Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2020)

Lyrical, beautiful, heart-warming and satisfying, Set the Stars Alight is a must-read.

Page one welcomed me in like I was coming home.

Before I even reached that page, the dedication spoke to me—the part about wonder:

Hang on to it, brave ones.
And more—hang on to the Giver of it.
Though darkness may fall and times grow hard,
hold fast to this given light. [Kindle location 45]

Timely words for a hard year like 2020.

The novel follows two timelines: 1987 – 2020 and the 1800s during the Napoleonic wars, each revealing what’s needed to understand the other. It’s not choppy, switching timelines each chapter; instead, the story flows in segments with time enough to settle in place and care about the people involved.

In the contemporary thread, childhood friends Lucy and Dashel reunite as adults in a quest to locate a legendary shipwreck in the English Channel. The historical thread follows Frederick, a landowner’s son, and the young lovers Juliette and Elias.

Some of the many lines I highlighted in the book are sparks of light to hold close:

Taking note of the good, the true, the just, the miracles hidden at every turn is like…a deliberate act of defiance against the darkness. [Lucy’s father, Kindle location 431]

Such freedom, to know our limits. And to know the God who has none. [Clara, Kindle location 3347]

Others are just beautiful:

The woman had a way of almost gliding—not in the graceful, practiced way of the ladies of gothic novels, but rather more like an apparition gliding over ice. [Kindle location 1625]

Set the Stars Alight is a novel of love and loyalty, friendship and faith, that encourages wonder and affirms the value of everyday actions and individual lives. As an added bonus, readers who loved Amanda Dykes’ debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, will welcome the quiet nod to that book in chapter 25.

For more about author Amanda Dykes, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley.]

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Review: A Dangerous Legacy, by Elizabeth Camden

A Dangerous Legacy, by Elizabeth Camden

A Dangerous Legacy, by Elizabeth Camden (Bethany House, 2017)

New York City, 1903: Can a plumber and a telegraph operator win a decades-long battle of lawsuits and intimidation? When the opponent is their rich and unscrupulous uncle?

Siblings Lucy and Nick have each other’s backs. They have to. There’s nobody else—their uncle has seen to that. When Lucy uncovers a murderous plot, the stakes rise even higher.

Amid the war of wills and mounting intrigue, Lucy finds another ally in a British news rival, Sir Colin Beckwith. But Colin has his own struggles, with PTSD and the need to wed an heiress if he’s to save the family estate.

The insights into turn-of-the-century reporting and news dissemination are interesting, and the many news tidbits bring the times to life. The American/British contrast adds another dimension, and Colin introduces Lucy to his homing pigeons, letting us learn about them too.

A Dangerous Legacy is book 1 in the Empire State series, and I’m interested to read on. For more about Elizabeth Camden and her books, visit elizabethcamden.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

Wen Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson (His Image Publications, 2019)

Mikayla Gordon’s discovery of a family secret sets her on a quest to find answers. In the process she may find herself—and find God. 

Mikayla is the outdoor, adventurous type, thriving from childhood on fishing with her father. Her journey takes her away from her magazine-writer job on a cross-country trek, with a tiny dog as her travel buddy.

From her native Minnesota, Mikayla ends up Colorado, where the mountains capture her heart. Camp director Dawson Dunne, who offers her a temporary job, may claim her heart too, although Mikayla’s committed to returning home in time for her sister’s wedding.

The scenery in this novel makes it a beautiful place to linger, and I enjoyed hanging out with the characters. Mikayla’s anger and hurt takes time to work through, but the kind people she meets are a balm to her and to readers as well.

Favourite lines:

“No use hurrying through life when all we have is what’s here in front of us.” [Kindle edition, page 75]

Layers of jagged mountain peaks surrounded them, from green and detailed in front to a hazy blue in the distance. Thick forests spread like carpeting, a river winding through the valley. [Kindle edition, page 178]

Recommended for nature lovers, this gentle story of self-discovery and romance includes themes of disappointment, family secrets, forgiveness, faith, and relationships. The bond between Mikayla and her two sisters is warm and strong, despite their very different personalities.

When Mountains Sing is book 1 in the My Father’s House Series, and it’s one of the books in The Mosaic Collection. Visit stacymonson.com to learn more about author Stacy Monson and her books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Traitor’s Pawn, by Lisa Harris

The Traitor's Pawn, by Lisa Harris | #romanticsuspense #Christianfiction

The Traitor’s Pawn, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2020)

Shootings, abduction, traitors, and national security risks in Corpus Christi, Texas. The danger in The Traitor’s Pawn starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up.

