Monday, March 6, 2017

Iola Goulton reviews THE ILLUSIONIST'S APPRENTICE by Kristy Cambron

Iola Goulton reviews The Illusionist's Apprentice by Kristy Cambron.

Amazon Description

Harry Houdini's one-time apprentice holds fantastic secrets about the greatest illusionist in the world. But someone wants to claim them . . . or silence her before she can reveal them on her own.

Boston, 1926. Jenny "Wren" Lockhart is a bold eccentric--even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman's dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.

In the months following Houdini's death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini's ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he's known as one of her teacher's greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton's defender.

Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren's carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age's bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist's Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life's stage.

My Review

This is Kristy Cambron’s fourth novel, and I am really hoping it signals a permanent change in direction. That’s not to say her first three novels weren’t any good—they were. The first two were dual timeline stories with a present-day plot that linked back to Hitler’s Germany They weren’t exactly my preferred happy-ever-after (see above comment re: Hitler’s Germany), but they were excellent. Her third novel also moved around in time, but was primarily a historical romance set against a backdrop of Ringling Bros. Circus. I’ve read and reviewed them all, and they were all excellent.

The Illusionist’s Apprentice takes what was good about each of Cambron’s earlier novels and steps it up a notch. It’s said that we are each a combination of the five people we spend the most time with. Well, Cambron is now keeping company with some of the giants of the Christian suspense world, and it shows. She thanks Robyn Carroll, Colleen Coble, Lynette Eason, Ronie Kendig, Michelle Lim, and Carrie Stuart Parks with helping her brainstorm … and it shows.

Wren Lockhart is an illusionist, apprenticed under Harry Houdini himself. Like Harry, she has never believed in people coming back from the dead (with the obvious exception of Jesus), so she’s more than sceptical when she visits a graveyard one New Year’s Eve to watch a man be raised from the dead. But she’s as surprised as anyone when a man climbs out of the grave … and promptly dies.

FBI agent Elliot Matthews is also in attendance, and now finds himself in charge of a murder investigation. While no one knows the identity of who died in the graveyard that night, it’s obvious that a man was alive and talking and then he wasn’t. It’s equally obvious that something untoward happened.

Elliott approaches Wren for help, but that doesn’t go as planned when they are pushed together at a society party and followed home by live bullets. But were they aiming at Elliot … or at Wren? Why? Is it related to the death in the graveyard or something else? And what?

The Illusionist’s Apprentice follows some of the pattern of Cambron’s earlier novels, as we are shown some of Wren’s background through well-placed flashbacks. But it’s also definitely a suspense novel, as the flashbacks gave both all the clues necessary to identify the evildoer and their motive … and none of the clues. The ending was a complete surprise, completely logical, and completely satisfying.

Overall, The Illusionist’s Apprentice was an excellent historical suspense/murder with a pleasing romantic subplot, and some fascinating insights into the world of magic and illusion. Recommended.

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

About Reviewer Iola Goulton:

I am a freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram.

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 5,000 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).

Monday, February 13, 2017

Iola Goulton Reviews STILL LIFE by Dani Pettrey

Iola Goulton Reviews STILL LIFE by Dani Pettrey

Amazon Description

Romantic Suspense's Rising Star Continues to Win Fans

Blacklisted in the photography business over a controversial shot, Avery Tate answered an ad for a crime scene photographer. She expected to be laughed at, but crime scene analyst Parker Mitchell hired her outright--and changed her life. But six months ago, when her feelings for Parker became too strong, she left his employ to sort out her heart.

Now, for the first time, Avery is facing the world that rejected her to attend the gallery opening of a photography exhibit and support her best friend, who modeled for the show. But the only image of her friend is a chilling photo of her posing as if dead--and the photographer insists he didn't take the shot. Worse, her friend can't be found. She immediately calls Parker for help. As Avery, Parker, and his friends in law enforcement dig into the mystery, they find themselves face-to-face with a relentless and deadly threat.

My Review 

I loved Dani Pettrey’s first series, which was pure romantic suspense, and set in Alaska. It reminded me of Susan May Warren’s Team Hope trilogy, or Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series, both of which I loved.

Still Life is the second novel in her new Chesapeake Valor series, and this series is a bit more like Terri Blackstock or Ronie Kendig. Each novel has the same set of characters, all involved in law enforcement in one way or another. The romance takes a definite second place to the action and suspense, and there is an overall plot arc linking the novels (and therefore means you should read the novels in order, starting with Cold Shot, to give you the background to the individual characters and their historical relationships).

