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: By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson

By Darkness Hid, by Jill WilliamsonBy Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson (Enclave Publishing, 2009)

In a world where orphans are physically branded as “strays” and subject to suspicion and abuse, Achan Cham has reached his teen years and somehow maintained a compassionate heart and a dry wit. Coming of age brings an unexpected opportunity to leave his kitchen drudgery and train as a knight’s squire—which thrusts him into conflict with the prince soon to be crowned king.

Then he starts hearing voices in his head, and discovers the legends of “bloodvoicing” are true. Those with the gift (he’d call it a curse) can communicate mentally across great distance.

Vrell Sparrow is a young noblewoman hiding out as a boy stray so she won’t be forced to marry the prince. She, too, has the gift, and there are those who want her secrets—and her service.

Many citizens follow pagan idols, but Vrell serves the one true God, known in this world as Arman. Achan only knows of the local goddess, and she doesn’t seem to have paid him any attention throughout his harsh life.

The author’s website describes By Darkness Hid as an “epic medieval fantasy tale.” The characters are engaging, the settings are rich and interesting, and there’s trouble rising in this land which is already half in the shadow of Darkness.

The teen protagonists may make this a young adult novel, but I fully enjoyed it as an adult, and look forward to finishing the series.

By Darkness Hid is book 1 in the Blood of Kings series. It Christy Award for Visionary (2010), ACFW Carol Award Nominee for Speculative (2010). Jill Williamson has also written The Kinsman Chronicles and other speculative tales. For more about the author and her work, visit jillwilliamson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Awakening, by Tracy L. Higley

Awakening, by Tracy L. HigleyAwakening, by Tracy L. Higley (StoneWater Press, 2014)

New York City museum employee Kallista Andreas has a passion for antiquities, especially those associated with the ancient Minoan civilization. Yet she doesn’t know her own past. Her memories begin seven years ago, when the curator found her in the museum.

Now she’s experiencing visions so disorienting that she begins journaling them as a story—the story of a young princess from the ancient past.

At the same time, she’s forced out of her comfort zone—and away from her safe office—as part of a team searching for a relic that could unlock the mysteries of the Minoan language.

Kallista’s patron for this globe-spanning search is mysterious, romantic, and wealthy enough to give the team all they need along the way. It makes for an enjoyable novel with exotic locations and moments of danger. I liked how it was tense but not too intense.

I’d call this a clean read as opposed to a Christian novel, but Kallista is curious about spiritual truth and whether any of the ancient gods or goddesses can point to that truth. Toward the end, she sees that Christianity may indeed offer what these pre-Christian religions hinted at.

Because Awakening is split between the story-present (contemporary times) and Kallista’s journal stories (ancient past), it’s a novel for those who enjoy either time period.

Tracy L. Higley writes historical and contemporary fiction, and travels extensively in her research. For more about the author and her work, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Justice Buried, by Patricia Bradley

Justice Buried, by Patricia BradleyJustice Buried, by Patricia Bradley (Revell, 2017)

The novel opens with Kelsey Allen scaling the side of a building for a break-in. A security company has hired her to infiltrate their clients’ buildings to expose the weak spots.

She was not hired to be shot at. Why was the half-glimpsed shooter in the building at all? And did he see enough of her face to recognize her?

Kelsey’s next assignment is to go under cover at a famous Memphis museum, the Pink Palace, and stop whoever’s been stealing artifacts. What makes it hard for her is that her father disappeared years ago after thefts from the same museum.

When she’s thrust into the company of Brad Hollister, newly reassigned from Homicide to the Cold Case Unit, she asks him to look into her father’s disappearance. As crimes at the museum keep bringing them together, Brad finds himself in the role of protector—which is complicated by his ex-fiancée deciding she wants to try their relationship again.

Brad is the brother of Andi Hollister, the news reporter from the first Memphis Cold Case novel, Justice Delayed. Although Justice Buried would read well as a stand-alone, those who’ve read the first book will appreciate recognizing familiar characters crossing the occasional page.

