Category Archives: Reviews

Review: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Book cover: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell, 2019)

When their widowed father announces that he’s sold the family home and bought an island off the coast of Maine, Cam Grayson and her sisters are afraid he’s losing his mind. Partly due to this fear and partly due to life circumstances, each of the women decide to spend some time with him on Three Sisters Island.

Their father, Paul, plans to renovate the rustic island camp where he first met his wife. He hopes the family project will draw his daughters closer together. In the beginning, this is a family who don’t listen to one another, who may work together but without sharing any depth of relationship.

The daughters are widely different in personality and goals. I feel they’re perhaps too much defined by their dominant traits, to the point I didn’t really connect with any of them. We have Cam the driven businesswoman, Maddie the counsellor-in-training who analyzes family members at every opportunity, and Blaine the 19-year-old who can’t decide on her future path.

Despite a bit of disconnect, I enjoyed the story. The setting is isolated and beautiful, and I enjoyed watching the camp restoration. There’s a nice romance between Cam and Seth, the island’s schoolteacher. Seth’s gentle conversations with Cam about faith are a good example of natural ways to engage with non-Christian friends in real life.

There are flashbacks sprinkled throughout the novel and I don’t think they added anything that wasn’t (or couldn’t have been) conveyed in straight story time. For me they were more of a distraction than a bonus. The bonus was watching the interaction between teacher Seth and Cam’s son Cooper.

Favourite lines:

The driveway unfurled in a lazy curl through strands of trees until it reached the clearing where the old house sat against a windbreak of pines. [page 69, Cam’s first sight of their father’s new house]

“It’s okay to start with a small faith. We’ve got a big God.” [page 220, Seth to Cam]

On a Summer Tide is book 1 in the Three Sisters Island series, and since Cam was the central sister in this story, I expect Maddie and Blaine will each be the heroine of their own book as the series continues.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a multi-published author of contemporary and historical novels. For more about the author and her work, visit suzannewoodsfisher.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.]

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Review: Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon

Book cover: Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon

Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon (Links in the Chain Press, 2019)

Should Blanche go home? But how can she resume life with her legalistic husband now that her growing faith conflicts with his dogma? And while he denies their shared grief over their daughter’s death?

William didn’t even go to the funeral. And he denies the existence of their other daughter, Rachel, who left home many years ago at 15.

Grace in Deep Waters is book 3 in the ongoing Grace series (there are more books to come). New readers can start here and not feel lost, but I’d recommend starting at the beginning with Grace in Strange Disguise.

The women in this series develop a faith that’s nothing like the showy façade William has drilled into them. When life circumstances hit—and hit hard—Esther, Rachel, and Blanche each discover a truer Christianity and make the hard choices to live for God’s honour instead of living to satisfy or defy William’s rules.

William is proud, self-centred, and unyielding. Author Christine Dillon does a fine job of letting readers into his head to understand him and develop enough compassion to hope he’ll change.

Part of the novel is his story: will he change or harden himself further? Can he change, even if he wants to?

Another part is a beautiful observation of Blanche, a fallible woman growing in her faith and trying to find a healthy way to grieve.

Is this a depressing novel? Not at all. It’s heartwarming, inspiring, and it can challenge us to prayerfully make better choices in our own lives.

Favourite lines:

She’d let fear bind her. What might life be like if she walked free? [Kindle location 288]

The kid turned around and gazed at  him with a piercing eye a high school principal would die for. [Kindle location 2159]

Anyone who thinks Christian fiction is light and fluffy or dry like a dusty sermon needs to read Christine Dillon’s Grace series. The faith message is strong and clear yet presented organically through the characters’ thoughts and decisions, leaving readers free to draw their own conclusions. The questions are real and deep.

In Grace in Strange Disguise, the challenge was “what happens when the prayer of faith doesn’t heal?” In Grace in the Shadows, it’s “how—and why—would God love me, after what I’ve done?” In Grace in Deep Waters, characters wrestle with grief, marital breakdown, and that contentious issue, submission.

As the characters wrestle, readers can wrestle, too. This isn’t a series that hands out easy answers. Discussion guides are available on the author’s website, for book clubs or individuals who want to dig deeper.

