Audiobook Review: Tried and True by Mary Connealy

Title: Tried & True
Author: Mary Connealy
Narrator: Barbara McCulloh
Series: Wild at Heart, Book 1
Print Publisher: Bethany House
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Published: September 2014

About the Book (from the publisher’s web site):

Saddle up for a wildly fun ride with the Wilde sisters!

Kylie Wilde is the youngest sister–and the most civilized. Her older sisters might be happy dressing in trousers and posing as men, but Kylie has grown her hair long and wears skirts every chance she gets. It’s a risk–they are homesteading using the special exemptions they earned serving in the Civil War as “boys”–but Kylie plans to make the most of the years before she can sell her property and return to the luxuries of life back East.

Local land agent Aaron Masterson is fascinated with Kylie from the moment her long hair falls from her cap. But now that he knows her secret, can he in good conscience defraud the U.S. government? And when someone tries to force Kylie off her land, does he have any hope of convincing her that marrying him and settling on the frontier is the better option for her future?

My Thoughts on the Book:

Tried and True is a fun and lighthearted romp of a story.  If you enjoy inspirational romantic comedy, then you’re going to love this first book in the Wild at Heart series by Mary Connealy.  Our lovely heroine Kylie may have taken up arms to serve her country in the Civil War and then claimed her own homestead out West, all under the pretext of being a boy, but she’s counting down the days until she can leave all that behind for the life she really wants.  One that includes feminine attire, tea parties, and the comforts of “civilized” life back east.

Over the course of the book, Kylie and her “brothers” (read: sisters) wind up in one outrageous situation after another, each described in just the right manner to bring out the humor inherent in the situation.  The opening scene does a great job setting the tone for the book.  We meet Kylie as she attempts to patch a loose shingle on her roof, under threat of an approaching rainstorm, using an improvised “ladder” assembled from a hodgepodge of furniture including a rocking chair.

Throughout the book, there’s a touch of suspense, a healthy dose of sweet romantic moments, and some obstacles and lessons to be learned on the path toward happily ever after for the hero and heroine, but it’s definitely the humor that takes center stage in this book.  And I have to say, the humor is very well done.  I found myself chuckling time and again at something somebody did or said, or the droll way a situation was described.  (Which made for a lovely change of pace from a few much more serious books I read shortly before this one.)  Highly recommended for when you’re in the mood for something fun!

Specific to the Audiobook:

Barbara McCulloh was an excellent choice as narrator for Tried and True.  You can just tell she’s got a real sense of comedic timing that was perfectly in sync with the text of the book.  She paced her delivery wonderfully, speeding up or slowing down certain bits to give maximum impact to the witty asides sprinkled throughout the text, before returning to the casually comfortable reading pace of the majority of the narration.  Male, female, and female-pretending-to-be-male voices were rendered well, each character having his or her own distinct vocal qualities.  All-in-all, a stellar performance by a skilled narrator.

Thank you to Recorded Books for providing a complimentary copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, March 2015

Three for the Books, March 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot Off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of these featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman released this month from Bethany House Publishers. It’s Book One in the Valiant Hearts series. Young Adult Historical Romance.

About the Book (from Publisher Bethany House):

Where legend and history collide, one young woman will fight for the innocent.

Born a baron’s daughter, Lady Merry Ellison is now an enemy of the throne after her father’s failed assassination attempt upon the king. Bold and uniquely skilled, she is willing to go to any lengths to protect the orphaned children of her former village – a group that becomes known as “The Ghosts of Farthingale Forest.” Merry finds her charge more difficult as their growing notoriety brings increasing trouble their way.

Timothy Grey, ninth child of the Baron of Greyham, longs to perform some feat so legendary that he will rise from obscurity and earn a title of his own. When the Ghosts of Farthingale Forest are spotted in Wyndeshire, where he serves as assistant to the local earl, he might have found his chance. But when he comes face-to-face with the leader of the thieves, he’s forced to reexamine everything he’s known.

Want to browse some more Christian fiction titles releasing this month? NovelCrossing and SoulInspirationz both feature lists of new releases, among other interesting things related to Christian fiction.

Topping the Charts

Emissary by Thomas Locke (Revell, January 2015) appears on this month’s CBA Bestseller List in the Fantasy/Sci-Fi category. It’s Book 1 in the Legends of the Realm series. Here’s the review I shared in January.

About the Book (from Publisher Revell):

In a world where magic has been outlawed for centuries, one young man discovers that he possesses powers beyond his wildest dreams. But he does not realize how pivotal this gift will be in the days to come.

To learn more about this book, check out the publisher’s full description, the book trailer, or my review.

To see what other titles are hot at the moment, check out the Bestseller Lists for Christian fiction.

Cream of the Crop

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, April 2013) won both the INSPY Award and the Carol Award for Historical Romance in 2014. It’s Book 2 in the Michigan Brides series (which starts with Unending Devotion).

About the Book (from Publisher Bethany House):

Michigan 1880.

