Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Book Review: The Art of My Life by Ann Lee Miller

Available on
Kindle
The Art of My Life by Ann Lee Miller
Publication Date: 15 September 2012

Cal walked out of jail and into a second chance at winning Aly with his grandma’s beater sailboat and a reclaimed dream of sailing charters.

Aly has the business smarts, strings to a startup loan, and heart he never should have broken. He’s got squat. Unless you count enough original art to stock a monster rummage sale and an affection for weed.

But he’d only ever loved Aly. That had to count for something. Aly needed a guy who owned yard tools, tires worth rotating, and a voter’s registration card. He’d be that guy or die trying.

For anyone who’s ever struggled to measure up. And failed.

Review by Helen


We first met Cal and Aly in Ann Lee Miller’s debut novel, Kicking Eternity (see my review). Cal is a marijuana addict, son of a preacher who has just done time for possession. Aly, a girl with a promiscuous past and serious daddy issues, is the girl he’s loved since they were fifteen.

There’s also Missy — Cal’s not-so-little-anymore sister, and Fish — Cal’s estranged best friend, whose own chemistry make them co-stars of the novel.

If I were to describe The Art of My Life in one word, it'd be real. The characters are everyday twenty-somethings struggling to shed their past and establish their lives. Their language, internal insecurities, propensity to make mistakes, dysfunctional families and relationships all worked together to convince me that I was twenty again and living alongside them.

This is a more mature book than Kicking Eternity. There are deep emotions, a handful of coarse language, and plenty of romantic — sometimes, sexual — tension. In my opinion, this boldness and honesty just made the characters even more authentic. However, because of this, I would not recommend this book to younger teens.

The Art of My Life tugged at my heart strings as it was so easy to empathise with the characters’ internal pain. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and drama, and was rooting for Cal and Aly to get their happy ending.
Those who appreciate art or sailing might particularly enjoy this book.  Regardless, if you want a genuine, well written Christian fiction that isn’t confined by mainstream publishing mandates, and you’re not offended by a controlled, but realistic level of street language and non-explicit sexual tension, grab this book!
 

Helen's favourite genre is historical fiction with a strong romantic element.  She also enjoys contemporary romance, chick-lit and YA.  She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Helen is currently working on her first book, a Christian young adult novel set between two opposite but equally fascinating places in Australia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday's With Jess: Relaxing

Well my hubby's been away for 11 nights now and for the first 7 nights I was happy as Larry just doing my own thing. After my daughter goes to bed, I'd watch movies till late, or read. I read 4 books in 7 days! I've been having a blast doing stuff I've wanted to do for ages.

Then I reached the end of the week and I was literally like: "Okay, I've had my holiday, I want my husband back!" Still got 3 weeks to go :(

I soaked up action movies (I've never seen The Fugitive until I rented it over the week) and read romantic suspense books - what do you do to relax?
 

Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Book Review: Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond

Available @
Fishpond AU 
& Amazon | Kindle
Through Rushing Water by Catherine Richmond
Thomas Nelson, 03 July 2012

Sophia has her life all planned out-but her plan didn't include being jilted or ending up in Dakota Territory.

Sophia Makinoff is certain 1876 is the year that she'll become the wife of a certain US Congressman, and happily plans her debut into the Capitol city. But when he proposes to her roommate instead, Sophia is stunned. Hoping to flee her heartache and humiliation, she signs up with the Board of Foreign Missions on a whim.

With dreams of a romantic posting to the Far East, Sophia is dismayed to find she's being sent to the Ponca Indian Agency in the bleak Dakota Territory. She can't even run away effectively and begins to wonder how on earth she'll be able to guide others as a missionary. But teaching the Ponca children provides her with a joy she has never known-and never expected-and ignites in her a passion for the people she's sent to serve.

It's a passion shared by the Agency carpenter, Willoughby Dunn, a man whose integrity and selflessness are unmatched. The Poncas are barely surviving. When US policy decrees that they be uprooted from their land and marched hundreds of miles away in the middle of winter, Sophia and Will wade into rushing waters to fight for their friends, their love, and their destiny.

