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4 March 2015

Review: After a Fashion by Jen Turano

A New Jen Turano Series!

Miss Harriet Peabody is a ladies’ hatmaker in New York City in 1882. An out-of-the-ordinary request from her employer to deliver some hats to an important customer sparks a chain of events which finds Harriet as the hired companion of Mr Oliver Addleshaw, one of the wealthiest gentlemen in America. Harriet had asked God for “something wonderful” for her birthday, but surely He didn’t mean this? Sure, Mr Addleshaw is attractive, but he has some questionable views and associates with some inappropriate people.

Oddly enough, Oliver Addleshaw has the same complaints about Harriet: she is impulsive, knows all the wrong people, and has some quite inappropriate skills. But he needs a lady to act as companion when he meets with the Duke of Westmoore in regard to a business deal, and the previous candidate simply won’t do. Harriet is his only option.

I’m a big fan of Jen Turano’s writing. Her characters are intelligent, quirky, and funny, yet it never seems as though that’s the effect she’s trying to achieve (I recently attempted to read a title where I suspect the author was trying to be funny, but missed the mark and hit cringe-worthy instead. At least I hope she was trying to be funny. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate).

Jen Turano manages to infuse her writing with amusing quips (such as describing one character as having an “overabundance of personality”) without being cringey. And the over-the-top ridiculous situations her characters routinely get themselves into are well-paced comedy, not slapstick. After a Fashion is the first book in a new series, and is recommended for fans of Carol Cox and Karen Witemeyer.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jen Turano at her website.

This book is part of my 2015 Reading Challenge, as a book by an author I love that I haven't read yet (well, I have now!). 

2 March 2015

Review: Uncharted Redemption by Keely Brooke Keith

Solid Sequel

Uncharted Redemption is the second book in the Uncharted series, and takes us back to the Land, an island that is mysteriously hidden from radar and other navigation equipment, a land that has remained unknown except for one accidental intruder—Connor Bradshaw—and his wingman, Justin Mercer, who caught a glimpse of the island and is desperate to return. However, that’s the ongoing subplot.

The main plot of Uncharted Redemption follows the Colburn and Foster families as they solve the mystery of the missing lambs, a mystery that soon solves itself and leaves them with bigger problems—problems which relate back to the events in The Land Uncharted (yes, this is a series and I recommend you read it in order). I don’t want to say too much more for fear of giving spoilers.

The crux of Uncharted Redemption focuses on Levi Colburn, who is breaking with Land tradition by working as a carpenter rather than following in his father’s footsteps, partly because he blames his father for their mother’s murder many years ago. He is in love with Mandy Foster, who spurned his offer of courtship for her own reasons. Both need redemption in their own ways, but it doesn’t come easily.

While I enjoyed Uncharted Redemption just as much as the first book in the series (The Land Uncharted), I found the writing a little more stilted, a little less easy to read. This was mostly with the dialogue, and I suspect the stilted feel came because the inhabitants of the Land didn’t use enough contractions. Yes, I understand they have been isolated from the world for seven generations, but the English language has been using contractions in conversation since before then.

However, I will still be pleased to read the next book in the series, to find out what happens when Justin Mercer finds the island … assuming he does.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Keely Brooke Keith at her website.

27 February 2015

Friday Fifteen: Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr.

Friday Fifteen: Fifteen books which have influenced your life or your writing. Today, a warm welcome to Father Nicolas A Marziani, Jr, an author from St Augustine, Florida.

Some of these titles are “dated but enduring” in age and character, and not all are specifically “Christian”, although they bear upon the art and science of writing a Christian novel, or at least touch upon themes that speak to me as a newbie writer of Christian fiction. 

I leave it to the reader to decide if and how these works might benefit their own writing of the same. 

I am a sixty-something male cleric, and something of an academic, so my job of limiting titles to fifteen has been difficult for reasons likely different than others with the same task. Still, I plunge ahead with the hope that curiosity will prompt further investigation of at least a few of what follows.

1, 2, and 3. Morris West and Colleen McCullough

First, the works of Aussies that really captured my imagination. Morris West no longer seems to be in vogue these days, but two of his many books were formative for me – The Shoes of the Fisherman (1963) and The Clowns of God (1981). West never lived to see the dawn of the 21st century, and I often wish he was still around to hold forth a vision of a church that can only be effective to the extent that its less than worldly-wise, scheming members seek to serve rather than be served. The ultimate in “holy foolery.”

Of a similar streak but clearly a romantic, recently deceased Colleen McCullough’s classic (and highly regarded television mini-series), The Thorn Birds, presents us with an ambitious cleric who in the end is redeemed only by the love of a woman who endures much in order to do so. Meggie may also be something of a “schemer”, but her deception has salvific value for Ralph. The enduring spiritual, as well as sometime physical, bond they share makes this a unique and compelling read.

