Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard

Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard (Annie’s Fiction, 2022)

Cover art for Boughs of Folly. Christmas tree, gingerbread village, cat.

After 20 years away from her Georgia hometown, Jillian Green is back: living with her grandmother and great aunt in an antebellum mansion and slowly improving her baking skills at her grandmother’s Chocolate Shoppe bakery.

Christmas is approaching and she’s excited to decorate the mansion for the upcoming Merry Mansions tour. When one of the decorating team is found dead on the grounds, Jillian’s great aunt cries murder. Since the elderly woman is convinced her dead husband communicates with her through her cat, nobody takes the claim seriously—until handsome coroner Hunter Greyson agrees.

Jillian’s curiosity draws her into the murder investigation and also into a stranger’s quest to locate his long-lost high school sweetheart. As clues and complications multiply, she discovers the two mysteries may have a common thread.

Boughs of Folly is a feel-good Christmas cozy mystery that fits into a collection of books set in the same town, which means it comes with a well-established set of characters. This is a bonus for fans of the other books who get to see their fictional friends again. Not having read the other books didn’t affect me in terms of understanding the story although I did feel like there were a lot of people to keep track of.

Most fun thing about the book: the mansion’s decorations include an outdoor manger scene with lifelike sheep that Jillian remembers her grandfather regularly moving around so people would think they were real. Another good thing would be all the bakery goods references.

The mystery is satisfyingly tangled but it all comes out in the end. In traditional cozy fashion, readers will find a clean story with appealing characters and setting, a bit of humour, food, friendship, hints of romance, and a quirky pet.

Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book set called Jingle Bell Mysteries (with Klaus for Suspicion and Deck the Hearse) from Annie’s Fiction. Annie’s is a subscription book club delivering members a new read every 4-6 weeks. The Jingle Bell Mysteries set is available for purchase through Annie’s site without taking a subscription, so it’s a great way to check out the types of books they offer. For more about the book bundle or to order, click here: Jingle Bell Mysteries.

Believe it or not, this is Sandra Orchard’s 25th book. For more about the author and her mystery and romantic suspense books, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, The Happenstance Chronicles Book 3, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2022)

When you mess up in a small town, everybody knows it. Which is why 19-year-old Sol Wuppertal does not want to return to Happenstance when he gets out of prison. No matter his claims of innocence—all the townsfolk will remember is that he hung around with bad characters and has done time.

Readers of the Happenstance Chronicles series will recognize Sol’s large, energetic family: his dad owns the general store. Other fan favourites are back as well: Matt and the Misses Grayce and Emmaline, Bear, the crotchety Morris Craddock, and more. If you’re new to the series, you’ll fit right in and quickly develop a fondness for these folks.

In this book, Sol is lured home by his sister Rachel who’s running the new bistro and needs a helper. Sol needs a job but doesn’t want to work in the family store—his father hasn’t forgiven him for shaming the family name. But working at the bistro puts Sol in regular contact with Mr. Craddock. Words will fly and tempers will flare.

As if conflict with his father, the local gossip columnist, Mr. Craddock, and his parole officer isn’t enough, Sol also finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Someone’s been stealing rare books from the library attached to the bistro.

Gossip and Grace is a blend of contemporary fiction and cozy mystery, with a dash of whimsy. The mystery is clearly secondary to the challenges and changes in the characters’ lives.

Sol has a lot of negative mental baggage and as he tries to learn to reframe his perspective I appreciate the realistic ups and downs in the process. Too many books make it look easy or like a one time choice. Negative self-talk and false beliefs about others are things that affect so many of us in the real world, and I think Sol’s journey can point to real-life change. Not that it’s preachy in any way—his growth is an organic result of his struggle.

Gossip and Grace is the newest feel-good mystery in the Happenstance Chronicles, with delightful characters, amusing banter, and a whimsical small town you’ll wish was real. As well as this contemporary series, Janice L. Dick has also written historical fiction. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks & Beans 6)

Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

A tour of the local caverns with her visiting boyfriend plunges Macy Hatfield into another mystery when a young woman falls over a cliff during a suspicious power outage.