I was eager to read this book after I looked at the cover. When I read the back I really wanted to read it! I finished it a couple of days ago and enjoyed most of the book. I really loved Sophia. I felt Catherine had gone to a lot of trouble to give her depth and a complete background. To me she felt well-rounded and real. I especially like the fact that she is Russian, Russian Orthodox and was not born in America. Having Sophia American without being typically "American" in her background was really refreshing. Having her work alongside the Indians gave a beautiful contrast to the Missionaries (except Will) who are trying to Americanize everyone around them who is different.

I found the interactions between the Agency officials in charge of Indian's Welfare and Sophia, Will and one or two more characters really relevant to our culture today. Seen through our modern eyes, the ways and methods of evangelizing people of different cultures and religions back then was totally dehumanizing and it did more harm than good. Why must we change every aspect of a person or group who is different from us? These are questions for another time, but Catherine dealt really well with the plight of the Ponca Tribe and how unjust their treatment was.

For me I loved the depth of the characters and how Catherine depicted the struggles of Missionaries and the people they are serving but I felt like the book was missing a climax. I kept waiting and waiting for the action in the story to really come to a head but it never quite got there. As a result I was left wanting more from this story. Even in the romance department, I felt that Catherine got Will and Sophia got so close to the right romance pace but didn't quite give me what I was after - even though things ends happily.

However, this book was engaging and well-written for almost all of it so I can overlook my need for a complete climax - which is just what a good author can achieve!


Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tuesday's With Jess: What a Week!

So, I didn't get to post last week due to my husband's rather nasty bout of Gastro - 3 days before his big trip! So for the past week we've been gearing up for his lifetime dream of hiking through Nepal for 1 month as he treks to Base Camp. I'm without my man for 1 month and with his gastro bout I was genuinely worried how he'd cope trekking. With much prayer, he left the country feeling tired but in better health.

So what am I going to do while my husband treks through Nepal? I'm doing a large amount of reading, will be seeing the co-owner of BRS several times and just generally chilling! I've discovered a new author - oh how I love that and I might get some story writing in!


Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursdays With Helen: Ratings - Why we don't use them, what they'd mean if we did, and should we start using them?

You've probably already noticed that we don't give ratings on books here at Book Review Sisters.  Have we ever told you why?

Well, mainly it's because we believe book reviews are subjective - and I've written a whole post about that before.

But quite often, I do rate books on other sites, such as Goodreads and Amazon.  So I've had to think about what constitutes a 5 star rating to me. 

I don't give many 5 stars out.  To me, 5 stars is outstanding - a book that can't really be improved, a book that totally speaks to me and had me captivated from start to finish.  That's a tall order.  I'm a perfectionist in nature - I'm hard to impress.  I know lots of people give 5 stars more easily than I do, and I'm sure they truly believe in the 5 star rating they bestow.

Certain elements of a book can easily demote it from a 5 to 4 star for me.  These could be:
  • A slightly less than satisfying ending
  • A hero or heroine who I didn't quite identify with
  • A predictable plot
But otherwise, a 4 star rating from me still means a book I really enjoyed, and one I heartily recommend for lovers of the same genre.

3 stars means it was a nice book - one that I was happy to read.

2 stars? I didn't enjoy it, and that could be for a million reasons.

As for a 1 star - I don't think I've ever given one.  I'd probably never pick up a 1 star rating book, or if I did, I wouldn't finish it.

Generally speaking, Jess and I don't post reviews for books on Book Review Sisters which we'd rate less than 3 stars as we like to feature books we recommend to our readers

So that's how I rate books, if I have to.  Which brings me to a question I have for you today:

Would you like us to start using a rating system for books we review?

Please let us know what you think :) I'd also love to know what your criteria is for a 5 star rating.

Helen's favourite genre is historical fiction with a strong romantic element.  She also enjoys contemporary romance, chick-lit and YA.  She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Helen is currently working on her first book, a Christian young adult novel set between two opposite but equally fascinating places in Australia.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review: Perfectly Ridiculous by Kristin Billerbeck

Available @
Amazon | Kindle
Perfectly Ridiculous by Kristin Billerbeck
Revell, 01 July 2012

Daisy's ready for summer fun--but it seems summer has something else in store.