Annalisa Werner’s hope for a fairy tale love is over. Her husband failed her in every way and now his death has left her with few options to save the family farm. She needs a plentiful harvest. That, and a husband to help bring it in. Someone strong, dependable. That’ll be enough. A marriage for love…that’s something she’s given up on.

So her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

Then a man appears: Carl Richards, from their home country of Germany and a former schoolteacher – or so he says. He’s looking for work and will serve on the farm until her husband arrives.

With time running out, she accepts his help, but there’s more to this man than he’s admitting. He’s also gentle, kind, charming – unlike any man she’s ever known. But even as Carl is shining light into the darkness of her heart, she knows her true groom may arrive any day.

To find more titles among the “Cream of the Crop” check out my list of some of the big awards in Christian fiction, with links to the awards’ Web sites, where you can track down some more winners.

Now it’s your turn, reader friends. Have you read any of these titles? Do you want to? Are there any other titles you’ve read recently that deserve a shout-out? Please speak up in the comments!

Book Review: Seek and Hide by Amanda G Stevens

Title: Seek and Hide
Author: Amanda G Stevens
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Thriller, Inspirational
Series: Haven Seekers, #1
Publication Date: September 2014

About the Book (from publisher David C Cook):

Six years ago, the government took control of the church.  Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations.  Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment – including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent.

Aubrey Weston recanted her faith when the Constabulary threatened her baby.  Now released, she just wants to provide for her son and avoid government notice.  But she’s targeted again, and this time, her baby is taken into custody.  If only she’d never denied Him, maybe God would hear her pleas for help.

When Aubrey and Marcus’s lives collide, they are forced to confront the lies they believe about themselves.   And God is about to grab hold of Marcus’s life in a way he’d never expect, turning a loner into a leader.

My Thoughts on the Book:

I love this book!  It makes me want to go bury a Bible in a time capsule out in the woods somewhere, just in case.  And then bury my nose in another copy of the Bible and soak up as much of God’s word as I can while I still can.  Because, seriously, what if this kind of thing actually happened?

Amanda G Stevens has dreamed up a dystopian future that feels a little too plausible for comfort.  And that’s the beauty of it.  This story reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted.  The details and “history” of the story’s present situation are revealed gradually, a tantalizing sliver at a time in such a way that the story world doesn’t overshadow the story itself.

Rather, the focus of this book is on the small scale.  It’s the story of one small church group that meets secretly in a back room, one pair of friends wordlessly supporting each other, one woman fighting to reclaim her baby and avoid trouble with the law, and one man determined to do his part to help one member of his Christian family at a time even if that means putting his own freedom on the line.

The characters are complex, and they’re dealing with some pretty significant issues.  One character is dealing with the emotional and spiritual fallout of having been raped years ago.  Another is an alcoholic, nearly nine years sober, and still struggling.  While these thematic elements put this book on the edgier side of things as Christian fiction goes, I thought these subjects were handled tastefully, from a Christian perspective.  On top of that, they provide a vehicle for worthwhile spiritual discussions on the nature of God, temptation, guilt, mercy, and how God uses His people for good, despite our weaknesses.

Oh, and there’s a twist, near the end, that I did not see coming AT ALL.  But I can’t tell you.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  Fair warning though, you may want tissues.

On a more up-beat note, I really admire some of the lovely, creative descriptions found in this book.  Here are a few I highlighted as I read:

“God had put some beautiful things in the world, but nothing beat the sky.  Especially when it rolled with storm clouds the color of Lee’s eyes.” (from Chapter 4)

“She’d thought his voice deep at first, but it wasn’t very.  More like … solid, each word an arrow that knew where it headed.  And clipped.  The syllables never lingered.” (from Chapter 14)

I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out where the story will go from here.  I highly recommend Seek and Hide, and I’m planning to track down a copy of the next book in the series, Found and Lost in the very near future.

Thank you to publisher David C Cook for providing a free electronic copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Christian Fiction Book Club Connection, March 2015

Book Club Connection

Welcome to the March 2015 edition of the Christian Fiction Book Club Connection. Thanks for stopping by. Whether you’re a pastor or ministry leader thinking of forming a book discussion group at your church, a current member of a book club, or simply a fan of Christian fiction hoping to connect with other readers, you’re in the right place!

This month’s post includes a featured book that I think is well suited to discussion, as well as links to upcoming online discussions. Then I’ll wrap up the post with a discussion question I’d like YOU to chime in on.

Featured Read

Title: Lip Reading
Author: Harry Kraus
Publisher: David C Cook
Publication Date: March 2014

This medical suspense takes a look at the world of pharmaceutical research. It’s also a page-turning inspirational read that raises some interesting questions, of the kind that I think could make for a good discussion. Check out my review, as well as the author‘s and publisher‘s Web sites to learn more about the book, and decide if it’s one your book group might enjoy.

