Tag Archives: clean reads

Review: Awakening, by Tracy L. Higley

Awakening, by Tracy L. HigleyAwakening, by Tracy L. Higley (StoneWater Press, 2014)

New York City museum employee Kallista Andreas has a passion for antiquities, especially those associated with the ancient Minoan civilization. Yet she doesn’t know her own past. Her memories begin seven years ago, when the curator found her in the museum.

Now she’s experiencing visions so disorienting that she begins journaling them as a story—the story of a young princess from the ancient past.

At the same time, she’s forced out of her comfort zone—and away from her safe office—as part of a team searching for a relic that could unlock the mysteries of the Minoan language.

Kallista’s patron for this globe-spanning search is mysterious, romantic, and wealthy enough to give the team all they need along the way. It makes for an enjoyable novel with exotic locations and moments of danger. I liked how it was tense but not too intense.

I’d call this a clean read as opposed to a Christian novel, but Kallista is curious about spiritual truth and whether any of the ancient gods or goddesses can point to that truth. Toward the end, she sees that Christianity may indeed offer what these pre-Christian religions hinted at.

Because Awakening is split between the story-present (contemporary times) and Kallista’s journal stories (ancient past), it’s a novel for those who enjoy either time period.

Tracy L. Higley writes historical and contemporary fiction, and travels extensively in her research. For more about the author and her work, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

99-cent Ebook: Romantic Suspense for Valentine’s Day


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Review: Death of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Scavenger, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Scavenger, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Juniper Grove, Colorado, is a small town, but newcomer Rachel Stowe is about to find her second dead body, only a month after the first one turned up in her back yard.

At least this one’s on someone else’s property.

In the middle of the town’s annual Halloween scavenger hunt (complete with fake corpse) a second, real corpse is found – and it’s hard to find anyone other than Rachel who doesn’t have a motive.

Again, Rachel and her friends Julia and Holly team up to solve the mystery. It’s not that Rachel thinks Police Chief Gilroy is incompetent. Far from it. She’s just afraid he’s looking in the wrong places.

Death of a Scavenger is book two in the Juniper Grove mystery series, and it’s good to spend more time with these characters… and to vicariously enjoy the cream puffs from Holly’s bakery.

My favourite addition to the cast of characters is Gina, a grey-dreadlocked lady with mobility issues who lives in a brightly-painted house.

Clues and diversions abound, along with more conflict with the ever-patient Chief Gilroy, and again Rachel plays a key part in solving the mystery.

The Juniper Grove novels are short, quick reads. They’re clean and not too intense – perfect for those times when you don’t want anything too heavy. That said, the characters always leave you with something to think about, even if it’s just the challenge to be kinder to someone who’s marginalized like Gina.

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Scavenger is the second in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Blind Justice, by James Scott Bell

Blind Justice, by James Scott BellBlind Justice, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press, 2013. Originally published in 2000.)

While Howie Patino was confronting horror he could scarcely have imagined, I was trying hard to come up with one good reason why I should continue to breathe. [Page 7]

That’s how chapter two begins. Chapter one shows the murder Howie’s about to be charged with, and chapter two introduces Jake Denney, a disgraced, alcoholic lawyer who’s sitting in the corner of a tavern using a pen and yellow legal pad to list the pros and cons of ending his life.

Told in a snappy, noir-like first person with brilliant descriptions that show as much about Jake as they do about what or who he sees, this is a page-turning clean read with a background thread of faith.

Howie is a childlike man who’s helpless in the criminal system. Jake drinks his way through the book, sabotaging himself at every turn but unwilling to give in to the overly-strong pressure from the prosecutor.

Christian readers will pick up a sense of spiritual warfare, although Jake himself doesn’t believe. Howie’s sister, Lindsay, tries to convince Jake to clean up his act and consider the possibility that there’s more to life than what he sees.

Readers who like to see the character begin to change for the better by the midpoint will find their patience stretched, and I felt that much of the forward progress of the plot, including the dramatic resolution, depended on people around Jake rather than Jake himself. That seems to work with the spiritual warfare sense, that God is moving for Howie’s sake and for justice’s sake despite Jake’s stubbornness.

So, plot-wise, this shows as one of James Scott Bell’s earlier works. Voice-wise, it’s delightfully refreshing and it offers a great example to writers wanting to enhance their descriptive skills.

This was my first James Scott Bell novel, because I’m not a fan of courtroom drama. I’ve discovered that I am a fan of his writing style, and will be looking for more of his fiction. I’m already benefiting from his books on the craft of writing. For more about the author and his books, visit jamesscottbell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Death of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman

Death of a Dead Man, Juniper Grove Mysteries book 1, by Karin KaufmanDeath of a Dead Man, by Karin Kaufman (2017)

Colorado native Rachel Stowe has fled a stressful job in Boston to return to her home state, specifically to the endearing small town of Juniper Grove, where the few square blocks that make up downtown are a four-minute drive from her home. She can live simply and write more mystery novels.

Rachel is single, in her forties, and has a fondness for casual attire and cream puffs. I like her a lot.

She doesn’t have it all together, but she’s made some good friends here and she’s not one to back down from a challenge. Like helping clear her neighbour Julia’s name from the local paper’s mud-slinging.

Julia’s husband has finally been declared legally dead after he robbed a bank and went missing seven years ago. Most people think he drowned with his partner. But some, like the paper’s editor, suggest Julia knows something about the missing money.

