Wednesday, December 16, 2015

My 2015 Reading Reflections

I'm never going to enter, let alone win, any 'How many books did you read this year?' contest.

Between mothering, my church commitments, doing courses and now, editing, I have limited time to read. Which is why, I'm sorry to say for all our readers, I have not been reviewing.

That said, I have picked up a few books this year.  I've been very selective though90% of the books I gave my time to were ones that were pretty much guaranteed to be good.  There was probably only one book I pushed through this year that I wasn't thrilled about (not mentioned here).

The result of being more selective with my reads is that I have had a lovely, relaxed reading year.  And although I don't have time for reviews, I wanted to share with you the highlights in what I'm calling my 'reading reflections' :)

The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz
I don't have a 'top ten' or anything like that, but I definitely have a Number 1, and it's The Mistress of Tall Acre. This book is devine. If you love quality historical fiction, this is for you.

Now, Laura's writing is always exquisite, and I love all her books.  But to give you an idea, I consider her first three books to be 5 stars.  Her next three, The Ballantyne Legacy series, I view as 4.75 stars.  The Mistress of Tall Acre is a return to 5 stars. It had that indescribable enchanting quality, like the first three novels.  Laura's writing has the ability to draw me into another world like no other.  A beautiful symphony of intrigue, depth and beauty. This book was like slipping into a warm baththe world faded away, and I just wanted to stay in the bliss that is the story of Sophie and Seamus. Of all Laura's books, I can totally see this making a great movie :)

Chasing Happy by Ann Lee Miller
Not that I'm handing out awards here, but Chasing Happy was certainly my most controversial read of the year.  Ann's books are always on the edgy side and I've always enjoyed their 'realness', but this took the cake in terms of eye-brow-raising.  The hero of the book, Ash, is a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction.  I think Ann handled the book with great taste, but this is a Christian book blog so I will be frank with you: there is explicit sexual content.  Hardly enough for the general population to think twice about, but many Christians are likely to find it crosses their 'appropriate-ness' lines.

Regardless, I really enjoyed the story even though at first I was not sure it was something I wanted to read. Watching Ash and Samma's relationship develop and overcome obstacles was sweet and intoxicating, keeping me up late into the night until the book was finished.  Theirs is a deeply satisfying, non-fairy-god-mother type of romantic ending.

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander
You'll run me out of blog-land when I tell you I hadn't read Tamera Alexander before.  I'm aware this was long overdue! And thankfully, I was not disappointed. This was a lovely book. The kind of historical novel I enjoy.  Rich with details, slow and steady pace to match the period.  Charming heroine and handsome hero. I will definitely make time for Tamera again in my reading schedule.

She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell
Another author-first-read for me. When I decided it was time for a sampling of Siri Mitchell's work, Jess recommended I start with this one. The book has a slow start, that's for sure.  But I found I didn't mind because I enjoyed learning the unbelievably complicated dress code and social rules of the period.  Without being aware of it, by the time I hit half way, this book had its hooks in me. There was no putting it down after that.  I loved the book, and found it utterly fascinating.  If you're as interested in social history as I am, then you'll love it too.

From the Start by Melissa Tagg
Melissa's books have joined the ranks of those new releases that I look forward to each year. From the Start isyay!the beginning of another family series! (If you can't tell, I LOVE family series). I enjoyed this book and can't wait for the next one.

A Love Like Ours by Becky Wade
Becky is currently my favourite contemporary romance author. A Love Like Ours is the third book in the Porter Family series, and one I'd been aching to read. I couldn't wait to read about Jakethe quiet, mysterious and wounded Porter brother.  This was another lovely read with a delightful heroine and a satisfying ending.  The fourth and last book comes out next May featuring the youngest family memberthe significantly younger sister, Dru. To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about a trigger happy ex-marine for a heroine, but if anyone can win me over, I'm sure Becky Wade can ;)

The Christiansen Family series by Susan May Warren

The Christiansen Family series is about a close knit family of 6 children—and their stories became an addiction for me this year!

