Category Archives: Reviews

Review: When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior

When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior #bookreview #memoir #griefWhen the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior (Angel Hope Publishing, 2016)

Nothing can prepare parents for the pain of losing an infant, either during pregnancy or following the birth. Bobbi Junior’s brief memoir about the death of her second child shortly after birth is, on the one hand, one couple’s personal story, and on the other hand, a window on how friends and loved ones can offer support to the grieving parents.

Told in short, conversational chapters, each charmingly illustrated by Ramona Furst, this is a quick read with a good take-away. Readers learn some of the things not to say, and in fact that it’s okay to say nothing but to be present in silence and with tears.

The book includes simple and practical things, too, creative means of comfort that worked for the Junior family and which may work for others. As the author points out, though, every person’s grief is different.

Favourite line:

Like carefully pushing aside a spider web before it could cling to me, I took great care in moving the comment aside before passing it by. I wouldn’t forget it, but I wouldn’t wear it, either. [On dealing with an unintentionally hurtful comment, page 29]

Bobbi Junior is also the author of The Reluctant Caregiver. For more about the author and her work, or to check out her blog, visit bobbijunior.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke

Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke. Prequel novel to the Fault Lines series. #technothriller #cleanreadsFault Lines, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2017)

In which book 3 is book 1… Fault Lines, the newest release in the techno-thriller series of the same name, fits first in the series chronology. If you’ve read Double Edge, the free ebook prequel, you’ll recognize the first four chapters of Fault Lines, but the rest is all new, expanding on what the prequel set in place, and a highly recommended read.

If you’ve read the previous books, grab this one. If you’re new to the series, dive in here. It’s fast-paced, a great read, and it’s clean. Although Revell is a publisher of Christian fiction, this book has only faint references to faith and would suit readers of all backgrounds.

This is the story of Charlie Hazard, a “risk containment specialist” whose life is upended when a strange and beautiful woman implores him to help her with a mysterious – and dangerous – mission.

Charlie is my favourite type of hero: a strong, competent character who’s over his head but readers know that somehow he’ll find a way to beat the odds. He draws together a team who will need to do the impossible.

The technology at the core of the series doesn’t exist yet, but with the events rooted in the present (or very near future) I hesitate to call it science fiction.

As always, the author’s choice of words and phrases adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the story. Here’s an example:

Every now and then she would stop talking and touch her tongue to her lips, as though she wanted to taste a certain word, as though another thought was crowding into her mouth. [Reese, page 58]

And my favourite line, because of the nod to the film, Casablanca:

“You think I would drive to Como for the waters, perhaps? For my health?” [Edoardo, page 244]

Fault Lines is a great read, and now I want to re-read the next book in the series, Trial Run.

Thomas Locke is the pen name of the prolific and award-winning Davis Bunn, who incorporates a stronger faith thread in the books under his own name. For more about the author and his books, visit tlocke.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.]

Review: The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzThe Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz (Kregel Publications, 2017)

Remember in the account of the Crucifixion of Christ, the soldier at the foot of the Cross who declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God”? (Mark 15:39, NIV)

The Soldier Who Killed a King is this soldier’s story, told first-person, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Resurrection Sunday. One week in the life of an ordinary Roman centurion who was caught in the tumultuous events of Holy Week.

Well-written and with as little brutality as possible, this is a thought-provoking novel worthy to be part of a Christian’s reading each year before Easter. It’s powerful any time of the year.

Sometimes seeing a familiar story through a fresh lens helps us find new insights. This time, I was struck by an aspect of Barabbas’ release that I’d never considered before. (I’ve read the previous version of this book, The Soldier, the Terrorist, and the Donkey King, but somehow this snippet didn’t stick with me.)

The language is fresh and approachable, with just a hint of formality to remind us this is a man from an earlier time. The centurion, Marcus Longinus, is an impartial observer of both Jesus and Herod as each arrives in Jerusalem through the Messiah Gate and proclaims kingship in his own way. Marcus’ language in describing them matches the opinions he forms.

My favourite lines:

The news of Herod’s arrival spread like flies on a rotting corpse. [page 64]

He [Jesus] was the donkey king. A horse would have put him above the crowd. A horse would have meant elevating himself like all the other egotistical men who led in this upside-down world. [page 119]

As a Bible dramatist, David Kitz presents the one-man, four-act play, The Centurion’s Report. He’s also the author of the devotional book, Psalms Alive! and the children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World. And he posts regular reflections on the Psalms on his blog, complete with photos. See davidkitz.wordpress.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: On Love’s Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson

On Love's Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson Prince Edward Island Dreams Book 3On Love’s Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson (Revell, 2017)

Natalie O’Ryan fled a painful childhood on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and was never going back. Until her fiancé decided it’d be the perfect place for their wedding. Right in her hometown. Surrounded by people who’d be too happy to tell him all the things she doesn’t want him to know.

