Author Archives: Janet Sketchley

About Janet Sketchley

Janet Sketchley is an Atlantic Canadian writer whose Redemption’s Edge Christian suspense novels have each been finalists in The Word Awards. Janet blogs about faith and books. She loves Jesus and her family, and enjoys reading, worship music, and tea. Fans of Christian suspense are invited to join her writing journey through her monthly newsletter: bit.ly/JanetSketchleyNews.

Review: Death of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Scavenger, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Juniper Grove, Colorado, is a small town, but newcomer Rachel Stowe is about to find her second dead body, only a month after the first one turned up in her back yard.

At least this one’s on someone else’s property.

In the middle of the town’s annual Halloween scavenger hunt (complete with fake corpse) a second, real corpse is found – and it’s hard to find anyone other than Rachel who doesn’t have a motive.

Again, Rachel and her friends Julia and Holly team up to solve the mystery. It’s not that Rachel thinks Police Chief Gilroy is incompetent. Far from it. She’s just afraid he’s looking in the wrong places.

Death of a Scavenger is book two in the Juniper Grove mystery series, and it’s good to spend more time with these characters… and to vicariously enjoy the cream puffs from Holly’s bakery.

My favourite addition to the cast of characters is Gina, a grey-dreadlocked lady with mobility issues who lives in a brightly-painted house.

Clues and diversions abound, along with more conflict with the ever-patient Chief Gilroy, and again Rachel plays a key part in solving the mystery.

The Juniper Grove novels are short, quick reads. They’re clean and not too intense – perfect for those times when you don’t want anything too heavy. That said, the characters always leave you with something to think about, even if it’s just the challenge to be kinder to someone who’s marginalized like Gina.

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Scavenger is the second in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2017

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 99 books in 2017. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books (and new-to-me music) that I’ve most enjoyed this year. Some were produced in 2017, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2017:

Christian living: Prayer Warrior and The Power of Praying for Your Adult Children, both by Stormie Omartian

Contemporary novels: Soul’s Gate, by James L. Rubart, and Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Favourites revisited: Where Eagles Dare, by Alistair MacLean

Historical novel: The Incense Road collection, by Tracy Higley

Mystery novels: Glass Houses, by Louise Penny, and Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert

Science Fiction novel: Thrawn, by Timothy Zahn

Series of the year: The Juniper Grove Cozy Mystery Series, by Karin Kaufman, and The Maple Syrup Mysteries, by Emily James, and an honourable mention to the Molly Sutton Mysteries, by Nell Goddin.

Fantasy novel: Elantris and Edgedancer, both by Brandon Sanderson

Thriller: Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke

Writing how-to: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

New-to-me musical artists of the year: All Sons and Daughters

New Releases in Christian Fiction (January 2018)

January 2018 New Releases from members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW):

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Contemporary Romance:

Her Handyman Hero by Lorraine Beatty — Reid Blackthorn arrives in Dover on a personal mission—to make sure his terminally ill brother gets a chance to meet his daughter. Deceiving little Lily’s guardian isn’t his intention. Yet once Tori Montgomery mistakes Reid for her new handyman, he knows it’s the only way to be close to his niece. Tori is honoring her friend’s last wish by keeping Lily away from her father’s family. And once she learns who Reid truly is, she realizes there’s too much at stake—including custody of Lily—for her to fall for the former DEA agent. But in keeping a promise, is she losing out on her chance for a happily-ever-after? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Beneath the Summer Sun by Kelly Irvin — It’s been four years since Jennie’s husband died in a farming accident. Long enough that the elders in her Amish community think it’s time to marry again for the sake of her seven children. What they don’t know is that grief isn’t holding her back from a new relationship. Fear is. A terrible secret in her past keeps her from moving forward. Meanwhile, Leo Graber nurtures a decades-long love for Jennie, but guilt plagues him—guilt for letting Jennie marry someone else and guilt for his father’s death on a hunting trip many years ago. How could anyone love him again—and how could he ever take a chance to love in return? (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