Christine Dillon is a missionary whose tag-line is “multiplying disciples one story at a time,” and the author of the Grace fiction series. She has also written non-fiction books about the Bible storytelling approach. For more about the author, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

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Review: Touched by Eternity, by Susan Harris

Touched by Eternity, by Susan Harris (White Lily Press, 2019)

Book cover: Touched by Eternity (A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels) by Susan Harris

I was eager to read this book, since I’ve communicated enough with author Susan Harris to respect her Christian faith and her integrity. Despite the popularity of books recounting near-death experiences (NDEs) I’ve avoided them until now because I had no way to verify the writer’s trustworthiness.

Subtitled “A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels,” Touched by Eternity is a memoir of the author’s three NDEs and related visions and how these events have shaped her life. A nonfiction author with an analytical mind, she relies heavily on details (including her hospital records and notes taken at the time) to anchor her personal experiences in as much fact as possible.

At the same time, the events themselves make the book as easy to read as a novel.

An experienced speaker, leader, and teacher, Susan Harris makes no claims to having touched Eternity by her own merit or strength. Instead, as one would expect with a near-death experience, her moments of greatest physical pain and weakness have been the gateways to the spiritual realm.

She writes with honesty about her personal failings and about her struggle to understand what happened and to accept the disappointment of tasting Heaven and then being returned to earthly life.

Christians can be uncomfortable discussing NDEs out of fear of drifting into heresy or false teachings. The Bible shows people being brought back from the dead, but we don’t get their testimonies of what they saw while they were gone.

I appreciate how Susan Harris finds biblical connections for many of her observations and how she’s careful to present her interpretations as her own and not as doctrine or fact. Her stated purpose in writing this book is to stimulate discussion, encourage the faith of Christians, and inspire non-Christians to seriously consider Jesus’ words about Heaven and Hell.

It’s interesting to read that in her research into other NDE accounts, she found similarities and yet differences, as if individuals were seeing part of a much-greater whole.  

Favourite line:

My whisper was hoarse, the broken kind He hears because He Himself had hung ragged on a rugged cross. [Kindle location 2284]

No matter how much or little pain we’ve endured, Touched by Eternity reminds us that it’s in our brokenness that we’re closest to God. It challenges us to take time alone with Him, to remember what He’s taught us in the past, and to obey anything He’s called us to in the present that we may have been neglecting. Our time on earth is limited, and we need to be about our Father’s business before that time runs out.

Other books by Susan Harris include Little Copper Pennies (a history of the Canadian one-cent piece) and Remarkably Ordinary. She currently hosts a television show called ETERNITY. For more about the author and her work, visit susanharris.ca.

[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

Review: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Book cover: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2019)

Danny Martens, now a man, was an infant when his Mennonite parents fled the USSR to China in the 1930s. The refugees became farmers, then refugees again. At long last, they’re in a refugee camp in Germany—far from their promised destination in Oregon.

Far Side of the Sea is book 3 in the In Search of Freedom trilogy, beginning in 1951 and spanning 40 years to bring this multi-generational family saga to a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate the characters, especially Rachel and Luise. Despite their many hardships, these two women live a sincere faith. They don’t deny the pain, but they choose to let it press them closer to their Saviour. Danny carries trauma he won’t share with them, and in his anger at God he bears it alone.

With this novel, we move from a foreign setting to the western US, and from the 1950s (which are still in the historical genre) to 1990, which is recent enough for me to remember. Readers with longer memories will enjoy recognizing nods to their past.

While you could enjoy this novel as a stand-alone, I recommend beginning with book 1, Other Side of the River. Take time to savour the Martens family’s full experience. As difficult as parts of their journey are, there are also moments of laughter. And some well-turned phrases.

Some of my favourite lines from this book:

As Rachel watched Luise from day to day, the older woman grew more tired, more worn. But then, they all felt weary after years of homelessness, persecution and fear, as though their souls were getting thin.

He didn’t even say amen, because now that he’d begun a conversation with God, he didn’t think the dialogue was over. [Danny, after a brief, desperate prayer for help.]

“A broken heart does not heal quickly, but it does mend enough to allow us to live again.” [Brigette, another favourite character, who doesn’t appear often.]

