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27 March 2015

Review: Saving Justice by Susan Crawford

Not up to my expectations (even for a first novel)

Teacher Kinley Reid works in a rough area of Oklahoma City, doing her best to provide disadvantaged children with a quality education, with God’s help. When Justice, one of her students, gets into trouble for vandalism, she steps in to help him.

Nash McGuire is the real estate professional who grew up in the rough suburb, and who is now renovating his childhood home to sell (personally, if I owned a house in an area run by gangs, I wouldn’t waste money renovating to make it “the nicest house in the neighbourhood”. I’d sell to the first person who made an offer. I certainly wouldn’t park my late-model car outside. After all, real estate is "Location, location, location", and this isn't the location they're meaning).

Nash is concerned by what he sees as Kinley’s naïve approach, while Kinley trusts God to keep her safe and finds Nash’s lack of faith disturbing.

Saving Justice had interesting characters and a noble ideal, but the plot lost me early on, when Nash wants Justice to pay for vandalising his car. Isn’t that what insurance is for, repairing things when the culprit can’t be found or isn’t able to pay? It also seemed completely unreasonable (unjust?) that the child was sentenced to community service within days of the alleged crime, with no apparent input from witnesses or social services, and no defence or advice provided by legal professionals. Really?

Of course, this is the US, a country which only outlawed capital punishment for minors a decade ago. Basically, this felt as though it was nothing more than a contrived plot device to bring Kinley and Nash together, and while I understand plots are (by nature) contrived, I prefer them not to be so obvious.

Between the injustice of Justice’s situation and Nash’s illogical renovations, I was left reading a plot that I felt was too contrived to be believable, particularly in the beginning. It did improve once the relationship between the three main characters was established, but it still felt unrealistic (yes, I know it’s fiction, but the overall tone seemed to be trying for sweet romance in a setting of gritty realism).

Susan May Warren has recommended this novel, and she's one of my favourite authors. I think she's looking at the heart of the novel, which touches issues similar to those raised in some of her own novels (such as Tying the Knot). She certainly can't be recommending the writing, which isn't a patch on her own.

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

26 March 2015

I'm Reviewing at Australasian Christian Writers

One Last Thing by Rebecca St James and Nancy Rue

Today I'm reviewing One Last Thing over at Australasian Christian Writers. Click here to read my review.

Here's the book description:

Tara had always imagined her happily ever after. But her fiancé’s secrets are changing this story into one she doesn’t even recognize.

Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom grew up next door to each other in Savannah’s historic district. Their parents are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences all the time. Their fairytale wedding is a foregone conclusion . . . until Tara discovers another side to Seth three weeks before the wedding.

Reality has crashed in on Tara’s fairytale—but hope will lead her to a future she couldn’t have planned for herself.

This isn't an easy read, but I think it's the best book I've read so far this year. One Last Thing does an excellent job in sensitively fictionalising a growing problem in society. It’s not easy reading, and it’s not nice. But it is real. Unfortunately.

25 March 2015

Review, Kindle Giveaway, Blog Tour, and Author Chat Party with Colleen Coble

2015 Reading Challenge: A Popular Author's First Book

A Heart's Disguise was first published by Heartsong Presents in 1997 as Where Leads the Heart. Check out that cover!

The cover might have changed (improved!), but the blurb is still the same:

In the aftermath of the Civil War, a young woman searches for her lost love at the edge of the West.

The Civil War has destroyed Sarah Montgomery’s marriage before it’s even begun.

After Sarah receives word that her fiancé, Rand Campbell, has been killed fighting for the Union, her brothers and ailing father persuade her to pledge herself to Ben Croftner—despite her strong misgivings. But when Sarah finds out that Rand is in fact alive—and that Ben Croftner knew it—she indignantly breaks off the engagement and goes in search of Rand.

But Ben Croftner does not take rejection lightly—and a single woman with a sick father makes an easy target. When Sarah is abducted by her treacherous fiancé, Rand finally comes to her aid . . . only to reveal that he has been posted at Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and intends to take her there as his wife.

But could Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the love of her life? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

It’s hard to review this novella. I usually read the book descriptions when I request a book for review and have often forgotten it by the time I come to read the book. But this time I hadn’t, because the book description was right there in the front—which was a shame, because it wasn’t a teaser. It was a plot summary.