Ain’t Misbehaving by Marji Laine — True, Annalee’s crime amounted to very little, but not in terms of community service hours. Her probation officer encouraged her with a promise of an easy job in an air-conditioned downtown environment. She didn’t expect her role to be little better than a janitor at an after-school daycare in the worst area of town. Carlton Whelen hides behind the nickname of CJ so people won’t treat him like the wealthy son of the Whelen Foundation director. Working at the foundation’s after-school program delights him and annoys his business-oriented father. When a gorgeous prima donna is assigned to his team, he not only cringes at her mistakes but also has to avoid the attraction that builds from the first time he sees her. (Contemporary Romance from Write Integrity Press)

Finding Grace by Melanie D. Snitker — Single dad Tyler Martin can’t be more grateful to the woman who finds his missing daughter. Even though he feels a spark between them, falling in love is a risk he shouldn’t take. Too bad chance encounters and his stubborn heart keep trying to convince him otherwise. After escaping a nightmarish relationship, Beth Davenport is content with her safe and blessedly normal life. Yet something about Tyler and his adorable daughter makes her wish for more. With the walls around her heart finally starting to crumble, she’s afraid of a future she can’t predict. Can they let go of their fear and trust God to lead them to the love they desperately need? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Marrying Mandy by Melanie D. Snitker — Mandy Hudson swore she’d never marry. Abandoned by her parents and raised by her grandparents, she has a hard time trusting that real love will last. When her grandmother dies, Mandy’s shocked to discover a stipulation in the will. Considering marriage to her best friend may be the only way to keep her family’s beloved bed-and-breakfast. The loss of his job threatens Preston Yarrow’s shaky financial stability. Besides, he can’t watch his best friend give up the only real home she’s ever known. Frustrated by Mandy’s stubborn refusal to let him help, he’s certain they are stronger together than they are apart. A marriage of convenience might be crazy… or an answer to both their prayers. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)


Historical:

Son of Promise by Caryl McAdoo — Can a wife find the grace to forgive when her husband’s withheld the truth? Travis Buckmeyer has a secret son, and the morning’s come to tell his sweet wife. He hates breaking Emma Lee’s heart. She promised him one ten years ago, but hasn’t been blessed to carry a baby to term. Every miscarriage made the telling harder, but now his clock’s run out. He’s going for his son, praying he won’t lose her.
Cody knows who his mother claims his father is, but he’s only interested in getting sprung from reform school then boosting enough from the do-gooder to bust out on his own.
Can Travis find redemption, Emma Lee forgiveness, or Cody the love he’s been longing for? (Historical, Independently Published)


Historical Romance:

Hearts Entwined by Mary Connealy, Melissa Jagears, Regina Jennings, and Karen Witemeyer — Four top historical romance novelists team up in this new collection to offer stories of love and romance with a twist of humor. In Karen Witemeyer’s “The Love Knot,” Claire Nevin gets the surprise of her life awaiting her sister’s arrival by train. Mary Connealy’s “The Tangled Ties That Bind” offers the story of two former best friends who are reunited while escaping a stampede. Regina Jennings offers “Bound and Determined,” where a most unusual trip across barren Oklahoma plains is filled with adventure, romance, and . . . camels? And Melissa Jagears’ “Tied and True” entertains with a tale of two hearts from different social classes who become entwined at a cotton thread factory. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])



A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Mary Davis, Kathleen E. Kovach, Paula Moldenhauer, Suzanne Norquist, Donita Kathleen Paul, Donna Schlachter, and Pegg Thomas — For seven bachelors, this bouquet of brides means a happily ever after. Meet seven American women who were named for various flowers but struggle to bloom where God planted them. Can love help them grow to their full potential? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)



A Mother For His Family by Susanne Dietze
Lady Helena Stanhope’s reputation is in tatters…and she’s lost any hope for a “respectable” ton marriage. An arranged union is the only solution. But once Helena weds formidable Scottish widower John Gordon, Lord Ardoch, and encounters his four mischievous children, she’s determined to help her new, ever-surprising family. Even if she’s sure love is too much to ask for.
All John needs is someone to mother his admittedly unruly brood. He never imagined that beautiful Lady Helena would be a woman of irresistible spirit, caring and warmth. Or that facing down their pasts would give them so much in common. Now, as danger threatens, John will do whatever it takes to convince Helena their future together—and his love—are for always. (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])