4 and 5. W Somerset Maugham and George MacDonald

More redemption through relationships of desire. W. Somerset Maugham’s classic, Of Human Bondage, has us considering how depth experiences between men and women, however tortured, can potentially ignite higher instincts.

Then there is George MacDonald’s “mythopoeic” (C.S. Lewis’s words) Lilith (subtitled “A Romance”), which requires us to wrestle with ageless themes of human sexuality in the context of the overall human call to full personhood.

6 and 7. Dostoevsky and Steve Berry 

The Russian streak in me was stoked by the Dostoevsky tome, The Brothers Karamazov, which, while a daunting and even intimidating read, also utilizes the backdrop of desire to highlight that which is both noble and sordid in the human enterprise.

In a different vein, philosophically and romantically speaking, but still quite focused on all things Russian and certainly more accessible to the modern reader, Steve Berry’s second novel, The Romanov Prophecy, thrusts us into a world of czars and Faberge eggs amidst bullets flying in this swirling fast-paced international thriller. I’m not a thriller fan, actually, but Berry is a local author here in St. Augustine who held a one-day workshop a few years ago that I found very helpful as a nascent novelist.

8. Sarah Coakley

Considering the theme of human sexuality in a more academic fashion and grounding it more specifically in spiritual realities, feminist theologian Sarah Coakley’s God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ presents a vision of how and why human desire and deeply contemplative prayer share a profound common connection.

This notion is very important to me, personally and as the author of my new book. Is romantic love merely an evolutionary ploy, a cosmically inconsequential exercise in tingly experiences, or is it reflective of a fundamental aspect of Divinity itself? Being necessarily a theologian as well as a newbie writer of a book containing strong romantic themes, I had to make sure my story was anchored in solid spiritual soil.

9. Timothy Ware

Speaking of things spiritual, as a Western, Latin-Rite priest I needed a better understanding of how Holy Orthodoxy could work in my book. Timothy Ware’s classic, The Orthodox Church, filled part of the gap in my knowledge base on the central subject of Eastern Christianity.

10, 11, and 12. Sylvia Nasar, Chaim Potok and Dean Koontz

My male co-protagonist is something of a strange, exotic bird, so I found encouragement to explore the theme of a highly gifted, even eccentric, young character in Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind (1998), and Chaim Potok’s The Chosen (1967), both of which eventually made it to the cinemas.

There are those who argue that ultra-talented characters are somehow less than “real” and difficult to relate to by the average reader, but unless the character in question is a “Superman” or “Superwoman”, the argument fails, in my opinion. These books show us extraordinary people who nevertheless have deep wounds, almost as a quid pro quo for their giftedness.

And then there’s a new book, which I will admit I have not actually read yet but will do so shortly, Dean Koontz’s Saint Odd (sounded too much like part of the title of my own new book to pass up!). Dreams and visions and destiny are the promised mix of this concluding work to Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, again laying to rest the notion that the public doesn’t want to read about characters whose unusual powers and contexts make them somehow less than connected and therefore attractive to the “real lives” of rank and file potential readers.

13. GK Chesterton

I have always found just about everything written by Gilbert Keith Chesterton to be of inestimable value. This prolific storyteller, philosopher and social commentator of the early twentieth century still insightfully speaks to me today of divine foolishness and human pretensions to a wisdom that is ever less compelling than that “foolishness” that comes from God. In Defense of Sanity, in particular, is a wonderful collection of Chesterton’s essays that present a Christian worldview to a culture and society in serious need of intellectual and moral repair.

14. Steven Pressfield

A nifty little title that really helped me get down to the serious business of finishing my book when distraction constantly dogged my heels is Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art (2002). We meet the creativity-killing devil incarnate, Resistance, and discover to our horror – and potential remedy – that it lives within us all, but is ultimately subject to our diligent warfare against it. It truly kicked some serious writer’s block butt in this old guy, and would strongly recommend it as serious medicine to anyone with a story within screaming to get out of prison!

15. God

And finally, as you might expect from a preacher, The Holy Bible. Not only has this ultimate, best-selling classic provided uber-inspiration and insight for centuries and even millennia of creative endeavor, it has often even provided the very words of the lexicon that informs our writing. Shining throughout is the message that “holy foolery” is our only real hope for salvation. It surely drove everything in me that produced my first attempt at serious fiction.

And so there they are. A rather unusual list of candidates for reader inspection, I know, but I guess as a married Catholic priest I’m not exactly your typical Christian novelist handling strong romantic sub-themes (and I have no illusions I’ll ever be an Andrew Greeley).

Many thanks to Iola Goulton for the opportunity to share from my little treasure trove of inspiration. God bless!

Thank you!

About Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr.

Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr. is a married Roman Catholic priest and pastor, and holds the Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity School of Ministry, Ambridge, PA, and undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering technology and marine studies, respectively. Besides ministerial activity with the Episcopal and Catholic churches he has held positions in higher education administration and as a secondary and college level instructor in science and comparative religion, respectively. He and his wife Joanne have three adult children and six grandchildren, and enjoy travel and study both domestic and abroad.