It all started with book 2It Had to be You. I'd picked this up as a free ebook. OH MY GOODNESS! What a story.  A hunky, irresistible hockey player and a gorgeous, strong heroine.  I LOVED this book, and I was totally hooked on the Christiansen Family and wanted more, more, more!

So I ended up buying book 4Always on My Mind during an ebook sale.  Which put me in a dilemma.  Read book 2 and then 4? Just skip 3? What about 1?

Solution? Drive 300km to my nearest Christian bookstore. (Okay well, I had to go 300km for other reasons, but still ...) They didn't have book 1 in stock, so I bought book 3.

So I went ahead and read book 3, When I Fall in Love. *sigh* ... what can I say? This is certainly a series for me.

Now instead of moving on to book 4, which I had, I decided this series was too good that I had to go back and do this properly. So I purchased book 1, Take a Chance on Me.  I didn't love it quite as much as books 2 & 3, but still a really darn good book and a fabulous series.

Then because I couldn't help myself, I read 2 & 3 again.

I saved book 4 for a nice long train trip. Once I started, I did not stop reading for 3 hours straight.   That book started with a bang and didn't let up! I finished the rest of the book the next day.  Drama, anyone? Seriously? When I rehashed the details of the story to Jess, I admit, it sounded a little soap opera-ish.  But I really didn't care, because I flat-out enjoyed it.

I've just finished reading book 5, The Wonder of YouAnother wonderful installment in this series. I'm starting to get sad now, knowing there's only one book left (due out February 2016).  I'm completely hooked on this family and their cute little town.

Susan May Warren certainly knows how to weave a series.  I was determined to read book 6 after book 2, which means I was instantly committed to buying the next 4 books. That takes some serious plotting and writing talent.

On the non-fiction side of things:

Captivating by John and Stasi Elderidge
A beautiful book that I know sits on the shelves of many Christian women.  If you haven't picked it up from your shelf, do so.  Read it.  Your eyes will be opened to the beautiful way in which God created you and the way in which He is romancing you right now.  And I know that will appeal to you because you're currently reading a blog that reviews romance fiction :)

Conflict & Suspense by James Scott Bell and Beginnings, Middles and Ends by Nancy Kress
Two great and useful writing craft books.  James Scott Bell has a particularly direct and entertaining way of explaining things.

There were a few other books I read this year, including a couple of novellaswhich is quite unusual for me. But these were the standouts that I wanted to mention and share with you.

Have you got any standout reads for the year? Would love to hear about them!

Helen is a freelance editor, specialising in fiction. For more information on her editing services, please visit her website.

As a reader, Helen's favourite genre is romancewhether contemporary or historical, just as long as it has a strong romantic element! She also enjoys Young Adult and New Adult fiction. She's not caught up in the spell of fantasy fiction, despite The Faraway Tree series being a strong influence in her childhood.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: Anchor of Hope by Kiah Stephens

Anchor of Hope by Kiah Stephens
February 24, 2015

27 year old Ashley Harper has it all – a secure job in the city, a cozy apartment in a great neighbourhood, and a high-profile boyfriend who is on his way to becoming one of New York's top business attorneys. She is successful and has it all. . . or so she thought. After fleeing from Sweet Home eight years ago following the devastating death of her father, Ashley vowed she would never return. But when her mother decides to get married there, Ashley is forced to return to the sleepy, little town she once called home in country Oregon. 

Having to spend an entire week in the very place she fought so hard to escape she expects to find nothing but anger, resentment, and hostility but instead finds forgiveness, love - and her ex-boyfriend, Jay. Things are not what she expected in Sweet Home. Once again, Ashley finds herself at a crossroads. Faced with an impossible decision – should she trust her head and return to her life in the city and live the life of luxury she has worked so hard to achieve, or should she trust Gods' gentle guiding and follow her heart back home.