I’m always happy to return to the West Virginia-set Barks and Beans Café for a vicarious dose of tasty treats and canine company. And as the series continues, I appreciate how some of the secondary characters are included in aspects of the mysteries. It lets readers get to know them along with brother-and-sister sleuthing duo Bo and Macy—and Coal, my favourite fictional Great Dane.

Fans of Heather Day Gilbert’s other books will be happy to recognize a new character in Cold Drip who was introduced in False Pretense, the recent finale to her Murder in the Mountains series. Cold Drip also includes some hints that may shape future mysteries in the series.

The Barks and Beans books are light-toned cozy mysteries with characters who’ll keep you coming back for more. There’s an overall arc of developing friendships and romance, yet a reader could start with any book.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries (some faith-based and some clean mainstream) and Viking historicals. To quote her bio on the Goodreads site, “She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love.”  For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Book Review: The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies

The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies (That’s Life! Communications, second edition 2021)

Two twelve-year-old friends—and a Talking Camel—may be the only hope for a kingdom in danger in this middle-grade epic fantasy novel from author J. A. Menzies.

We have a princess who’s so strong-willed even her mother calls her Princess Persnickety. And we have her unlikely friend, Stefan the stable boy. Soon, they’re joined by Creed the Talking Camel (in a kingdom where Talking Animals are the stuff of fairytales) and the adventure begins.

This book would be ideal for a child who’s an avid reader and isn’t afraid of adult-level words like “persnickety,” or for adults who enjoy reading to children. The narrative has a definite read-aloud feel, with perhaps more description than I expect most kids to want to tackle. Having said that, I heartily encourage them to tackle it—it won’t take long for the story to hook them.

There’s plenty to appeal to kids—and kid-like adults—with the children taking front stage in the action despite the adults’ attempts to keep them out of danger. There are satisfying moments of bad guys being conked by frying pans or running into just-shut doors. There are the previously mentioned Talking Animals, along with a secret history of the kingdom.

For the map-lovers among us, there’s also a map. And for the series-lovers, book 2 is in the works. This story finishes with this book, but there’s definitely scope for more. There’s still a potential threat to the realm, and Stefan, an adopted son of loving parents, finishes book 1 with a growing desire to discover his family history.

J. A. Menzies is the alter-ego of author N. J. Lindquist. Between the two names, this Canadian author has produced mysteries for adults, contemporary coming-of-age stories for young adults, nonfiction material, and now a middle-grade epic fantasy. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com and njlindquist.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: False Pretense, by Heather Day Gilbert

False Pretense, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

Missing persons, unexpected power flickers, and sightings of a creature from West Virginia folklore… except the huge grey Mothman is being seen by trustworthy witnesses. And the winged creature isn’t just a guy in a costume, because it flies. More troubling still, its appearance seems to coincide with the disappearance of two local women—women who look a lot like Tess Spencer.

Mysteries keep finding Tess. She’s solved three as an amateur sleuth, earning enough respect from the police in her small town that Detective Zeke Tucker has hired her as admin assistant. Sure, it’s a desk job, but Zeke values her insights on active cases.

As Tess begins to suspect this case may be personal, she’s also concerned about her mother-in-law’s health and the dirty politics being played by her husband’s rival. As readers of the series know, Tess isn’t one to allow anyone to mess with her family.

I’ve liked Tess from book one. She’s a smart, brave, loyal, self-reliant woman of faith. Since she lives in a state where it’s allowed to conceal-carry a weapon, she takes a handgun and sometimes a knife into danger.

Favourite line:

I’ve always felt the woods are my native environment, a place I can be protected from the pressures of life. Now something—maybe some age-old evil, if I let my imagination run wild—has invaded our area. [Kindle location 539]

The mystery in False Pretense offers enough clues for readers to feel like we’re part of the investigation. I came up with a few ideas, but they were definitely off-base. Fans of the series will be glad to spend time with Tess and her family again, and will be hoping to finally learn the truth about the mysterious Axel Becker. And while this finishes the series, it left me wanting to go back and read again from the beginning.

Readers of the author’s Barks ‘n Beans mystery series will recognize a few mentions of those characters. I enjoy seeing nods like this to other fictional friends. 