Online Discussions

The ACFW Book Club‘s March selection is The Daughter of Highland Hall by Carrie Turansky. You can subscribe to the group’s e-mail list now, by following the instructions on their Web site, to be sure not to miss any announcements or discussion questions.

For February, the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads is discussing Danger in the Shadows (O’Malley #0.5) by Dee Henderson AND Love’s Reckoning (Ballantyne Legacy #1) by Laura Frantz. Grab your copies and head on over to the discussion forum to check in with others who are in the midst of reading these books.

The Fans of Christian Romance Goodreads group is reading Beyond the Waves (Pacific Shores #1) by Lynnette Bonner for its March discussion.

For fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, Jamie of the Books and Beverages blog hosts a monthly Inklings discussion series. Sometimes fiction, sometimes non-fiction, the title for the month of March is The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Discussion is scheduled to begin on March 18th.

The #HedlundChallenge2015 features discussion of one of author Jody Hedlund’s historical fiction novels each month.  The discussion is hosted in alternating months by Jamie of Books and Beverages and Cassie of Bookshelves and Windows.  For March, participants will be discussing An Uncertain Choice, as well as its prequel novella, The Vow at Cassie’s blog beginning March 24th (discussion details here and here).

Update:  I’ve got a last minute addition to the list this month.  Just found out that Susan May Warren is hosting a Book Club Chat for her latest book Always On My Mind.  For details and to sign up, check out the Facebook post or the Video Announcement.

Let’s Chat!

For this month’s discussion, I thought we might like to talk about discussion questions. For many books, you can find a discussion guide with suggested questions in the back of the book or on the publisher’s or author’s Web site. Those questions can be a great place to start, asking relevant questions about specific scenes and characters, and sometimes revealing hints as to what the author may have hoped readers would get from the book. But not every book has a discussion guide.

For those times when discussion questions haven’t been provided, what are your go to questions? Do you have any favorites that can be applied to a variety of books? Please share in the comments!

To help get the conversations started, I thought I’d share a link to a great list of generic questions for discussing Christian fiction I found over on the Reading Group Guides Web site (where they also provide title-specific discussion questions for a huge selection of books). Some of these questions look really good and worth checking out for discussion ideas.  I’d probably add a couple of additional questions to their list.

  • Which were your favorite (or least favorite) characters and why?
  • Were there any really quotable lines in this book you’d like to share?

Any other questions you’d like to add to the list?  Or any already on the list that you particularly like?  I’d love to hear from you!

Book Review: Fear Has a Name by Creston Mapes

Title: Fear Has a Name
Author: Creston Mapes
Series: The Crittendon Files, Book 1
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Contemporary Christian fiction, Mystery / Thriller
Published: June 2013

About the Book (from Publisher David C Cook):

From popular suspense author Creston Mapes comes another faith-building thriller, a tale that follows journalist Jack Crittendon as he fights to protect his family from a stalker’s terrifying schemes, investigates a pastor’s mysterious disappearance, and struggles to keep his faith amidst unthinkable fear.

With his family’s safety on the line, Crittendon realizes there are secrets behind “Christian” walls – secrets with painful, deadly implications. He must find the faith to trust a God who allows inconceivable trials, and the courage to guard his family, with danger exploding at every turn.

Through it all, the sharp, character-driven writing for which Mapes is known takes fans and new readers on an edge-of-your-seat journey that explores the harsh, far-reaching consequences of bullying and the Christian response to fear.

My Thoughts on the Book:

At first I thought this would be a really easy review to write.  The books I enjoy the most usually are.  But as I thought about what to write about Fear Has a Name, I realized that with all the plot twists in this book, many of the things I wanted to discuss would be very challenging to say without revealing spoilers, and I’m determined NOT to reveal spoilers here, so I’m just going to have to watch what I say.  :)

In a nutshell, the three things about this book that made the biggest impression on me were the complex characters, the suspenseful and tightly woven plot, and the significant faith element embedded within the story.

Let’s talk about the plot first (in vague-ish terms to avoid those spoilers).  This book features two storylines, running in parallel, that eventually converge for a dramatic and emotionally moving conclusion.  Each storyline features mystery, danger, and the kind of urgency that keeps those pages turning.  I was hooked from the nightmarishly realistic opening scene straight through to the conclusion.

As entertaining as this story is, there’s a lot of substance here too.  Fear Has a Name is a thought provoking book that goes well beyond surface Christianity.  It grapples with some challenging theological issues like why bad things happen to good people, finding the faith to get through terrifying circumstances, and the idea that offering mercy to those who hurt us can be a way of pointing to what Jesus did on the cross.  Powerful stuff that, and well integrated into the tale.

I think that part of the reason the deeper stuff fits so well in this story is because many of the characters and relationships in this story have a depth and complexity.  The lead characters aren’t perfect.  Jack and Pam (and others) display real human flaws that make them easy to relate to.  As a married couple, they have their disagreements, but they’re both working to make it work.  (And, as an aside, can I just say that in a genre dominated by boy-meets-girl romance and courtship, it’s refreshing to see some lead characters in an established marriage.)  I was also impressed by the fact that even some of the… um… less admirable characters come across sympathetically.  I was totally rooting for some of the more messed up characters to rise above their past hurts, find redemption, and get their act together.