Even worse than the gossips, though, is facing her childhood best friend, Justin Kane. Natalie and Justin each blame the other for ending their relationship, and now they have to work together on the wedding venue… and readers can’t help thinking these are the two who should be getting married, instead of bringing Natalie’s work-obsessed fiancé into the picture.

On Love’s Gentle Shore is book 3 in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, and it released just after Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Readers who are new to the series can start here and not feel lost, but there is a continuity of secondary characters from the beginning, and if you’ve read the previous books you’ll recognize them and see the ongoing developments in their lives.

Reading this series is like coming home, to a place we wish home could be. Rose’s Red Door Inn, where the bridal couple stay, is warm and welcoming, and it’s staffed with the kind, caring people readers met in book 1.

There are caring people in the community, too, although Natalie has spent too long focusing on those who caused her to leave. It’s good watching her realize how many people did love her as a child, and who haven’t given up on her now.

My only issue after reading is that Natalie’s childhood was dysfunctional enough that in the real world, the people who loved her would have reported her parents. The fact that they didn’t changes how I feel about their goodness. Still, there’s much to appreciate in the novel.

As well as being a romance, it’s a story of forgiveness, and faith, and relationships worth mending. The scenery is brought to life until you can almost picture yourself there, and the descriptions of the food may add a pound or two just in the reading.

Favourite line:

That didn’t stop a bucket of dread from gnawing its way into his belly and settling in like it was paying rent. [page 32]

Liz Johnson has written over a dozen novels, both contemporary romance and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her work, visit lizjohnsonbooks.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.]

Review: Over Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard

Over Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard #bookreview #overmayadeadbody mystery romantic suspenseOver Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2017)

FBI agent Serena Jones is trained to spot illegal activity – even when she’s on vacation. A stranger’s suspicious behaviour makes her think he’s smuggling art antiquities, and the unexpected death of the man she and her family had travelled to visit has her looking for a murderer.

The evidence suggests that Jack fell, but what happens next convinces Serena otherwise. Unless she’s too obsessed by her job and these incidents are truly accidents like the local police say.

Serena, her parents, and her incorrigible Aunt Martha are joined by Nate (Serena’s apartment superintendent, who’s more than he seems) and Tanner (her FBI boss) to help untangle the clues. Aunt Martha brings a few of her contacts into play, as well.

It looks like Jack was killed to keep him from talking about an antiquities smuggling ring. Then, there’s his missing nephew. And rumours of drugs. In the middle of trying to solve the mystery, Serena can’t stop comparing her feelings for Nate and Tanner and wondering how she can be attracted to them both.

Many fans of the series have already voted on which guy Serena will choose, and it’s been a source of some contention. They’re both fine men, and my one hesitation about reading this book was I didn’t want to see either of them sad at the end. Author Sandra Orchard has that covered, though, with an epilogue that forecasts happiness in the future for the man who lost out.

This is a fast-paced mystery filled with banter, twists and turns, and pages that practically turn themselves. Aunt Martha is a hoot as she tries to help with the investigation. As Serena says,

As sidekicks went, she was the best. If I ever decided to quit my day job and become a PI, I’d hire her in a flash. Well, except for the fact that Mom would kill me. [page 121]

Over Maya Dead Body is book 3 in the Serena Jones Mystery series. I heartily recommend starting with book 1, A Fool and His Monet, and reading all three books.

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning, Canadian author. She has also written the Port Aster Secrets series, and a number of other romantic suspense novels. For more about the author, and to see the bonus features she provides for each book, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: Serving Up God, by Colin MacDougall

Serving Up God: My Workplace as Ministry, by Colin MacDougall #bookreview #ChristianlivingServing Up God, by Colin MacDougall (WestBow Press, 2017)

This book is subtitled “My Workplace as Ministry,” and its memoir-style vignettes illustrate author Colin MacDougall’s premise that “Your purpose in life, simply put, is to live Christ where you are” [page xi].