Kiah Stephens is a new author and this is her debut novel. Anchor of Hope is set in Oregon and it follows the story of Ashley Harper as she returns to Sweet Home for her mother's wedding and lands smack in the middle of her past, with ex-boyfriend Jay being a key player. We watch as Ashley sorts out what truly matters to her and where her heart really lies.

The majority of the book is a nice, and at times, an engaging read. Ms. Stephens has a nice writing style that lends itself to readers well. The story generally clips along at a fairly nice pace for most of the novel, but there were times in the middle where events seemed quite slow and I was eager for the pace to pick up again.

Ashley is a conflicted character. I found her hard to understand, as her actions and words were often inconsistent. Ashley has redefined herself after the loss of her father and as a result aspects of her character changed too. For me, the change was not clearly presented or defined enough for me to get a real understanding of who this person is and what she really wants from herself. This made it hard to like her and relate to her. Jay's interactions with Ashley helped me to understand Ashley better, but she still remained inconsistent throughout most of the book.

Jay is a more solidly written and defined character. It is clear that he knows who he is and what he wants, which made him more likeable. Watching Jay and Ashley together was fun. It is really clear they know each other well and enjoyed their time together and that their attraction is still there. Watching Jay try and bring Ashley some direction in her life through his faith was fairly well handed, though it was out of the blue.

Unfortunately there were a few typos and errors in the text and this detracted from the enjoyment of the story.

I was in the end wanting Jay and Ashley to sort out their relationship and whilst the journey was often inconsistent, it was still the happy ending the reader is looking for.

A nice, happy read. Could have been even better with more consistent and defined characters, and a bit of polishing.

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, March 31, 2015

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey
Bethany House Publishers
3rd February, 2015

Finally Returned Home, Reef McKeena
Finds His Beloved Alaska Facing Its Greatest Threat
Growing up, goody-two-shoes Kirra Jacobs and troublemaker Reef McKenna were always at odds. Now, working together as search-and-rescue for Alaska's arduous Iditarod race, a growing attraction seems to be forcing aside old arguments. Then Reef catches Kirra sneaking from camp in the middle of the night.

Kirra's uncle, a musher in the race, has disappeared. Kirra and Reef quickly track the man, but what they discover is harrowing: Frank's daughter has been kidnapped. Kirra and Reef, along with the entire McKenna family, are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl's life--but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen. 

This is the fifth and final book in the Alaskan Courage Series. I liked the book but felt it was a little hit and miss, like much of the series for me has been. The stand out in the series is Shattered by far and the others fall into the category of good, but perhaps a little rushed at times.

Kirra and Reef are thrown together from the start and the action keeps going, without a lot of rest. After finishing Silenced, I was curious to see how Kirra and Reef's romance played out. I liked Kirra and really thought Ms. Pettrey handled the stuff from her past really well and used it to great effect throughout the novel. I hurt for Kirra and wanted her to heal from the pain of the past. Reef is likeable, but he didn't stand out for me. He was the reformed play boy and thrill seeker, who wants to prove to Kirra that he's not the guy she's always known since kindergarten. Together they made a good couple- maybe not memorable, but solid.

Their romance seemed rushed at the end and it didn't have the satisfaction that I was really wanting. It seemed to me that the author was trying to wrap everything up in this final book to make sure her readers were reminded that every sibling in the McKenna clan was still having their happily ever after.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this novel for review.  I was in no way obliged to give a positive review.

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, March 17, 2015

Book Review: Can't Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones

Can't Let You Go by Jenny B. Jones
Sweet Pea Productions 19 September 2014

An old love whose kisses make her weak, but whose secrets threaten to destroy all she holds dear...

Fresh out of college, Katie Parker had it all—a charming romance, a role in a famous stage production, and an idyllic life in London. Until she found her boyfriend cheating and got herself fired from the play. Leaving everything behind, Katie hops a plane home, only to run into her first love, Charlie Benson. As the couple returns to In Between, Katie questions everything she ever thought she wanted—including a renewed romance with her high school flame.