Historical novelist Janice L. Dick has also written Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm, a Mennonite historical series set during the Russian Revolution. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Note: I received an advance review copy from the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, by Heather Day Gilbert

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, an Exotic Pet-Sitter Mystery by Heather Day Gilbert

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, by Heather Day Gilbert (Lyrical Underground Books, 2019)

Fun start to a new series. Belinda Blake rents a carriage house on the luxurious Carrington estate, but she’s a casual country girl at heart. Her relaxed clothing and gamer tee-shirts don’t exactly match the designer shoes on the corpse she finds in the garden.

The Carringtons’ son, Stone the fifth, persuades Belinda to help him investigate because the dead woman was his friend. But is the charming heir using Belinda to hide his guilt?

Between the mystery, the challenges of pet-sitting a large tropical snake, and Belinda’s sense of humour, the pages fly past. And although this is a light-toned cozy mystery, there are some thoughtful observations of human nature. Nothing’s simple, and not much is as it seems.

The book includes a sneak peek at the second installment in the series. Belinda’s next pet-sitting assignment? Wolves. I’ll be in line to read it when it releases.

Heather Day Gilbert is an award-winning author of Viking historical fiction and contemporary suspense as well as the Belinda Blake, Exotic Pet Sitter cozy mystery series. For more about the author, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: Puzzle House, by Lillian Duncan

Puzzle House, A Novel of Healing and Hope, by Lillian Duncan

Puzzle House, by Lillian Duncan (Harbourlight Books, 2017)

Nia is a 15-year-old cancer patient whose doctors say there’s nothing more they can do. When her aunt drops her off at the Puzzle House, she’s angry and sick—and full of skepticism at the notion of God wanting to do anything good for her.

Over the course of a week’s stay, visitors are to complete a jigsaw puzzle boxed without a photo of the finished image. As Nia works on her puzzle and slowly warms to the other occupants of the house, her hostess, Rachel, shares her own story of the healing gift she received years earlier.

Puzzle House is a heart-warming novel about brokenness and healing—and how the healing doesn’t always look like we want it to. In places the dialogue feels a little stiff (never with Nia in the scene!) but it’s a feel-good read and it touches on some common themes.

I found this particularly relatable:

Guilt pressed on her. It wasn’t about her. It was about God. But it was so easy to forget that. Especially since she’d done such a spectacular job of humiliating herself. [chapter 8]

Lillian Duncan is better known for her suspense novels, but Puzzle House is a book from her heart. She has personal experience with the rare brain tumours Rachel lives with. For more about the author and her books, visit her Goodreads page.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Outbreak, by Davis Bunn

Outbreak, a novel by Davis Bunn

Outbreak, by Davis Bunn (Bethany House Publishers, 2019)

Epidemic? Plague? Whatever’s killing whole villages on Africa’s western coast seems connected to the changing sea currents and prevailing winds. Winds which, come hurricane season, will blow toward North America.

It’s not just certain African governments who want to keep this a secret at all costs. Someone in the US has enough power to bring the courts and the FBI—and a high-priced assassin—against the small team of Americans racing to develop a cure.

From the African continent to North America, Outbreak moves at Davis Bunn’s breakneck pace, immersing readers in danger and suspense while investing us in the lives of the main characters. The unlikely heroes are Theo Bishop, an economics professor and business-owner, Della Haverty, a journalist who’s infiltrated Bishop’s brother’s company with ulterior motives, and Avery Madison, a brilliant biologist catapulted out of his lab and into a danger zone.

A clean international thriller with threads of romance and faith, Outbreak is plausible enough to be frightening. In that sense, it reminds me of The Domino Effect, also by Davis Bunn (except where Outbreak deals with an environmental/medical risk, The Domino Effect is economic).

Davis Bunn is an incredibly prolific writer whose fiction spans multiple genres. He also writes as Thomas Locke. For more about the author and his work, visit DAVISBUNNBOOKS or see his page on Goodreads.

[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.]

Review: The Baggage Handler, by David Rawlings

The Baggage Handler, a novel, by David Rawlings

The Baggage Handler, by David Rawlings (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

Three people under pressure. Three identical black-with-red-tags suitcases. One airport baggage carousel.

Here’s the official description:

When three people take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, their lives change forever. 

A hothead businessman coming to the city for a showdown meeting to save his job.

A mother of three hoping to survive the days at her sister’s house before her niece’s wedding.

And a young artist pursuing his father’s dream so he can keep his own alive.