I’d call these suspense novels with romantic elements rather than romantic suspense novels. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing (especially not for people reading a blog called Suspense Sisters!). Too much focus on the romance would be to the detriment of the suspense plot—the varying threads and the number of characters mean the added complexity of a romance plot could result in a complete mess.

As it was, there was enough to concentrate on with two or three couples investigating different aspects of the art theft and the potential disappearance of Avery’s friend, Skylar. That was an intriguing relationship—both girls grew up in the same trailer park, but Avery’s decision to become a Christian in her late teens meant she’d had a very different adulthood to Skylar, and the novel did an excellent job of showing this. It also did an excellent job of showing how the actions of the past impact on the present and future ...

The suspense plot was excellent, with multiple threads and plenty of red herrings, which made it difficult to work out who-dun-it, but the end answer was both obvious and satisfying. If fast-paced Christian thrillers are your thing, then you’ll enjoy Still Life. But do read Cold Shot first, because that will make Still Life all the more enjoyable.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Reviewer Iola Goulton:

I am a freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest or Tsu .

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).

Monday, February 6, 2017

Beth Ann Ziarnik reviews BAYOU PARADOX by Robin Caroll

Beth Ann Ziarnik reviews BAYOU PARADOX by Robin Caroll 

Amazon Short Version:

It can cure you. Or it can kill you.

The untamed Louisiana bayou is not for the faint of heart. But until now, Tara LeBlanc has always considered it a sanctuary, its lush foliage a source of medicinal healing. What evil has infiltrated her haven? Two elderly women she loves lie near death, and Tara knows their illnesses are no accident.

Only one man can save Tara from the same fate: Sheriff Rene "Bubba" Theriot. The strong-willed lawman throws his all into protecting her, laying his heart on the line as well as his life. Now they both stand to lose it all as a killer gets ready to pounce….

My Take:
I’ve always loved Robin Caroll’s novels set in the Louisiana Bayou country. Readers get to step into an exotic setting populated by dangerous wildlife and people living in a fascinating culture while they fight to overcome life-changing threats. 

Take Tara LeBlanc. At first I was a bit taken aback by a heroine whose dearest ambition is to complete her training as a voodoo priestess, a long-time tradition in her family. Never mind that her sisters and grandmother have turned away from this part of their ancestral heritage and now prayed for Tara to do the same. Much as Tara loves her family, she’s also hurt and confused by what she perceives as a betrayal of something she holds dear. She determines not to make the same mistake.

But life has a way of upsetting the apple cart, and Tara is soon fighting for the lives of two very dear people while trying to get to the root cause before it’s too late.

Enter Sheriff Rene “Bubba” Theriot whose aunt is one of Tara’s two dear people. He’s well aware of Tara’s pursuit of voodoo and that his aunt is her teacher in that occult art. He’s also a very committed Christian. So what’s this attraction he feels for Tara in spite of the fact that she finds him annoying and he’s trying to keep a professional distance?

How Robin, a native of Louisiana, works out all the dynamics of her fascinating story is nothing short of amazing. An excellent read!

Note: Bayou Paradox is Volume 4 in Robin’s six-volume Bayou Series. The good news? Though this story stands on its own, those who prefer reading a series from beginning to end will be glad to know that Robin’s Bayou Series is complete and now available for purchase on Amazon.

About the reviewer:

A long-time fan and now author of romantic suspense, Beth Ann Ziarnik hosts a Web site for readers and writers of the genre. Her debut novel, Her Deadly Inheritance, won her the "Writer of the Year" award at the 2016 Write-to-Publish Conference. You can visit with Beth at her blog, follow her on Facebook, and friend her on Goodreads


Monday, January 30, 2017

Therese Heckenkamp Reviews SPLASHDOWN by Linda K. Rodante

Therese Heckenkamp Reviews SPLASHDOWN by Linda K. Rodante

Synopsis from Amazon:

Lynn Stapleton likes designer handbags and high-end clothing, so how did Sharee Jergenson talk her into visiting a homeless site, much less starting a friendship with one of its residents?

Then a hurricane hits Florida, and Lynn finds herself involved in the homeless woman’s murder. Detective Rich Richards thinks Lynn’s connection with the woman is suspicious, but Lynn doesn’t care what the blue-eyed detective thinks. She’s not leaving this investigation until the murderer is found.

On the other hand, Richards finds Lynn not just a disruption to his case, but also to his life as a
nominal Christian. He’d do better to stay away from the tall, willowy blonde, but he can’t—because she and Sharee have unearthed evidence that will convict someone of murder, and that person has marked both women for death.

