Category Archives: Reviews

Review: End Game, by Rachel Dylan

End Game, Book 1 in the Capital Intrigue series from Rachel Dylan

End Game, by Rachel Dylan (Bethany House, 2020)

With End Game, Rachel Dylan delivers a fast-paced, high-stakes thriller that still finds room for romance.

The book’s back cover sums it up better than I can:

When elite members of the military are murdered on the streets of Washington, DC, FBI Special Agent Bailey Ryan and NCIS Special Agent Marco Agostini must work together to bring the perpetrator to justice. Unfortunately, all evidence points to a Navy SEAL sniper whom Bailey refuses to believe is guilty.

A novel like this could be gritty, violent, and scary. Instead, it’s gripping but non-traumatic to timid readers like me. What I most appreciated, though, was a secondary factor: Bailey and her two best friends, Viv and Layla, have a fantastic, strong friendship. They have one another’s backs professionally as well as emotionally, and it’s a fantastic example. Since End Game is book 1 in the Capital Intrigue series, I’m hoping we’ll see the other two women as main characters in books 2 and 3.

A surprising number of the key characters are Christians—perhaps more than one would find thrown together on a case like this in real life. Their struggles to process why bad things happen, past hurts, and fear of loss are one thread in the fabric of this story. Nothing’s preachy or glib, just honest wrestling such as many Christians do in real life.

Rachel Dylan is an award-winning, bestselling author of Christian suspense and legal thrillers. For more about the author and her work, visit racheldylan.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book via #NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

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Picks from 2019

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 91 books in 2019. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed last year. Some were produced in 2019, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2019:

Book of the year: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Christian living: The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, by Charles Stanley

Contemporary novel: As the Light Fades, by Catherine West

Fantasy novel: Wayfarer, by K.M Weiland

Historical Novel: The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr

Mystery/suspense novel: A Better Man, by Louise Penny

Science fiction novel: Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn

Review: Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar

Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar

Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar (Word Alive Press, 2019)

Subtitled “A Caregiver’s Journey,” Bring Each Other Home is a book for everyone. Most, if not all of us, will have someone in our circle of acquaintance who’ll deal with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

While Angelina and Joe’s story is their own, the experiences she shares can make readers more sensitive to the needs of both caregiver and patient. Let us not be people who add more hurt by disbelieving, blaming, or judging caregivers if we don’t see in a brief encounter what they see in 24/7 care. Nor let us add hurt by avoiding the dementia sufferer.

Readers who are caregivers will find strength in knowing their struggles are not unique, and will be encouraged to reach out to support groups and healthcare professionals for much-needed help. [Note: caregivers new to this role and still dealing with the rawness of it all may not be ready to read this book just yet.]

Favourite lines:

“This is my child. I love him dearly. He has walked with me a long, long time. I need for you to walk with him the rest of the way.” [The author’s impression of God speaking to her, p. 76]

…gradually we began to see the treasures God always tucks into the dark places He guides us through. [p 110-111]

Angelina Fast-Vlaar writes with honesty and poignancy of the long, slow loss of her beloved husband, Joe. The narrative is interspersed with poetry and restful black-and-white photos. It’s a sad story, but one of love, faith, and persistence.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Two Short (Free!) Christmas Reads

Here are two short, feel-good Christmas reads that are free ebooks on a variety of platforms:



Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

90 minutes to read: Arial has a radical plan to fix an old tragedy and surprise her dying father–but it’ll take the help of the village blacksmith. Set on an island between England and France, Bespoke has a gentle, historical feel. (Interesting background note: this tale was first written to raise funds to buy bicycles for missionaries.)





Tin Can Serenade, by Amanda Dykes

30 minutes to read: Isolated by a mountain winter, a young boy and girl living on opposite sides of a river exchange messages via a tin can on a rope. This short story opens and closes with poetry and tells its tale through the exchange of brief notes.



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Review: Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

In Smoke Screen, Terri Blackstock gives us a novel of second chances, romance, faith—and mystery. It’s not a high-suspense story, but the emotional tension will keep readers turning pages.

