal American teenager.

Well, mostly normal.

She goes to a fancy private school where all the other kids are rich, her dad is an inventor who never quite seems to get it right, she’s being stalked at school by a creepy boy, and her English teacher is always picking her for class debates even though she hates them. Apart from that, she’s just a normal kid. She loves art, tries to survive high school and has a secret crush on Dan, her best friend’s kind-of boyfriend.

But things are not what they seem. When tragedy strikes and Sarah’s life changes overnight, things start to get even stranger. Melting tables, windows that don’t open, eyes in the bushes …

The story started slowly but there was a growing sense of foreboding and rising suspense. I soon realised this wasn’t the predictable Young Adult coming-of-age kind of story it started out as (but I’m not going to spoil the surprise by saying too much). Strange things started to happen and there were a few left-field comments from Sarah’s friends that made me think I was missing something. I was. So was Sarah. And when we got the big reveal it was both a huge surprise and not, because it answered all those niggles.

The Heir is told entirely in the first person, from Sarah’s point of view (which I know some readers don’t like). But she’s a strong character who can carry the story without being so perfect as to be annoying. She’s a realistic teen, with strong likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, a secret crush, and a secret history even she doesn’t know about…

I really enjoyed The Heir.

The Heir was well-plotted with good foreshadowing (but without making it obvious) and good characters. The ending was satisfying in the way it completed the current story, but left me wanting more.

An excellent debut novel. Recommended for those who like authors such as Kathy Tyers, or those who enjoy YA dystopian or science fiction.

Thanks to Wombat Books for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Lynne Stringer at her website, or in this interview, and you can read the introduction to The Heir below:

What did you read in June 2016?


I’m a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for unpublished writers, in the Novella category. I can’t tell you anything about the story, not even the title, until the results are announced at the end of August. I can tell you it won’t be published any time soon (sorry!).

There’s a simple reason why not.

As I was writing, I realised two of the minor characters needed to have their story told. So I started writing that story . . . only to find that the story I’ve finished is actually the third in the series. Or maybe the fourth.

Whoops. So now I’m working on books one and two.

Favourite Reads June 2016

And I’ve been reading . . .

I offered to judge the 2016 CALEB Award for fiction. The CALEB Award is run by Omega Writers, and celebrates the best in Christian fiction from Australian and New Zealand authors. I had to read the first 50 pages of 22 novels, some of which I’d read before (or edited via Christian Editing Services). But many were new to me, and have added an unnecessary number of books to a to-read pile that never seems to get any smaller.

The best novels I read in June 2016 were:

Medical Judgement by Dr Richard Mabry (click here to read my review.)

The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky (click here to read my review.)

From this Moment by Elizabeth Camden (click here to read my review.)

An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter (click here to read my review.)

Have you read any of these novels? If so, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.

All this judging means I’m behind on my personal reading, so I’ve got lots of books stacked up to read in July. What are you planning to read in July? Leave a comment—let’s swap ideas!


Book Review: Feast for Thieves by Marcus Brotherton

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 Feast for Thieves, the debut novel from author Marcus Brotherton. It’s historical fiction with a definite masculine tone—a departure from my romance recommendations—but it’s got an excellent plot, and the writing is fabulous.

This review first appeared at Australasian Christian Writers.

I was asked to review Feast for Thieves months ago, and for some reason never got around to reading it. I was reminded of it again when I saw it was a finalist for the 2015 Christy Awards in the First Novel category, so thought I’d better open it up and see what I was missing.

I was hooked from the first page. And I don’t say that often.

Feast for Thieves begins with Crazy Ake and Rowdy Slater robbing the bank in the small town of Cut Eye, Texas, in the spring of 1946. It’s written in the first person, from Rowdy’s point of view, and right from that first line two things are evident. Marcus Brotherton can write. And Rowdy Slater isn’t your typical Christian fiction hero. After a near escape from death by drowning, Rowdy sees a vision …

Now, I’ve read other books with fantastic opening hooks which simply fizzled out after that one fast-paced and original scene. But Feast for Thieves just kept going. Rowdy decides to return the money, which causes the Sheriff of Cut Eye a few problems. Sure, it’s good that he solves the crime, but the expense of a trial is sure going to put a dent in the county budget, and his chances of re-election. And he’s got another problem: the town needs a preacher. So the Sheriff delivers Rowdy an ultimatum: spend a year as Cut Eye’s minister, or go to jail.

Rowdy knows nothing about God, preaching or running a church, but he knows enough about jail not to want to go back there. Besides, he’s got other problems, and he’s going to need a paying job to fix them. It’s an excellent plot, with lots of twists, yet all making perfect sense, and tied together with a cast of true characters.

Rowdy is an especially fascinating character. He’s a likable rogue, with a little too much rogue to make a good minister. But he has his own unique way of dealing with problems—serving in the Army during some of the toughest battles means he probably knows more about human nature than many preachers.

But what really made Feast for Thieves stand out from the opening line was the voice. Rowdy isn’t an educated man, and his language is earthy (but stops short of being vulgar). What makes him unique is his vocabulary and way of speaking—I could hear every word in that Texan accent, yet there wasn’t a single misspelled word to indicate accent.

There was an Author’s Note at the end in which Brotherton explained how he developed Rowdy’s voice, and it took extensive research and a deep knowledge of the time and place. It took a lot of effort to make Rowdy’s voice seem this easy and this authentic. Writers, if you are ever looking for a way of expressing dialect without apostrophes and misspellings, read Feast for Thieves.

Men, if you’ve been bemoaning the fact that too many Christian novels are sappy romances (especially Amish romances!), read Feast for Thieves. While I’m not a betting man (well, I’m not a man at all, not that you could tell based on the spam email I receive), I’d say even your non-Christian friends would enjoy this one.

But it’s not all manly stuff. There is a solid and real Christian message in here, and even whispers) a little romance. I can absolutely see why Feast for Thieves was nominated for a Christy Award. Recommended.

Thanks to River North fiction for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Marcus Brotherton at his website (and make sure to read his article on why men need to read more fiction). You can read the first chapter here:

Book Review: Turnabout’s Fair Play by Kaye Dacus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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