Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Trouble Brewing, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks ‘n Beans 5)

Trouble Brewing, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2021)

When her friend Della suspects that an elderly homecare client was murdered, local sleuth Macy Hatfield sees the perfect way to scout out the dead woman’s suspect-laden family: The daughter and her husband run a country inn that’s offering a Halloween weekend getaway.

Leaving her faithful Great Dane, Coal, in the care of her brother, Bo, Macy and Della book a mini getaway. They both need one, and it’ll be fun. What could possibly go wrong?

Among the family, motive abounds. Add a creepy ghost-tour walk, an apparition on the grounds, bats, and a dead body, and Macy and Della may be in too deep. Because there’s nothing ghostly about the very human killer.

Favourite line:

It was the kind of sun-speckled October day that wrapped the autumn trees in a lazy golden cocoon. I’d been a child of the mountains since the day I was born, but this kind of weather forced everyone to sit up and acknowledge that West Virginia was called “almost heaven” for good reason. [chapter 1]

Don’t you just want to visit?

Trouble Brewing is book 5 in the Barks & Beans Café Mystery series, clean reads set in small-town West Virginia. Fans of the series will still have a chance to visit the café and enjoy the staff and the rescue dogs, but the bulk of the story takes place at Baxter Manor.

This is a series you can jump into anywhere, with each mystery self-contained. That said, there is a long-running plot thread from Bo’s former work in drug enforcement, and the characters are building relationships with one another and in the community.

Award-winning author Heather Day Gilbert’s books range from cozy mysteries to suspense to Viking historicals. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance reader copy provided by the author. My review is voluntary and is my own opinion.]

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Review: How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, by Ricardo Fayet

How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, by Ricardo Fayet (Reedsy, 2021)

Highly recommended for indie authors from beginners to veterans.

I’d heard positive things about this book, and I confess the opening chapters left me wondering what the fuss was about. As I kept reading, I found a wealth of helpful information.

Reedsy co-founder Ricardo Fayet has built on many of the site’s blog posts to assemble a comprehensive overview of what indie authors need to know to market their books. I appreciate his balanced approach and his advice to pick one thing to implement at a time instead of blindly striking out in all directions. He also stresses that marketing is not a one-size-fits-all activity.

This isn’t a smarmy, trickster type of marketing book, but one that emphasizes marketing as a way to help the readers who’ll want your book to find it. That’s helpful, not pushy.

Because many of the topics covered in this book can be books (and courses) in their own right, chapters include referrals to more in-depth material from experts in the field. If you’ve been around indie publishing awhile, you’ll recognize most of the names.

Although it’s packed with information, the book’s friendly, encouraging tone makes it an easy read. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt equipped to choose among my possible next steps.

Bonus about this book? The digital version is free (on all platforms) and I believe it’s intended to remain that way. Here’s the link at the Reedsy site, or you can find it on your favourite ebook store site. Warning: you may find you’ve highlighted the digital version enough that you’ll want to buy a print copy for easier reference.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Grace in the Desert, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Desert, by Christine Dillon (Links in the Chain Press, 2020)

Everyone else has forgiven her father, but Rachel can’t. Or won’t, despite her grandmother’s pleas. But what if that’s the very thing keeping her from forgiving herself?

Pete, the other key character, is slowly finding his way after a devastating loss. He finds himself still battling perceptions and ideas that would lock him in his pain.

A fun secondary character in the novel is Josh, a young man with Down Syndrome who works at the plant nursery with Rachel and Pete. His gentle heart makes him a good friend to them both, and I appreciated the way readers are given the chance to learn a bit about the struggles a real-life person like Josh would face.

Readers will also enjoy some vicarious travel in Australia—always a bonus!

Each novel in the Grace series has encouraged my faith life, and Grace in the Desert is no exception. I actually felt the delivery wasn’t as engaging in this one, with more talking and describing than action. I’d have preferred to read a few events, like Pete’s hospital conversation, as they happened in the novel’s timeline instead of as told later by the characters.

Readers will find a few possible takeaways with this story. What impacted me most was one character’s challenge not to feel sorry for himself or frustrated about a particular situation but instead to ask how God might want to work through him there.

Author Christine Dillon has released a companion nonfiction book to further address one of the other issues raised in this story. Sword Fighting: Applying God’s Word to Win the Battle for Our Mind takes a deeper, practical look at how Christians can use biblical truths to defeat the lies that often bind us.

There are now five books in the Grace series. For more about Christine Dillon, this series, and her other work, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Escape, by Lisa Harris

The Escape, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2020)

When the private plane transporting two dangerous prisoners to trial goes down, US Marshals Madison James and Jonas Quinn must recapture the surviving prisoner before he kills again.

The chase takes them through some remote (and beautiful) country as well as city streets and back alleys as their quarry stays one step ahead.