His Forgotten Fiancee by Evelyn M. Hill — Liza Fitzpatrick is stunned when her fiancé finally arrives in Oregon City — with amnesia. Matthew Dean refuses to honor a marriage proposal he doesn’t recall making, but Liza needs his help now to bring in the harvest, and maybe she can help him remember… Matthew is attracted to the spirited Liza, and as she tries to help him regain his old memories, the new ones they’re creating together start to make him feel whole. Even as he falls for her again, though, someone’s determined to keep them apart. Will his memory return in time to save their future? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])



A Song Unheard by Roseanna M. White — Willa Forsythe is both a violin prodigy and top-notch thief, which makes her the perfect choice for a critical task at the outset of World War I–to secure a crucial cypher key from a famous violinist currently in Wales. Lukas De Wilde has enjoyed the life of fame he’s won–until now, when being recognized nearly gets him killed. Everyone wants the key to his father’s work as a cryptologist. And Lukas fears that his mother and sister, who have vanished in the wake of the German invasion of Belgium, will pay the price. The only distraction he finds from his worry is in meeting the intriguing and talented Willa Forsythe. But danger presses in from every side, and Willa knows what Lukas doesn’t–that she must betray him and find that key, or her own family could pay the same price his surely has. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])


Mystery:

Surgeon’s Choice by Richard L. Mabry, MD — Dr. Ben Merrick thought his biggest problem was getting his fiancé’s divorced parents into the same room for the wedding–and then, people started dying. (Mystery, Independently Published through White Glove)


Romantic Suspense:

Innocent Lies by Robin Patchen — Desperate to be safe from the man who held her captive and ruined her life, Kelsey must ensure her child is protected before she can take her enemy on. But a string of bad luck gets her arrested and lands her face-to-face with the only man she’s ever loved—the only man who can destroy all her plans. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Cold Truth by Susan Sleeman — When research chemist Kiera Underwood receives the cryptic phone call about her twin brother, she tries to contact him to no avail. Her twin sense tingles, warning her that something is wrong. Kiera’s not prepared when an attempt is made on her life and Blackwell Tactical operative Cooper Ashcroft delivers her second shock of the day. Someone killed the supervisor at the research lab where her brother works and stole a deadly biotoxin. The main suspect? Her brother, and Blackwell Tactical has been hired to bring him in. If that wasn’t shocking enough, she’s suspected of colluding with him. Setting out to prove herself and her brother is innocent, she is almost abducted before Ashcroft rescues her. He’s faced with the reality that she’s telling the truth and someone has likely abducted her brother—perhaps killed him—and now Kiera’s very life is in danger, too. (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Resolutions Worth Keeping (Guest Post)

Resolutions Worth Keeping

by Steph Beth Nickel

Whether we call them resolutions or goals, this is the time of year many of us consider the 12 months before us and what we want to change.

Instead of trying to change everything at once, why not set monthly goals (aka resolutions)?

Below are six suggestions. I look forward to hearing what goals you plan to achieve in 2018.

January

During December healthy eating habits often get set aside. Various social engagements and family gatherings can make it difficult to eat as we should. January is a great month to begin eating well once again.

If healthy eating is new to you, it’s best to take small steps in the right direction. For example, increase your water intake the first week of January; then, the second week, add more vegetables to your diet. During the third week, begin to limit your intake of restaurant and processed food. The last week, begin to limit dessert to the weekend. (These recommendations are for informational purposes only. It is advisable to consult your doctor or other healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet.)

Of course, it’s important to continue with these new habits throughout the year, but always remember to “factor in the cheats” and give yourself grace if you revert to old habits.

February

Since Valentine’s Day occurs in February, it’s a good month to schedule more time with our loved ones. There is always more work to be done and we rarely feel as if there are enough hours in the day. However, it’s vital that we devote undivided time to those closest to us—and to others. What a great month to begin doing so!

May

It’s important to get adequate physical activity. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is only one reason exercise should be part of our daily routine. When we’re active for even 30 minutes a day, we’re likely to notice the benefits. Exercise helps us think more clearly, work more efficiently, and sleep more soundly. It even improves our outlook and mental health. These are all great reasons to find something we enjoy—or can at least stick with—and get more active.

June

Hopefully, you’ve done so already, but if not, this is a good time of year to factor in downtime. Pick up a book you’ve been wanting to read. Take up a new hobby, one that relaxes you. Schedule a regular date night with your spouse or BFF. In our high pressure society, we feel as if we must be productive at all times. However, our physical, emotional, and mental health will almost certainly suffer if we don’t “step back and take a breath” regularly.