While she attempts to rebuild her life, Katie's plan to manage the family’s theater meets a devastating obstacle, dragging her into a legal battle that will rock her small town. And the boy who once broke her heart seems to have the power to do it again. As Charlie’s secrets unravel, Katie must make a choice. Can she overcome her past and trust Charlie with her heart again? 

It's been a little while since Jenny B. Jones released a new book, and I'm so glad she did.

Can't Let You Go is officially the fourth book of the Katie Parker series, but it's the first in which Katie is an adult.  Regardless, you can read it as a standalone novel (which I did, as I haven't read the previous books).

In typical Jenny B. Jones fashion, this novel is witty and sassy, and I love that! You can't help but be drawn in with Katie and her drama, her hilariously crazy grannie ... and that hunk of an ex boyfriend, Charlie, who's back in her life again.  The chemistry between Katie and Charlie is fantastic.

I'm always in awe of Jenny's dry, frank humour ... she has an amazing and individual way of expressing things. She definitely has a unique voice and that brings such freshness and individuality to her stories.

The characters in Can't Let You Go are Christian so naturally they talk about God and go to church, but it's done in such a way it's like background information.  There's no preaching here, no great moment of spiritual enlightenment - which I know will please some, but not others. I loved it. But it's worth noting that some of the humour may be a little irreverent for some readers.

Can't Let You Go is laugh-out-loud funny, but it also has great emotional depth. There's a bit of intrigue and a wonderfully satisfying ending. I fell in love with Katie, her town, her family and her friends.  Always look forward to more from Jenny!

Helen is a freelance editor, specialising in fiction.  For more information on her editing services, please visit her website.

As a reader, 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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Book Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg
Bethany House Publishers, 29 April 2014

After playing nomad for five years, Blake Hunziker has finally had enough of adventure. Not sure what reception he'll get from everyone back in Whisper Shore, he's stunned at not only a warm welcome from his hometown but also a job offer. The job is his if he can successfully pull off the annual Christmas Festival. If only he knew the first thing about coordinating events...

If there's one thing Autumn Kingsley knows, it's Whisper Shore. For years, she's been stuck running her family's inn when all she wants is to see the world. Now she has a visit scheduled from a potential investor who could take over the inn, as well as a dream job offer in Paris. But with just two weeks to whip the inn into shape, her chance at escape is a long shot.

The Hunzikers and the Kingsleys may not get along, but Blake knows Autumn's the only one who can help him. She agrees to a trade--she'll help with the Festival and he'll help with inn repairs. But what was meant to be a simple deal quickly becomes much more than that when the guy who's done running away joins forces with the girl who can't wait to leave.

Here to Stay is my first foray into Melissa Tagg's writing. It can be quite hard for me to find contemporary romance fiction that I like, so it's quite exciting when I do.

Autumn and Blake had me hooked from the first page.  This became a 'can't-put-it-down' read for me very quickly.  There was just something about Autumn and Blake that I loved.  They were real, fresh and irresistible, and had fantastic chemistry.  Blake was very appealing - good looking, strong and capable, likes to have fun.  Couple that with the fact he was dealing with a deep emotional pain ... and well, that's a very sexy recipe! Autumn needed his help - but she wasn't a 'needy' character and she happily accepted his help, which is a refreshing change.

The story is compelling, dealing with a tragedy that both Autumn and Blake were associated with a few years prior.  The town of Whisper Shore was delightful and its characters engaging.  We join not only Autumn and Blake in their journey to emotional healing, but the whole town as well.

I also love Melissa Tagg's writing style and voice, and found it witty and entertaining.

My only reservation is that the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I would have liked.  I think the grand gesture you expect at the end of a romance didn't feel quite as big as it could be.

But besides from that, I happily recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an engaging, heartwarming and put-a-smile-on-your-dial kind of contemporary romance. I look forward to what Melissa Tagg releases next!

Helen is a freelance editor, specialising in fiction. For more information on her editing services, please visit her website.

As a reader, 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.