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20 August 2014

Review: Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering

A Must for Mystery Fans

Drew Farthering and Madeline Parker are looking forward to their wedding when their plans are interrupted by a visit from an old flame of Drew’s, and (inevitably) a body. Drew and Nick are persuaded to investigate the murder of a local actor, which annoys Madeline, because it’s taking Drew away from the wedding plans—and back into the sphere of his previous life.

The mark of a good mystery (at least in my opinion) is that there is a murder early in the plot (and I hope that doesn’t sound too macabre), that there are lots of clues around who could be the murderer, and that when the actual culprit is revealed, it’s both someone I didn’t expect, yet painfully obvious. Another murder or two only adds to the story.

Murder at the Mikado scored on all my points. I’m enjoying watching the ongoing development of the three main characters, and I appreciate the opportunity to revist Winchester, my favourite English town, through the eyes of Drew, Madeline and Nick. I had an early idea who the culprit might be, but soon found out I was dead wrong.

Murder at the Mikado is the third book in Juliana Dearing’s Drew Furthering series, and it’s just as good as the others, Rules of Murder and Death by the Book. It works as a stand-alone story, but it's best to read them in order to best understand the wider character relationships (because there are a lot of recurring characters). Perfect for those who enjoy old-fashioned British murder mysteries by the likes of Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer.

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

19 August 2014

ARCBA Tour: Dynamic Ageing by Ray Hawkins

18th - 22nd August 2014
Dynamic Ageing
(Even Before 1 February 2014)


Ray Hawkins

About the Book

Discover how to make the ageing experience into an adventure. Join the Lord's plan for ageing dynamically. Understand why God's seniors are priceless. God's grace for dynamic ageing more than compensates for physical limitations. 

About the Author

Ray Hawkins, retired after over 40 years as a Churches of Christ minister, enjoys sharing themes from the Scriptures through Devotional writing. Married to Mary, multi-published inspirational romance author, they have three children and five grandchildren. Ray shares his insights in his first two books on Marriage and Children with more ideas to come about ministry and much more. Living in Beauty Point Tasmania Ray heads up a new Christian Fellowship as well as doing relief preaching, community work and writing.

18 August 2014

Review: The Doctor's Return by Narelle Atkins

Career ... or Love?

Megan Bradley returns to her home town of Snowgum Creek after years of travelling the world, working in seasonal resorts such as ski fields. Now she has a part-time job as a therapist at a local hospital, and hopes to establish a private practice in Snowgum Creek. This puts her back in contact with Dr Luke Morton, her high school sweetheart, the guy she left behind.

Luke is now the new Snowgum Creek GP, and is still searching for the woman to spend his life with. When he meets Megan again, the old attraction is still there, but he’s hesitant: is she here to stay, or will she leave again? Megan has her own lesson to learn before she can make the decision to stay in her home town: can she be happy in Snowgum Creek, or will she only be happy chasing her dreams in the city?

This is the third and final book in the Snowgum Creek series, following Falling for the Farmer and The Nurse's Perfect Match. While it does have characters (and a location) in common with the previous books, it is a standalone novel, and can be enjoyed without having read the earlier books. Readers were first introduced to Luke in The Nurse's Perfect Match, and I was one reader who was waiting for him to find his own perfect match.

I enjoyed The Doctor's Return, but (and this is going to sound odd) after meeting Luke in The Nurse's Perfect Match, I wanted his story, and it felt like this was more Megan’s story. Yes, that’s odd, because romance novels (especially short novels like Heartsong Presents) are almost always focused on the heroine not the hero—and I’ve criticised books in the past for having too much from the male viewpoint. But that didn’t stop me wanting to know more about Luke.

Having said all that, The Doctor's Return was an enjoyable and quick read, perfect for those who enjoy the shorter length of the Heartston Presents novels, or those who want to try a Christian novel that isn’t set in the United States.

Thanks to Narelle Atkins for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Narelle at her website.

15 August 2014

Review: Five Days in May by Ninie Hammon

Highly Recommended

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—and it’s typical of tornados that there is no warning. The reader knows what’s coming, but the characters are tied up in their everyday lives.

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

The characters are excellent, especially Princess, who 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—Mac’s relationship with Joy 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 which 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 at all. Rather, it added considerably 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 underpinning 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:

14 August 2014

Author Interview: Ninie Hammon

Today I'd like to welcome Ninie Hammon to Iola's Christian Reads. Like me, Ninie is a member of the Mispronounced Names Sisterhood—her name is pronounced "nine-e", and you'll see her on various websites as "9e".

First, please you tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? 

I grew up in Muleshoe, Texas. And no, I am NOT making that up. (You get points if you can come within 500 miles of locating Muleshoe, Texas on a map.) It is on the West Texas High Plains that my grandmother used to say were “so flat if your dog ran away you could see it for three days.”

Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?

Agggh. That’s like asking which of my children is my favourite.

Perhaps Sudan…because it is so gut-wrenchingly true. Perhaps The Memory Closet…because it’s in first person and has so much ME in it. Perhaps Home Grown…because I ran the newspaper in the small town where the real events fictionalized in the book actually happened. Perhaps Five Days in May … because the book was “hijacked.” The thematic elements in it were not planned. Perhaps Black Sunshine…because I fell in love with Eastern Kentucky coal miners. Perhaps The Last Safe Place because it is my first true “thriller.” Perhaps the book that’ll be released this fall: When Butterflies Cry. It might just be my favourite because I always like the one I just completed best.

It’s said that authors should write the kind of book they like to read. What is your favourite genre? Who are your favourite authors?