Nate’s father has spent 14 years in prison for the murder of Brenna’s father, all the while claiming he’s innocent. If he is, then there’s a killer in town. Nate himself, now a smoke jumping firefighter, is thought by many to be responsible for burning down the dead man’s church. Even his father thinks he did it—but he didn’t. So who did?

Brenna and Nate were childhood sweethearts until tragedy scarred both their families. Now Brenna’s in a losing battle for custody of her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman. Her children are her life. When they’re gone on the weekend, not even alcohol can numb the pain.

What I appreciated most about the story is the compassionate and honest portrayal of a Christian struggling with drinking. It happens, and as in Brenna’s case, the faith aspect can increase the shame and guilt. I hope her example can bring hope to others who fight this battle in real life.

For more about the book and about New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock, visit terriblackstock.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

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Review: Unscripted, by Davis Bunn

Unscripted, a novel by Davis Bunn

Unscripted, by Davis Bunn (Revell, 2019)

In Unscripted, Davis Bunn’s compelling prose pulls readers into the behind-the-scenes world of filmmaking. 

When up-and-coming line producer Danny Byrd is sprung from jail for a crime he didn’t commit by a team of lawyers who won’t disclose who’s paying them, he seizes the chance to rebuild his career. The catch: a short deadline and no script. Danny and his team will be filming as they write.

Megan Pierce, one of Danny’s new lawyers, stays involved as the project goes ahead. She and Danny are attracted to one another, but he’s carrying a lot of baggage. Some of the actors also come with issues, weaving a thread of second chances through the novel.

It’s fascinating to watch the film project unfolding and affecting the people involved. Some of the legal and contract wrangling went over my head, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

My one concern involves elements of the ending. Not wanting to give spoilers, all I can say is that if I understood the activity of the hidden enemy, then I don’t understand a resolution that gives them a business opportunity instead of legal charges. I was also disappointed not to see Danny at least tentatively investigating the faith of some key mentors.

Overall, Unscripted is an enjoyable read with characters and plot that catch the imagination and the heart.

Favourite lines:

A dawn mist drifted through the streets, as vague as his whispers of fear and regret. [Kindle location 355]

His burdens were too heavy. He could not be bothered to carry lies as well. [Kindle location 2813]

Her silence was a dagger that carved away at all his arguments. [Kindle location 3372]

Recommended for readers who enjoy Hollywood stories, legal drama, relationships, and second chances.

Davis Bunn is a multi-award-winning author in a variety of Christian fiction genres as well as clean mainstream fiction. As Thomas Locke, he writes fantasy and techno-thrillers.

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

Review: A New York Yankee on Stinking Creek, by Carol McClain

A New York Yankee on  Stinking Creek, by Carol McClain

A New York Yankee on Stinking Creek, by Carol McClain (Hummingbird Hill Press, 2019)

Mourning the sudden death of her fiancé, popular New York artist Kiara Rafferty flees to the property he had bought for her in the remote rural area of Stinking Creek, Tennessee. An outspoken atheist, Kiara is horrified by the condition of the property and even more so to discover that her nearest neighbours are a Christian pastor and his family.

Delia Mae, the pastor’s wife, is as outspoken as Kiara yet she offers help and support as Kiara struggles to find her way in this unexpectedly difficult place. The two women develop an unlikely friendship that helps them both. At one point, Delia Mae says, “We’re kindred spirits—from polar worlds.” [Chapter 19]

The collision of two cultures and belief systems, plus a Northerner encountering puzzling Southern dialects and cuisine, makes for interesting and often amusing reading. I appreciated the honest dialogue between the two women and the tentative romance between Kiara and Shann (Delia Mae’s brother-in-law).

As Kiara progresses toward faith, largely due to the consistent love demonstrated by Delia Mae, Shann, and his children, Delia Mae’s strained marriage begins to crack. While we see glimpses of her husband, Beau, as the man she fell in love with, mostly we see how rigid and demanding he’s become. We see her desiring to please God but somehow trapped in trying to please her husband and the church ladies.

This is a novel about friendship, family, love, marriage, and faith—about courage and second chances. I enjoyed the story, and it left me considering my own life for ways I might have allowed expectations, real or perceived, to rule me instead of living in God’s grace.