With candour and gentle humour, chapters explore various facets of work and relationships: with customers, co-workers, and employees. It’s clear that the author doesn’t consider himself to have achieved perfection. As he “serves up God” in his business, as much as that impacts those around him, they in turn impact him – for the better.

Since most Christians spend far more time in the marketplace than in faith-based settings, books like this are a valuable resource on how to avoid a Monday morning disconnect from the Sunday morning worship.

The book begins with the idea that work is a gift given by God to be given back in worship, and that doing so involves seeing those around us as children of God: not judging, not trying to push people into their final identity as mature believers, but doing our best to help them move one step closer to God.

Employers and managers are encouraged to take time to know and pray for the employees in their charge, to lead by example, and to discipline fairly and always with the goal of helping employees reach their potential. Jesus is cited as the ultimate example of how to be a leader, as well as how to be a follower (in how He followed God the Father).

Favourite lines:

No matter how big or how small you may feel your job is, do it for the glory of God, and who knows the lives you will be able to impact. [page 6]

It’s important for me to recognize that, although I refer to my workplace as my ministry, it is really God’s ministry. I am quite fortunate to be along for the ride. [page 32]

This book is only 110 pages, but it’s filled with wisdom for Christians who want to live their faith on the job. Some sections apply specifically to managers/owners, but employees will find insights for co-worker and customer relationships as well.

Colin MacDougall has an extensive background in management, and at present he and his wife, Joanne, own a thriving cheesecake restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called Sweet Hereafter. Serving Up God is his first book. For more about the author and his book, visit servingupgod.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Soul’s Gate, by James L. Rubart

Soul's Gate by James Rubart | Well Spring series, book 1, book review, spiritual warfare, Christian fictionSoul’s Gate, by James L. Rubart (Harper Collins/Thomas Nelson Fiction, 2012)

Years ago, a tragic experience took Reese Roth out of a key role in spiritual warfare. Now, he must train and unite the four people who prophecy says are needed for the coming battle. It doesn’t help that two of them have a previous, unreconciled and painful history.

Soul’s Gate is the first book in the Well Spring series, and the trainees face significant pressure to turn away from the path to spiritual maturity and power. For the most part, even though the novel includes demonic opposition, it feels like a safe read because the trainees have Reese looking out for them. He usually senses their times of crisis and has a word or prayer to help them keep fighting.

It’s a compelling story, but what I most appreciate is the spiritual application to readers’ own lives. The characters experience things we likely never will – it’s fiction, after all – but there is clear (non-preachy) teaching on aspects of spiritual freedom that we can take for ourselves.

Much of the novel deals with the characters learning to recognize and refute the lies of their spiritual enemies, and the lies that they’ve internalized over the years. At one point, they’re challenged to write down every negative name or label that had ever applied to them, and to destroy the list before God, asking Him to give them new names.

There’s an ongoing focus on using Truth to refute and replace the lies. And throughout the novel, we see how spiritual healing and growth is a progression, not an instant fix.

These are things many of us already know, but there’s value in being reminded. Favourite lines (from when Reece asks Brandon a hard question and won’t back down):

“Why are you going for the throat, Reece?”

“Because the throat is where we swallow things. Good and bad. And I think you’ve been swallowing lies.” [Kindle location 2661]

Soul’s Gate won a 2013 Christy Award in visionary fiction and a 2013 INSPY Award for speculative fiction. James L. Rubart is a multi-published novelist, speaker, and consultant. His website says, “No matter where you’re at, I believe you can find life-altering freedom. Getting there is at the heart of all of my novels.” For more about the author and his books, visit jameslrubart.com. Or check out his blog: Going Deeper.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Kidney Donor’s Journey, by Ari Sytner

The Kidney Donor’s Journey, by Ari Sytner (Sytner Publishing House, 2016)

When Ari Sytner wanted to learn about live kidney donation, most of the resources he found were medical, and the connections he made often wanted his contact information… way before he was ready to take that step. Persistent and patient research over time did answer his questions and help him and his family to make the decision to donate one of his kidneys to a total stranger, but he knew there should be an easier way.

The Kidney Donor’s Journey is a safe, commitment-free way to learn more about what’s involved physically, medically, and morally. The author emphasizes that, as much as he encourages people to consider live kidney donation, this book isn’t about convincing readers. It’s about sharing the information and starting the thought processes necessary for an informed choice.

Kidney donors tend to be reluctant to discuss what they’ve done, because some sacrifices are best kept private. Nonetheless, Ari Sytner chose to share his story with the goal of raising awareness of the opportunity to save another person’s life (and by so doing to impact that person’s family).