I’m kind of late to the game, reviewing this book a full two and a half years after it released.  But if you enjoy a suspenseful read, I can highly recommend this one.  And, FYI, the following two books in this series have already been released, so if you’re starting now, you’ll be able to read straight through.  :)

Thank you to author, Creston Mapes for providing a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  To learn more about this author check out his Web site / blog, where you’ll also find links to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund

Title: Rebellious Heart
Author: Jody Hedlund
Publisher: Bethany House
Series: Hearts of Faith
Genre(s): Historical Romance, Inspirational Fiction
Published: September 2013

About the Book (from Publisher, Bethany House):

Massachusetts, 1763

A Love That Would Shape History Forever

Because she’s a woman, higher learning was always closed to Susanna Smith. But her quick mind and quicker tongue never back down from a challenge. And she’s determined to marry well, so she’ll be able to continue her work with the less fortunate.

Growing up with little to his name, poor country lawyer Benjamin Ross dreams of impacting the world for the better. When introduced to the Smiths he’s taken by Susanna’s intelligence and independent spirit, but her parents refuse to see him as a suitor for their daughter.

When the life of a runaway indentured servant is threatened, Susanna is forced to choose between justice and mercy, and Ben becomes her unlikely advisor. But drawing closer to this man of principle and intellect lands her in a dangerous, secret world of rebellion and revolution against everything she once held dear.

My Thoughts on the Book:

What a great read!  This book explores the kinds of difficult decisions arising in situations where legality and morality may be at odds.  It resonates with themes of bravery and self-sacrifice.  And the romance is delightfully swoon-worthy.

Set in the time leading up to the American Revolution, the book takes John and Abigail Adams as the inspiration for its lead characters Benjamin Ross and Susanna Smith.  I appreciated the way the author’s note separated out which bits of character and plot were borrowed directly from the history books and which parts were fabricated or adjusted to suit the needs of this fictional story.

I liked the lead characters a lot.  Susanna and Ben are both smart, opinionated people driven to make a difference, and even though they don’t see completely eye to eye on a number of issues at first, they respect and appreciate each other’s insights.  I’ve got to say, I loved their quick-witted banter and thought they were such a great match for each other.  As a librarian and bibliophile, I rather enjoyed their literary flirtations and general love for reading.  Just to illustrate, here are a couple of quotes within a quote (page 150):

He grinned.  “I agree with Erasmus: ‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’”

She laughed softly.  “And I agree with Cicero: ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul.’”

As an aside, I asked my husband how he thought I should quote a quote within a quote when the original quote has already used both single and double quotation marks.  His response (and I quote): “My brain hurts.”  I opted just to indent the passage, because unlike in math where you can nest parentheses indefinitely, in literature too many layers of quotation marks just seem to get ugly.  Anybody have an opinion on this?  No?  Okay then.  I guess I’ll have to lay off the grammatical nerdiness and move along with the review….  ;)

I think my favorite character, aside from the romantic leads, would have to be Grandmother Eve.  She’s a very perceptive and persuasive woman.  I love the way she encourages Susanna to value love over status and to find the bravery to do the right thing.  Plus she practices what she preaches, doing her part to stand up for what’s right.  In her own words (Page 275):

“Sometimes doing the right thing is perilous, darling.”  Grandmother Eve was already lowering the trapdoor.  “But you are brave, Susanna.  Braver than you know.”

Have you read this book yet?  Because it happens to be the subject of discussion in this month’s #HedlundChallenge2015 discussion, which is happening TODAY (2/24/15) at the Books and Beverages blog, so hop on over there to share your opinion.  Or tell me here.  That’d be cool too.  :)  For more about the Jody Hedlund Challenge and to find out what’s up for discussion next month, check out these posts.

Three for the Books: Featured Reads in Christian Fiction, February 2015

Three for the Books, February 2015

The monthly “Three for the Books” post is where I feature new (Hot off the Presses), best selling (Topping the Charts), and award winning (Cream of the Crop) Christian fiction books. I select one title to feature in each category, as well as providing links to where you can browse additional newly released, best selling, and award winning titles. Have you read any of my featured titles? Any others you’d like to give a shout-out? Comments are always welcome!

Hot Off the Presses

Are you a fan of suspense? Have you been following Terri Blackstock’s Moonlighters series? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then you’ll be interested to hear that Twisted Innocence, Book 3 in the Moonlighters series just released this month. I have some catching up to do myself, having only recently reviewed the audiobook edition of Truth Stained Lies (Book 1 in the series). Featuring one of three sisters in each book and a sequential storyline, this is a series you’ll probably want to read in order.  Truth Stained Lies, followed by Distortion, and now Twisted Innocence.  The good news is, if you’re just getting started, you can read them all straight through.  :)

About Twisted Innocence (from Publisher Zondervan):

Holly Cramer’s past choices have finally caught up to her, but she never expected them to endanger her baby.

