Book Recommendation ~ Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman

Book Description:

A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations.

For most of her adult life, Cecily Ross has compared herself to other women—and come up short. After a painful divorce from her emotionally abusive husband, Cecily returns to her hometown of Canyon, Texas, looking to heal.

But coming home isn’t what she expects. In a town as small as Canyon, her pain is difficult to escape—especially with her model-perfect ex–sister-in-law working at the town’s popular coffee-shop hangout. With help from her father, a support group, and an old friend who guides her to see her own strengths, Cecily may have a shot at overcoming her insecurities and learning to love again.

The true test comes when tragedy strikes, opening Cecily’s eyes to the harmfulness of her distorted views on beauty—and giving her the perfect opportunity to find peace at last.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Wow. That’s what I thought when I finished reading, and I read the book fast, within twenty-four hours. I’ve been a fan of Varina Denman’s writing since I read her debut novel, Jaded, and Looking Glass Lies didn’t disappoint.

The story opens with a prologue. We meet Cecily Ross when she’s curled up in the back of her closet in her LA home, hiding away from the world and her emotionally abusive husband. Brett is addicted to porn and has shattered Cecily completely by wanting a divorce.

Fast forward eleven months and Cecily has returned to her home town of Canyon, Texas. She stays in her childhood home with her dad who’s a widower and park ranger. Her father is worried about her and he asks the local therapist, Doctor Graham Harper, to call her.

Graham had a secret crush on Cecily in high school when she was dating her future husband, Brett Ross. Graham has overcome his teenage drug addiction and has a busy practice in town. He offers Cecily a receptionist job. Instead of providing counselling, he sets Cecily up in a women’s support group with married mom of four Shanty and college student Nina.

Cecily meets with Shanty and Nina at Midnight Oil, the local coffee shop owned by celebrity sports star Michael Divins. Cecily struggles to deal with her gorgeous and perfect looking ex-sister-in-law, Mirinda, who works at the cafe and is dating Michael.

Cecily learns that to become emotionally healthy she needs to confront and deal with issues from her past. Secrets are revealed that rock the small community of Canyon and challenge them to face the lies they believe. Body image issues are a core theme in the story, plus the devastating effects of porn addiction and other emotional issues.

The characters are realistic and they deal with real world problems in the story. Edgy issues that may be uncomfortable for some readers are addressed, and the story has a Christian worldview with only a few references to faith.

The sweet romance between Cecily and Graham is complicated. A hero who’s a therapist will, by definition, be cautious in his personal life. Cecily and Graham develop a friendship that is challenged by the events in the story.

I highly recommend Looking Glass Lies to readers who enjoy edgy and realistic Christian romance stories that deal with tough issues.

Looking Glass Lies releases on May 2, 2017. It’s available for pre-order in print and on Kindle, and will be available in Kindle Unlimited.

Many thanks to Waterfall Press and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader Copy.

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation ~ Scared by Tom Davis

Book Description:

Stuart Daniels has hit bottom. Once a celebrated and award-winning photojournalist, he is reeling from debt, a broken marriage, and crippling depression. The source of Stuart’s grief is his most famous photo, a snapshot of brutality in the dangerous Congo. A haunting image that indicts him as a passive witness to gross injustice.

Stuart is given a one last chance to redeem his career: A make-or-break assignment covering the AIDS crisis in a small African country. It is here that Stuart meets Adanna, a young orphan fighting for survival in a community ravaged by tragedy and disease. But in the face of overwhelming odds, Adanna finds hope in a special dream, where she is visited by an illuminated man and given a precious gift.

Now, in a dark place that’s a world away from home, Stuart will once again confront the harsh reality of a suffering people in a forgotten land. And as a chance encounter becomes divine providence, two very different people will find their lives forever changed.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Scared is Tom Davis’ debut novel and the first book in his A Novel on the Edge of the World series. A powerful and intense story that will stay in your mind long after you read the last page.

