Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Undercut, by Heather Day Gilbert

Undercut, by Heather Day Gilbert | Hemlock Creek Suspense book 2Undercut, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2017)

Her sister and brother used to follow their FBI father to the shooting range, but Molly McClure has always been different. She’d rather dress in pretty clothes and arrange her hair.

Truth told, she didn’t sound like my kind of character. But it didn’t take long for Molly to impress me, and she certainly carries the heroine role with courage. What I admire about Molly is that she knows what she wants, and instead of going to the extreme of either passive hinting or aggressive pressure, she takes an honest, direct approach.

This is a romantic suspense story, where Molly and PTSD-scarred ex-military sniper Zane Boone, now turned lumberjack, each carry a previous attraction to the other. When they meet again, she’s not pushy, but she’s sure not sitting back pining. She meets him as a confident equal, and while there are doubts, there’s not the angst we too often see.

The suspense comes because Zane is convinced someone’s stalking him. He’s very much in alert mode, and it shows in his reactions.

For a novella-length story (132 pages), Undercut packs a lot of action and emotional content. It’s book 2 in the Hemlock Creek Suspense series. Book 1 was Molly’s sister Katie’s story, so I assume book 3 will feature their brother, Brandon.

Undercut first released in the ebook box set, Kill Zone, and is now available on its own in print and digital formats.

Heather Day Gilbert always delivers a good read with strong characters, whether she’s writing about Vikings (God’s Daughter and Forest Child) or contemporary suspense (the Murder in the Mountains series and the Hemlock Creek Suspense series). For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Almost Sleighed, by Emily James

Almost Sleighed, by Emily James

Almost Sleighed, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2017)

Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes is beginning to learn the intricacies of running the maple syrup business she inherited from her Uncle Stan. When one of her employees is attacked and the police won’t investigate, Nicole decides it’s her responsibility to find the truth.

She’s still avoiding her favourite co-sleuth, Mark, and changes at the police station mean she needs to avoid her friend there, Eric. Help comes from an unlikely source, and it’s good to see Nicole find another friend in town.

It’s also good to see the misunderstanding between Nicole and Mark finally resolved. Then the question becomes, will they survive long enough to begin a relationship?

Almost Sleighed is book 3 in the Maple Syrup Mysteries (not counting the prequel Sapped), and it’s my favourite so far. It’s complex, with some funny lines and plenty of well-turned phrases.

I’m definitely enjoying this series from Emily James. At the moment there are seven books plus the prequel (free for signing up for the author’s newsletter). For more about the author and her books, visit authoremilyjames.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Another Stab at Life, by Anita Higman

Another Stab at Life, by Anita HigmanAnother Stab at Life, by Anita Higman (Forget Me Not Romances, 2011)

Bailey Walker is in desperate need of a fresh start, but the decaying old mansion left to her by her beloved grandmother is not what she had in mind. Still, she’s plucky and determined, with a sense of humour and nowhere else to go.

Along with the house, she’s challenged by neighbours who want to be her friends. Bailey’s rules for life tell her to be independent and not rely on anyone, but when it seems like someone’s trying to scare her out of her inheritance, she starts rethinking the value of isolation.

I liked the humour in the book, and the way it didn’t take itself too seriously. There are questions about the house that aren’t answered, but peeking at the summaries of the next two books suggests that everything will be wrapped up by the end.

Writing-wise, there is an issue with past/present tense. The story’s told in the past tense, but every so often there’s a slip.

Favourite lines (the first one shows the tone, but also the past/present issue, and the second made me chortle out loud):

This is a really old building but I can make it a home. Somehow. Eventually. But why was there always a prologue to every story in my life? [Kindle location 61]

The tellers at the bank had to call the head honchos down from upstairs so they could burble and stare like marmosets. [Kindle location 606]

Another Stab at Life is book 1 in the Volstead Manor series of cozy mysteries. It’s a light read (with a few tense moments). This isn’t the strongest book I’ve read this year, but it’s good fun and I look forward to finishing the rest of the series. I like Bailey and her mysterious house.

Anita Higman is the author or co-author of over 40 novels, present and historical, romantic and mystery, and even some young adult fiction. Another Stab at Life also comes in the ebook bundle, The Volstead Manor Series. For more about the author and her work, visit anitahigman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Bushwhacked, by Emily James

Bushwhacked, by Emily JamesBushwhacked, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2016)

It’s official. Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes is moving to Sugarwood and learning the ropes of maple syrup making. Except before she even arrives, she’s pulled into another murder investigation. At least this time the police agree it’s foul play.

With the dubious blessing of interim Police Chief Erik Higgins, Nicole goes undercover at the local animal shelter to look for clues.

Erik, who she dated briefly last time she was in town, starts acting distant, and Mark, the county medical examiner, is friendlier toward her than a married man should be.

The mystery is cleverly plotted and executed, with some delightful imagery, and the characters are fun to read. I found this one slower to get into than the previous books, until the action sped up part-way through. Nicole missed a couple of key things that were obvious to me, and I’m not a reader who likes to feel smarter than the characters.

My biggest issue with her, though, is Mark. He’s too nice a guy to be two-timing on his perpetually-absent wife, and as a reader, I don’t have the patience to watch a character angst for a whole book over something so easily solved with a single conversation. Especially when it started in the previous book and was already wearing thin because the answer seems obvious to me (maybe I’m wrong… I’ll find out in the next book).

Despite that, Nicole is funny and quirky. As well as figuring out the human relationships in her life, she needs to decide what she thinks about her uncle’s faith. For now, in crisis, she talks to “Uncle Stan’s God.”

Favourite lines:

My mind felt a bit like a chalkboard wiped clean with a dirty brush. I couldn’t quite make the words that should be there come into focus. [Kindle location 1649]

She chuckled, but it sounded like a cardboard cutout of what laughter should be. [Kindle location 1724]

So far, each book comes with a recipe, and this time it’s maple cookies. I tried it, and they’re very tasty. I look forward to the next book, Almost Sleighed.

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.]

Review: Shadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr

Shadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr #bookreview Hill of Great Darkness seriesShadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr (Archway Publishing, 2017)

Shadow of Tunguska is book 2, “The Final Chapters,” of the Hill of Great Darkness series, and because it’s closely linked to the events of book 1, Hill of Great Darkness, I believe they’re best read in order.

The series is set on Earth, the moon, and in space, in the not-so-distant future. Ugandan scientist Simone Sytte finds herself in the middle of a highly secret military operation on the moon, one that conflicts sharply with her Christian faith.

At the same time, in Russia, a covert team of Americans explores macabre findings at the Tunguska event site—findings that link it with an archaeological site in the US. While I’m not conversant with the theories around the Tunguska event, I suspect this one’s a new twist on it.

This is a book for people who enjoy high-stakes science fiction adventure with high-tech equipment. It’s told in an omniscient style that explains multiple characters’ motivations and reactions in a given scene, which won’t work for all readers.

Although primarily an adventure story, the novel looks at what it’s like for a Christian caught in circumstances she wants no part of, learning “to be light in the darkness around her.” [page 79]

Favourite line:

At that instant, the forest became as silent as deep space, and three men leaned toward an old man, like children who were examining their first firefly.” [page 78]

H.C. Beckerr writes Christian science fiction, or “Chri-fi,” as he calls it. For more about his novels, or to check out his blog, visit shadowoftunguska.com. You can read my interview with H.C. Beckerr here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

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: 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: 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: 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.]