Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Silent Shadows, by Natalie Walters

Silent Shadows, by Natalie Walters (Revell, 2020)

A single mother hiding from a gang. Her young son. And a military intelligence officer discharged with an unexplained movement disorder that causes seizure-like muscle contractions.

Pecca Gallegos loves her job as a nurse at the Home for Heroes. Her son, Maceo, is unhappy at school. And Captain Colton Crawford, her newest patient, may be what they both need—if he can see beyond his limitations.

Maceo has a prosthetic leg and what seems like an impossible dream to play football. Helping him may be what Colten needs to help himself.

My personal preference is for an understated romantic thread, so I found Pecca and Colton’s swoony thoughts about one another a little much in the first half. That said, their first true date was definitely an “aww” moment.

And there’s a lot to like in this story. I appreciated the clean suspense and the frank wrestling with the tension between faith and painful circumstances. I also enjoyed the camaraderie among the “D-Wing” patients. Team dynamics, belonging, and purpose play an important part in the book, along with faith and second chances.

Favourite lines:

You look at yourself as less than. Is that the message you want your life to reflect? [Kindle location 3755]

“…Allow yourself to believe that even though this isn’t how you planned your life, it doesn’t mean it’s not exactly where you need to be.” [Kindle location 3761]

Silent Shadows is book 3 in the Harbored Secrets romantic suspense series. I haven’t read the previous books, but had no trouble settling into this one. Books 1 and 2 are set in the same town of Walton, Georgia, but feature different characters.

Natalie Walters’s author bio says that she “comes from a long line of military and law enforcement veterans and is passionate about supporting them through volunteer work, races, and writing stories that affirm no one is defined by their past.” For more about the author and her books, visit nataliewalterswriter.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: No Way Up, by Mary Connealy

No Way Up, by Mary Connealy, The Cimarron Legacy book 1

No Way Up, by Mary Connealy (Bethany House, 2016)

A year under the same roof?

Their father’s near-fatal injury in a rock slide (and the terms of his will, which he insists they obey immediately) require Sadie Boden and her brothers Justin and Cole to live together on the family ranch for the next year. It’s inconvenient for Cole, who prefers to run the family’s mining interests from town. And it costs Sadie her role of working in the town’s orphanage.

The avalanche may have been deliberate—which means the siblings may be in danger. Who could be after the ranch? And are they connected with past trouble?

No Way Up is a western mystery set in 1880 New Mexico Territory. It’s also a romance, as ranch employee Heath Kincaid proves his worth to the Boden family siblings.

I enjoyed the banter between the characters, as well as the setting. The title No Way Up refers to Skull Mesa, part of the ranch property that’s believed to be un-climbable and yet from where someone seems to be keeping watch. Heath, loving a challenge, is determined to reach the top. Never one to stay behind, Sadie insists she accompany him.

Favourite lines:

Heath’s voice deepened until Sadie felt it rubbing like gentle sandpaper against her heart. [page 28]

Right now he saw the strongest resemblance between the three he’d ever noticed. First time he’d ever realized that stubborn could be a look. [Heath observing the Boden siblings, page 130]

This is the start of the Cimarron Legacy series, and I suspect that through Heath it’s linked to the author’s Kincaid Brides series. The prequel novella, The Boden Birthright, is available as a free ebook. Click here: maryconnealy.com/books/cimarron-legacy/the-boden-birthright.

For more about Mary Connealy and her books, visit maryconnealy.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Hems & Homicide, by Elizabeth Penney

Hems & Homicide, The Apron Shop Series book 1, by Elizabeth Penney

Hems & Homicide, by Elizabeth Penney (St. Martin’s, 2020)

Iris Buckley and her recently-widowed grandmother, Anne, are a good team. Add Quincy, a marmalade cat who thinks he’s the real boss, and their Ruffles & Bows shop could be a hit. If the skeleton they find in the cellar of their building doesn’t stop their grand opening plans.

Welcome to Blueberry Cove, Maine: a quiet, tourist town where everyone knows everyone’s business. Or at least they thought they did—someone may be a secret murderer.