When David, Gillian, and Michael each take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, the airline directs them to retrieve their bags at a mysterious facility in a deserted part of the city. There they meet the enigmatic Baggage Handler, who shows them there is more in their baggage than what they have packed, and carrying it with them is slowing them down in ways they can’t imagine. And they must deal with it before they can leave.

In this modern-day parable about the burdens that weigh us down, David Rawlings issues an inspiring invitation to lighten the load.


[via the Thomas Nelson website]

My thoughts:

This gift-book-sized hardcover novel is an engaging read that’s sure to keep readers thinking long after they’ve reached the end. Most of us will relate to one of the three situations, and likely we’ll recognize a few people other than ourselves. If we can come away from the story inspired to “hand over” some of our personal baggage, we’ve gained more than the pleasure of a good tale.

Chapters alternate between David, Gillian, and Michael as they follow the same path of attempting to retrieve their baggage and discovering what’s weighing them down. Because of the parable-like nature of the story, the ending can’t be as happy as I’d like, but it’s a satisfying ending.

The book is published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher, and written by a Christian author, but the message and worldview is subtle. Who exactly is The Baggage Handler? An angel? Jesus? Because it’s not stated, this is a book that can also cross into the hands of non-faith readers who also have baggage to unload.

The Baggage Handler is an excellent debut novel from Australian author David Rawlings. Look for his next release, The Camera Never Lies, in December 2019. For more about the author and his work, visit davidrawlings.com.au.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Romeo’s Rules, by James Scott Bell

Romeo's Rules, A Mike Romeo Thriller by James Scott Bell

Romeo’s Rules, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press, 2015)

Mike Romeo is an former cage fighter trying to stay off the radar in Los Angeles—until he comes to the rescue of an attractive woman whose children are missing after a church bombing. Helping Natalia gains him some powerful—and violent—enemies, but Mike is not one to back down.

This is a noir-feel thriller, fairly clean but so violent in a couple of places that I skipped some pages. That said, it’s written with a pleasing dry humour. And Mike and his wheelchair-bound Rabbi friend Ira (a former Mossad agent) are seriously impressive in their skill sets.

Although this is a mainstream novel, the author’s Christian worldview comes through in a few places, never in a preachy way. The hero, Mike, is prone to highly intellectual philosophizing—often right before he has to lay somebody out. And violent as he can be toward criminals, he’s outspoken against domestic abuse.

Romeo’s Rules is the first in the Mike Romeo Thriller series. At the half-way mark (the bit I skipped) I thought it’d be the only one I could read, but after that scene it was manageable and I hope to read book 2, Romeo’s Way.

James Scott Bell also writes legal thrillers (including a few with zombie lawyers) and he’s a respected author of books on the craft of fiction writing. For more about the author and his work, visit jamesscottbell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Exile, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Exile: The Oneness Cycle, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Exile, by Rachel Starr Thomson (Little Dozen Press, 2013)

On a stormy sea, fishing buddies Tyler and Chris discover a young woman in their net. As if that’s not startling enough, once she’s dry and recovering in their cottage, they hear a window break and rush to find her holding a sword and claiming to have killed a demon. On the floor lies a dead bat, but Chris is sure he saw something larger before it shrank.

So opens Exile, book 1 in The Oneness Cycle. The young woman, Reese, has been exiled from her group of believers. That shouldn’t be possible, but it happened and the grief is almost more than she can handle. The sword shouldn’t be possible for an exile, but it appeared in her hand when needed.

The Oneness is “one of three spiritual forces” (Kindle location 167) in the world, with the other two being angels and demons. Members of the Oneness look like ordinary people, but they are variously-gifted spiritual warriors holding the world together.

Exile is a gripping urban fantasy novel of spiritual warfare suitable for adults and young adults. As well as enjoying the read, I was encouraged by Reese’s and April’s challenge to persevere in the darkness instead of giving in to despair. That’s an example I can bring into real-life situations.

Favourite line:

“I don’t pray to get around the plan; I pray to be part of it.” ~Richard, a prayer warrior. [Kindle location 1175]

Exile is free in ebook format from major retailers. Rachel Starr Thomson writes Christian fantasy novels and has also recently released the writing memoir, Left Turn to the Promised Land. For more about the author and her (many) books, visit rachelstarrthomson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]