High school is over, and Daisy Crispin is happy to leave it in her past and look forward to a bright new future at college. In the meantime, she is planning an all-expenses-paid trip with her best friend Claire to Argentina--home of exotic food, the tango, and her handsome sort-of boyfriend Max.

When Daisy discovers she needs to do missions work to fulfill the requirements of her scholarship, she chalks it up to her monumental bad luck in life and kisses her vacation goodbye. What was supposed to be a relaxing time in the lap of luxury turns into hard work, sleeping on a cot, avoiding scorpions, and stressing about where she stands with Max. Daisy wonders if anything in her life will ever go according to plan . . . 

Perfectly Ridiculous is the third instalment of Kristin Billerbeck's "A Universally Misunderstood Novel" series.  I had thoroughly enjoyed the first two books, and was excited about this third release.

Daisy has an opportunity of a lifetime to spend two weeks in Argentina with her best friend Claire.  But nothing goes according to plan.  She makes it to Argentina, but with her parents in tow and a change in accommodation to a bare bones mission location.  From there on, Daisy's "holiday" is fraught with drama, chaos and misunderstanding.  

Perfectly Ridiculous is a fast paced read and kept me guessing about what on earth was going on.  Is Max a good guy - or not? He was adorable in the first two books, but now it seems he's a jerk.  Thank goodness for J.C. appearing on the scene.  He's a cute, genuine guy - so why can't Daisy get Max out of her head?

And why oh why has Libby, the woman running the mission, got it in for Daisy? Poor Daisy is unfairly picked on and I felt frustrated and indignant right along with her.

There's great relief when Daisy finally catches a break in the end, and a light bulb moment when she comes face to face with her inability to let God lead the way.  This is a great lesson for Daisy - and the reader - to learn.

However, I'm just not sure the average young adult is going to buy the ending and the lack of resolution between Daisy and J.C.  Nor am I sure they would excuse Max's behaviour, despite the explanations.  I sure didn't.

Perfectly Ridiculous is lighter on the romance than the previous books, and is my least favourite of the three.  The antics and bumbling escapades still provide plenty of humour and entertainment.  Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, because I felt that this book was missing the sweet, innocent, romantic elements of the first book.

Helen's favourite genre is historical fiction with a strong romantic element.  She also enjoys contemporary romance, chick-lit and YA.  She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Helen is currently working on her first book, a Christian young adult novel set between two opposite but equally fascinating places in Australia.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Thursdays With Helen: Kindle - It's Happened To Me

I've been thinking and thinking about a kindle for like ... at least a year.  I could see the benefits, for sure.  But the preference for that book-in-hand feel (and book-on-shelf look) has always held me back.  Oh, and cost, of course.

Despite not having a Kindle, I have amassed quite a few ebooks on my kindle account.  So if I wanted to, I could read them on my phone or my computer.  Which I did sometimes.  At the expense of my eyesight! 

But in the last few weeks, my decision was made - I'm ready for a kindle.  I just couldn't afford one yet - particularly since in doing my research, I'd decided I wanted a Kindle Fire.  Which you can't even get in Australia yet. (Okay, technically you can, but it's not fully functional for purchasing multimedia content through Amazon store.)

So I was going to wait.  Wait for the Kindle Fire to be officially launched in Australia, and by then hopefully I could justify the expense.  Waiting was getting frustrating and I was starting to develop a legitimate need to read ebooks more regularly due to price of paperbacks and the research I'm doing for my own writing.

God must have decided I do actually need a Kindle now.  Otherwise, the checkout I went to this morning wouldn't have been out of order, forcing me to go to the one next to it.  And the one next to it, happened to have a stand with Kindles at less than half price.  And there were only a couple left. No, it wasn't a Kindle Fire.  But I knew just as well as God that I didn't need the extra fancy features.  I really only needed to be able to read ebooks easily - plain and simple.  If I was looking for a sign that it was time to own a Kindle, that was it.

So I bought a plain, wi-fi only, basic 6" eink display, probably about to be superseded, Kindle.  But it was $50.  And it's what I need - and all I need.

