Category Archives: Fiction

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: 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: 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.]

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.]

Review: The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr

The Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. CarrThe Shattered Vigil, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2016)

Willet Dura is one of the most interesting characters I’ve “met” in a long time. He may be insane, and he definitely has something nasty locked up in his mind that at times takes control of his actions. But as a reader, I’m on his side and I know he’s one of the good guys. Even though the other “good guys” in the Vigil don’t trust him.

He treats even the lowest with dignity and compassion, he fights for justice, and he loves God. In the world of this series, God is called Aer, and is a triune deity Christians will recognize. There are recognizable spiritual parallels between Willet’s world and ours, but readers of any (or no) faith can enjoy this epic fantasy series with its depth of characters, plot, and setting.

The series is dark in places and heartwarming in others. I did not expect the “aww” moment in this book. (It was a side note, really, but I won’t spoil it. Just watch for Willet to yell at Jeb.) On the other hand, I didn’t expect to be concerned about nightmares over something that happened later, even though it was “off-camera.” I trust the author enough to wait for the next book in the series to find out why he allowed it to happen.

Another thing to appreciate in these books is the occasional bits of humour. Bolt, Willet’s protector, has an endless supply of pithy one-liners that often bring a smile. My favourite from this book:

You look like something the cook should have thrown away.” [Kindle location 1428]

Point of view alternates between first person (Willet’s scenes) and third person for everyone else. The storytelling is immersive, the settings and world-building convincing and complex, and the characters compelling.

The Shattered Vigil is book 2 in The Darkwater Saga, and new readers are strongly urged to pick up the novella By Divine Right as a free ebook to introduce themselves to Willet and his world.

Patrick W. Carr has also written The Staff & The Sword series. For more about the author and his work, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Forest Child, by Heather Day Gilbert

Forest Child, by Heather Day GilbertForest Child, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2016)

As Eirik the Red’s illegitimate daughter, Freydis has always fought for equality with her half-brothers. Her adventurous temperament and her father’s indulgence have shaped her into a fierce hunter and warrior and a skilled sailor.

Desperate to prove her worth and lay claim to the inheritance she believes should be hers, she has led a crew back to the New World to plunder its rich resources. When she meets tragedy and danger, she protects her family the only way she knows how – and carries the decision as an unconfessed burden she can share with no-one.

The story is set around AD 1000 and spans three parts: Vinland (the New World), Greenland, and Iceland. This is book two in the Vikings of the New World Saga, following God’s Daughter, the story of Freydis’ Christian sister-in-law, Gudrid.

You could read book two without having read book one, but not only would you miss a stellar read, you’d have less empathy for Freydis in Forest Child because you wouldn’t have as strong a sense of her past.

Except for the opening prologue, the story is told in the first person, present tense, by Freydis. This evokes a strong sense of place and a connection with Freydis, an impulsive woman whose actions are often misunderstood by those around her.

Readers see her thoughts and can trace her motives even in her most destructive choices. Understanding Freydis’ mindset (as a Viking but also as a strong woman afraid to depend on others or on God) is key to caring for her as the novel’s protagonist.

Freydis, as well as many of the other characters of this series, is based on a real historic figure. Much of the Vikings of the New World Saga draws on The Sagas of the Greenlanders, and so this fictional retelling of history has many predetermined events.

While the content is never gratuitous, the Vikings’ violence and pagan roots make these novels feel darker than what some might expect of Christian historical fiction. Forest Child is darker than God’s Daughter, because of the different natures of the protagonists, but both novels resolve with hope.

Forest Child contains a few violent scenes that timid readers may wish to skim. They’re written with all possible sensitivity, and since the author drew from actual events, they’re not optional to Freydis’ story. What they do is allow characters and readers to consider themes of family, vengeance, murder, faith, and redemption. Oddly, the decision Freydis makes which troubled me most (the one I really wanted to make her reconsider) is not found in these scenes.

These fierce, long-ago Vikings become people we connect with, despite the differences in cultures. Many of us know too well what it’s like to fight for respect or position, to fall outside what’s socially acceptable… and to fear the vulnerability that comes with trusting others. Many also know what Freydis needs to discover: God loves us no matter who or where we are, and His forgiveness changes everything.

Heather Day Gilbert took the building blocks of history and breathed life and relatable motivations into these characters. I wish I had time to read the original sagas to discover where fact and fiction meet.

The book ends with a family tree of the main characters, and a glossary of Viking terms and pronunciations.

Heather Day Gilbert also writes present-day suspense novels set in West Virginia. As well as drawing readers into richly-detailed settings and believable characters, her fiction explores the dynamics of marriage relationships and how faith can affect daily life. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

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Review: Traces of Guilt, by Dee Henderson

Traces of Guilt, by Dee HendersonTraces of Guilt, by Dee Henderson (Bethany House, 2016)

Evie Blackwell has a different take on cold cases: the intervening years are a bonus, because they’re full of opportunities for the criminal to have left further clues to this and other crimes. Her approach is methodical and effective, and her time in Illinois’ Carin County is a test-run for a soon-to-be-announced cold case task force.

Her two assignments: an abducted child, and a missing family. The child belonged to a family who were passing through, but the family were local. In both cases, the locals are reluctant to revisit past pain if all it brings is more disappointment.

Long-time fans of Dee Henderson will recognize beloved characters from her previous works: Ann Silver and Paul Falcon. The Thane family sounds like they’ve appeared before, too. Everyone was new to me, and other than being a bit confused by the references to so many key people in the first chapter or two, I was fine.

One challenge about solving cold cases is that in the re-thinking and new investigating, multiple possibilities must be considered before the truth is found – if it can be found. These two cases bring up others, which may or may not be related and which may show up in future books in the series.

Although this is a romantic suspense series, for this first book those relationships are more in the cautiously-developing stages. That’s one benefit of a series: love doesn’t have to be instant.

Relationships are a key part of the novel – friendship and families more so than romance. This adds the heart to balance the mental, puzzle-solving aspects of the police work.

Traces of Guilt provides a twisting plot and deeply-drawn characters to care about, and it kept me turning pages. I did find that one character who appeared near the end seemed too coincidental in terms of age, and the key players have a jarring habit of referring to one another by name far too often, the way people do when they’re trying to sell you something.

This is the Evie Blackwell Cold Case series, but clearly the Carin County sheriff, Gabriel Thane, will be an ongoing connection no matter where Evie’s work takes her. All three Thane brothers make appealing romantic leads, and we may see more of the other two in future books as well.

Dee Henderson is a long-time favourite author in the Christian romantic suspense genre, and Traces of Guilt is sure to be well received. For more about the author and her books, visit www.deehenderson.com.

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

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