False Pretense is a satisfying finale to a mystery series filled with heart and truly likeable characters. If you’re new to the Murder in the Mountains series, you could start here without feeling lost. But I’d encourage you to start with book 1, Miranda Warning, and enjoy the development of characters and relationships through the full series.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. To quote her bio on the Goodreads site, “She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love.” For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, because I couldn’t wait to read the copy I’ve preordered. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud

Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud

Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud (Word Alive Press, 2020)

From the aptly-named Desolation Creek in the Australian Outback to a lighthouse in Blackheart Bay, Nova Scotia, this novel’s descriptive details draw the reader in with a strong sense of place.

Told in present tense from the point of view of Raine Hunter, both as a child and as an adult, the voice is sure, strong, and taut.

The first part of the novel introduces the trauma in Raine’s childhood. The second two thirds of the book, part two, bring Raine back to her hometown to care for her widowed brother Quinn’s children after he goes missing. Rumours hint that he killed himself or skipped town, but Raine blames the hostile neighbouring family for abducting or harming him.

Raine’s tragic experience as a child shapes her into a bitter person with poor social skills. Because we see the event first, we can be patient with her brusque—rude?—behaviour and hope she’ll discover a positive change. We may even find some of her interactions funny. This woman has no clue how to interact with children. I had to be careful her crankiness didn’t jump-start my own. 😊

Raine is in that difficult place, spiritually, of not being able to fully walk away from God while not being able to press in with Him either.

After the story, I found myself thinking about some of the more extreme characters: the eccentric, the hostile, the bullying… and the unconditionally accepting. Some of the latter modelled Jesus’ love far better than most of us do.

Tears in the Desert is a winner in The 2021 Word Awards for work published in 2020. It’s Canadian author Karen V. Robichaud’s sixth novel. For more about the author and her work, visit kvrobi.wixsite.com/karen-v-robichaud.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert

The Contest, by K.E. Ganshert (2021)

Anyone who’s ever asked why bad things happen to innocent people will relate to orphaned teenaged Briar Bishop. While the rich in the kingdom get richer, she’s raising her younger brother in the worst of the slums.

When she receives a mysterious invitation to a contest promising to grant the winner’s deepest wish, she ignores it—until desperation leaves her no choice.

The thing is, she gave up wishing long ago. Then gave up believing in the Wish Keeper (her world’s most powerful magic figure).

The contest will pit her against 11 others, all equally determined. One of them is High Prince Leopold Davenbrook. Leo’s public persona is a daredevil thrill-seeker, but Briar remembers him as a grieving 8-year-old watching the execution of Briar’s mother—for the murder of his.

The characters and their interconnections are richly developed, as are the events of the contest and its settings. The world itself has more technology than I often find in a fantasy novel. They have underground transport and personal communication devices, antibiotics (for the rich), and a form of television. Magic, while still a part of the world, is forbidden due to a past disaster.

One thing that might save you the confusion I had: some chapter titles include a date. That date only applies to that past timeline. Anything without a date at the beginning is the story’s present.

Favourite lines:

Iris screamed—louder this time, as if they all knew the answer but were withholding it from her and if she just raised her voce to the right decibel, they might finally explain. [Kindle page 142]

Good would win. Good had to win. And if good wasn’t winning, then it wasn’t the end. [Briar’s papa’s philosophy. Kindle pages 362-363]

Author K.E. Ganshert describers herself as “an award-winning author torn between two genres.” She writes YA fantasy and contemporary inspirational fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit katieganshert.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Picks from 2021

My year in books in 2021 from Goodreads: 56 books, 14, 165 pages read.
Graphic credit: Goodreads


Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed last year. Some were produced in 2021, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2021:

Book of the year: Yours is the Night, by Amanda Dykes (historical fiction)

Fantasy: Rhythm of War, by Brandon Sanderson

Favourite re-read: Star Wars: Scoundrels (Star Wars Legends), by Timothy Zahn [I’d forgotten I didn’t like the ending, but it’s a fun read]

Feel-good read: Tranquility Falls, by Davis Bunn

Mystery/suspense novel: Chasing Angels, by Karin Kaufman, and All the Devils are Here, by Louise Penny. In that order, based on how I felt as a reader.

