Category Archives: Fiction

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.]

Review: Justice Buried, by Patricia Bradley

Justice Buried, by Patricia BradleyJustice Buried, by Patricia Bradley (Revell, 2017)

The novel opens with Kelsey Allen scaling the side of a building for a break-in. A security company has hired her to infiltrate their clients’ buildings to expose the weak spots.

She was not hired to be shot at. Why was the half-glimpsed shooter in the building at all? And did he see enough of her face to recognize her?

Kelsey’s next assignment is to go under cover at a famous Memphis museum, the Pink Palace, and stop whoever’s been stealing artifacts. What makes it hard for her is that her father disappeared years ago after thefts from the same museum.

When she’s thrust into the company of Brad Hollister, newly reassigned from Homicide to the Cold Case Unit, she asks him to look into her father’s disappearance. As crimes at the museum keep bringing them together, Brad finds himself in the role of protector—which is complicated by his ex-fiancée deciding she wants to try their relationship again.

Brad is the brother of Andi Hollister, the news reporter from the first Memphis Cold Case novel, Justice Delayed. Although Justice Buried would read well as a stand-alone, those who’ve read the first book will appreciate recognizing familiar characters crossing the occasional page.

Justice Buried has suspense, romance, faith, and characters who need to learn not to let their pasts define them if they’re to discover a better future—assuming, of course, they survive.

Patricia Bradley writes fast-paced romantic suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit ptbradley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Stillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson

Stillwaters, by Yvonne AndersonStillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson (Gannah’s Gate Publishing, 2017)

A novel written like an autobiography… about someone who’s famous on another planet. How’s that for a premise?

At the opening of Stillwaters, Jem (the narrator) is a feral child of perhaps twelve. Her “death” is the end of everything she ever knew and the beginning of a new life in a new place. The bulk of the novel traces her second life.

Although Jem’s home planet is much different than ours, some of the interpersonal struggles are quite relatable. We see the distrust between country and city folk (here, there’s the one City: either a benefactor or an oppressor, depending on your point of view). There’s distrust between the uneducated poor and the educated rich.

It’s interesting to watch a character like Jem, with deeply-held opinions and prejudices, learn to see her world differently as she becomes like those she once despised. Watch how she views her new surroundings soon after being taken from her wild existence:

All the plant life was tamed, confined to pots or standing alone and afraid in a bare expanse of gravel. [Kindle location 611]

And, much later:

At a time when many were discovering what an ugly place the world could be, I saw its beauty for the first time, now viewing it through the narrow lens of love. [Kindle location 4583]

This is in some ways a difficult novel to read. Jem’s traumatic beginnings have made her a foul-mouthed, hard-edged person. (Her world has different cuss words than ours, but the sheer volume wearied me at times.) Her experiences, past and in the novel, include some moments that are hard to read but discreetly presented.

In other ways it’s a treat to read. Yvonne Anderson nails world-building. I always enjoy the setting details she creates, exotic and yet relatable. In the middle of a tense time, there’ll be a spot of humour. And there’s heart. It’s good to see Jem grow and make something of herself.

Faith… Jem’s world has a number of religions, much like the gods and goddesses of Earth’s past. Jem doesn’t have much use for any of them. In the novel we find casual mention of a minor religion called Sonmanism, where “one god had a son who became a man.” [Kindle location 2947]

From the progression of the story, I think we’ll see the development of a Christian thread as the series progresses. For now, it’s begun but this isn’t your grandmother’s Christian fiction. It is, however, a well-written and worthwhile read. I’m glad I toughed through the hard parts.

Yvonne Anderson has previously written the Christian science fiction series, Gateway to Gannah. She describes her writing as “telling ‘the old, old story.’ In surprising new ways.” Stillwaters is book 1 in the series The Four Lives of J.S. Freeman. For more about the author and her work, visit yswords.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane NobleThe Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble (David C. Cook, 2014)

Elaine Littlefield, “El” to her friends, is a widow “of a certain age” who’s been known to combat stress by baking triple-chocolate cookies in the wee hours while wearing sock monkey pajamas and dancing to Mozart.

By day, she runs a catering company and solves mysteries. And spends as much time with her daughter and granddaughter as she can.

El has landed a huge catering job for the retirement party of local university professor Dr. Max Haverhill, but when the guest list triples two days before the event, and then Max wants to cancel the event for security reasons, it’s no wonder she’s trying to manage her stress level.

The party goes ahead, and as the back cover says, “countless guests fall ill, a two-hundred-year-old relic is stolen, and her best friend vanishes. All in the first hour.”