Though Holly’s stumbled through most of her adult life as a party girl, she longs to live a more stable life for her daughter. Then police show up to question her about the whereabouts of Creed Kershaw, Lily’s father. She has kept his identity a secret from friends and family—she never even told him about the pregnancy. Now he’s a person of interest in a drug-related murder case.

Determined to keep him out of their lives and turn him over to police, Holly uses her private investigating skills to search for him. But her bravado backfires when he turns the tables and takes her and the baby hostage. As desperate hours tick by, Holly realizes his connection to Leonard Miller—the man who has gunned down several members of her family. Creed claims he’s innocent and that Miller is after him too. His gentleness with Lily moves her, but she can’t trust a man who has held her at gunpoint . . . even if he reminds her so much of herself.

Dangers old and new threaten Holly and her baby, and lives are demanded as sacrifices for love. Through a complex web of mistakes and regret, redemption is the one hope Holly has left to hold on to.

Want to browse some more Christian fiction titles releasing this month? NovelCrossing and SoulInspirationz both feature lists of new releases, among other interesting things related to Christian fiction.

Topping the Charts

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers was first published ten months ago, but it’s still way up there on the CBA and ECPA Bestseller lists.  That’s some pretty impressive staying power!

About Bridge to Haven (from Publisher Tyndale House):

To those who matter in 1950s Hollywood, Lena Scott is the hottest rising star to hit the silver screen since Marilyn Monroe. Few know her real name is Abra. Even fewer know the price she’s paid to finally feel like she’s somebody.

To Pastor Ezekiel Freeman, Abra will always be the little girl who stole his heart the night he found her, a wailing newborn abandoned under a bridge on the outskirts of Haven. Zeke and his son, Joshua—Abra’s closest friend—watch her grow into an exotic beauty. But Zeke knows the circumstances surrounding her birth etched scars deep in her heart, scars that leave her vulnerable to a fast-talking bad boy who proclaims his love and lures her to Tinseltown. Hollywood feels like a million miles from Haven, and naive Abra quickly learns what’s expected of an ambitious girl with stars in her eyes. But fame comes at an awful price. She has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted. Now, all she wants is a way back home.

In this riveting and highly anticipated tale of temptation, grace, and unconditional love, New York Times best-selling author Francine Rivers delivers big-canvas storytelling at its very best.

To see what other titles are hot at the moment, check out the Bestseller Lists for Christian fiction.

Cream of the Crop

Dear Mr. Knightley won the 2014 Carol Awards in the Contemporary AND Debut categories, as well as taking home the Inspy Award for Debut novel.  It’s also among my favorite books.  I love the emotional and literary qualities (see my review for more gushing).  Oh, and it’s among the Christian fiction titles being discussed this month by one of the book groups I follow.

About Dear Mr. Knightley (from Publisher Thomas Nelson):

Samantha Moore has always hidden behind the words of others—namely her favorite characters in literature. Now, she will learn to write her own story—by giving that story to a complete stranger.

Growing up orphaned and alone, Sam found her best friends in the works of Austen, Dickens, and the Brontë sisters. The problem is that she now relates to others more comfortably as Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre than as herself.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the things we care about most.

But life for this twenty-three-year-old is about to get stranger than fiction, when an anonymous benefactor (calling himself “Mr. Knightley”) offers to put Sam through the prestigious Medill School of Journalism. There is only one catch: Sam must write frequent letters to the mysterious donor, detailing her progress.

As Sam’s program and peers force her to confront her past, she finds safety in her increasingly personal letters to Mr. Knightley. And when Sam meets eligible, best-selling novelist Alex Powell, those letters unfold a story of love and literature that feels as if it’s pulled from her favorite books. But when secrets come to light, Sam is – once again – made painfully aware of how easily trust can be broken.

Reay’s debut novel follows one young woman’s journey as she sheds her protective persona and embraces the person she was meant to become.

To find more titles among the “Cream of the Crop” check out my list of some of the big awards in Christian fiction, with links to the awards’ Web sites, where you can track down some more winners.

Now it’s your turn, reader friends. Have you read any of these titles? Do you want to? Are there any other titles you’ve read recently that deserve a shout-out? Please speak up in the comments!

Audiobook Review: Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

Title: Born of Persuasion
Author: Jessica Dotta
Narrator: Amanda McKnight
Series: Price of Privilege Trilogy, #1
Print Publisher: Tyndale House
Audio Publisher: Oasis Audio
Genre: Gothic Romance, Inspirational
Published: September 2013

About the Book (from the Tyndale House Publishers web site):

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

My Thoughts on the Story:

Absolutely fascinating.  I’ll admit I hadn’t expected to encounter classic Gothic horror in an Inspirational title.  I think that’s part of this book’s charm.  Born of Persuasion is so different from much of what I’ve read in Christian fiction so far, it took me delightfully by surprise.  Mystery, romance, and an undercurrent of danger abound in this novel full of unexpected plot twists, Victorian sensibilities, and uncertain loyalties.