Poetry: Wing Over Wing, by Julie Cadwallader Staub

Science fiction novel: Lesser Evil (Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy, #3), by Timothy Zahn

Writing how-to: Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter, by K.M. Weiland, with an honourable mention to How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, by Ricardo Fayet

This was a difficult year for me and my family. Hence the reduced reading count!
Here are five things that refreshed me this year:

  • Prayer: Not a new practice for me; a major source of comfort and hope.
  • Praise: Also not new; praise music helps me keep grounded. Funny how often the right song would come on the radio just when I needed it.
  • Poetry: Nova Scotian writer Laura Aliese showed me I can enjoy poetry. This year I’ve dipped into a few books from other poets. The strong word choices have been inspiring.
  • Pilates: Toward the end of 2020, I discovered a wealth of free YouTube videos from Rachel Lawrence Pilates. Her friendly and accessible instruction has helped tame the body aches that crept in during the first lockdown.
  • Photos: For all the negativity on social media, Instagram became my online happy place in 2021. I don’t post (that might feel like work) and I only follow nature photographers, tourism shots, and Bible/inspirational quotes (well, and David Crowder because he makes me laugh). It’s been a lovely mini refuge when I needed it most.
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Review: Detour, by Lorena McCourtney

Detour, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2018)

Another enjoyable mystery, packed with suspects and unusual characters. This time, Mac and Ivy take a detour on the way to their honeymoon destination in Arizona for Mac to cover a magazine assignment covering a Northern California dinosaur theme park.

The park is run down and Ivy has doubts about the couple running it. Suspicions and motives fly even before a body comes to light. Naturally, shenanigans ensue. I had a little trouble getting into this one, and found the occasional clunky sentence, but Ivy and her mutant curiosity gene are a delight. By the end, I was reading at full speed.

Ivy MacPherson (formerly Malone) is a self-titled “LOL” (little old lady) with a knack for finding—and solving—mysteries. The Ivy ‘n’ Mac series follows the Ivy Malone series now that she and Mac are a couple.

Ivy is funny, sassy, and possessed of a double helping of spunk. She’s a treat to read, and it’s worth going back to meet her in her first book, Invisible. She and Mac travel the US in an RV, yet murders somehow find her at every turn.

To learn about author Lorena McCourtney and her other mysteries, visit lorenamccourtney.info.

[Review copy from the public library. This title is available through Hoopla.]

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Review: Yours is the Night, by Amanda Dykes

Yours is the Night, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2021)

This lyrical tale of hope found in the darkness released just in time to honour the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Readers learn from the prologue that a soldier significant to the story will not survive. Then we meet the American Matthew, Mira, a young woman who lives in a forest in France, and others who intersect their lives.

Any fan of Amanda Dykes’ work will know to expect characters who are at once “everyperson” and yet whose particular circumstances lead them through pain to hope—in ways that linger in our imaginations long after the story ends. Without shielding them from hardship, she presents their lives with tenderness and their surroundings in often poetic description.

This makes Yours is the Night, a story set near the end of the Great War, an accessible read. The horrors of war aren’t in-your-face graphic. Instead, perhaps more powerfully, they’re shown mostly by the way they affect the characters. Despite its at-times fairytale feel, this is no lightweight novel.

It is, however, beautiful and hopeful. Heartwarming and encouraging. And it’s told with great respect for the real-life men and women who endured the unthinkable in the war. Highly recommended!

Here are some of my most favourite lines:

His smile did not fall, but it changed. It looked like one of Grand-père’s creations, carved into wood. [Mira, about her father, page 28]

…his eyes seemed to hear things even when his ears could not. [Mira, observing Matthew, page 121]

He was all of us, just a boy in a war too dark for him in a world too big, trying to do his part. [Matthew’s thoughts of a young fellow soldier, page 284]

Christy Award-winning author Amanda Dykes has written two previous novels, Whose Waves These Are and Set the Stars Alight, as well as shorter fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com. As well as book club resources, you’ll find links to her blog and a way to sign up for her newsletter, “The Scriptorium”.

[Review copy provided by Baker Publishing Group via Graf-Martin Communications. My review is voluntary and is my own uninfluenced opinion.]

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