Carol McClain has also written Yesterday’s Poison: A Novel of Forgiveness. For more about the author and her work, visit carolmcclain.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi: a novel, by Patrick W. Carr

The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2019)

Whether he’s writing historical fiction or epic fantasy, Patrick W. Carr brings exotic settings to life and creates unlikely heroes who inspire strong reader loyalty.

The End of the Magi is an intense, danger-fraught novel of biblical fiction where the magi in question are those who come bearing gifts for the Christ child. But the story—and their role in it—doesn’t end there.

The culture and the prophecies fascinate, and the snippets of wry humour make me smile. And I love how the story shows God choosing to use someone from outside the Hebrew lineage, someone with questionable heritage and a physical deformity, as part of His purposes. How like God to use the unlikely and to include the excluded.

Favourite lines:

“The only thing worse than disagreeing with the king is being right when you do it.” [Kindle location 3182]

“You see yourself as a man cursed with a clubfoot and beset by trials at every turn… But I see a man who has triumphed over every obstacle placed before him.” [Kindle locations 3373 and 3376]

“It’s almost as if God takes delight in accomplishing His ends in the most unlikely way possible.” [Kindle location 3943]

This is a novel for Christmas or for any time of year, for savouring and for discussing. It reminds us that God works in His own methods and according to His own timetable, often in ways that surprise, and that He has a place for the willing heart in His service.

Well done, Patrick W. Carr! As a long-time fan of his fantasy fiction, I give my hearty approval to his first historical fiction.

For more about the author and to read samples of his work, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Craft, Cost & Call, by Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller

Craft, Cost & Call, by Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller (Friesen Press, 2019)

Craft, Cost & Call: How to Build a Life as a Christian Writer, by Patricia Paddey & Karen Stiller

Two award-winning Canadian Christian freelance writers, Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller, have teamed up to share what they describe as “our conversation with you about what we have learned through success and failure.” [Kindle location 98]

The book feels very much like a conversation, candidly sharing experience and advice. Beginning and intermediate writers will gain the most, but even seasoned pros will likely pick up a thing or two.

The “craft” section deals mainly with nonfiction, mostly articles, yet I’ve gleaned inspiration and encouragement I can apply to my fiction. The “cost” section includes practical business tips relevant to all, and “call” addresses the spiritual side of writing. What struck me most in that part was this quote:

View your platform as the place from which you live out your calling to be a writer and to serve your readers. [Kindle location 1865]

Reading this book made me want to go write something.

Writers are invited to visit CraftCostCall.com for “more writing exercises, resources, and conversation about building a life as a Christian writer.” [Kindle location 2129] This virtual watercooler could become a very good place to hang out.

Patricia Paddey and Karen Stiller have solid backgrounds in writing and editing, with articles and books and awards to their names. These two authors illustrate the truth that while writing is often a solitary activity, it requires community. Having benefited from other writers along the way, they’ve prepared this book to mentor others. And they’re donating a portion of proceeds from Craft, Cost & Call to The Word Guild, an association of writers and editors who are Christian.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep | Christmas fiction, Christian fiction, novellas, historical fiction

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, by Michelle Griep (Shiloh Run Press, 2019)

Three Christmas novellas set in 1850’s England, each with a cameo appearance from Charles Dickens, and each featuring a “second chance” coin—and a second chance at love.

The titles are nods to Mr. Dickens as well: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor, A Tale of Two Hearts, and The Old Lace Shop.

Once Upon a Dickens Christmas will charm readers who enjoy period historicals with quiet faith and feel-good endings. Each novella has a degree of suspense, but these aren’t stories that will keep readers up worrying what will happen next. They’re gentle, relaxing reads with winsome characters and some delightful turns of phrase.

Some of my favourites:

It was the kind of late January day that crawled under the best of woollen capes and took up residence in the bones. [Kindle location 1797]

He wore his wrinkles like a garment, the deep creases on his face in sore need of a good ironing. [Kindle location 2338]

Either your faith will move mountains, or your doubt will create them. [Kindle location 4901]

The three novellas are available individually as well as in this collection. For more about Christy award-winning author Michelle Griep and her other books, visit michellegriep.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher through #NetGalley.]

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