With her own past shrouded in mystery, and with the recent death of her mother under suspicious circumstances, our heroine and first person storyteller, Julia Elliston, begins her tale with a very incomplete picture of her own situation.  She quickly finds herself adrift among people with competing agendas, some wanting to help her, and others wanting to manipulate her for their own gain.  The challenge for her, and for the reader, is determining which is which.

Who can be trusted?  Edward, Julia’s longtime beau who she feels has betrayed her by becoming a vicar, despite knowing how, as an atheist, she feels she’s been mistreated by others in the name of religious fervor?  Her mysterious guardian who intends to send her off to Scotland to work as a Lady’s companion?  Mrs. Windham, the mother of a friend, who offers to provide Julia a small dowry and help her find a husband, albeit not a very prestigious or wealthy one, rather than be sent away?  Lady Foxmore whose lofty connections and questionable methods could procure her a socially desirable husband… for a hefty fee?  Or the wealthy and charming Mr. Macy who has an admittedly sketchy and mysterious past, but who promises Julia safety and security, not to mention social status, if she marries him?

Here’s a favorite quote from the book (Chapter 26, pages 170-1), a conversation about faith between Julia and Edward:

“How can you believe in a God who is so cruel?” I asked.

Edward’s countenance took on an aching look.  He did not have to ask what I meant.  Though the ground was cold and wet, he joined me.  And because he did not rush to answer, because he took the time to consider my viewpoint, I listened when he finally began to speak.

“Imagine the kindest, gentlest man you can.  A man who reaches out to the most wretched and works to restore the undeserving.  No injustice is tolerated, no snobbery, no bickering.”

I eyed Jacob Turner, predicting where Edward was going.

“Now, imagine him a general,” Edward continued, “and off to war.  During this time, all sorts of horrible rumors and distressing reports have reached his home country and his family’s ears.  And while these reports may be true, those who know and love him best can only tell others to keep faith.  There are explanations; surely there are a myriad of reasons that have not yet been revealed.”  He pointed at the cottager.  “Men like him are like that family.  He keeps faith that this isn’t the full story.”

I cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Wait for the ending,” Edward said.

Such a great analogy!  There aren’t very many passages like this, delving into theological issues, but the ones that are included in this book are brief, feel natural, and leave an impression.  Well done.

I loved how the author kept me guessing with complex characters and unexpected plot twists.  And I am intensely curious to learn how Julia’s character and beliefs might develop over the course of this series.  This book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger with plenty of questions remaining unanswered and secrets yet to be revealed.  Jessica Dotta has crafted a page-turner of a book that leaves me with the feeling I MUST KNOW what’s next.  And just to compound my already intense curiosity, there’s the fact that I know several bloggers who’ve read this series through and been incredibly vocal about how amazing it is.  So yes, I’ll be seeking out Books 2 (Mark of Distinction) and 3 (Price of Privilege) post-haste.

Fans of the works of Austen and the Bronte sisters will likely eat this story up.  As will many readers interested in trying something a little different from the usual Inspirational fiction fare.

Thoughts on the Audio Edition:

I absolutely adored listening to the narrator’s British accent.  Amanda McKnight’s gentle, melodious voice fits the voice I imagine for Julia Elliston, with her sweet and unassuming character, perfectly.  And since this novel is told in Julia’s first person point of view, as though she’s relating her own story, that fit between narrator and character is absolutely essential.  What a great pick to play the role, and what a lovely performance!  I’m a big fan of the poetic quality of Victorian style language, and this narrator’s reading highlights that quality in this text to beautiful effect.

Thank you to Oasis Audio for providing a complimentary electronic copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

2015 Audie Award Finalists in the Inspirational / Faith-Based Categories

Just yesterday, the Audio Publishers Association officially announced the finalists in the 2015 Audie Awards competition.  These awards are meant to recognize excellence among audiobooks in thirty categories, including two categories I find of particular interest – Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction and Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction.

Since I’m a big fan of Christian fiction audiobooks (and suspect some of you may be as well?) I thought I’d share this year’s finalists with you.  I’ll admit I was a little surprised that none of the amazing Christian fiction audiobook titles I’ve listened to and reviewed here on the blog this year made it on this list, but that just makes me more curious to listen to the ones that did and see what sets them apart.

Inspirational / Faith-Based Fiction


The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C Rosenberg
Narrated by Christopher Lane
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Publishing
Print Publisher: Tyndale House

Description (from Amazon.com):

A terrible darkness has fallen upon Jacob Weisz’s beloved Germany. The Nazi regime, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, has surged to power and now hold Germany by the throat. All non-Aryans – especially Jews like Jacob and his family – are treated like dogs.