Publisher fail.

The result was a novella where I kept waiting for something to happen. And waiting. And waiting. The writing was good, and the characters had potential, but the two plot twists in the story (Rand being alive, Ben hiding that from everyone, and Ben trying to kidnap Sarah) were covered in the book description, which took away any suspense the story might have had.

This is the first of six novellas in the series, being released each month for the next six months. After reading the description, there’s no point in reading this novella. I’ve signed up to read and review the whole series, but I won’t read any more of the descriptions. Maybe that way I will be surprised and enjoy them.

Amazon is already offering a 6-in-1 volume which goes on sale in September (at only $14.99 for the paperback, compared to $6.99 for this paperback). If you’re interested in reading A Heart's Disguise, I’d suggest waiting until then and not reading any of the book descriptions or reviews in the meantime.

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

In the midst of end-of-war celebrations, Sarah discovers her betrothed was keeping a devastating secret in Colleen Coble's A Heart's Disguise. Will Sarah leave her dying father’s side for the only man she’s ever loved? And what plans are forming in the jealous heart of Ben Croftner?

Celebrate book one in Colleen's A Journey of the Heart series by entering to win a Kindle Fire and RSVPing to her May 5th author chat party!


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A Kindle Fire
  • A copy of A Heart's Disguise
  • A copy of A Heart's Obsession (blog tour coming in April)
  • A copy of The Inn at Ocean's Edge (blog tour coming in April)
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 7th. Winner will be announced May 8th on Colleen's website. Plus be sure to clear your calendar on the evening of May 5th because Colleen is hosting an author chat party on Facebook to celebrate her A Journey of the Heart series and the release of The Inn at Ocean's Edge! RSVP here!


RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on May 5th!

23 March 2015

Review: Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason

She thought her days of hiding were over . . . but the danger has just begun.

The day Danielle Harding takes her eleven-year-old son and flees from her abusive husband is the same day Kurt Harding dies. A relieved Dani believes she and her son are finally safe--but in reality, things are just heating up. When Kurt was alive, he took something important from a mysterious individual--who wants the item back and believes Dani now has it. As she and her son run for their lives, they have nowhere to turn, until she hires Adam Buchanan of Operation Refuge and goes into hiding. Unfortunately, she won't be able to hide for long . . .

From the first breathless scene, this tension-laced story will hold you in its iron grip as bestselling author Lynette Eason propels you along in a race to discover the truth.

Well, no. I yawned through the first quarter of Nowhere to Turn, then put it aside for a couple of months before forcing myself to finish it. Romantic suspense is my favourite genre, so I should have enjoyed this, but I didn’t. I didn’t relate at all to Dani, and I didn’t understand why it took her twelve years to leave Kurt. Yes, I know her husband threatened to murder her son in front of her if she ever left, but there are ways to hide from the authorities. Criminals do it all the time, and women’s refuges exist to help (we know there was a refuge—her neighbour gave her the details).

And I know this is fiction, but I found Operation Refuge too unbelievable, with their seemingly never-ending resources and hot line to the state governor (because, you know, the governor has nothing better to do than wait for telephone calls from ex-US Marshals who need a favour). It was Hawaii Five-O without the sunshine and scenery.

However, I do have sympathy for Dani and other women in her situation. Around a third of the way through the book, Dani thinks:

Was she really that needy? Was she so brainwashed that she was actually afraid to be on her own?

I think the answer is “yes”, and that’s why she couldn’t leave. But as a reader, I needed to understand this from the beginning. It was at this point where I (finally) felt able to engage with Dani.

But this wasn’t enough to rescue the novel for me. There were parts of the plot which were excellent, like the twist at the end about who was behind everything. Then there were parts which just seemed contrived, like the other plot twist at the end. And there were a couple of other plot devices which were simply too obvious. Overall, not a book I enjoyed.

Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

20 March 2015

Review: A Faith of Her Own by Kathleen Fuller

Still Not Sold on Amish Fiction

I went through a phase of reading Amish romance by Beverley Lewis about ten years ago, but gave up after realising that they seemed to be rehashing variations of the same plot over and over (and the one which had a different plot ended up having the same “twist” as the last of Michael Phillips’s Stonewycke books, which meant I found it too predictable).