Madison and Jonas have met before—Jonas trained her when she first joined law enforcement—but this is their first time working together and they know nothing about one another on a personal level. Neither wants a romantic relationship, but this mission plants the seeds of a romance that will develop over the course of the series.

It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes story that doesn’t let up until the very end and definitely sets up interest to read the sequel.

The Escape is book 1 in Lisa Harris’s US Marshals series. Book 2, The Chase, is now available. For more about the author and her work, visit lisaharriswrites.com.

[Review copy from the public library. This title is available for borrow through Hoopla at www.hoopladigital.com/title/13510199.]

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Review: Out of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Out of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2021)

As conditions grow increasingly more dangerous for Russian Mennonites (and everyone else who’s a common citizen in South Russia during the revolution following the Great War), Katrina and Johann Sudermann and their friends and loved ones struggle to stay alive. Emigration seems their only hope, but the government officials block them at every turn.

It’s a difficult book to read because of the suffering the characters endure, yet it can give readers hope and encouragement that we, too, can continue on and not be crushed by our personal hard times. And it reminds us that things can always be worse.

The characters in the Storm series are the kind who stick with readers after the reading is finished. Some have faith, others have none, but they’re all honest in asking the hard questions of “why” and “how”. Some aspects of the answers they find may help us with our own questions.

Favourite lines:

Mrs. Franz carried the news like a pelican carries rotting fish in her sagging bill. She had caught it and needed to get rid of it. [Kindle edition, page 24]

Thus far we have been spared, and now I look around me, and in spite of all the fighting and terrors, the Lord still takes time to coax the buds out on the trees and to paint the grass green. [Kindle edition, page 56]

That second quote reminds me to look for even small good things no matter how difficult the circumstances. They don’t change the pain, but they do bring a measure of peace and a reminder that God is present in the darkness.

Readers who’ve followed the series from the beginning (Calm Before the Storm) will be satisfied with the way it wraps up, despite the grief along the way. I appreciated the author’s sensitive touch with the most painful moments. There are enough details for readers to understand without being traumatized themselves. This was a terrible time to live and I’m so grateful not to have been there.

Out of the Storm is book 3 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series, originally published by Herald Press and now re-releasing as part of The Mosaic Collection’s historical line. For more about the author, visit janicedick.com. For more about The Mosaic Collection, visit mosaiccollectionbooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Wing Over Wing, by Julie Cadwallader Staub

Wing Over Wing, by Julie Cadwallader Staub (Paraclete Press, 2019)

This beautifully written collection of poems is arranged by seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. You can easily read through them in one sitting, but you may find yourself going back to sit with them again.

With strong, evocative word choices, the poems touch subjects that range from the trivial to the tragic but mostly fall into that in-between area that makes up most of life. There are only a few truly heavy poems: powerful laments that honour the pain of racism and of innocence taken. These are part of the Winter section and I think are one reason the book starts with Fall and ends with Summer.

I’m grateful a poet friend recommended this book!

To sample poet Julie Cadwallader Staub’s work (in print and audio) and for more about her, visit juliecspoetry.com.

[Review copy from the public library. Available with the Hoopla app at this link.]

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My Vertical Neighborhood, by Lynda MacGibbon

My Vertical Neighborhood, by Lynda MacGibbon (InterVarsity Press, 2021)

“When I asked God why I ought to love my neighbors, he sent them, one by one, to answer the question.” [Chapter 17, page 6 in chapter]

Subtitled “How Strangers Became a Community,” My Vertical Neighborhood is a memoir of one Christian’s quest to build friendships and discover practical ways to love the others around her. Instead of diving into activities in her new church, the author wanted to connect with her literal neighbours.

Not surprisingly, the other residents in her Toronto high-rise weren’t overly receptive at first. It took time, prayer, persistence, and God’s provision of a friend to move into the same building and share the efforts. Perhaps also not surprisingly, the relationships began to grow over food.

This isn’t a “neighbourhood evangelism” book. It’s a memoir of intentional relationship-building and developing not just friendship but love among the diverse inhabitants of the building.

Key quote:

“Jesus says loving God, self, and neighbor is foundational to everything else. If we don’t understand and practice these conjoined commandments, it will be harder to obey the rest.” [Chapter 2, page 5 in chapter]

I found the book to be an interesting read. And while I don’t feel any sense of call to push myself as far out of my comfort zone as the author did, I’m pleased that it’s left me more aware of the need to intentionally take the opportunities that come my way. We can all learn to listen more, ask better questions, and take time with the people around us.

I can’t end this review without a shout-out to the cover. Where most encounters revolved around food, aren’t the vertical images of dinner plates and elevator buttons brilliant?

Canadian author Lynda MacGibbon is a former journalist, now working with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. For more about the author and her work, visit lyndamacgibbon.com.