When tragedy strikes during one terrible night of violence, Jacob flees and joins rebel forces working to undermine the regime. But after a raid goes horribly wrong, Jacob finds himself in a living nightmare – trapped in a crowded, stinking car on the train to the Auschwitz death camp.

As World War II rages and Hitler begins implementing his “final solution” to systematically and ruthlessly exterminate the Jewish people, Jacob must rely on his wits and a God he’s not sure he believes in to somehow escape from Auschwitz and alert the world to the Nazi’s atrocities before Fascism overtakes all of Europe. The fate of millions hangs in the balance.


Chasing the Lion by Nancy Kimball
Narrated by Joseph Narducci
Self-Published by Nancy Kimball

Description (from Amazon.com):

From the blood-soaked sand of the Roman arena, a divine destiny will rise.

For as long as Jonathan Tarquinius can remember, everyone has wanted something from him. His half-brother wants him dead. His master’s wife wants his innocence. The gladiator dealers want him to fight – and die – for their greed. Rome’s most famous prostitute wants his love. And the gentle slave girl who tends the wounds on his body and the hidden ones on his soul, longs for him to return to his faith.

What Jonathan wants is simple. Freedom. But God wants something from Jonathan too – something more than anyone would ever imagine. The young warrior’s journey will push him to the limits of human endurance and teach him that true freedom is found within.

The greatest battle Jonathan must ever fight will not come in the arena, but deep within himself as he is forced to choose between vengeance and mercy – with the fate of an empire and the life of the woman he loves hanging in the balance.


The Christmas Light by Donna VanLiere
Narrated by Donna VanLiere
Audio Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Print Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Description (from Amazon.com):

In the small town of Grandon, five very different people discover the true meaning of Christmas. Jennifer and Ryan are both single parents, struggling with their own losses and heartache. Sixteen-year-old Kaylee is faced with a life-changing situation that has affected her whole family. Stephen and Lily are happily married and ready to start a family. All of them are facing their own struggles, and all are finding their way through the dark. When they are brought together for a rather unconventional church Nativity, they will learn that with strength, courage, and love, there is always hope.


The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom
Narrated by Mitch Albom
Audio Publisher: HarperAudio
Print Publisher: Harper

Description (from Amazon.com):

The First Phone Call from Heaven tells the story of a small town on Lake Michigan that gets worldwide attention when its citizens start receiving phone calls from the afterlife. Is it the greatest miracle ever or a massive hoax? Sully Harding, a grief-stricken single father, is determined to find out. An allegory about the power of belief – and a page-turner that will touch your soul – Albom’s masterful storytelling has never been so moving and unexpected.

Readers of The Five People You Meet in Heaven will recognize the warmth and emotion so redolent of Albom’s writing, and those who haven’t yet enjoyed the power of his storytelling will thrill at the discovery of one of the best-loved writers of our time.


Grounded by Angela Correll
Narrated by Lyssa Browne
Audio Publisher: Cedar House Audio Productions
Print Publisher: Koehler Books

Description (from Amazon.com):

New York City flight attendant Annie Taylor is grounded, putting a halt to weekends in Rome and her jet-setting lifestyle. Soon her noncommittal boyfriend’s true nature is revealed, and to top it all off, she loses her apartment. With nowhere else to go, Annie leaves the city for the family farm in Kentucky, a place she’s avoided for years. She finds a shotgun-wielding grandmother, a farm in disrepair, and a suspicious stranger renting the old stone house. The country quiet haunts Annie with reminders of a past that can’t be changed. She tries persuading her grandmother to sell the farm, but is met with stubborn refusal? Yet in the midst of her crashing life, Annie sees a glimmer of hope for a second chance.

Jake Wilder is contemplating jumping off the corporate ladder to follow his passion for sustainable farming. He’s almost ready to propose to Camille, a girl who wants more, not less. Annie believes Jake is about to make a terrible mistake, but does she have the right to tell him?

As the summer heats up, so do Annie’s unexpected feelings for Jake and her interest in the land. When a sudden phone call comes from New York, Annie is forced to choose between coming to terms with her past or leaving it all behind.


A Sensible Arrangement (Lone Star Brides, Book 1) by Tracie Peterson
Narrated by Barbara McCulloh
Audio Publisher: Recorded Books
Print Publisher: Bethany House

Description (from Amazon.com):

Marty Dandridge Olson is a widow looking for a way out of Texas. Widower Jake Wythe has secured a job as a bank manager in Denver, only to discover that the bank board wants him to be a married man. With Texas in his roots, he advertises for a Lone Star bride, and Marty answers the call. They both agree they are done with romance and love and will make this nothing more than a marriage of convenience. Marty works to carve out a new life in high-society Denver as Jake works to guide the bank through a collapsing economy.