Justice Buried has suspense, romance, faith, and characters who need to learn not to let their pasts define them if they’re to discover a better future—assuming, of course, they survive.

Patricia Bradley writes fast-paced romantic suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit ptbradley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

New Releases in Christian Fiction (April 2018)

April 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:

Pelican Point by Irene Hannon — After inheriting a crumbling lighthouse, ex-Army doctor Ben Garrison wants to sell it. But Hope Harbor Herald editor Marci Weber is determined to save the town landmark. Can these two romance-wary souls finds a meeting of the minds…and hearts? (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing)

An Amish Heirloom by Amy Clipston, Kathleen Fuller, Kelly Irvin, and Beth Wiseman — From bestselling Amish authors come four novellas about the meaning and tradition found behind every family heirloom. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)


Historical Romance:

This Wilderness Journey by Misty Beller — He’s been sent to retrieve the new missionary… But she’s not at all who he expects to find. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Accidental Guardian by Mary Connealy — Deborah and her sister and two little children survive a wagon train massacre. Trace finds them and takes them home. He finds himself their accidental guardian. He must protect them all and gain justice. When he does, all these friendly visitors–especially Deborah–will leave him forever. (Historical Romance from Bethany House [Baker])

First Love Forever Romance Collection by Susanne Dietze, Marcia Gruver, Cynthia Hickey, Carrie Fancette Pagels, Martha Rogers, Lorna Seilstad, Connie Stevens, Erica Vetsch, and Jennifer Uhlarik — Coming face to face with a lost love can be awkward when the heartstrings are still holding on to the “what ifs.” In settings from 1865 to 1910, nine couples are thrown back on the same path by life’s changes and challenges. Can love rekindle despite the separation of time and space? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

All Things Beautiful by Keely Brooke Keith — It’s 1868 in the settlement of Good Springs, and Hannah Vestal is passionate about writing fiction and keeping her stories to herself. When her father asks to read her work, she decides to have it printed secretly for his 50th birthday. Hannah tries to arrange the printing with the settlement’s pressman, but the witty and dapper Henry Roberts has better things to do with his ink. In order to secure settlement support for his printing press, the elder council says Henry must print an error-free copy of the New Testament before the settlement’s 8th anniversary celebration. He is determined to meet their challenge, but when the enigmatic Hannah proves to be a beguiling distraction, Henry longs for something more than a life at the letterpress. (Historical Romance from Edenbrooke Press)

Adoration by Olivia Rae — Sir Darrin de Longue is desperate to get his lands back from Lady Faith de Sainte-Marie, the woman who betrayed him and may have had a hand in his father’s murder. But King Richard discloses on his deathbed that Lady Faith is the king’s daughter and then issues an ultimatum Darrin must obey. In order to reclaim his lands, he must marry Lady Faith and get her with child in a year’s time. Lady Faith has loved the rowdy and bold Sir Darrin since childhood, but cannot be a true wife to the bitter, angry man whom she has wed. In order to gain his trust and love, she vows to find the truth about his father’s murder. But when she stumbles upon deadly secrets, will she be able to prove her innocence–and his–to erase the past and win Darrin’s heart? (Historical Romance from HopeKnight Press)

Under Prairie Skies by Cynthia Roemer — Illinois prairie, 1855. Unsettled by the news that her estranged cousin and uncle are returning home after a year away, Charlotte Stanton goes to ready their cabin and finds a handsome stranger has taken up residence. Convinced he’s a squatter, she throws him off the property before learning his full identity. Little does she know, their paths are destined to cross again. Quiet and ruggedly handsome, Chad Avery’s uncanny ability to see through Charlotte’s feisty exterior and expose her inner weaknesses both infuriates and intrigues her. When a tragic accident incites her family to move east, Charlotte stays behind in hopes of becoming better acquainted with the elusive cattleman. Yet Chad’s unwillingness to divulge his hidden past, along with his vow not to love again, threatens to keep them apart forever. (Historical Romance from Mantle Rock Publishing)

