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31 July 2014

Review: Switch on Your Brain by Dr Caroline Leaf

“If you realised how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought.”

It’s a powerful statement, and in Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, Dr Caroline Leaf shows how we are influenced by the power of thought. She is coming from a Christian perspective, and shows through this book how “science is finally catching up with the Bible”, and why “think positive” is more than a clichĂ©: it’s the difference between a healthy mind and body, and an unhealthy mind and body.

Each chapter has a main scripture reference and a linked scientific concept. Some of the information was familiar, but a lot of it was new to me, especially the science. Science was never my strongest subject, but she did a good job of explaining the concepts to those of us who are less scientifically inclined (although she lost me at quantum physics!).

One section which surprised me was her comments on multitasking. Science actually says we should pay deep attention to one task at a time, and this is reinforced by Proverbs 4:20-23. I should know this. I get annoyed when I’m concentrating on something and I get interrupted, whether by a telephone call or a family member. The interruption is breaking my concentration and forcing me to multitask (and why is it these interruptions so often come when I’m trying to read my Bible?). She even refers to Twitter and Facebook, saying we have been reduced to 140 characters and are forever seeking the next informational high. Surely not? Excuse me while I Tweet that. (Joke. Like all the best jokes, there’s more than a grain of truth there.)

After explaining the Biblical and scientific principles , she talked through her 21-Day Brain Detox. While I read this, I didn’t actually put the plan into practice, so can’t comment on whether or not it would work. However, I can see the benefits: it’s about creating new thought habits, which redefine mental pathways and automatize thoughts and reactions (in much the same way as we automatized how to ride a bike, or swim). And now I refer back to my notes to write this review, I wonder if I should be trying a Facebook detox …

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

30 July 2014

CrossReads Book Blast with Robin Merrill


The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss
By Robin Merrill

About the Book:

In The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss, Author/Poet Robin Merrill shares her weight loss experiences through 30 Bible devotions designed to inspire others to join her on her journey toward improved spiritual, and physical, health.

Robin Merrill is the author of several books, including The Jesus Diet: How the Holy Spirit Coached Me to a 50-Pound Weight Loss (30 Devotions), two collections of poetry from Moon Pie Press, and five Scholastic Book Fair books.

robin 12 web (2)Her poems, short stories, articles, and essays have appeared in hundreds of publications, including The Cafe Review, Ledge Magazine, Margie, Pearl, Spoon River Poetry Review, and Stolen Island Review. Three of her poems have been featured on The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor. She is a 2013 recipient of an Emerging Artist Award from St. Botolph Club Foundation of Boston.

Robin is also a performance/slam poet who has competed at the national level. She has her MFA from Stonecoast and frequently leads creative writing workshops for writers of all levels.

Follow Robin Merrill

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This book blast is hosted by Crossreads.

We would like to send out a special THANK YOU to all of the CrossReads book blast bloggers!

29 July 2014

Review: Too Pretty by Andrea Grigg

Too Funny!

Gabrielle Paxton is a missionary kid who grew up in Papua New Guinea before returning to Australia when she was fourteen. That was when she discovered people judged her more for her looks—and while that didn’t always work to her advantage, it didn’t make her immune from judging others based on the way they look.

Nathaniel Watson catches her attention immediately, but he’s got that restrained dentist look going on, and she’s not interested in the medical professions. No matter. He doesn’t seem interested in her either, and she’s just decided she’s not going to date for six months:

I want to allow God to fill up those spaces, not boyfriends or even my family.

It seems easy until a chance meeting with an old school friend brings her face to face with Nathaniel …

I couldn’t completely relate to Gabrielle (not having been a teenage blonde bombshell myself!), but I could understand her problem and admire the way she decided to seek God first. We live in a society where people judge based on outward appearance, and we all need to learn to allow God to fill that void inside us, rather than relying on a boyfriend, career, or family. What was interesting about Too Pretty was that it wasn’t only Gabrielle who needed to learn this lesson.

Too Pretty is Andrea Grigg’s second novel. I thought the first, A Simple Mistake, was excellent, which made me a little nervous when reading Too Pretty . What if I didn’t like it? But I did. It’s fun and funny and romantic and thought-provoking, with a great set of characters and a strong Christian message. And such a cool cover!

Recommended for fans of contemporary romance from authors like Victoria Bylin, Carla Laureano, Mellissa Tagg and Becky Wade.

Thanks to Andrea Grigg and Rhiza Press for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Andrea Grigg at her website, or read our interview.

28 July 2014

Author Inteview: Andrea Grigg

Today I'd like to welcome Andrea Grigg to Iola's Christian Reads. She's the first Kiwi-born author I've had the privilege of interviewing (even though the Aussies have claimed her as their own. Ah, that good-natured trans-Tasman rivalry). Welcome, Andrea!

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

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand, but moved to Australia when I was twenty-five. Ahem - that was a while ago. My husband and I live on Queensland’s Gold Coast. We have 3 children, two girls and a boy, but they’ve all flown the coop now and left us with Micky, our border collie. Apart from writing, I love reading, music, family dinner night, and coffee with friends.

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 … romance! I prefer longer novels though, and rarely read category romance (except for ones by Narelle Atkins). I have a lot of favourite authors. At the moment my top five would be Becky Wade, Melissa Tagg, Dee Henderson, Susan May Warren and Denise Hunter.

Also some of my favourite authors. Susan May Warren's latest ... awww. I'll be reviewing it later this week. 

