Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Reign of Error, by Christy Barritt

Reign of Error, by Christy BarrittReign of Error, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

Reign of Error is book 2 in the Worst Detective Ever series, and while readers would have a better overall grasp of the series by starting with book 1, Ready to Fumble, they could begin here without feeling lost.

Joey Darling’s acting career is on hiatus while she looks for her missing father and tries to recover from some personal disasters. The problem is, she has one or more over-the-top fans who want her to play detective in real life, the way she did on TV.

The death of a stranger shortly after she’d spoken with him is all it takes for her invisible “fans” to start pushing her to solve the mystery. Unfortunately, the killer wants her to stop.

This is a light-hearted mystery series, complete with two appealing guys competing for Joey’s attention. Each novel is a complete story, with the over-arcing mystery of Joey’s missing father.

Joey is a bit of a drama queen, as one might expect of an actress, so she can be a bit tiring at times, but she’s a likeable character. The obstacles she faces make it easy to root for her to succeed.

Christy Barritt is a prolific author whose Christian fiction includes mysteries and suspense for adults and tweens. For more about the author, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Pursued, by Lisa Harris

Pursued, by Lisa HarrisPursued, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2017)

Special Agent Nikki Boyd is a missing persons investigator in Nashville. Usually she hunts for strangers, but this time it’s more personal: she met Erika, the missing woman, on a plane, just before it crashed. Erika disappeared from the crash site, and Nikki must help the FBI find her before she’s found by the man who wants her dead.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and each book is better than the last. The pacing in this one is relentless, with the entire story packed into 48 hours. As the case becomes even more personal, Nikki can’t back away, despite being pushed beyond her physical and emotional limits.

At the same time, she’s trying to discover the next step in her relationship with Tyler, the friend she’s fallen in love with, and to process some devastating news from her doctor.

One of the things I most appreciate in this series is how Nikki faces the darkness of her cases with faith that God will help her do her job, and that He can take even the broken pieces and make something beautiful. This is never superficial, but grows out of deep struggle.

Pursued is book 3 in the Nikki Boyd Files series, and book 4, Vanishing Point, releases in the fall of 2017.

Author Lisa Harris writes romantic suspense and romance. For more about the author, visit lisaharriswrites.com. To follow the conversation about this series on Twitter, look for the hashtag #nikkiboydfiles.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: The Third Girl, by Nell Goddin

The Third Girl, by Nell GoddinThe Third Girl, by Nell Goddin (Beignet Books, 2015)

Isn’t that a beautiful cover? Unusual doors fascinate me, and each one of the Molly Sutton novels features a different one.

In the series-opener, Molly Sutton has used her divorce settlement to buy a home, sight unseen, in a village in France. She’s going to run a gîte, the French equivalent of a bed and breakfast. Her former neighbourhood in outer Boston was becoming unsafe, and she feels at home now, welcome, and secure in Castillac.

Until a female student from the local art college goes missing, and the villagers make references to previous, unsolved disappearances.

The main characters are Molly, struggling with limited French in new surroundings, and Benjamin Dufort, the local police chief, who feels a personal pressure to solve these crimes, which he fears are linked. Dufort’s staff are featured as well.

This is a very cozy mystery, filled with the gentle rhythm of village life. It’s told omnisciently, featuring one character at a time but expanding to narrate others’ thoughts or motivations in the same scene. The omniscience contributes to the gentle feel, and it works well for the story, but if you can’t stand hopping from head to head, you’ll want to give it a miss.

The story engages the heart through the characters’ ordinariness. When the missing girl’s parents come to stay with Molly, she struggles like any of us would with what to say, and whether to intrude or leave them to worry alone.

Favourite line:

“A little part of his brain, the weaselly part everyone has, wondered if perhaps it might be better to call later…” [Benjamin Dufort, reluctant to contact the missing girl’s family. Page 41.]

This is a mainstream novel, with the occasional mild curse word, but essentially a clean read. I look forward to reading the rest of the Molly Sutton Mysteries. Book two is The Luckiest Woman Ever. Nell Goddin is an American writer who knows how to bring the setting of a French village to life.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland

Creating Character Arcs, by K.M. WeilandCreating Character Arcs, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2016)

Often writing-craft books focus on one element in isolation. Not this time. Creating Character Arcs intertwines character change with story structure and theme.