Since then I’ve read a few mysteries set in Amish country by authors such as Mindy Starns Clark and Vanetta Chapman, and I enjoyed those more because the focus of the plot was the mystery rather than romance. I’ve also read some other novels by authors who mostly write Amish fiction, such as Anna Schmidt, Beth Wiseman and Beth Vogt, and have found the quality variable. At their best, they are as good as any authors writing in the Christian market. At their worst, they have stupid cliché characters, predictable plots and uninspired writing.

I picked out A Faith of Her Own to review because I thought it was time I gave Amish fiction another chance, and because the plot sounded interesting. It appeared to have more of an emphasis on the faith elements than some Amish fiction I've read (this has been one thing which has always bugged me about Amish fiction: the notion that if an Amish teen chooses not to be baptised into the Amish church, he or she has rejected both God and family when actually all they’ve done is acknowledge there are other ways to serve God than through the Amish church).

Even Anna Mae made this point when considering whether she was going to join the church:
It’s not like I take my faith lightly. I’m not turning my back on God.”
The blurb says:
Ever since Anna Mae’s childhood friend Jeremiah left their Amish community, she’s questioned her own place in the Amish world.  The Amish life feels as if it’s closing in on her, and with her mother trying to set her up with potential suitors, Anna Mae feels trapped in a life she’s not sure she wants any more. But she’s never told anyone that she longs for a tiny taste of freedom—freedom that could be very costly.

When Jeremiah suddenly reappears in Middlefield to help his mentor, Yankee veterinarian Dr. Miller, new questions surface for Anna Mae,along with feelings she’d never fully acknowledged before.

As Anna Mae and Jeremiah rekindle their friendship, old feelings take on new meaning. Yet the question still lingers: What is God’s plan for her life? Should she stay, keeping loyal to her Amish family, or does God have a bigger plan—one that provides more freedom than she could imagine? The answers do not come easily, and the answer to God’s call may lie indifferent directions . . . for both of them.

Based on this I was expecting the main focus of the plot to be on Anna Mae and Jeremiah. It was and it wasn’t: there were also significant subplots about Jeremiah’s relationships with his father and brother, and his cousins and their horse farm. This was rather confusing at the beginning as the reader is introduced to a variety of characters with no understanding of how they are related to Anna Mae, to Jeremiah, or to the plot. Perhaps this would have been clearer if I’d read the earlier books in the series.

Anyway, once I worked out who was who, I enjoyed the book. The writing was solid but not outstanding (a bit too much backstory and telling at the beginning, and a lot of introspection throughout the story which slowed the pace). Despite this, I would have liked to have had more introspection from Anna Mae, as even at the end I didn’t feel I knew her as a character, or could understand why she’d made the decisions she had. In fact, I felt I knew Becka, Caleb and Amos better than either Anna Mae or Jeremiah.

My other problem was with the constant use of Deitsch (German). I don’t mind the occasional foreign word, especially when it’s a proper noun (Daed, for Dad) or a word that doesn’t have a straightforward English equivalent (like kapp, for the Amish headcovering).

But I found the constant use of simple Deitsch words like yes, no, and me to be intrusive because each time I got to one I had to stop reading to mentally translate the word, then reread the sentence to get the context right. It pulled me out of the story, and it didn’t feel natural (the people I know who speak two languages speak one or the other at any given time. They speak English to me, and English or their native language when talking amongst themselves. They don’t interject words from one language into another, and if they do use a word from their native language, it’s because they are asking for the English equivalent).

Overall I found A Faith of Her Own okay. I would have enjoyed it more if it had been more consistent with the blurb, either by focussing on Anna Mae and Jeremiah, or if the blurb had made clear that it was really the story of two related couples.

Will I read more Amish fiction from Kathleen Fuller? I don’t know. I liked the way A Faith of Her Own acknowledged that people have different Christian callings, and I especially liked the sensitive way the characters related to Amos (who has developmental difficulties), but overall? Better than most Amish fiction I've read, but ultimately forgettable. Quite simply, that isn't good enough.