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

The last book(s) I read were the Divergent series. I started reading on a Tuesday and finished all three by midday Friday. I absolutely loved them and would highly recommend them. They’re YA novels, set in the future, and have a beautiful love story threaded through the adventure. What’s not to like? It was a bonus to discover the author, Veronica Roth, is a Christian.

I didn't know that. I haven't read Divergent yet, but it's been recommended by several people. I guess your advice is to have all three on hand before I start reading!

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

I write contemporary romance. So far I’ve used Sydney, the Gold Coast and Auckland as my settings. In my latest novel, Too Pretty, there is a fictional country town called Silverdene. I’d like to live there even though Ellie was glad to leave …

Tell us about Too Pretty. Who will enjoy it?

Ellie is a stunningly beautiful young woman. However, being beautiful has its drawbacks, like not knowing whether you’re liked for yourself or for your looks. Ellie makes a promise to God to stop dating for six months, to take time to work out who she really is. Of course, as soon as she makes the promise, she meets the tall, dark and handsome Nathaniel. He’s made a decision to opt out of relationships too, but they just keep on bumping into each other and there’s this chemistry thing happening …

Who will enjoy it? Anyone who likes romance, although my target market is women aged 25-35. Mind you, I just had a lovely email from a 77-year-old man who read A Simple Mistake. He’d picked it out for his wife while at the library, ended up reading it himself, and then contacted me to let me know how much he enjoyed it and the effect it had on his life … I’m constantly being surprised by God.

What was your motivation for writing Too Pretty?

The idea of writing about an extremely beautiful girl came out of the blue. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed like a good idea – I haven’t come across a book that explores the notion of beauty being a problem. I really had to use my imagination when writing from Ellie’s point of view though :)

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

I love Ellie – she’s impulsive, brave and funny – but Nathaniel just tugs at my heart. He’s intense, vulnerable (although he puts on a good front) and a little bit tragic. I have nothing in common with him, but I know he needs a hug and I’d like to give him one!

A hug? Towards the end I was wanting to give him a big shake! Poor guy. When it comes to being in touch with his emotions, he's such a man.

What made you choose to write for the Christian market?

I’m a Christian and I write romance so it made sense for me to start there. Going by what I’ve read in the general market (and I’ve read a lot) there’s an expectation for sex to be part of a dating relationship. I’m not comfortable writing those kinds of scenes.

I realise not all books are like that i.e. Twilight, but they’re few and far between. I’m not against writing for the general market – in fact I’d love to do it. I have a couple of storylines rattling around in my head which are clean, but they need a lot more time to ‘cook’.

What is the hardest part of getting a book written, edited and published?

Getting that first draft down. I’m a total plotter and dream and think and ponder for ages before I get started. I have a PhD in procrastination!

I’m a bit odd in that I love the editing process. I’m a harsh self-critic and I also have an excellent critique partner as well as a group of readers who give me feedback. I get a huge buzz out of making my story as good as I possibly can before I submit it.

I’m still shocked that my two manuscripts were accepted by a publisher so quickly. I’m well aware how unusual that is. I put it down to all that editing. (And then of course there’s still more to be done before it’s ready to go to print …)

What advice do you have for someone seeking to write and publish a novel?

1. Read loads of books in the genre you’re interested in to get a good feel for what readers expect.
2. Be prepared to put your book through a truckload of editing (including a professional edit) before you submit it.
3. Attend workshops, research blogs on writing, join a writers’ group. There’s always more to learn.
4. Don’t give up – keep writing.

Thank you, Andrea. I'll be reviewing Too Pretty tomorrow. Meanwhile, Andrea would love to hear from you via her website or Facebook page. Her books can be purchased from Koorong, WordAmazon, or direct from her publisher, Rhiza Press.

25 July 2014

Review: The Duke's Undoing by GG Vandergriff

Enjoyable Regency Romance

Miss Elise Edwards has just lost her third fiancĂ©. Her first died in the Napoleonic wars, her second turned out to be mad and fled to Italy, and she suspects the most recent of being in love with her best friend—who is most certainly in love with him.

Through a strange set of events and coincidences, she becomes engaged a fourth time: to the Duke of Ruisdell, reputed to be a rake and a rogue. For his part, the Duke used to be a rake but three years fighting in the Peninsula has left him a changed man.

What follows is a typical Regency: lots of Ladies and Lords (some of whom are not ladies or gentlemen), beautiful clothes, misunderstandings, balls, a duel and a madman. No, it’s not realistic, but that’s Regency Romance. “Normal” people never lived like this, even during the Regency—Regency Romance is centred around the ton, the Upper 10,000 members of society, who comprised around 1% of the population.

The Duke's Undoing is a classic Regency Romance in the style of Georgette Heyer, which means it’s free of language, sex and violence, and is faithful to the established facts of the time (as established by Georgette Heyer). The heroine is intelligent with some interesting personality quirks, the hero is heroic and titled, and the supporting characters are excellent.

I did get confused on occasion between George and Gregory, particularly when the men were often identified only by their titles, and I can imagine some readers would get annoyed by the way George speaks, but I enjoyed it-it reminded me of one of the characters out of Cotillion, my favourite Georgette Heyer novel. The Duke's Undoing isn’t Christian fiction (actually the author is a Latter Day Saint, and there is no faith element), but it’s an enjoyable read for fans of traditional Regency Romance. Recommended for fans of Regency Romance.