September

The kids are going back to school. Sounds like a good time to take a course. There are several free and inexpensive online options. Interested in sign language? Photography? Creative writing? You name it, there are countless courses available. Udemy, Teachable, and Reedsy are only three sites you can check out.

October

While not a proponent of Halloween, I was inspired to challenge you to do something that scares you. There has been a meme going around Facebook for some time asking what readers would do if they knew they couldn’t fail. Maybe it’s time to risk failure to do something we’ve been putting off, something we either know we should do or something we really want to do but haven’t. Let’s face our fears this month and see what happens.

And there you have it … examples of doable resolutions worth keeping.

Tweetables

Instead of trying to change everything at once, set monthly goals. (click to tweet)

Let’s face our fears and see what happens. (click to tweet)

===

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.

Angel Song

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
Philippians 2:6-7a, NLT*

No wonder the angels’ announcement split the sky, and the shepherds cowered in fear.

The angels knew what was going on, at least this part of the story. They’d known at least since Gabriel had delivered news to the priest Zechariah that Elizabeth would conceive John the Baptist. They may have known longer.

Among the humans, only Mary and Joseph knew, and Elizabeth and Zechariah.

This huge, astounding, mind-breaking secret: God Himself became an embryo and was born a baby who was fully God and fully human. And somehow still remained God the Father, ruling the universe.

The angels knew. Can you imagine the sheer jubilation of their announcement?

Today, we know. May we take some time to ponder this news that’s more than human minds can grasp. May the Holy Spirit reveal its truth to the depths of our beings.

God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, what can we say but “thank You”? What can we do but worship You? Please let the magnitude of the Incarnation change us, for Your glory.

Here’s Austin Stone Worship’s A Day of Glory.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Christmas With Hot Apple Cider

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider: Stories from the season of giving and receivingChristmas With Hot Apple Cider (That’s Life! Communications, 2017)

This anthology of true-life stories, fiction, and poetry from 55 Canadian Christian writers is a strong addition to the Hot Apple Cider series.

Memories from the past include tales of Canadian childhood from those born in Canada and children of immigrants making new homes in sometimes-challenging circumstances. Vignettes from the present include what Christmas might be like for the incarcerated, and Christmas celebrations with grandchildren. Short stories include a man who’s decided to live off the grid and a young woman who befriends an immigrant.

The Hot Apple Cider series are heart-warming collections along the line of the Chicken Soup books, but less sentimental. They’re all from Christian authors, but they’re not sermons. Instead, the writers’ faith is the worldview from which they draw their work.

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider is the fifth and newest book in the series, joining three full-length books and the mini-book, A Taste of Hot Apple Cider. I think it’s a keeper, that readers will turn to year after year as part of settling into the Christmas spirit. For more about the other books in the Hot Apple Cider series, visit thatslifecommunications.com/hot-apple-cider-books. For more about Christmas With Hot Apple Cider, visit njlindquist.com/books/christmas-with-hot-apple-cider.

[Review from my personal library]

Review: A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley

A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven LaffoleyA Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press, 2017)

December, 1918. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a grim place, still shattered by the massive explosion that caused so much death and destruction one year previously.

The Great War is over, and the surviving troops are coming home, those not wounded in body, wounded in mind. News headlines cry worldwide unrest, and fear of the so-called “Spanish Flu” is so high that citizens avoid public trams and walk to their destinations.

To newspaper reporter Michael Bell, hope is dead. He survived a gas attack in the war and came home to lose his family in the explosion. Bitter pursuit of the facts of the world’s dark spiral has become his sole purpose in life.

When assigned a story of goodwill just before Christmas, about a mysterious lad with a missing leg and a generous heart, Michael insists he’ll only report the facts. And if the facts don’t produce the upbeat story his editor wants, so be it.

He’s paired with a female reporter who rejects his “wisdom of the head” for “wisdom of the heart.” As well as following their search, readers trace the days of a nameless beggar with the soul of a poet.

The narration itself has a poetic feel at times, with both poetry and prose philosophy quoted. Michael and the beggar are both well-read. Not surprisingly, given the title, Dickens is referenced, usually through Michael’s denial of his continuing influence in this darkened world.