The author asserts that “the Change Arc is all about the Lie Your Character Believes.” Through the plot, and interactions with other characters, the character will discover and ultimately accept or reject the truth that counters the particular lie. (Except in the flat arc, where he/she has a good grip on the truth in question and instead effects change in those around him or her.)

The book delves into different types of arcs: positive change, flat, and negative change. I appreciate the point-by-point way the author walks through the stages of each arc, with illustrations from well-known books and movies, and then asks specific questions to help writers discern what those points can look like in their current projects.

Later chapters address deciding which type of arc is right for your story, the importance of “impact characters,” how many characters should actually have arcs, and character arcs over the course of a series.

My copy of the book is heavily highlighted. The questions and illustrations helped deepen my understanding of my current work in progress, and I plan to work through the relevant sections for future projects.

K.M. Weiland’s popular website, Helping Writers Become Authors, is a rich resource for writers. She’s also the author of historical and speculative fiction, including the dieselpunk adventure, Storming.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick

In a Foreign Land, by Janice L. DickIn a Foreign Land, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2017)

Fifteen years after Luise Martens and her family escaped from Russia to China, the past catches up with them. Soon they must flee again, from a terrible enemy they thought they’d left behind.

The novel opens in 1945, and it’s a sequel to Other Side of the River. If you haven’t read that book, you may want to do so first. It’s not necessary for comprehension, but it adds a level of depth to understanding these characters’ lives and struggles.

Book one was Luise’s story as a young woman. Book two is partly her story, but partly the story of her son, Danny. It’s interesting to watch the dynamics between the son facing trials for the first time and the mother who has endured similar times.

I always appreciate Janice Dick’s historical fiction, for its richness of character and setting and for what it teaches me about the Russian Mennonites and their struggle to live as pacifists, trusting God’s care in the middle of dangerous times. As Luise says, “Sometimes living for a cause is more difficult than dying for it.” [Kindle location 412]

Luise’s faith has grown stronger through her suffering, but Danny can’t embrace a God who could allow so much to be taken from him.

In a Foreign Land is an inspiring tale of courage, danger, family, and love, set against a backdrop of international conflict and an oppressive regime. The novel is based on a true story.

The In Search of Freedom series will conclude with book 3, Far Side of the Sea. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Ready to Fumble, by Christy Barritt

Ready to Fumble, by Christy BarrittReady to Fumble, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

She’s a TV star who played a detective, but Joey Darling thinks of herself as the character’s klutzy opposite. Now her career is in ruins, and she’s fled Hollywood for the Outer Banks of North Carolina to search for her father.

Joey’s afraid to trust the local police, who may have been involved in his disappearance, but she doesn’t have many clues to follow. As if that weren’t enough challenge for this non-detective, a strange woman asks her to find her missing fiancé.

On the plus side, she’s a method actor who took some self-defense and investigative training. She actually has a PI license, just not for this state.

On the minus side, someone is recreating one of her TV episodes, and Joey doesn’t remember the ending but it might involve death: even her own, if she can’t pull off an escape like her alter ego.

The story is told in first person, and after Joey introduces herself, she asks:

Confused? Just keep reading. Please. Because maybe you can make sense of this mess I’ve made.

With an invitation like that, who won’t read on?

Christy Barritt kicks off her Worst Detective Ever mystery series with her signature snappy humour and upbeat delivery. This isn’t all a surface read, though. Joey has a lot of hurt and self-doubt from her abusive ex, and the two men who attract her more than she’ll admit each have layers of complexity that leave us wondering who they really are.

Plot, characters, and setting all work for me, and I’ll happily continue reading when the next book comes out. Here’s hoping I can keep up: she’s releasing “episodes” monthly. Just like Joey’s TV show. What I like about this is that each one is a full novel. Although the overall mystery of the missing dad spans individual books, Ready to Fumble is a complete story in its own right.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman

Grace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. FreemanGrace for the Good Girl, by Emily P. Freeman (Revell, 2011)

This is a book for all the women whose honest desire to be good sets up impossible expectations and leads to hiding behind facades and fearing to be found out. Anxiety grows, and we struggle in our own strength instead of learning to rely on God. Hence the subtitle: “Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life.”

The author says, “Somewhere along the way, I got the message that salvation is by faith alone but anything after that is faith plus my hard work and sweet disposition” (page 13). Many of us fall into that trap, and Grace for the Good Girl can help us reset.

One of my favourite lines is about giving ourselves “permission to sit down on the inside and live like I have a God who knows what He’s doing” (page 65).