The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo — The last time New Orleans attorney Jean-Luc Valmont saw Maribel Cordoba, a Spanish nobleman’s daughter, she was an eleven-year-old orphan perched in the riggings of his privateering vessel proving herself as the best lookout on his crew. Until the day his infamy caught up with them all and innocent lives were lost. Unsure why he survived but vowing to make something of the chance he was given, Jean-Luc has buried his past life so deep that no living person will ever find it—until a very much alive and very grown up Maribel Cordoba arrives on his doorstep and threatens all he now holds dear. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)


General Contemporary:

Shadows of Hope by Georgiana Daniels — Crisis pregnancy worker Marissa Moreau suspects her husband is cheating, but little does she know how close to home her husband’s infidelity hits. College student Kaitlyn Farrows is floundering after a relationship with her professor leaves her pregnant. Soon she lands a job and a support system at the local pregnancy resource center and things seem to be turning around. But when Marissa and Kaitlyn become friends, neither one knows they share a connection—Colin, Marissa’s husband and Kaitlyn’s former professor. When their private lives collide, the two women must face the ultimate test of their faith and choose how to move forward as they live in the shadows of hope. (General Contemporary from Barbour Publishing)


Romantic Suspense:

Secret Past by Sharee Stover — With gunmen at her doorstep, Katie Tribani learns her true identity. She’s been in witness protection since childhood, and now her crime-lord father has found her. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])


Young Adult:

Chase by Glenn Haggerty — Tyler, a middle school newbie, shadows drug runners to rat out the methamphetamine dealer before his friend turns into a brain-dead druggie. (Young Adult, Independently Published)

Review: Stillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson

Stillwaters, by Yvonne AndersonStillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson (Gannah’s Gate Publishing, 2017)

A novel written like an autobiography… about someone who’s famous on another planet. How’s that for a premise?

At the opening of Stillwaters, Jem (the narrator) is a feral child of perhaps twelve. Her “death” is the end of everything she ever knew and the beginning of a new life in a new place. The bulk of the novel traces her second life.

Although Jem’s home planet is much different than ours, some of the interpersonal struggles are quite relatable. We see the distrust between country and city folk (here, there’s the one City: either a benefactor or an oppressor, depending on your point of view). There’s distrust between the uneducated poor and the educated rich.

It’s interesting to watch a character like Jem, with deeply-held opinions and prejudices, learn to see her world differently as she becomes like those she once despised. Watch how she views her new surroundings soon after being taken from her wild existence:

All the plant life was tamed, confined to pots or standing alone and afraid in a bare expanse of gravel. [Kindle location 611]

And, much later:

At a time when many were discovering what an ugly place the world could be, I saw its beauty for the first time, now viewing it through the narrow lens of love. [Kindle location 4583]

This is in some ways a difficult novel to read. Jem’s traumatic beginnings have made her a foul-mouthed, hard-edged person. (Her world has different cuss words than ours, but the sheer volume wearied me at times.) Her experiences, past and in the novel, include some moments that are hard to read but discreetly presented.

In other ways it’s a treat to read. Yvonne Anderson nails world-building. I always enjoy the setting details she creates, exotic and yet relatable. In the middle of a tense time, there’ll be a spot of humour. And there’s heart. It’s good to see Jem grow and make something of herself.

Faith… Jem’s world has a number of religions, much like the gods and goddesses of Earth’s past. Jem doesn’t have much use for any of them. In the novel we find casual mention of a minor religion called Sonmanism, where “one god had a son who became a man.” [Kindle location 2947]

From the progression of the story, I think we’ll see the development of a Christian thread as the series progresses. For now, it’s begun but this isn’t your grandmother’s Christian fiction. It is, however, a well-written and worthwhile read. I’m glad I toughed through the hard parts.