Somehow the abduction of Detective Bree Grayson is linked with FBI agent Jack Shannon’s investigation. The crisis reunites these two former best friends, and as they work together they discover romantic feelings that have lain dormant since college. Bree finds herself again dealing with her father’s abandonment, pain she thought she’d left behind.

The stakes in this novel are high, but the characters’ introspection allows readers chances to breathe. Along with the romance thread, there’s a theme of anger and forgiveness as Bree processes her lack of relationship with her father.

One thing I found a little disappointing was the resolution of the conflict with a particular antagonist. This person will remain nameless, to avoid spoilers, but was introduced as a worthy villain in a way that had me expecting far more involvement in the final crisis.

Overall, though, The Traitor’s Pawn is an enjoyable romantic suspense with a strong thread of faith.

Favourite line:

My father always told me that God is about the long game. That he’s more interested in who you become, even if the actual process is difficult. [Jack speaking about his own father, Kindle location 2933]

Visit lisaharriswrites.com to learn about author Lisa Harris and her books and ministry.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert

No Filter,by Heather Day Gilbert  Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series, Book 1 | #cleanreads #cozymystery

No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

Mystery readers will love the sister and brother duo—and Coal, the Great Dane—in Heather Day Gilbert’s new Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series.

Newly-single Macy Hatfield is lured home to the West Virginia town of Lewisburg when her brother Bo moves back to open his own business—The Barks & Beans Café. It’s a trendy, upscale coffee shop with a difference: there’s an attached space where patrons can get their pet fix by visiting with dogs from the local shelter.

Bo’s the coffee guy, and Macy’s the dog lover. Together, they run this business in what was their beloved Aunt Athaleen’s home. Bo is ex-military, which will come in handy when the mystery part of the story starts.

Apparently cafés like this do exist, and I think they sound fun (for dogs or for cats). The café staff are an eclectic and interesting group, as are the clientele, and the café treats sound tempting.

When Macy adopts a Great Dane after his owner’s murder, she’s drawn into the mystery surrounding the death.

No Filter is a clean cozy mystery and a fun read, and I’m fond of Coal, the Great Dane. Macy and Bo have a really strong sibling relationship. It’s good to see support instead of bickering. I like their banter and the way each has the other’s back. They need to, since otherwise they’re on their own. Each one carries wounds from previous relationships as well as the longer-standing trauma of their parents’ deaths many years earlier.

Favourite line (Macy talking to Bo):

I rolled my eyes. “I can take care of myself. Case in point, I was at the scene of a murder tonight and I didn’t get killed.” [Kindle location 1834]

No Filter is book 1 in the Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series. The novel is complete on its own, with some suspense and relationship threads that lead into later books. Readers who enjoy No Filter will want to order the sequel, Iced Over, releasing July 2020. For more about author Heather Day Gilbert and her other books (mysteries, suspense, and Viking historicals) visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher; opinions are my own.]

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Review: Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason

Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason | Danger Never Sleeps, book 1 | #romanticsuspense #Christianfiction

Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2020)

From the dusty danger of war-torn Kabul to the relative safety of South Carolina, Lynette Eason weaves a taut tale of greed, intrigue, and secrets worth killing for.

Army psychiatrist Brooke Adams and Special Ops Sergeant First-Class Asher James return from Afghanistan with painful memories and the faint hope of rebuilding normal lives. Instead, they find themselves targets in a deadly, globe-spanning plot.

Amid the flying bullets and PTSD flashbacks, the sprinkles of humour and the developing bond between Brooke and Asher kept it from being too intense for me. This is the sort of romantic suspense I like best. No syrupy thoughts, just two people trying to stay alive and realizing that they somehow understand and complete each other.

I also enjoyed the friendship between Brooke, Heather, Kat, and Sarah, especially in the first part of the book. I’m hoping the other women will have their turns to shine as the series unfolds (although Sarah definitely has a key role here, too.) And I appreciated the faith element as a natural part of the story.

Favourite line:

God may not have blessed her with the kind of family she’d always yearned for growing up, but he’d made up for that in the kind of friends he’d placed in her life. [Kindle location 1708]

Collateral Damage is Book 1 in the Danger Never Sleeps series. Book 2, Acceptable Risk, releases August 2020. For more about author Lynette Eason and her books, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Standoff, by Patricia Bradley

Standoff, by Patricia Bradley

Standoff, by Patricia Bradley (Revell, 2020)

Drug trafficking. Secrets. Murder. And romance. Standoff delivers all this and more.

