Category Archives: Fiction

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.]

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah

The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah | Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot

The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah (HarperCollins, 2018)

Sophie Hannah does a fantastic job writing further adventures for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The Mystery of Three Quarters is her third, and I think it’s the best yet.

Poirot feels true to life (true to fictional life?). In these novels his Scotland Yard contact is Edward Catchpole, and neither Inspector Japp nor Hastings appear. Nor Miss Lemon. I don’t recall where the stories fall in the overall Poirot timeline.

The Mystery of Three Quarters is a satisfying mystery with sprinkles of humour, and I enjoyed watching Poirot untangle the mystery which began with four letters accusing the recipients of murder—and falsely signed “Hercule Poirot”.

Sophie Hannah is an internationally-bestselling author of crime fiction including three Poirot novels. For more about the author and her work, visit sophiehannah.com. For all things Agatha Christie, including games, visit agathachristie.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland

Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland

Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2018)

Wayfarer is a satisfyingly long and richly-crafted novel that takes readers from the open country to the dark heart of a London slum, from ornate mansions to Marshalsea Prison. Danger abounds, the stakes are overwhelming, yet there are glimpses of loyalty, love, and even a bit of humour.

Favourite line (as Will is about to jump into the midst of a crowd he needs to impress):

Falling just now, screaming in pain, would probably fail to inspire these good people.

This is a clean read, if grim in places. I’m pleased to see the ending leave room for a sequel.

For more about K.M. Weiland and her novels, visit kmweiland.com. Writers are encouraged to visit her teaching site, Helping Writers Become Authors.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley

Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley | Christmas fiction, romantic suspenseDeadly Noel, by Margaret Daley (2015)

Assistant D.A. Kira Davis blames herself for the wrongful conviction of Gabriel Michaels in his wife’s murder. She was sure he was guilty, as were most members of the local law enforcement, but hindsight says she was wrong. Not that the police chief is willing to admit Gabriel is innocent.

Gabriel’s been released because the killing didn’t stop when he went to prison. Now he’s trying to rebuild life with his daughter and keep her out of his controlling mother-in-law’s clutches. He wants nothing to do with Kira, but when someone shoots at her on his property, his protective nature kicks in.

Kira and Gabriel team up to catch the killer before anyone else dies.

Deadly Noel is part of Margaret Daley’s Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations series, and it’s a tightly-woven romantic suspense set in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.

Margaret Daley is a multi-published romantic suspense author. For more about her and her books, visit margaretdaley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Incense Road, by Tracy Higley

The Incense Road by Tracy Higley | Christmas fiction, historical fiction, Christian fictionThe Incense Road, by Tracy Higley (StoneWater Press, 2015)

This ebook bundles Star of Wonder, Star of Night, and Royal Beauty into one, and it’s the best way to read the three novellas because they don’t stand alone well. Together, they form a sweeping and engaging historical tale of intrigue, romance, and spiritual warfare as a caravan of mages set out on a quest for a rumoured object of power, their way lit by a mysterious star.

The three central characters are Misha (a mage who rejects his Jewish heritage), Reza (a general who’d rather be a scholar), and Kamillah (an Egyptian princess sent to learn from the mages).

Their adventures drive them to trust one another and to discover truths about themselves – and about the true source of power.

I enjoyed the voice, the characters, and the pacing of the story, as well as the exotic setting.

The Incense Road collection takes place after the novel The Queen’s Handmaid, and some characters reappear. I hadn’t read the first novel and had no trouble following the plot.

Tracy Higley writes fiction set in the ancient past and has travelled extensively in her research. For more about the author and her books, or to check out her travel blog, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: For Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa

For Us Humans, by Steve RzasaFor Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa (Enclave Publishing, 2018)

Fun and fast-paced, with snappy commentary from point-of-view character Caz Fortel, For Us Humans puts a science fiction spin on the classic mismatched detectives story, rife with nods to iconic science fiction shows.

Caz poses as an unprincipled art buyer to help the authorities catch art thieves and reclaim stolen art. Now he’s tapped to find a missing piece of alien art—and failure will not bode well for Earth.

He’s cocky enough to think he can do it on his own, but the powers-that-be pair him with a four-armed alien named Nil.

Fifteen years earlier, the aliens arrived. In Caz’s words, it wasn’t so much an invasion as a corporate takeover. The governments love having access to new technology, but the population resents the alien presence. Caz is no exception.

As well as the action plot of Caz and Nil chasing the missing sculpture and the subplot of their slowly-changing attitudes toward one another, the novel has a faith subplot I don’t remember seeing before.

Proof of alien existence triggered a worldwide crisis of faith. A minority of Christians still worship together, but most—including Caz—can’t reconcile aliens with their beliefs. Ironically, Nil claims his own culture has hints pointing to something special about Earth and God. That’s why he’s here.

Meanwhile, their assignment is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We need more science fiction like this. And the cover’s great.

Steve Rzasa writes both science fiction and fantasy. For more about the author and his books, visit steverzasa.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]