Iris is a skilled seamstress with a special interest in vintage linens and designs. (Be prepared, “vintage” can mean 1960’s!) I appreciate how it’s her grandmother, Anne, who’s the more knowledgeable about online security.

Iris has been back in town for a few months and has reconnected with good friends from school. Also back is her high school crush, Ian Stewart, who’ll be doing the renovations on the new shop.

Hems & Homicide is book 1 in the Apron Shop Series, and it’s a clean cozy mystery in a charming setting. I enjoyed the descriptions of the rural landscape outside of town. As you’d expect with a main character who’s skilled with fabrics, descriptions often focus on colours and textiles. And as Iris and Anne investigate the long-ago death, Iris gets a peek at Anne’s life as a young woman. 

This is a fun read, and a good start to a new series. Book 2, Thread and Dread, releases later in 2020. For more about Elizabeth Penney, visit elizabethpenneyauthor.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: A Dream of Death, by Connie Berry

A Dream of Death, by Connie Berry | A Kate Hamilton Mystery

A Dream of Death, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2019)

A remote Scottish island. A private hotel steeped in history. And a repeat of a centuries-old murder.

This is the sort of mystery I love best. The setting is so real I can almost step into it, and I liked the protagonist, Kate Hamilton, from page one. Kate deals in antiques, not crimes, but she has a good eye for detail and strong motivation to solve this mystery. The company of an attractive, vacationing English police detective is a bonus.

The language is engaging. My favourite lines:

Three years had passed since Bill’s death, and the veneer of coping I’d laid over my grief was as thin as eggshell porcelain and every bit as breakable. [page 1]

Guthrie sat between his mother and Elenor, looking as if his license to exist had just expired. [page 29]

How many minutes, hours, days had that old clock marked? Years rolled by, then decades and centuries, and every morning the hands of the clock turned anew, as if it were possible to record over the failures and griefs of the past. [page 64]

A Dream of Death is the first book in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series, and I’m eager to read book two, A Legacy of Murder.

Connie Berry is an American author who writes this Scottish setting like it’s one she knows well. For more about the author and her work, visit connieberry.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay

Lizzy & Jane, a novel by Katherine Reay

Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2014)

A treat for foodies and Jane Austen fans, Lizzy and Jane brings together two sisters who’ve successfully avoided meaningful contact since their mother died years earlier. Now Jane is enduring chemotherapy for breast cancer. Elizabeth, a successful chef, has lost her edge. A flying visit home might be just what she needs.

If that sounds like the book’s a downer, let the artsy cover reassure you. There are tears, but there’s laughter, family comfort, friendship, and Elizabeth even finds a chance at romance. Plus there’s the food.

Initially I found it hard to engage, because Elizabeth begins as very self-focused. I’m glad I kept reading, because the story has lots to say about our need to truly listen to one another and discover each other’s true perspective instead of reading from the surface.

The contrasting vibes of Jane’s Seattle and Elizabeth’s New York City interested me. The faith thread encouraged me without feeling preachy. But what most caught my attention was the idea that a cancer patient’s chemo-tainted taste buds and appetite could be satisfied by food tailored to match the things they find most comforting—including their preferences in books. I don’t know if this has any basis in fact, but it’s definitely interesting.

Bonus takeaway: Elizabeth suggested using a pinch of cinnamon in tomato-based cooking (like spaghetti sauce and stew). I tried it. Yum!

The novel also provides some deliciously evocative lines. A taste, to let you see, as Elizabeth observes another character:

He was trying to do the impossible—carry the weight of all that was unable to be held and pull his energy from sheer frustration and anger. [page 143]

What I had thought was an angry stalk looked different now. It looked like a walk tinged with desperation—a suppressed, scared gait that was fast because slow would make him too vulnerable; he might get caught. [page 145]

This is my second Katherine Reay novel (see my review of Dear Mr. Knightley) and I look forward to reading more. You can find author Katherine Reay online at katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick

The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick

The Road to Happenstance, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

A whimsical town, a host of quirky characters, and events that seem to conspire to keep Matthew Sadler from leaving once he arrives by “happenstance.”