Stuart Daniels is a washed up photojournalist who receives a prestigious award for a photograph he took on assignment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo nine years earlier. His experiences in the Congo still haunt him, he’s dissatisfied with his life in New York, and his marriage is in trouble. To save his career, he returns to Africa to cover the Aids epidemic in Swaziland.

Adanna is a twelve year old girl living in extreme poverty in Swaziland. She has a dream where she is visited by an illuminated man and given a special gift. She lives in a small tribal community who are scared by the disease ravaging their people, and her family is suffering from malnutrition and often have no food to eat.

The story follows the faith journeys of Stuart and Adanna, and the supernatural element is an organic part of the story. Stuart questions his beliefs and values as he is challenged by the harsh reality of life for the villagers. Adanna’s faith is tested as she endures unspeakable horrors, and life becomes more difficult for her as the story progresses.

If you’re looking for a nice story with a happy ending, then Scared is not the book for you. The story is based on real life experiences, and the desperation and heartache of the local people is not watered down. The ending is both satisfying and tragic. After reading Scared, you can’t help but feel emotional and wonder what you can do to help other children in the world like Adanna. I recommend Scared to those looking for a gritty and compelling story with a strong take away value.

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation ~ Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh

Book Description:

Rick Denton lives his life on his terms. He works hard, plays hard, and answers to no one. So when his mother calls on Thanksgiving weekend begging him to come home after his stepfather has a stroke, Rick is more than a little reluctant. He’s never liked Art and resents the man’s presence in his life, despite the fact that his own father abandoned the family when Rick was just twelve. When what was supposed to be just a couple days helping out at the family bookstore turns into weeks of cashing out old ladies and running off the homeless man who keep hanging about, Rick’s attitude sours even more.

Still, slowly but surely, the little bookstore and its quirky patrons–as well as the lovely young woman who works at his side each day–work their magic on him, revealing to Rick the truth about his family, his own life, and the true meaning of Christmas. With skillful storytelling, Dan Walsh creates a Christmas story will have readers remembering every good and perfect gift of Christmas.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this feel good Christmas story with a touch of romance. Rick has prioritized his career and the lifestyle it affords with little regard for his mother, stepfather and the small beach town in Florida where he grew up. His skiing plans for Thanksgiving are put on hold when he receives his mother’s desperate phone call, and he feels obligated to return home to help run the family Christian bookstore.

Rick’s life choices and priorities are challenged in the story as circumstances force him to consider questions of faith and the future direction of his life. Christmas Day in Florida reminds me of our warm Aussie summer Christmas Days. I recommend Remembering Christmas to those looking for a fun and inspiring Christmas story.

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation ~ Diamonds in the Dust by Shirley Mowat Tucker

Book Description:

Straight out of South Africa comes the poignant tale of Ida Morgan: her husband murdered, abandoned by God, and alone in the world. Ida’s road to healing and wholeness is paved by diamonds in the dust.

Author Shirley Mowat Tucker is a native South African who, through the eyes of Ida Morgan, leads the reader into her country’s secret places… places where there are still wicked men doing wicked things… places where the innocent and defenseless are preyed upon… places drenched in the same bitterness and grief that Ida Morgan now understands first hand.

Narelle’s Thoughts: 

Widowed and childless, Ida Morgan lives in her secure and comfortable home and struggles to rebuild her life after her husband’s brutal murder a few years earlier. She rescues a young girl from a plastic garbage bin floating in a swollen river and begins a life changing adventure that will challenge her attitude and beliefs concerning the plight of orphaned children.

A fast paced story ensues with a cast of characters who pulled at my heart strings and drew me into their incredible story of survival and hope against unspeakable evil and danger. The social fabric of South African society is exposed and the characters are inspired to leave their comfort zone and take action to right some of the wrongs in their community.