Yvonne Anderson has previously written the Christian science fiction series, Gateway to Gannah. She describes her writing as “telling ‘the old, old story.’ In surprising new ways.” Stillwaters is book 1 in the series The Four Lives of J.S. Freeman. For more about the author and her work, visit yswords.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

The Light Shines Through (Good Friday guest post)

Light streaming through trees. "Even on this, the darkest day, the Light shines through."

Image source: Pixabay

The Light Shines Through

by Steph Beth Nickel

Today, Christians around the globe will gather to solemnly commemorate Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Whenever it is overcast and rainy, we think, “How appropriate.” It is truly “the darkest day” of the year—no matter what the weather.

The sinless Saviour was humiliated, beaten, and then nailed to a Roman cross. While we won’t go into detail, suffice it to say it was one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised.

As busy people, we rarely stop to consider the implications of this fact in any more than a fleeting manner. How often do we take the time to contemplate what the Lord did and allow ourselves to be overcome with reverence and gratitude? This day—or any day—is a good one to do just that.

But as we consider the darkness, we must also focus on those cracks of light. Even as the Saviour went to His death and suffered more than we can imagine, the Light shone through—and continues to shine to this day.

The Light Shines Through

Jesus prayed for those who put Him to death. In Luke 23:34, we read, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’” (ESV).

Knowing Jesus prayed for those who crucified Him should amaze us. Though He was fully God, He was also fully man and suffered as any other individual who had been put to death in this way. And more than that, He actually became sin for us, as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:21. Talk about suffering! And Jesus knew all this would happen before it did. Still He prayed, “Father, forgive them.”

He was not only thinking of these individuals, when He was dying, the Son of God was thinking of His mother, Mary. In the midst of that kind of suffering, few—if any—of us would be thinking of anyone or anything besides ourselves. But Jesus knew His mother would need someone to care for her after He was gone, and He assigned this task to His beloved disciple, John. What an expression of selflessness and love! The Light was shining brightly.

Yet another of Jesus’s final declarations is found in John 19:30. Many a sermon has been preached on this verse. It says, “It is finished!” (ESV). We know it wasn’t only the fact that His suffering would soon be over. Jesus knew all along that, to make the way for us to be right with the Father, He had to take our sin upon Himself and suffer the punishment we deserved. This is yet another truth that should cause us to stop and marvel at what He did for us.

Let’s go on to consider not only the cracks of Light we can see as the Saviour was crucified but also what happened when He expelled His last breath and “gave up his spirit,” as it says in John 19:30.

Invited into the Light

One of my favourite verses in all of Scripture is Matthew 27:51. In the ESV, the first part of the verse reads like this: “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”

It’s a brief verse and easy to skim over, but it is truly awesome. The fact that this curtain (or veil) was torn in this way is miraculous. The fabric was 60 feet long, 30 feet high, and as thick as the palm of one’s hand. It would have been virtually impossible to rip from bottom to top, let alone from top to bottom. This was no act of man.

And most awesome is what this act of God represents. No longer are believers denied access to the Holy of Holies. We are invited into the Throne Room of Heaven because of Jesus’s death. Now that’s something to marvel at—especially since His presence was reserved for the High Priest, who could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year.

Now, because of what Jesus accomplished on Calvary, we are invited to come before God any time of any day. Of course, we must do so in reverence and awe. But if we have asked Jesus to be our Lord and Saviour, the way is open to us. In fact, Jesus is the Way, as we read in John 14:6.

So, while we will celebrate the Light bursting from the grave on Sunday, we can see that even on this, the darkest day, that same Light shines through.

Our meditation on these truths should not be restricted to one weekend a year. Will you consider setting aside time to do so on a regular basis?

And when your life seems shrouded in darkness and you can’t see the way out, will you turn your eyes toward the One who is the Light of the World (John 8:12)?