The book is in three sections: the hiding (in which we find out how we’re not alone in this after all), the finding, and the freedom of being found. It ends with a small group leader’s guide for an eight-week study.

Emily P. Freeman writes with transparency and candour about her own struggles, and shares the stories of other “recovering good girls.” The book is easy to read and encouraging. It points us back to relying on the character and grace of God, and to learning to live by faith instead of by feeling. It addresses core issues like anxiety, identity, emotions, and self-reliance, and while you likely won’t recognize yourself on every page, don’t be surprised to relate to at least a few of the stories.

The “try-hard life” is exhausting. Grace for the Good Girl points to freedom. Emily P. Freeman has also written A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World. For more about the author and her ministry, visit emilypfreeman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtney

Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtneyGo, Ivy, Go!, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2015)

Ivy Malone has been on the run from the Braxton family for years, but they haven’t tried to kill her recently. Maybe it’s safe to go home. Her boyfriend disagrees, but once Ivy gets an idea in her head, there’s no stopping her.

If you’re not familiar with Ivy, she’s a self-described “LOL” (little old lady). In the first book in the series, aptly titled Invisible, Ivy discovered that most people don’t notice elderly people – which came in very handy when she decided to solve a murder.

Ivy is down-to-earth, brave, and funny. She’s not terribly tech-savvy, but she has friends who can help when needed. She has a kind heart, and her faith is a quiet but important part of who she is.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and am glad this book came along to wrap it up. There was a long gap after the previous instalment. And now readers can look forward to a new series, The Mac ‘n Ivy Mysteries.

If you’ve loved the series, grab this final book. If it’s new to you, start with Invisible. Or jump in here, and catch up on the previous stories later.

Lorena McCourtney has also written the Cate Kincaid Files, Andi McConnell Mysteries, and the Julesburg Mysteries, all mystery-suspense stories.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2016

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 103 books in 2016. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books (and music) that I’ve most enjoyed this year. Some were produced in 2016, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2016:

Christian living: The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN.

Contemporary novel: The Things We Knew, by Catherine West.

Favourites revisited: Ice Station Zebra, by Alistair MacLean, and the Blackcollar series: Blackcollar, The Backlash Mission, and Blackcollar: The Judas Solution, by Timothy Zahn.

Historical novel: Forest Child, by Heather Day Gilbert.

How-to: Scrivener for Dummies, by Gwen Hernandez.

Mystery novels: A Fool and His Monet, by Sandra Orchard, A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny, and Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtney.

Series of the year: The Michelli Family series by Kristen Heitzmann: Secrets, Unforgotten, and Echoes.

Speculative novels: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr, The Bands of Mourning, by Brandon Sanderson, and Mistborn: Secret History, by Brandon Sanderson.

Thriller: The Domino Effect, by Davis Bunn.

Science Fiction novel: 2016 was not a good science fiction year for me. A few 4-stars, but nothing to make my year-end list. Better things in store for 2017!

Writing how-to: 5 Secrets of Story Structure, by K.M. Weiland.

New-to-me musical artists of the year: Lauren Daigle, Travis Ryan, and Vertical Church Band.

Janet's 2016 Goodreads stats

If you’re bored, click the image and Goodreads will display the book covers.

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Review: The Christmas Angel Project, by Melody Carlson

The Christmas Angel Project, by Melody CarlsonThe Christmas Angel Project, by Melody Carlson (Revell, 2016)

Abby Wentworth is the leader of a local book club, but more than that, she’s a significant influence in each member’s life. When she dies just after Thanksgiving, her four friends are devastated. They meet one last time and discover Abby has left them each a hand-made angel ornament.

What if each of them could follow Abby’s example of helping others? Could they overlook their own grief and make a difference?

The Christmas Angel Project is a feel-good novella that leaves readers thinking about planting hope in those around them. Objectively it’s too good to be true, but something about the season creates an appreciation for stories like this. And the characters are relatable people we can care about.

Because of its brevity, the story is told with more narration than I enjoy. “Showing instead of telling” would have made it a longer read and allowed a better emotional connection. The only disconnect I found is that none of the women make much effort to reach out to Abby’s husband, who has to be feeling her loss even more than they do.

Having said that, this is a pleasant seasonal read that can inspire us to look outward and make a difference in the world around us.

With over 200 books in print, Melody Carlson has a number of these quick Christmas reads, as well as novels for women, teens, tweens and kids. For more about the author and her books, visit melodycarlson.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]