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.]
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.)
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.
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
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
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.]
In Unscripted, Davis Bunn’s
compelling prose pulls readers into the behind-the-scenes world of
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
Overall, Unscripted is an enjoyable
read with characters and plot that catch the imagination and the heart.
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.
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,
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.
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.
“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.
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.]
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
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
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
I wanted to read this book because of the
snappy quotes I’d seen on social media. I thought it was a romantic comedy. Instead
of a fun-but-shallow read, I was delighted to discover characters I could care
about, depth of plot, and spiritual insights.
Yes, the basic setup looks like it’ll be
simple romantic comedy: Natalie ends up working as a nanny for her single-dad
ex-fiancé who’s suddenly back in town, and the way they reconnect is definitely
comedic. But then there are layers of family and relationship turmoil, both
current and long-standing. There are health concerns. And forgiveness issues.
Australian author Jessica Kate’s debut
novel delivers realistic, imperfect characters and situations, some fun
cultural references, and some thoughts for readers to chew on after they’ve
finished. The ending is satisfying without tying up all the messy threads into
a pretty-but-fake bow.
In the fall of 1986, Phoebe Crain supports
her mother and her 5-year-old daughter on her scant earnings as a small-town
piano tutor. It’s a long way from the concert stage, but it lets her hide from
a past that’s left her bitter.
Spence Newland the Third, owner of the
local department store, represents everything she’s come to despise and
distrust—or does he? Her daughter, Maura, discovers his kindness.
In this historical romance, Phoebe and
Spence each have past hurts that threaten to keep them from discovering a
future that would bring young Maura the father she’s been wishing for.
Unwrapping Hope is a prequel
novella that leads into Sandra Ardoin’s Widow’s Might series. The Widow’s Might
circle is a group of widows in the town who, whether rich or poor, meet for
support and to knit scarves etc for the nearby orphanage.
The author does an excellent job of
setting the scene and the atmosphere, and I found the historical details
interesting. I don’t think of this specifically as a Christmas story, but it
does run through fall and finish on Christmas Eve. So while it can be enjoyed
any time of year there might be an extra resonance in the season leading up to
At the same time, she would eat the crow she already smelled cooking. [Kindle location 257]
Years ago Phoebe had seen a similar look in the mirror. If she could go back in time, she would shatter the glass. [Kindle location 378]
Verbenia was the durable thread that kept the emotions of each member of the [Widow’s Might] circle from unraveling. [Kindle location 412]
Enduring Dreams, the next book in
the Widow’s Might series, releases in 2020. For more about historical romance
author Sandra Ardoin and her books, visit sandraardoin.com.
[Review copy provided by the author.
Opinions are my own.]
At 50, Libby has lived with her
grandmother since childhood and is mourning Gram’s recent death. Her lifelong
dream is to own her own home, away from the tenement where she’s been raised. She
also longs to recreate Gram’s signature soup recipe—perhaps in hopes of
restoring the sense of home Gram provided.
Her friend, Sibyl, is about 10 years
younger and likes to think she’s found her security in spirituality and sensuality.
Sibyl is convinced she knows what Libby needs while having no understanding of
her friend’s grief.
Paige is a young woman working at the
Laird Mansion Museum in the next state, pushing to finish her research paper
before her baby arrives. She’s obsessed with finding a more personal side to
the now-deceased MDM Laird and with clearing his name of hints of scandal.
The Red Journal is a
carefully-imagined novel for the literary, even scholarly, reader who likes to
chew over a novel and tease out its depths. Libby and Sibyl are each searching
for sacred spaces in their own ways, and the heart of MDM Laird’s manor is
another sacred space.
The story begins with Libby and Sibyl en
route to visit the Laird Museum, and alternates this present with the recent
past leading up to the journey. I would have found it an easier read in a
linear timeline. Movement between multiple timelines is often done, and I’m not
sure why it didn’t work for me here. It might be the short distance back in
time, or the short duration of the “present” museum tour itself. Breaking the
tour into sections may highlight the journey to the heart of the manor, and
I’ve seen other readers commenting on enjoying the “dance” between timelines.
As well-written as each scene is, the
novel felt long to me. I don’t think we needed as much of Libby’s soup-making
and apartment-packing, Sibyl’s travels, or even as much depth in Paige’s
research. I wonder, in fact, if the story needed Sibyl’s point of view at all.
Possibly any key information in her scenes could have been introduced through
Libby’s observations. As with a good soup, condensing could have strengthened
the flavour, and readers would have still been able to observe two women’s very
different searches for sacred space.
The novel also includes journal excerpts,
perhaps to give readers extra clues to tease out the full story before Libby
discovers it herself.
Sibyl’s point of view scenes often share
rich memories of exotic travels, which will appeal to readers who love to
travel (and armchair travellers). Her mashup of various spiritual beliefs shows
its hollowness but might still sound appealing enough to lead seekers astray.
On the other side of belief, MDM Laird’s
Bible-based faith has a few mentions and there’s some reference to God as
“Father” near the end. The faith thread has enough hints for people who know
their Bibles—even MDM’s name, Moses David Melchizidek—but biblical literacy is
not a given for most mainstream readers.
I appreciated the chance to read about 40-
and 50-year-old protagonists, as well as the (fictional) historical character
MDM Laird’s exemplary relationships with the Native Americans he invited to
dwell on his estate. His focus on keeping their families together was a
refreshing counterpart to the true-life travesties imposed by both American and
Deb Elkink is a skilled, award-winning
author who writes at a deeper level than I can easily plumb. I’ve had to work
harder than I like to figure this one out, and I’m not sure I have it yet. I
think the concentric layout of the Laird Mansion Museum estate somehow connects
with the choice of narrative structure, circling back upon itself.
The Red Journal has a strong
sense of place, in the unfolding history of the land around the manor and in Sibyl’s
vividly-rendered exotic travelogues, which feel like the author has visited in
person. Although the characters sometimes frustrated me, I appreciated the
Deb Elkink has also written The Third
Grace (a novel) and Roots and Branches: The Symbolism of the Tree in the
Imagination of G.K. Chesterton (nonfiction). For more about the author and
her work, visit debelkink.com.