When the dead man turns up freshly-dead in Rachel’s back yard, she’s more motivated than ever to find the truth.

This is the start of a fun series. The books are short, the delivery is snappy, and there’s even an attractive police chief that Rachel butts heads with so regularly that you just know there’s a relationship coming here eventually.

An abundance of clues and details kept me guessing until the end. I’ll definitely be reading more of this series.

My favourite line, which both describes Julia and says something about Rachel herself:

Most of the time Julia had a grandmotherly air about her, and I liked that, but every now and then she transformed into someone you did not want to mess with. I liked that too. [Page 27]

Karin Kaufman is also the author of the Anna Denning mystery series. Death of a Dead Man is the first in the Juniper Grove mystery series. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal 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.]

Review: Sapped, by Emily James

Sapped, by Emily JamesSapped, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2016)

The worst way to find out that your boyfriend is already married is to see it on the news. The only way it could be worse than that is if his wife died under suspicious circumstances. [From the book description on Goodreads.]

And that’s how things start for the heroine in Sapped.

Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes is the daughter of two over-achieving lawyers. She’s a lawyer herself, and although her people skills are an asset to her parents’ firm, she knows she’ll never live up to their expectations.

Now this happens, and she’s desperate to help prove her suddenly ex-boyfriend innocent. Even when her father orders her off the case.

Sapped is a prequel to the Maple Syrup Mysteries series, available as a free ebook for signing up for the author’s newsletter, or in print through Amazon.

It’s an engaging mystery, fast-paced and with a snappy delivery. Nicole’s self-doubts in a world of confident people make her very relatable, as does her desire to uncover the truth. She’s smart, spunky, and has a lot more going for her than she realizes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and immediately dove into the next in the series, A Sticky Inheritance, in which we see the significance of the “Maple Syrup Mysteries” title for the series. This isn’t a Christian series, but it’s a good, clean read.

There’s more than one author named Emily James. To find out more about the one behind the Maple Syrup Mysteries, and for more about her books or to sign up for your free ebook copy of Sapped, visit authoremilyjames.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Recruits, by Thomas Locke

Recruits, by Thomas LockeRecruits, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2017)

Seventeen-year-old twins Dillon and Sean have never had a happy home life, but for the past ten years they’ve been imagining this amazing, gravity-defying train station that couldn’t exist on Earth.

Now they discover it’s real – and on another planet. One they can create a portal and step onto.

They may be the first gifted humans found on Earth, and an ex-military human from still another planet is assigned to train them. He, at least, sees their potential. Unlike the Examiner, who’s waiting for a chance to fail them and wipe their memories.

The twins face unexpected danger, and the authorities don’t believe their version of events. Suddenly it’s Dillon and Sean against the adults (with a few exceptions), racing against time to save an innocent man and possibly stop an invasion.

Recruits is a fast-paced, entertaining read that should appeal not only to young adult males but to anyone who enjoys a good, clean adventure. Written by a Christian author, the book doesn’t have a spiritual thread that I saw, and I consider it a mainstream novel.

Favourite lines:

…they probably saw the scar at the same moment, because Dillon dragged in the breath Sean had trouble finding. [page 13]

Baran’s voice was delicate, like he wanted to speak without actually disturbing the air. [page 305]

Thomas Locke is the pseudonym of well-known writer Davis Bunn. The Thomas Locke books are fantasy, science fiction and techno-thrillers, and for more about them and the author, 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: Trial Run, by Thomas Locke

Trial Run, by Thomas LockeTrial Run, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2015)

With Trial Run, Thomas Locke delivers an international techno-thriller set just beyond our current technology. Gabriella Speciale’s research team has fled danger in the US and set up a secret base in Switzerland, where their experiments with out-of-body consciousness have resulted in an unexpected casualty.

In the US, a shadow group within the government wants to replicate their work for the purposes of espionage.

The third key players are two California university students, Trent Major and a girl named Shane Schearer. The information Trent receives in dreams from an older version of himself puts them in the shadow group’s sights.

This is one of those novels you start reading without a clue about what’s going on. In the hands of a skilled writer like Thomas Locke, it makes for a good ride. (If you want an easier entry, read his free ebook novella, Double Edge, which introduces Gabriella and Charlie Hazard and explains the experiments.)

Trial Run is book one in the Fault Lines series, and I suspect questions that aren’t answered yet will be resolved in future books. (For example, does Trent really see a future version of himself, or who is it really? And how does future-Trent do this?)

The writing is tight and evocative. Some of my favourite lines:

He felt it too. Like the dark had grown claws that scraped the skin off his spine. [page 9]

It was a warrior’s grin. A drawing back of every facial muscle, exposing the raw power of a man who knew the business of death. [page 278]

Part of the plot involves quantum theory, which is presented in small, layperson-level instalments. I didn’t get it, but apparently most people don’t, and it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. Two minor things that did act as speed bumps: the use of “lay/laying” instead of “lie/lying” (I work so hard to get this right, myself) and the expression “Indian territory” for dangerous territory.

Revell is a Christian publisher, but Trial Run is a clean mainstream novel. If you’re looking for a faith thread, the closest you’ll get is one character’s unexplained compulsion to forgive select people. If you just want a fun read, this is it.

Thomas Locke is the pen name of well-known Christian author Davis Bunn. Under the Locke name, he’s writing this sort of near-future suspense as well as epic fantasy. I’ve reviewed his fantasy novel, Emissary, here. For more about Thomas Locke’s books or to sign up for his newsletter, 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.]