This isn’t a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but those who know that story will find many nods to it. For example, Michael goes home to his dark, lonely, and cold lodgings where he broods by the fire, and he’s disturbed by significant dreams. And the ending, in A Christmas Carol fashion, gives a narrative summary of how certain things turn out happily ever after. While that’s ordinarily annoying, it works here as a final Dickensian touch.

For all the grim setting, and the stories of loss and trauma that Michael uncovers in his search for the boy, this isn’t a hard book to read. The omniscient narrative is well-handled to keep us at enough of a distance that we can observe and learn without being overwhelmed. The author reveals insights, details, and even smells that could only come from extensive research, yet it all flows as part of the story.

Because I usually review clean or Christian fiction, I’ll include a language warning with this one. There’s frequent minor profanity and one misuse of the name of Jesus.

Inspired by a true story, A Halifax Christmas Carol offers a look into a dark time in history, and yet may leave you with a warm hope reminiscent of Dickens’ tale.

For more about award-winning Canadian author Steven Laffoley and his books, visit stevenlaffoley.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert

Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert. Murder in the Mountains book 3Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2017)

When Tess Spencer reluctantly goes to help her ex-con mother hunt for a new home and a dead body turns up behind her mother’s trailer, she has no choice but to stay and clear her mother’s name – even though she’s afraid her mom might be involved.

Along with the mystery, this is a novel with layers of heart. It exposes the tragedy of the drugs that really do run rampant in the areas where the novel is set – and in so many other parts of North America and the world. It touches briefly on child abuse and foster care.

And it shows Tess, away from home and missing her husband and young daughter, comparing the mother-in-law who mothers her with her biological mother who’s let her down more times than she can count.

Lest that sound like a depressing read, it’s anything but. The mystery is engaging and fast-paced, there are delightfully quirky characters, there are heart-warming moments and hope.

Fans of the series will be pleased and/or intrigued to see Axel again, albeit briefly. We need another Axel story, I think, and more resolution with Tess and her parents.

Heather Day Gilbert is a Grace Award winner and bests-selling author of contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. Guilt by Association is book 3 in her A Murder in the Mountains series, set in the mountains of West Virginia. For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

Books Make Great Gifts

For those in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, area on December 9, 2017… stop by and say hello!
Book signing Dec 9, 2017 at Miracles Christian Store, Bayers Lake, Halifax, NS

Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep12 Days at Bleakly Manor, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2017)

England. 1850. On December 24, Clara Chapman receives a mysterious offer: if she spends the next 12 days at a place called Bleakly Manor, she’ll receive enough money to rescue her from the poverty she’s experienced from the loss of her family fortune.

If they’d told her that another of the guests would be the man who stood her up at the altar, she’d have stayed away.

Except her former fiancé, Benjamin Lane, missed the wedding because he’d been thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. He thinks Clara has refused to visit him because she believes he’s a thief. Can he somehow clear his name? Can the two lovers trust one another again?

The other guests are unusual, bordering caricatures: Miss Scurry, who keeps her box of pet mice with her at all times (and who can tell them apart by name!); Mr. Minnow, an eel-like fellow; Mr. Pocket, a police inspector; Mademoiselle Pretents, quite pretentious (and very rude); Mr. Tallgrass, a vulgar fellow in a wheelchair.

It’s a light-hearted mystery: who (and where) is their mysterious host? And who’s behind the incidents that seem calculated to eliminate the guests?

Michelle Griep draws readers in with choice turns of phrase. My favourites:

Ancient buildings with rheumy windows leaned toward one another for support, blocking a good portion of the sky… Clara rapped on the very next door, then fought the urge to wipe her glove. The filthy boards, hung together more by memory than nails, rattled like bones. [page 9]

A cold mist settled over London, dampening everyone’s clothing to the same shade of dreary. It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woolen capes and took up residence in the bones. [page 181]

The novella is book one in the Once Upon a Dickens Christmas series, and while Charles Dickens himself doesn’t appear on the pages, readers will find the connection before the story ends.

Michelle Griep’s website describes her as “an author, blogger, and occasional superhero when her cape is clean.” For more about the author and her books, visit michellegriep.com. Also, you can read my interview with her here.

[Review copy from the public library.]