This book is subtitled “100 Questions I Asked Before Donating My Kidney,” although the author laughingly admits that he didn’t really ask if he could get pregnant afterward. That question’s included for women who are investigating the prospect.

Chapters address specific topics, from what prompted Rabbi Sytner to start his journey, to the screening process, to how to tell the various people in one’s life that one’s considering such a thing, and on to the surgery, recovery, and future life.

The Kidney Donor’s Journey is written in a gentle, easy-to-read style, carefully worded for clarity. It’s an approachable resource that tells one man’s story in a way that allows others to discover if they want to go further in the process. Even if they decide against donation, they’ll be better informed on the subject and can share what they’ve learned with those around them.

The book is based on the author’s experience in the US health-care system, so readers around the world will find differences in their local opportunities. Even within the US, there will be differences between states. More personal investigation would be needed anyway, for the reader who wants to go ahead with kidney donation. As the author points out, he’s not a doctor or a lawyer or other official expert. He’s just giving us the layperson’s insider view of his own story.

The back cover of the book tells us that “Ari Sytner is a serial optimist. He is a rabbi, social worker, therapist, inspirational speaker, Huffington Post contributor, blogger, CEO, organizational strategist, consultant and proud kidney donor.” For more about the author, visit asytner.com, and stop by his blog.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn

Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn (Kensington Books, 2017)

Sometimes you need to run away to find yourself. And so we meet Connor Larkin, up-and-coming actor, seeking anonymity on the midnight bus out of Hollywood after his highly-publicized engagement event.

Connor has been to the town of Miramar Bay once before, and he thinks it’s the place he’ll find some clarity. He’s not expecting to find an ally in the local police chief, or to be brought to tears by the music drifting from a local restaurant.

Sophie Cassick, the restaurant owner, can’t let her own troubles keep her from hiring “Connor Smith” when he pleads for a job. Whatever his secrets, he’ll fit in with the rest of her loyal crew of misfits.

Miramar Bay is a heart-warming, feel-good novel, perfect for a summer read. Complex characters and meticulous details make it more than a romance. It’s also a story of friendship, loyalty, estrangement, regrets, and second chances. It’s about remembering to dream again.

Internationally-bestselling author Davis Bunn is most known for his Christian fiction. Miramar Bay is a general-market book, so don’t expect an overt faith thread. As a Christian reader, I see God’s work through the characters and circumstances and in response to one woman’s cry of “I need help,” but the characters themselves don’t fully think that through on-page.

Although lawyers only play a small part in the novel, my favourite lines both describe them:

Everything was very normal about Harold. However, Sylvie often suspected that given the right motivation, the top would spring open to his tight little box, and out would pop the evil clown. [p. 181]

Sol offered a cat’s smile, all teeth and malice. [p. 257]

For more about the author and his books, visit Davis Bunn Books. Writers and aspiring writers are strongly encouraged to check out his blog, Notes from Davis. Curious readers may find it interesting too, to peek behind the scenes at the struggles many writers face.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: A Sticky Inheritance, by Emily James

A Sticky Inheritance, by Emily James Maple Syrup Mysteries book 1A Sticky Inheritance, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2016)

When Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes’ beloved uncle dies, she travels to a small, tourist town in Northern Michigan to handle the funeral arrangements.

Uncle Stan disgraced himself in her family by leaving a lucrative medical career for an obscure maple syrup farm, and now he’s left the farm to her. For all her doubts about being a lawyer, she’s not sure this would be better. Plus, her parents would never forgive her.

More important in the short term is proving that Uncle Stan did not commit suicide, as originally thought, and finding his killer.

Along the way, Nicole gets herself into some amusingly awkward situations and begins to make what could be some good friends – if she lives and decides to stay.

Nicole has some fun quirks, like the novelty socks she wears despite her upscale lawyer image, and her occasional references to geek culture. I was happy to recognize a nod to the movie, “The Princess Bride,” as well as a classic Star Wars reference. Readers who don’t get those comments won’t miss any of the story.

This isn’t a Christian novel, but it’s a clean mainstream read, and I am highly enjoying this series. So far, each book includes a recipe involving maple syrup.

Favourite line:

It was strange watching twins arguing, like seeing a person fight with their reflection in a mirror. [Kindle location 319]

To find out more about author Emily James and the Maple Syrup Mysteries, or to sign up for your free ebook copy of the prequel, Sapped, visit authoremilyjames.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]