Diamonds in the Dust is a beautifully plotted page turner that I couldn’t put down and read within twenty-four hours. A captivating and honest story of forgiveness and redemption, I recommend this book to those looking for a compelling and thought provoking story that tackles tough social issues.

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation ~ Red Ink by Kathi Macias

Book Description:

A young Chinese woman, Zhen-Li—raised to observe the party line, including its one-child-per-family doctrine—falls in love with and marries a Christian, and adopts his faith. Though the couple downplays their Christianity in an effort to survive, Zhen-Li’s family is appalled, and she and her husband are ostracized. When she becomes pregnant for the second time and refuses to have an abortion, the persecution begins in earnest. Zhen-Li’s parents, under pressure from the government, pay to have Zhen-Li kidnapped and the baby aborted.

It is then Zhen-Li decides she must live up to her name—”Truth”—and take a firm stand for her faith, regardless of the consequences, and so she begins to regularly teach children about Zhu Yesu (“Lord Jesus”) and to distribute Christian literature every chance she gets.

Based loosely on the life of Christian magazine editor Li Ying, currently serving a ten-year prison sentence in China, the story of Yang Zhen-Li tells the desperate tale of her incarceration and separation from her family, as she continues to minister to other prisoners, and even to her guards.

Narelle’s Thoughts: 

Red Ink is one of those books you will remember long after you finish reading. Zhen-Li’s story will stir your emotions as you journey with this courageous young woman who faces extreme persecution and pressure to recant her faith.

Kathi Macias has written an inspiring and challenging story. The true state of the hearts of the characters is exposed in an honest portrayal of the lengths people will go to achieve their selfish agendas. The power of intercessory prayer is masterfully shown as characters stand firm in the face of evil.

I highly recommend Red Ink to those looking for a story that will touch that place deep inside them and lead them to question how much suffering and hardship they would be prepared to endure when standing up for their beliefs.

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation: I Always Cry At Weddings by Sara Goff

I Always Cry At Weddings

Book Description:

Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite’s son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding. At least until she realizes her relationship isn’t what it should be. Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable–she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she’ll save sex for marriage.

She’s convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance…and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.

But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live…and what in the world love really means.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I Always Cry at Weddings is Sara Goff’s delightful debut novel set in New York City. The story is a contemporary romantic comedy that’s different to many other books in the Christian fiction genre. Ava comes across as a little shallow at the start of the story. She has spoiled princess moments, and she takes for granted the privileges that accompany her glamourous New York City lifestyle.  We see Ava evolve and grow as the story progresses and her life circumstances become more challenging.

Ava has everything she could want from a financial perspective, and a bright future with a fiance who can provide a life of luxury and comfort.  Her future mother-in-law adores her, and she is forced to deal with a very personal crisis as her wedding day draws closer.

We journey with Ava as she calls off the wedding and deals with the aftermath. Her life is no longer mapped out for her, and she struggles to regain her feet and find purpose. The urban setting is brought alive in the story, and the sensory detail draws the reader into the vibrant New York City setting. Ava’s dating escapades have a realistic edge. We see the city through her eyes, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ava’s faith journey is not really apparent until later in the story. The spiritual content is subtle, and Christian themes of social justice are infused in the story. The large majority of the characters don’t hold Christian values and beliefs. As a result, the story includes situations that we don’t often see in Christian fiction stories that are populated with Christian characters.  Conservative readers may be offended by some of these situations. The characters make mistakes and have to live with the consequences of their poor judgment. Ava is at times naive, and she’s also determined to take some big risks to achieve her goals.

The characterisation is excellent and the story contains strong romantic elements.  The minor characters add additional layers to the story. I was intrigued by Chris, a homeless man who slept outside Ava’s apartment complex on a flat cardboard box with his dog for company. The story has humorous moments and twists and turns that kept me guessing and led to a satisfying ending.  I highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for realistic and entertaining contemporary Christian fiction in an urban setting that tackles social issues.


Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com