Brooke Danvers is excited to follow her father John’s career path as a law enforcement ranger, but before she can be sworn in, John is found dead. Suddenly her childhood crush Luke Fereday is back on the scene, staying next door to her at his grandmother’s house. Luke can’t tell her that he’s working undercover to infiltrate the local drug ring—or that he blames himself for not being there to provide backup for John.

When the official verdict on John’s death is suicide, Brooke and Luke band together to prove it wrong and find the killer. Luke, meanwhile, is walking a dangerous line with the leader of the drug ring.

Luke’s grandmother, Daisy, has been a mentor to Brooke for years. I like her gentle support when Brooke is struggling with her father’s death:

“You may never get that answer,” she said softly. “But it’s okay to ask God why.” [Kindle location 1210]

As well as grief, suspense, romance, and faith, the novel also touches on identity and trust. And while readers know who some of the drug villains are, the identity of John’s murderer is a mystery for which there are a number of suspects.

I always enjoy Patricia Bradley’s novels. The suspense is strong but not overpowering and the characters’ relationships and their faith make them feel like real people.

The town of Natchez, Mississippi, and the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway are real places. The official US National Park site says the Parkway “roughly follows the ‘Old Natchez Trace,’ a historic travel corridor.” And “parkway” doesn’t just mean “highway”—the road goes through park land where people can bicycle, camp, etc.

The setting is a key part of the novel, and it’s well-rendered without that annoying travel-brochure feel that some authors give to real-life settings in their fiction. Still I wish I’d looked it up online first to have a better understanding. I think the word “trace” threw me off, because I’d never heard it applied to a road before.

Standoff is book 1 in Patricia Bradley’s new Natchez Park Rangers series. For more about the author and her books, visit ptbradley.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: A Legacy of Murder, by Connie Berry

A Legacy of Murder, by Connie Berry

A Legacy of Murder, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2019)

My new favourite mystery series!

A Legacy of Murder is one of those books I don’t want to end: a clean and satisfying mystery, an engaging protagonist, quiet humour, complicated characters, charming English-village setting, evocative description, food, family dynamics, romance … and the promise of more books to come.

American antiques expert Kate Hamilton has an eye for details and patterns that helps her notice clues. She’s in Suffolk, England, to visit her daughter, Christina, who’s interning at historic Finchley Hall. When another intern is found dead, Kate has more than curiosity prompting her to look for suspects—she wants to protect her daughter from becoming the next victim.

Kate’s other reason to visit the area is to see Detective Inspector Tom Mallory, who she met in Scotland in the previous book. Who’s she kidding, though? What chance does a trans-Atlantic romance have when both parties love their jobs and are rooted in their communities? Not to mention having family members who disapprove.

As much as I enjoyed the story and the characters, it’s the descriptive language that encouraged me to linger on each page. I want to write like Connie Berry when I grow up.

Some samples:

The scent of beeswax polish mingled with the mustiness of old wood, the dust of the ages, and a hint of mildew—an antique dealer’s perfume. [page 15]

His hair, shaved at the sides, fell in a mop over his eyes. He looked like someone who might bring a manual typewriter to a coffee shop for the effect. [page 22]

In a time when current cozy mysteries often feel like light snacks, A Legacy of Murder is a full-course meal. Highly recommended!

A Legacy of Murder is Book 2 in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series. For more about Connie Berry and her work, including book discussion questions, visit connieberry.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

Friendship, self-discovery, love, and a celebration of reading—and of independent bookstores.

Maddie Cullen had a knack for engaging with her customers and knowing the right book to suggest. When she died, she left envelopes for her two employees and her estranged niece. Each woman’s letter included a Bible passage and a list of books.

Madeline, her niece, inherited the store but doesn’t want to keep it. Claire and Janet, Maddie’s employees who supported her through her final days, wish the new owner would just let them carry on the business as usual. As the three women work together, each also reading the books Maddie’s letter “assigned,” they develop a strong friendship and each grow toward the potential Maddie had seen in them.

Each woman’s point of view is written in a different tense: first-person past, third-person past, and third-person present. I always find that sort of delivery jarring, and I confess I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. All three were a bit of a mess at first.

I’m glad I stuck with it, because it’s a heartwarming story. As it progressed I grew to care for each of them. And I wish I could visit the bookstore!

For more about Katherine Reay and her books, and for book club resources, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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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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