But when money goes missing at the bank and accounting discrepancies point to Jake, he must find a way to prove his innocence. Yet all he wants to do is go back to Texas and own his own ranch. Marty, on the other hand, owns a ranch – one she’s never told her husband about. She hates Texas because it represents the losses in her life. But as the couple grows closer and love begins to bloom, Marty realizes she needs to tell Jake the truth. Can she come to terms with the past and her anger toward God in order to make room for love?


Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction

Since the focus of my blog is on Christian fiction, I’ll not devote quite as much space to the Non-fiction finalists. But, for those who may be interested, here’s a list of the Inspirational / Faith-Based Non-fiction Audie Award finalists for 2015 (with links where you can learn more).

Before Amen by Max Lucado, Narrated by Ben Holland (Thomas Nelson)

Living a Life that Matters: From Nazi Nightmare to American Dream by Ben Lesser, Narrated by Ben Lesser and Jonathan Silverman (Remembrance Publishing, LLC)

Prepared for a Purpose by Antoinette Tuff, Narrated by Robin Miles (eChristian)

The Singer and the Song by Miriam Therese Winter, Narrated by Janis Ian (Audible, Inc)

Steel Will by Shilo Harris, Narrated by Johnny Heller (eChristian)


And now, let’s wrap up with a question for my readers.  Have you read or listened to any of these titles? If so, what did you think? If not, would you be interested in seeing some or all of these titles reviewed here? Or more interested in reviews of upcoming titles?

Audiobook Review: Truth Stained Lies by Terri Blackstock

Title: Truth Stained Lies
Author: Terri Blackstock
Series: Moonlighters, Book 1
Print Publisher: Zondervan
Audio Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Narrator: Gabrielle De Cuir
Genre(s): mystery, suspense, Christian fiction
Published: 2013

Book Description (from publishers Zondervan and Brilliance Audio):

When truth doesn’t make sense, will lies prevail? Cathy Cramer is a former lawyer and investigative blogger who writes commentary on high-profile homicides. When she finds a threatening note warning her that she’s about to experience the same kind of judgment and speculation that she dishes out in her blog, Cathy writes it off as mischief . . . until her brother’s wife is murdered and all the “facts” point to him. The killer has staged the crime to make the truth too far-fetched to believe. Working to solve the murder and clear her brother’s name, Cathy and her two sisters, Holly and Juliet, moonlight as part-time private investigators. Juliet, a stay-at-home mom of two boys, and Holly, a scattered ne’er-do-well who drives a taxi, put aside their fear to hunt down the real killer. Stakes rise when their brother’s grieving five-year-old son is kidnapped. As police focus on the wrong set of clues, the three sisters and their battered detective friend are the only hope for solving this bizarre crime, saving the child, and freeing their brother.

My Thoughts:

Truth Stained Lies is a fascinating novel that starts out with the feel of a mystery, and develops features of suspense and a hint of romance as the plot thickens.  This is the first in the Moonlighters series of books by Terri Blackstock.  Distortion is second in the series, with Twisted Innocence releasing this month.

Besides featuring its own mystery to solve, this book does a fabulous job of introducing the interesting and (relatively) large cast of characters that populate the series as a whole.  At various times, it delves into the points of view of each of the three sisters in turn, as well as several other significant characters.  Within this first book, the author introduces us to the family dynamics as well as to each of the individual characters and their challenges.  The more I read about them, the more I want to read.  And while this story ends on a satisfying note, it also left me wanting to know more.  I’m definitely curious to find out what might be in store for these characters as the series continues.  Some romance perhaps?  More danger and intrigue?

I appreciated the strong Christian themes found in this book, which touched on grace & forgiveness.  It didn’t come across as preachy at all, maybe because none of the characters really have it all together.  No one is preaching at anyone else.  They’ve all got a Christian background, but they’re facing their own struggles and doubts, and they turn to each other for advice and help in their weaker moments. Judgment, forgiveness, family ties, uncertain futures, and painful pasts – these characters are dealing with a lot, all while moonlighting as private investigators.  Overall, it makes for a fascinating story, which I’m pleased to recommend.

Specific to the Audiobook:

I sought out this audiobook in particular not just because this was a series I wanted to read in order, but also because this title was an Audie Award finalist in the Inspirational Fiction category for 2014.  Quite the honor!  I held high hopes for an exceptional reading by this audiobook’s narrator, and I was not disappointed.

The audio edition of Truth Stained Lies was not just a reading.  It was a performance.  Narrator Gabrielle De Cuir did a great job showcasing the emotions of the characters and bringing the dialogue to life.  Each character’s voice reflected his or her unique personality and emotional state, even to the extent of going beyond what I might have picked up on in a strictly text-based reading.  I confess, at one point, I did wonder if the level of angst reflected in one character’s voice was a bit more than necessary, but overall, I loved the performance.  The reader’s interpretation throughout this audiobook was most definitely vivid and delightfully performed.  She didn’t pull any punches when it came to reading for emotional impact, and that made for an impressive listening experience that I would be happy to recommend.

Thank you to Zondervan and Brilliance Audio for providing me with a review copy of this audiobook.