[Digital review copy from the public library. This book is available to borrow through Hoopla Digital.]

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Review: A Siege of Bitterns, by Steve Burrows

A Siege of Bitterns, by Steve Burrows (Dundurn Press, 2014)

It’s always a treat to find a new series I like, and when the books are from a Canadian author it feels like an extra bonus. Enter the Birder Murder Mystery series, recommended to me by a birder friend some time ago.

Inspector Domenic Lejeune is too good at his job. So he sticks with policing when he’d rather be hiking across marsh and cliff in search of rare birds. A Canadian serving in the UK police force, he can at least enjoy the location of his new posting. Norfolk is prime birding country.

He only has to overcome the distrust of his fellow officers while solving a high-profile murder case. On the plus side, the deceased was an avid birder. Minus side: the birding community doesn’t trust him any more than his new co-workers do.

Nicely plotted, with a broad cast of characters and complications, A Siege of Bitterns is a satisfying read. It’s one of those omniscient point of view books that drops into multiple heads in the same scene, which always confuses me a bit. Maybe because of the omniscience, it feels like more of a thinking, or puzzle, sort of story instead of a heart one. My brain appreciated that. I’ll definitely be reading more in the series. 

Favourite line:

It was meant to be a smile, but Maik got some sense of the last sight a swimmer might see when a Great White Shark approached. [page 81]

Book 1 in the Birder Murder Mystery series, A Siege of Bitterns received the 2015 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel. You can find Canadian author Steve Burrows here: abirdermurder.com.

[Review copy from the public library. I read the print version, but the digital version is available to libraries through Hoopla Digital.]

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Review: Psalms 365, volume 1, by David Kitz

Psalms 365: Develop a Life of  Worship and Prayer, volume 1, by David Kitz (Elk Lake Publishing, 2020)

With Psalms 365, author and storyteller David Kitz provides short, practical, and personal daily devotions from the beloved Book of Psalms. I’ve found it to be a valuable addition to my day.

Each reading points to a psalm, drawing on a key verse for the day’s focus. There’s a conversational-style reflection on the passage and a prayer of response. Then to encourage readers to deepen a lifestyle of worship and prayer each devotional concludes with a question to think about and to perhaps take into personal conversation with God.

Anyone familiar with the psalms knows that some are songs of worship, some of lament, others of repentance or even anger. Not always easy topics to draw an inspirational message from! David Kitz mines treasure from each one.

Volume 1 of Psalms 365 begins at Psalm 1 and goes to the end of Psalm 51. Volume 2 is also available, covering the next section, and volume 3 is still to come.

Excerpts from the Psalms 365 series can be found on the author’s blog, I Love the Psalms. On the blog he includes photos, which aren’t part of the books. Award-winning author David Kitz is also a Bible dramatist, conference speaker, and ordained minister. For more about him and his books, visit davidkitz.ca.

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

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Review: Crisis Shot, by Janice Cantore

Crisis Shot, by Janice Cantore (Tyndale, 2017)

Tess O’Rourke has a single goal: to rise through the Long Beach police ranks to captain in honour of her father, a cop killed in the line of duty. But when she shoots an unarmed young offender to protect another officer, a police-hating blogger turns public sentiment against her to the point that her presence on the force endangers her fellow officers.

Tess takes the one job she can find, chief of a small station in Oregon. As she struggles to gain the locals’ trust and build connections with her subordinates, she’s faced with the disappearance of one of the few friends she’s made in this new town.

Crisis Shot has satisfying characters and conflicts, a complicated plot, and twists I didn’t see coming. I thought we could have done with less back story (the first eight chapters, “Part 1,” which show what happened in Long Beach and her struggle to stay, could have been referred to off-page as back story and provided separately to fans wanting more).

What I liked most was the spiritual tension between Tess and the local pastor. Oliver and his wife, Anna, have faced personal and congregational pain over the years. He trusts God, even when he doesn’t understand. Tess gave up on God years ago because she can’t understand why He would allow her father to be killed. Yet when Oliver faces heartbreak, Tess has words of hope from her own life. As this series progresses, it’ll be interesting to see how these two grow in friendship.

Favourite line:

“The tension there was thicker than a hard copy of the California penal code.” [Kindle edition, page 40]

In a time when the news is filled with situations where certain police officers have conducted themselves with prejudice, brutality, and corruption, this book is a vital reminder that most law enforcement officers are dedicated men and women of integrity who regularly put their lives in harm’s way to protect the vulnerable.

Crisis Shot is book 1 in The Line of Duty series, followed by book 2, Lethal Target. Author Janice Cantore has a background in law enforcement, giving a depth of authenticity to her fictional officers’ interactions and issues. For more about the author and her work, visit janicecantore.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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