My Review:

Splashdown is book 3 in The Dangerous Series by Linda K Rodante, but it stands on its own even if you haven’t read the previous two books (I haven’t)—though you’ll likely want to after reading this exciting story. As the series title promises, Splashdown is full of dangerous situations—including some life or death ones—providing an edge-of- your-seat read. The story opens with urgency as a hurricane bears down and Lynn desperately searches for a missing friend. What she finds creates even more tension and propels the story forward.

One of the distinctive things about this novel is that it focuses not on one couple as the romantic
suspense plot unfolds, but two. As a result, we get four points of view (from two men and two women). The author pulls this off well, without creating confusion, so the reader enjoys a very
layered and multi-faceted story.

Lynn has a dismal track record when it comes to dating, but she’s made a promise to God and wants nothing less than a pure relationship that honors Him. Against her better judgment, she finds herself attracted to Detective Richards, a strong-willed man with questionable faith. The two have a lively chemistry that keeps things interesting as they clash over the course of a murder investigation and their budding relationship. The other couple is made up of Lynn’s friends Sharee and John, who are certainly in love, yet struggling with issues in their first year of marriage as they adjust to living not as independent people, but as a united couple trying to follow God’s will.

Amidst the action and suspense, this novel deals with many heavy topics, including homelessness, death, and human trafficking. The characters struggle with why God allows evil in the world, as well has how to deal with loss. Prayer is used as a first line of defense against adversity, and faith and trust is tested and deepened.

Splashdown includes some great plot twists and hidden truths. I really thought I had the main villain figured out and was very happy to be proven wrong. Without a doubt, this novel has all the elements of great contemporary suspense with romance and faith woven in.

About the Reviewer:

Therese Heckenkamp loves to read and write and read about writing. She’s thrilled to be living her childhood dream as an author and has published three Christian suspense novels so far: Past SuspicionFrozen Footprints, and After the Thaw. A busy wife and mother of three, Therese fits in writing time whenever she can manage (and sometimes when she can’t). Visit her at and follow her on FacebookGoodreadsAmazon, and Twitter.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Brittany McEuen Reviews A SPY'S DEVOTION by Melanie Dickerson

Brittany McEuen reviews A SPY'S DEVOTION by Melanie Dickerson

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In England’s Regency era, manners and elegance reign in public life—but behind closed doors treason and tawdriness thrive. Nicholas Langdon is no stranger to reserved civility or bloody barbarity. After suffering a battlefield injury, the wealthy, well-connected British officer returns home to heal—and to fulfill a dying soldier’s last wish by delivering his coded diary.

At the home of the Wilherns, one of England’s most powerful families, Langdon attends a lavish ball where he meets their beautiful and intelligent ward, Julia Grey. Determined to maintain propriety, he keeps his distance—until the diary is stolen and all clues lead to Julia’s guardian. As Langdon traces an evil plot that could be the nation’s undoing, he grows ever more intrigued by the lovely young woman. And when Julia realizes that England—and the man she is falling in love with—need her help, she finds herself caught in the fray. Will the two succumb to their attraction while fighting to save their country?


A Spy’s Devotion was a delightful novel! I really enjoy the Regency setting and love finding good, clean books placed in this time period. Add in the fact that this story had a suspenseful thread running through it and also was a Christian fiction novel - well all of these things made me a very happy reader!

The author did a great job of creating characters whom I had extreme compassion for, such as the main character, Julia, and her friend, Sarah. And the hero of the story, Nicholas, was very nicely written. He struggled to balance the life of espionage he found himself entangled in, the interest he felt for Julia, and what his future plans for himself should be.

There were some really awful characters, as well! My, oh my, Julia’s aunt, uncle, and cousin were the personification of greed and selfishness. Their various ploys to demean and use Julia simply made her sweetness all the more impressive.

The espionage and traitorous dealings led to a few very tense moments in the book, along with danger for the main characters. I thoroughly enjoyed A Spy’s Devotion and look forward to reading more in the series.

About Reviewer Brittany McEuen:

I am a busy homeschooling mom to four children, ranging from kindergarten to high school. I’m happily married to my high school sweetheart and am an avid reader and book reviewer. I feature book reviews, giveaways, and occasional author interviews on my blog, Britt Reads Fiction. You can also connect with me on Pinterest and Goodreads.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Iola Goulton Reviews BURIED MEMORIES by Carol J. Post

Iola Goulton Reviews BURIED MEMORIES by Carol J. Post

Amazon Description:


After her broken engagement, Nicki Jackson hoped her move to Cedar Key would give her a fresh start—instead she quickly learns someone's out to destroy her. Are the attacks tied to her mother's recently reopened murder case…or to the nightmares Nicki's beginning to suspect are actually hidden memories? With the threats against her escalating, former soldier Tyler Brant vows to keep Nicki safe. He refuses to lose the woman who's swiftly becoming more than a childhood crush. But when danger circles closer, is Nicki's traumatic past better left forgotten…or are her memories the key to something far more sinister?