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is a fast-paced, light-hearted mystery blended with romance: Max is a lifelong bachelor, but as he and El work together to solve the crime, they may also be falling in love.

Certain aspects of the story may be a bit over the top, but they suit the story and the characters and provide readers with an enjoyable experience.

El, Max, and the other key character, Hyacinth, are fun and courageous. El’s chapters are written in first person, with the others in third person. It wasn’t as confusing as it sounds, because whenever the point of view changed, there was a label on the new chapter telling whose eyes we were seeing through now.

The three are each Christians, and it’s interesting to see how each one’s faith helps sustain them in crisis moments. The faith aspect is subtle in the story, but there are discussion questions at the end of the book to encourage readers to think through different aspects of faith as it pertains to forgiveness, sacrifice, love, and friendship.

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is listed as “A Professor and Mrs. Littlefield Mystery,” but I don’t see any more in the series. Pity. Author Diane Noble has also written historical and contemporary suspense and women’s fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit dianenoblebooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine ReayDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Samantha Moore relates better to the characters in her favourite books than she does to the real people around her. Fired from her job for not “engaging,” she seizes one last chance: a master’s degree in journalism, funded by a mysterious benefactor.

The condition of the funding: she must write to “Mr. George Knightley” and keep him updated about her studies.

So begins a delightful story told through her letters and the occasional reply. It’s the story of Sam learning to let go of the walls she’s put up to protect herself, and discovering who she is.

It’s not as light and fluffy as the cover suggests. Sam’s past is very painful, and her struggle for identity can take hold of readers’ thoughts and not let go. There’s a lot of heart in this book.

It’s also well crafted and funny in places, laced with quotes from Jane Austen and other classics, and Katherine Reay adds plenty of quotable lines, herself, in Sam’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness delivery. Some of my favourites:

(Sam describing her new apartment) And it’s yellow. The way pale yellow should look, like sunshine and butter, mixed with hope and cream. [p. 73]

There are first moments when the eyes tell one’s real emotions, before the brain reminds them to bank and hide. [p. 176]

You can always talk more deeply when running because it feels safe. You can’t directly look at the person next to you. And you can’t hide much in so few clothes and so much sweat. Exhaustion also addles your inhibitions. [p. 232-233]

This is Christian fiction where the faith is subtle. There are Christians around Sam, but she doesn’t notice their gentle attempts to share “crumbs” of faith with her until about half-way through the book. She admires the love she sees in them, but she’s not convinced it would apply to her as well.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a heart-warming first novel from Katherine Reay, and it received multiple awards. For more about this and the author’s other novels, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Plummet, by Brandilyn Collins

Plummet, by Brandilyn Collins #Christianfiction #suspensePlummet, by Brandilyn Collins (Challow Press, 2017)

Have you ever done the unthinkable for your child? Have you ever thought how far you’d go to save your son or daughter? [Kindle location 371]

Cara Westling is newly single, thanks to her abusive ex’s abandonment. A new job in a new town should let her and her 13-year-old daughter start a new life – but her boss forces her to help him cover up a death, and then the cover-ups continue.

He’s a man of influence. She knows no-one. If he blames her for the woman’s death, who would believe he’s the one responsible? Worse, who would care for her daughter?

Plummet is the newest Seatbelt Suspense® from Brandilyn Collins, and it’s a fast-paced, intense read.

Cara’s vulnerability, and her daughter Riley’s experiences with cyberbullying, increase the psychological tension, as do Cara’s occasional questions asking what we, the readers, would do in her place. Plummet is a book I didn’t want to read at bedtime or if I was feeling a bit vulnerable, myself. I’m glad I found the courage to finish it, though.

For more about award-winning author Brandilyn Collins and her books, visit brandilyncollins.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Crossover, by John C. Dalglish

Crossover: The Chaser Chronicles book 1, by John C. DalglishCrossover, by John C. Dalglish (2013)

A private investigator discovers that God has bigger – and more dangerous – plans for him. His first clue is a hulking man who attacks him and threatens to kill him if he accepts a coming call to service. Then a second unusual visitor shows up at his office, essentially to tell him a calling is coming.

Crossover is book 1 in the Chaser Chronicles, a Christian-supernatural series which the author says up-front is not meant as a theological interpretation of the moments between life and death.

Although set in present-day Earth, the premise of the story is that some people, in the process of dying, are sufficiently motivated to turn back from the light and do more business among the living. Except the living can’t see them until they’ve lingered long enough to regain corporeal form.