My favourite genre is mystery, thrillers and suspense. Favourite authors are …duh!... Stephen King and Dean Koontz. They inspired me, but my work took a different trajectory. Unlike most of their books, the unexplainable (paranormal) elements in mine are forces for “good,” not evil.

What was the last book you read? Would you recommend it? Why/why not?

The last ten books I’ve read were marketing books. And no, I wouldn’t recommend any of them unless you absolutely MUST learn how to sell books. Which I did. Right now, I’m listening to the audio book of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo when I run and I’m enjoying it tremendously.

What kind of books do you write? Where and when are they set?

I write suspense—inspirational suspense and psychological suspense, thrillers and one (Sudan) action and adventure. My target audience is adults who like clean suspense fiction, who want values-based, right-and-wrong stories with exciting plots, believable characters, twists, turns and surprises. People who enjoy the unexplainable elements in Dean Koontz and Stephen King but are drawn to supernatural forces for good.
Taking the “write-what-you-know” advice, my books are set in small towns—in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado and Kentucky.

Tell us about Five Days in May (which I'll be reviewing tomorrow). Is this all fiction, or are parts of the novel based on historical events?

Though several of my books were based on or at least inspired by real events, Five Days in May is pure fiction. I grew up in Tornado Alley, where we stood on the porch on spring afternoons and watched twisters drop out of the clouds onto the prairie. So the twister was the starting point and then “what if?” took over from there.

Where did the characters and story come from? What were your influences?

The characters and story came right out of the old noggin. Home Grown and The Memory Closet were based on my journalism days, Sudan came from a story in Christianity Today. But Five Days in May bloomed from “what if … a twister were about to hit a town where four people were already planning death in some other form that day?”

Who is your favourite character and why? Do you have anything in common with him/her?

My favourite character is the death row inmate Princess! She bloomed so pure I could almost touch her. All I have in common with her is dialect—it’s one of my great strengths as a writer—and I could hear every word she said perfectly in my head as she spoke. During her meetings with the minister, I felt like I was not so much writing dialogue as transcribing a conversation.

You are a Christian but your books are aimed at the general market. What made you choose this rather than the Christian market?

I wrote three books before I finally figured out what I was called to write. The first ones were entertaining, moral, clean stories—though they were realistic and gritty! Then I wrote Five Days in May and I’ll always believe the Holy Spirit hijacked the book. I did not plan for it to become the allegory it did! I watched it unfold on the page in awe and wonder. The book was reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly by a totally secular reviewer—who quickly picked up on the Christian themes. But he DIDN’T CARE, wrote that even though I “beat readers over the head” with Christian allegory, the book was “a fine story of love and sacrifice that will hook readers to the end.” That’s when I knew what God had called me to do—to write books with Christian themes that are so engaging secular audiences are drawn in to hear the message.

How does your faith influence your writing? How would that be different if you were writing for the Christian market?

My writing is all about my faith. After the Holy Spirit “planted” the Christian theme in Five Days in May, my story development process changed. In the next three books, I selected a Christian theme first and then wrapped a story around it. In Black Sunshine, I wanted to write about the healing power of forgiveness. I wanted to explore the Prodigal Son and the older brother and the difference between Peter and Judas--who both betrayed Jesus. Peter sought forgiveness and was restored; Judas didn’t and died. All of that is told with the story of a coal mine disaster in Eastern Kentucky.

I wouldn’t write any differently if I were marketing to Christians. And I actually plan to turn some of my efforts there in the future because the Christians who’ve read my books have been very moved by them. I don’t enjoy in-your-face Christian fiction. I much prefer a more subtle approach and that’s how I write.

Have people suggested you should write for the Christian market? What is your reaction?

All my Christian friends have clamoured for years that I ought to market my books to Christians and, as I said, I do intend to do that in the future. But I will never write “for the Christian market.” I’ll be faithful to what God has called me to write.

You’ve recently regained the rights to your books and are now self-publishing. How is self-publishing different from working with a publisher? What made you choose the self-publishing option?

Self publishing is MASSIVELY different from working with a publisher because I get to make all the decisions. Working with a publisher, I spent all my time pushing a rope, trying to influence marketing decisions. Now, I don’t answer to anybody but myself. I will succeed or fail under my own steam and that’s the way I like it.

What’s next for you?

What’s next for me is marketing, marketing, marketing. Other indies write a book, market it, then write another and do the same. Their marketing activities have been spread out over the whole course of their writing careers. But since I purchased my book rights, I’ve had to play catch-up. Every marketing activity any indie publisher has to perform (prepping manuscripts, formatting, writing book descriptions, figuring out categories and keywords and launch strategies, etc) I don’t do just once.

I have to do everything SEVEN TIMES. Yes, it is totally overwhelming! I will be out of the country during July, but I will hit the ground at a dead run in August to get Five Days in May ready for launch. Then I’ll do the same for all the other books at 3 to 4-week intervals.

But I’m excited that after I start the book launches, I will get back to my WIP, The Knowing. I set aside my eighth book in February to work full time on designing a marketing plan for the other seven. The Knowing is the first book in my very first series! Writing a series is exciting and I’m itching to get to work on it again.

Five Days in May has just been granted a Mom’s Choice Award. Congratulations, Ninie!

If you'd like to find out more about Ninie and her books, please visit her website, where you'll find first chapters and links to Amazon (, or her YouTube channel, where there are eight videos in which she talks about each individual book, along with book trailers for four of the books (

Here she is talking about Five Days in May:

Ninie, thank you so much for visiting today, and best wishes for the launch of Five Days in May!