My Review:

So Nicki Jackson has settled in her new home of Cedar Key and thinks she’s got her life back on track: house, job, dog, hobby, nice neighbours … especially once she finds Tyler, her teenage best friend, is staying next door.

But this is a Love Inspired Suspense novel, so we know things aren’t going to stay on track for long … and they don’t. There’s plenty of suspense and several plot twists—one of which was kind of given away by the title, but the others certainly caught me unaware.

The characters were excellent. Nicki had a difficult early childhood before being adopted by a lovely couple, yet losing those parents as well. So she’s trying to make it on her own, but also wants to connect with the older sister she hasn’t seen in close to two decades. She’s a strong character who hasn’t had an easy life, but who has chosen to be purposeful and not fall into the same negative patterns her mother did.

We don’t find out as much about Tyler’s upbringing, but we get the impression it also had its low points. But his real issue is his PTSD, something which he’s still struggling to control, and something which gives him and Nicki even more in common … at the same time it could drive them apart (okay, so there was one point in reading Buried Memories where I start on my “men are stupid” rant. But he redeems himself.)

The plot and writing were excellent, and I resented each time I had to leave Nicki and Tyler and Cedar Key because life or children or work or food. Buried Memories is part of Carol Post’s Cedar Key series, but can easily be read as a standalone novel. Overall, an excellent suspense read.

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

About Reviewer Iola Goulton:

I am a freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest or Tsu .

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).

Monday, December 5, 2016

Iola Goulton Reviews FATAL FROST by Nancy Mehl

Iola Goulton Reviews FATAL FROST by Nancy Mehl

Amazon Description:

Mehl Ramps Up the Suspense in This Brand-New U.S. Marshals Series

Mercy Brennan followed in her father's footsteps in a law enforcement career, but she has no interest in any other connection to him. A U.S. Marshal in St. Louis, Missouri, she's assigned to a joint task force with the St. Louis PD that puts her back into contact with her father and in the sights of St. Louis's most powerful gang.

When the gang has reason to believe Mercy has possession of some highly sensitive and incriminating information, her boss assigns Mark St. Laurent--a Deputy U.S. Marshal and Mercy's ex-boyfriend--to get her out of town until they can guarantee her safety.

Initially unaware of the danger she's in and uncomfortable working with Mark, Mercy's frustration escalates when she discovers the extent her boss and Mark have been keeping her in the dark. It isn't until a freak ice storm hits, stranding them at a remote location and out of contact with the district office, that the full severity of their situation becomes clear. As the storm worsens, the forces of nature combine with a deadly enemy closing in to put their lives at imminent risk. Can they survive long enough for help to arrive--if help is even coming at all?

My Review:

Well, the book description promised suspense, and Fatal Frost delivered in spades and shovels and snow.

Lots of snow.

This illustrates my one possible complaint with Fatal Frost: the title and cover underplay the suspense. The cover reflects my picture of a frost: a little frozen ground which means you have to walk carefully. But the novel features a full-on snow storm, with ice that drives their car off the road, and snow so deep they can’t even consider going for help. My nails survived, but only just.

But FATAL FROST is more than nail-biting suspense. It’s also got strong characters, interesting characters, characters with history. Mercy and Mark used to date … until he became a Christian. Now they’re being forced to work together again, and she’s not happy about it, not least because of Mark’s faith. Working with them is Tally, Mercy’s next-door neighbour and childhood best friend, who is also reconsidering questions of faith.

This, I think, is one of the strengths of Fatal Frost: it’s not just suspense and romance. There is a strong Christian theme in that Mark is a Christian, and Tally is considering Christianity since his wife has started taking their children to church. Being forced into close confines—and danger—forces Mercy to consider God for herself … and reconsider Mark, and why she broke up with him.

I won’t say more—you need to read this for yourself. Recommended for Christian suspense fans, especially those looking for more than just romance and suspense in their Christian romantic suspense.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free e-book for review.

About Reviewer Iola Goulton:

I am a freelance editor specializing in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on FacebookTwitterPinterest or Tsu .

I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 2500 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).