Whether they’re resisting death to warn loved ones that God is real, to pass on another message, or to exact revenge, it’s the role of Chasers to stop them – and to either convince or force them to “cross over.”

The problem is, if one of these “runners” stays in the world too long, he/she becomes strong enough to be dangerous. Like Harbinger, the runner who confronts Jack in the beginning. Harbinger has killed Chasers before, and he wants to do it again.

Crossover is a light-hearted action adventure, and Jack is a wisecracking hero whose heart’s in the right place. There’s not a lot of depth to the characters, but that’s not the point of the story. This one’s for those times when you want something fun, fast, and at least a bit funny.

John C. Dalglish is also the author of the Detective Jason Strong series and the City Murders series. There are six books in The Chaser Chronicles, and I see on his website that they’re available as an ebook bundle. For more about the author and his work, visit jcdalglish.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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: Christmas With Hot Apple Cider

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider: Stories from the season of giving and receivingChristmas With Hot Apple Cider (That’s Life! Communications, 2017)

This anthology of true-life stories, fiction, and poetry from 55 Canadian Christian writers is a strong addition to the Hot Apple Cider series.

Memories from the past include tales of Canadian childhood from those born in Canada and children of immigrants making new homes in sometimes-challenging circumstances. Vignettes from the present include what Christmas might be like for the incarcerated, and Christmas celebrations with grandchildren. Short stories include a man who’s decided to live off the grid and a young woman who befriends an immigrant.

The Hot Apple Cider series are heart-warming collections along the line of the Chicken Soup books, but less sentimental. They’re all from Christian authors, but they’re not sermons. Instead, the writers’ faith is the worldview from which they draw their work.

Christmas With Hot Apple Cider is the fifth and newest book in the series, joining three full-length books and the mini-book, A Taste of Hot Apple Cider. I think it’s a keeper, that readers will turn to year after year as part of settling into the Christmas spirit. For more about the other books in the Hot Apple Cider series, visit thatslifecommunications.com/hot-apple-cider-books. For more about Christmas With Hot Apple Cider, visit njlindquist.com/books/christmas-with-hot-apple-cider.

[Review from my personal library]

Review: A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley

A Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven LaffoleyA Halifax Christmas Carol, by Steven Laffoley (Pottersfield Press, 2017)

December, 1918. Halifax, Nova Scotia, is a grim place, still shattered by the massive explosion that caused so much death and destruction one year previously.

The Great War is over, and the surviving troops are coming home, those not wounded in body, wounded in mind. News headlines cry worldwide unrest, and fear of the so-called “Spanish Flu” is so high that citizens avoid public trams and walk to their destinations.

To newspaper reporter Michael Bell, hope is dead. He survived a gas attack in the war and came home to lose his family in the explosion. Bitter pursuit of the facts of the world’s dark spiral has become his sole purpose in life.

When assigned a story of goodwill just before Christmas, about a mysterious lad with a missing leg and a generous heart, Michael insists he’ll only report the facts. And if the facts don’t produce the upbeat story his editor wants, so be it.

He’s paired with a female reporter who rejects his “wisdom of the head” for “wisdom of the heart.” As well as following their search, readers trace the days of a nameless beggar with the soul of a poet.

The narration itself has a poetic feel at times, with both poetry and prose philosophy quoted. Michael and the beggar are both well-read. Not surprisingly, given the title, Dickens is referenced, usually through Michael’s denial of his continuing influence in this darkened world.

This isn’t a retelling of A Christmas Carol, but those who know that story will find many nods to it. For example, Michael goes home to his dark, lonely, and cold lodgings where he broods by the fire, and he’s disturbed by significant dreams. And the ending, in A Christmas Carol fashion, gives a narrative summary of how certain things turn out happily ever after. While that’s ordinarily annoying, it works here as a final Dickensian touch.

For all the grim setting, and the stories of loss and trauma that Michael uncovers in his search for the boy, this isn’t a hard book to read. The omniscient narrative is well-handled to keep us at enough of a distance that we can observe and learn without being overwhelmed. The author reveals insights, details, and even smells that could only come from extensive research, yet it all flows as part of the story.

Because I usually review clean or Christian fiction, I’ll include a language warning with this one. There’s frequent minor profanity and one misuse of the name of Jesus.

Inspired by a true story, A Halifax Christmas Carol offers a look into a dark time in history, and yet may leave you with a warm hope reminiscent of Dickens’ tale.

For more about award-winning Canadian author Steven Laffoley and his books, visit stevenlaffoley.wordpress.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]