Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: As the Ink Flows

As the Ink Flows: Devotions to Inspire Christian Writers and SpeakersAs the Ink Flows, by Glenda Dekkema, Melony Teague, Carol Ford, Claudia Loopstra, and Marguerite Cummings (Judson Press, 2016)

As the Ink Flows is a collection of ninety devotions from five Canadian writers and speakers. The contents are divided by topic: “the craft, inspiration, know yourself, well-being, personalities, and faithfulness.”

The devotional component of each entry is the standard Scripture quote, devotional thought, and prayer, but what sets these devotions apart is the application portion. Each one includes a question for reflection and a writing prompt for the day.

This is an approachable resource that will encourage Christians who work with words, while encouraging them to build from a foundation of faith. It’s useful for writers and speakers in both the Christian and the general market.

Working through the reflections and writing prompts will enrich writing projects already in progress, and will inspire new ones. As the Ink Flows is suitable for individuals and small groups.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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: 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.]

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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