Fleeing painful memories, Matt and his motorcycle are roaring along the highway when a near-accident forces him onto a hidden side road. On the far side of a covered bridge, he discovers the town of Happenstance.

He’ll leave as soon as he gases up. Or after a night’s rest in the charming Happenstance Hotel. Or after he helps the elderly sisters who run the hotel. Or after…

As well as the sisters, he meets Bear, a local mechanic with some unusual turns of phrase, and Veronica, who bears a startling resemblance to his dead wife.

The longer he stays, the more he suspects a mystery behind the hotel’s troubles.

This gently-paced novel will bring smiles—and maybe a wistful longing to find a place like Happenstance in the real world.

Favourite lines:

The road was scarcely wide enough for two cars to pass, a dirt path with a scattering of gravel on top as a sort of apology. [Kindle location 30]

We got whatcha want, unless you want what we don’t got, and then you prob’ly don’t need it. [Bear, describing the town; Kindle location 50]

They came with their offerings of food to their gods of guild and duty and pity, but he would rather have been alone. [Matt remembering the visitors after his wife’s death; Kindle location 1788]

Author Janice L. Dick is known for her faith-filled historical fiction. Although The Road to Happenstance is a contemporary novel, the town’s nostalgic feel lends an impression of stepping back in time, and Matthew’s personal struggles are affected by his faith. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the publisher. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Belinda Blake and the Birds of a Feather, by Heather Day Gilbert

Belinda Blake and the Birds of a Feather, by Heather Day Gilbert (Lyrical Underground Books, 2020)

Homing pigeons are less dangerous than the wolves she had as a previous assignment, but Belinda Blake still finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation—this time in her hometown of Larches Corner in Upstate New York. And is there a connection between the present investigation and the previous death of a young college student?

Along with the mystery, Belinda is still trying to choose between her rich landlord Stone Carrington the fifth, and her childhood neighbour, rock-solid farmer Jonas Hawthorne.

Appealing characters, intriguing mysteries, and exotic pets. What’s not to like? I’ve enjoyed each book in the series, but this one gets my vote for most unexpected solution.

For more about Heather Day Gilbert and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

Review: A Girl’s Guide to the Outback, by Jessica Kate

Book Cover: A girl's Guide to the Outback, a novel by Jessica Kate

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback, by Jessica Kate (Thomas Nelson, 2020)

Jessica Kate’s second novel delivers the love/hate romance, snappy banter, and deeply-crafted characters readers expect from her, plus a bonus. This one’s largely set in Australia. Since it’s new territory for the American heroine, Kimberley, readers enjoy a virtual tour with her.

This is a novel where the setting is key to the story. Kimberley’s time on the remote ranch belonging to her nemesis, Samuel Payton, and other settings like the Gold Coast, aren’t just backdrops.

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback follows after Love and Other Mistakes, so readers who remember the first book will recognize some familiar people. Readers starting with this book will have no trouble, because the love interests in this book were secondary characters in the first one.

As well as romance, A Girl’s Guide to the Outback is a story of misunderstood motives and the way past pain can keep even Christians back from their full potential.

Favourite lines:

She’d just blasted the good-looking HR manager of a company looking to recruit her. While wearing a potato costume. [Kindle location 53]

Jules’s brow cinched together like an invisible hand had pulled a loose thread. [Kindle location 2333]

“Sweetheart, when God closes a door, He closes it. Best not to hold on too long and get your fingers jammed in the process.” [Kindle location 3104]

For more about Jessica Kate and her books (and her StoryNerds podcast) visit jessicakatewriting.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book from #Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

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Review: End Game, by Rachel Dylan

End Game, Book 1 in the Capital Intrigue series from Rachel Dylan

End Game, by Rachel Dylan (Bethany House, 2020)

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.]

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Two Short (Free!) Christmas Reads

Here are two short, feel-good Christmas reads that are free ebooks on a variety of platforms:



Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, by Amanda Dykes

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.)





Tin Can Serenade, by Amanda Dykes

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.



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