He has recently published his first novel, Holy Fool, Holy Father. Written as a present day saga, Holy Fool, Holy Father starts with the premise that the Roman Curia may be the only hope for the world to survive after a cataclysmic event. But that success hinges on the participation of the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Holy Women of the world, all led by a modern-day Holy Fool and the woman who gave up all to serve at his side.

Based on what we know, what we’ve been taught to believe, is there really any hope?

Experience a vision of a future in which things that are seemingly at odds are reconciled.

Holy Fool, Holy Father also includes many themes and scientific ideas gained through Marziani’s eclectic, well-rounded background in both religion and engineering. His goal is to lead the conversation and merge the spiritual and scientific through literature.

You can find out more at his website, or connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

25 February 2015

Review: Love at Mistletoe Inn by Cindy Kirk

A Book With Bad Reviews (and here's another one) 

Hope Prentiss is dating conservative banker and future politician Chet Tuttle. She gave up on red-blooded men ten years ago when she eloped with John Burke instead of going to her high school prom—only that didn't last even to the wedding night. She always thought the marriage wasn’t official because they never sent the marriage certificate in … but then she finds the marriage is still legal.

John is back in town, and is pleased to find he’s still married to Hope … until he finds out she's not pleased at all. The plot is kind of Sweet Home Alabama with Christians, only in reverse, as it’s John who left town and comes back to find his lady is dating someone else. But, like the guy in Sweet Home Alabama, he's managed to make something of himself, and learned some valuable lessons in the process:
Success was more than a healthy bank account, more than following your passion; it was putting God and family first.
Love at Mistletoe Inn was a sweet story and a lovely romance, but there was one plot twist that seemed contrived in that it was completely out of character for both Hope and John, and that left me with a somewhat sour taste in my mouth. It just didn't ring true, and because that action drives the whole will-they-stay-married plot it made the whole story seem "off".

The writing was good, and the cover is lovely. I liked Hope, and I liked John (well, mostly). Put it all together and I should have loved Love at Mistletoe Inn. But I didn't. It felt wrong, and while I didn't hate it, I didn't exactly like it either.

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

This book counts towards my 2015 Reading Challenge as a book with bad reviews.

(For those of you who are wondering exactly what I didn’t like, scroll down for the spoiler.)


Okay, so you married your high school sweetheart, but broke up minutes after the celebrant said the magic words. You haven’t seen your “husband” for ten years, and you’ve considered yourself single for that entire time. You’re dating another guy, and it’s a nightmare come true when you find you’re actually still married to the high school sweetheart. You want to get rid of the marriage. So what do you do?

You have sex with the husband.

That’s right. The guy you haven’t seen in ten years. Ten. Whole. Years. You chat, you kiss, and … (thankfully there it fades to black). But really?

I don’t blame John in this (much). He’s still in love with Hope (well, he’s in love with the Hope of ten years ago. Only time will tell if he even likes adult Hope, let alone loves her. I’m not holding my breath).

But Hope wanted to annul the marriage, and then does the one thing which means the marriage can never be annulled in the eyes of the law, let alone the sight of God. How stupid is that?

I wrote this review, then looked at the Amazon reviews. While there are a fair chunk of four- and five-star reviews, it’s the two-star reviews with spoilers who hold all the top spots on the Amazon page, and which are getting all the “helpful” votes. So that’s why I’ve chosen Love at Mistletoe Inn as my Book with Bad Reviews for my 2015 Reading Challenge.

23 February 2015

Review: Betting on Hope by Debra Clopton

A Bet and a Romance

Advice columnist Maggie Hope isn’t looking forward to filling in for her friend by conducting an on-camera interview with handsome Tru Monahan, Quarter Horse rider and trainer. What she doesn’t expect is to be attracted to him, or to find herself back in Wishing Springs for two months learning to ride for a bet. Nor does Maggie expect to find a pregnant teenager who reminds her of herself …

Betting on Hope is the first book in Debra Clopton’s new Four Hearts Ranch series. The setting, Wishing Springs, Texas, is a small ranching community that seems to have a lot in common with the nearby Mule Hollow (setting of twenty stories). It’s a small friendly community with plenty of single men, and a cast of quirky minor characters, including the identical twins (one of whom is Mayor), and the town busybodies who run the beauty salon. (This was probably the one weakness in Wishing on Hope: there was a little too much time spent establishing these minor characters when I was more interested in reading about Maggie or Jenna).

Yes, the romance between Tru and Maggie was predictable (this is a romance novel: what did you expect), but it was enjoyable nonetheless. What was less predictable was Maggie’s developing relationship with the people of Wishing Springs, especially Jenna.

Overall, Betting on Hope is a fun short romance, perfect for summer days or winter nights. It’s Christian fiction (in that main characters mention God—once each—but it’s not at all preachy, despite having times where it could have been).

Thanks to Love Inspired and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Debra Clopton at her website.