God is great, isn't He?  Patience ... waiting on God ... it pays off :)


Helen's favourite genre is historical fiction with a strong romantic element.  She also enjoys contemporary romance, chick-lit and YA.  She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Helen is currently working on her first book, a Christian young adult novel set between two opposite but equally fascinating places in Australia.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Review: Still Life in Shadows by Alice J. Wisler

Available @
Fishpond AU
& Amazon | Kindle
Still Life in Shadows by Alice J. Wisler
River North, 24 July 2012

It's been fifteen years since Gideon Miller ran away from his Amish community in Carlisle, Pennsylvania as a boy of fifteen. Gideon arrives in the Smoky Mountains town of Twin Branches and settles in at the local auto mechanic's garage. He meets a host of interesting characters -the most recent acquaintances are Kiki, an autistic teen, and her sister Mari. Known as the "Getaway Savior" he helps other Amish boys and girls relocate to life in modern America.

One day the phone rings. On the other end is his brother Moriah calling from Florida. Of course Gideon welcomes his brother to stay with him and offers him a job. But Moriah is caught in a web which ends in his death and forces Gideon to return to the town of his youth, with his brother's body in the back of a hearse and Mari and Kiki at his side. He must face not only the community he ran away from years ago but also his own web of bitterness. Will he be able to give his anger over to God and forgive his father?

Imagine that you've been driving along a very nice, well presented Main Street and you love it, you wouldn't change a thing. It has everything you love on it. Then one day you spot a side street and on a whim you turn down it to have a little peek. It's pretty with different shops you've never tried before but as you keep driving along the street you find that it has some of the same qualities as your beloved Main Street. You find yourself enjoying and wanting more of your time on this street.

This is what you'll do when you pick up Alice J. Wisler's Still Life in Shadows. While she's firmly still in North Carolina driving along Contemporary Women's Fiction's Road, she takes you on a detour down a little side street and it's a pleasant and eye-opening journey.

Like all her books set in North Carolina this is the story of Gideon Miller an ex-Amish man trying to deal with a past he's still angry about. The sudden arrival of his younger brother throws Gideon's world into chaos and we watch as he struggles to maintain his grip. Gideon also meets Kiki, a autistic teenager who tells the story from her point of view also. Kiki is trying to make friends and do the best she can in school and although she fumbles she wins Gideon's heart and the reader's with her refreshing honesty and zeal life.

As we switch between Gideon and Kiki and as the story's events unfold we see forgiveness and moving forward with life is a lesson both Kiki and Gideon learn. Which they do, at different rates.

Still Life in Shadows provides a different perspective on the Amish community, but in no way denigrating it. I found this refreshing as I'm not into Amish fiction and gladly welcomed Alice's fine writing and unique story telling to bring part of this world into my home.

Well done Alice - a great read!


Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday's With Jess: Reality Books

One of my favourite genres to read is Contemporary Women's Fiction without the strong emphasis on romance. Let me clarify what kinds of books within Contemporary Women's Fiction I am talking about.

I'm talking about the books written by amazing authors who bring real life into their books and into my home. These books focus on difficult issues (issues many of us face in our daily life and other issues we hope to never encounter) and often there is no happily ever after. Often the reader is left with a feeling of new hope is coming but it hasn't quite arrived yet - but it will in time.

I love these books because of the strength they lend to the genre and that sometimes a good dose of reality is needed. However, I can only read about 2-3 of these books a year. For example, I just finished reading Pamela Binnings Ewen's Dancing on Glass (My review will be up soon) and it stopped my heart and was most definitely "real". I can pretty much guarantee that I'll be reading my rom-com, chik-lit books for the rest of the year - I need to fairytale, the oh-so wonderful happily ever after for the next three months!

Reading books such as Dancing on Glass is never a regret - it's always most welcome and often they are the ones I'm drawn to the most and the ones that impact me the most with my writing and with my faith walk.

What kinds of books are hard for you but ones you enjoy all the same?


Jess' favourite genre is contemporary women's fiction and contemporary romance fiction. She also enjoys historical fiction with a focus on romance. She loves books set in country towns or farms with a cowboy featured in either historical or contemporary settings.

She is currently writing her first novel, a contemporary women's fiction/romance set in a small country town.