Tweetables

Even on this, the darkest day, the Light shines through. (Click to tweet)

When life seems shrouded in darkness, turn your eyes toward the one who is the Light of the World.  (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.

Quilting… and Christian Suspense

Did you know that Ruth, the heroine from Heaven’s Prey, is a quilter? And the villain, Harry Silver, has a quilt connection too? Pop over to Cleo Lampas’s blog and read my guest post.

Review: The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane NobleThe Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble (David C. Cook, 2014)

Elaine Littlefield, “El” to her friends, is a widow “of a certain age” who’s been known to combat stress by baking triple-chocolate cookies in the wee hours while wearing sock monkey pajamas and dancing to Mozart.

By day, she runs a catering company and solves mysteries. And spends as much time with her daughter and granddaughter as she can.

El has landed a huge catering job for the retirement party of local university professor Dr. Max Haverhill, but when the guest list triples two days before the event, and then Max wants to cancel the event for security reasons, it’s no wonder she’s trying to manage her stress level.

The party goes ahead, and as the back cover says, “countless guests fall ill, a two-hundred-year-old relic is stolen, and her best friend vanishes. All in the first hour.”

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is a fast-paced, light-hearted mystery blended with romance: Max is a lifelong bachelor, but as he and El work together to solve the crime, they may also be falling in love.

Certain aspects of the story may be a bit over the top, but they suit the story and the characters and provide readers with an enjoyable experience.

El, Max, and the other key character, Hyacinth, are fun and courageous. El’s chapters are written in first person, with the others in third person. It wasn’t as confusing as it sounds, because whenever the point of view changed, there was a label on the new chapter telling whose eyes we were seeing through now.

The three are each Christians, and it’s interesting to see how each one’s faith helps sustain them in crisis moments. The faith aspect is subtle in the story, but there are discussion questions at the end of the book to encourage readers to think through different aspects of faith as it pertains to forgiveness, sacrifice, love, and friendship.

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is listed as “A Professor and Mrs. Littlefield Mystery,” but I don’t see any more in the series. Pity. Author Diane Noble has also written historical and contemporary suspense and women’s fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit dianenoblebooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine ReayDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Samantha Moore relates better to the characters in her favourite books than she does to the real people around her. Fired from her job for not “engaging,” she seizes one last chance: a master’s degree in journalism, funded by a mysterious benefactor.

The condition of the funding: she must write to “Mr. George Knightley” and keep him updated about her studies.

So begins a delightful story told through her letters and the occasional reply. It’s the story of Sam learning to let go of the walls she’s put up to protect herself, and discovering who she is.

It’s not as light and fluffy as the cover suggests. Sam’s past is very painful, and her struggle for identity can take hold of readers’ thoughts and not let go. There’s a lot of heart in this book.

It’s also well crafted and funny in places, laced with quotes from Jane Austen and other classics, and Katherine Reay adds plenty of quotable lines, herself, in Sam’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness delivery. Some of my favourites:

(Sam describing her new apartment) And it’s yellow. The way pale yellow should look, like sunshine and butter, mixed with hope and cream. [p. 73]

There are first moments when the eyes tell one’s real emotions, before the brain reminds them to bank and hide. [p. 176]

You can always talk more deeply when running because it feels safe. You can’t directly look at the person next to you. And you can’t hide much in so few clothes and so much sweat. Exhaustion also addles your inhibitions. [p. 232-233]

This is Christian fiction where the faith is subtle. There are Christians around Sam, but she doesn’t notice their gentle attempts to share “crumbs” of faith with her until about half-way through the book. She admires the love she sees in them, but she’s not convinced it would apply to her as well.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a heart-warming first novel from Katherine Reay, and it received multiple awards. For more about this and the author’s other novels, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Spring Suspense Interview

Thanks to author Sara L. Foust for including me in her Spring Suspense interview series. Why do I write suspense? What’s my favourite movie? Click over to Sara’s site and say hi: Interview with Janet Sketchley.