Category Archives: Fiction

Review: Roast Date, by Heather Day Gilbert

Roast Date, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

Macy Hatfield is a good friend and a good neighbour. So she can’t help but get involved to try to clear her neighbour Vera’s name after a woman is found dead in Vera’s home. Especially since there’s no family around to help… and Christmas is coming.

The Christmas activities fit into the story to add atmosphere without feeling tacked on like they do in some books. There are cookies, carols, presents, and a visit to a Christmas tree farm. It would be a good book to read any time of year, but I enjoyed reading it mid-December.

The Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series is perfect for readers who like a fun, clean read with engaging characters… and pets. The stories aren’t fluff, but neither are they deep and brooding. Adult siblings Macy and Bo make a good team—both in the café and in solving the mysteries that keep coming their way. And of course Coal, the gorgeous Great Dane pictured on all the book covers, is a treat in his own right.

I always enjoy a virtual trip to the Barks & Beans Café to discover what’s on the menu and to see the interaction with the shelter dogs. Macy’s friend Summer brings them for café patrons to visit and hopefully adopt.

Roast Date is book 7 in the series and I think it’s one of the best. New readers could begin here and not feel lost. Doing so would give some minor spoilers for earlier books.

It’s a good series to read from the beginning, though, as the characters’ relationships do develop and there’s a behind-the-scenes villain who shows up from time to time. (Each mystery is self-contained and fully solved at the end of each book.)

This one ends with a hint of trouble to come in book 8, Shade Grown, which will release in 2023.

Heather Day Gilbert’s books range from clean mainstream cozy mysteries to Christian romantic suspense to Viking historicals. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

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

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Review: The Christmas Hummingbird, by Davis Bunn

The Christmas Hummingbird, by Davis Bunn (Kensington Books, 2022)

Find out how a rescued hummingbird becomes a symbol of hope for a town on the brink of despair in this heartwarming, feel-good story with a thread of mystery and danger.

This Christmas, the fictional southern California town of Miramar Bay, ordinarily a haven, is under threat of sweeping wildfires. Wildfires which some clever thieves can use to their advantage. After all, if the evidence of break and entry burns up, who’s to say the stolen items didn’t burn too?

Stopping the thieves is personal for Ethan Lange, who barely escaped the fire with his life. And it’s one of many Christmas wishes for hard-edged police officer Ryan Eames, a single mom with a socially awkward son, Liam.

This is the backdrop for a sweet love story between two wounded souls—and a tale of friendship between Ethan the artist and eleven-year-old Liam with his secretive drawings.

The Christmas Hummingbird is book 7 in the Miramar Bay series, and while readers of previous books will recognize some of the other town residents each story stands alone with its own central characters.

Fans of Davis Bunn (and his pen name, Thomas Locke) know he writes in many genres from gentle stories like this one to thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction. While much of his work is overtly Christian fiction, some, like the Miramar Bay books, are not. They’re still clean reads.

[Review copy from the public library via Hoopla Digital.]

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Review: The Inn on Hanging Hill, by Christy Barritt

The Inn on Hanging Hill, by Christy Barritt

The Inn on Hanging Hill, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2021)

A dilapidated old inn. A painful past. A reunion of friends.

Childhood friends Lindsey and Benjamin haven’t seen each other since the night she was abducted and he was sent away to live with relatives. She doesn’t remember that two-week period of her life. He’s hiding secrets.

As they work to renovate the inn where Lindsey grew up, can they discover what really happened that night and somehow unlock her memory?

Between threats, unfriendly locals, a suspicious sheriff, and fallout from her disastrous former job, will they have the chance?

Set in a small Virginia town on the Chesapeake Bay, the novel is a quick read where nothing is as it seems. It’s a clean read with a thread of faith. The atmospheric old inn adds a suitably spooky touch.

The Inn on Hanging Hill is book 2 in the Beach House Mystery series but it reads well as a stand-alone. I haven’t read book 1, The Cottage on Ghost Lane, and I had no trouble finding my place in this one. They appear to have entirely different characters.

Christy Barritt has written over 70 books in a number of fast-paced romantic suspense series. Some are funny, some quirky, and some serious. For more about the author and her work, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

Book cover: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2022)

A stranger is found dead in the church yard—and he turns out to have a past connection with a local woman. When their mutual friends begin dying, can those deaths really be of natural causes? Meanwhile, Kate senses something fishy—and sinister—about a painting whose owners need to sell for quick cash.

I’ve been enjoying the Kate Hamilton mystery series, and book 4, The Shadow of Mystery, continues that trend. We have welcoming small British towns with just enough detail for atmosphere—and with plenty of good food for readers to savour vicariously.

In these books, the mystery comes first: cleverly plotted, clean, and with the present-day death somehow connected to secrets from one or more generations past.

The characters feel lifelike and come with personal and relational complications. These never overshadow the mystery, instead adding background flavour.

American Kate is an expert on antiques, currently assisting her English friend Ivor Tweedy (don’t you love his name?) with his shop, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Kate’s fiancé, Tom Mallory, is in British law enforcement. Once they set a date for the wedding they’ll need to decide which continent to call home. Kate and Tom have each lost a previous spouse and each have adult children. They each have a mother, too: Kate’s is a steadying source of advice, while Tom’s can’t accept him remarrying. Guess which one lives nearby?

We also have the elderly Vivian Bunn, with whom Kate currently boards, and the even older Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde living in the nearby manor house.

Readers can begin with this book with only mild spoilers for the previous ones, but I’d encourage you to start with book 1, A Dream of Death. You won’t regret it.

Despite the familiar and detailed way she writes British small town settings, Connie Berry is an American author based in Ohio. Check out her books at connieberry.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter, The Plot Thickens.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold (Revell, 2022)

Life-affirming, inspiring, and heartwarming, this novel pairs a young female reporter with an elderly woman at the end of her days. Clara Kip may be dying, and she may claim to be ordinary, but the “simple” acts of love and friendship that unfold from her past have changed hearts, impacted her city’s history, and saved lives. All because she dared to hold onto her Saviour and love those He allowed to cross her path.

What begins as a disciplinary assignment for Aidyn Kelley will upend and reshape her life and goals. What she discovers in Clara’s words will challenge readers as well.

Clara is the star of the story: feisty, faithful, fierce, and not at all prepared to lie down and let the cancer take her quietly. Instead, arriving at the hospice that she knows will be her final earthly home, she believes the Lord has work for her to do even in this place. [Spoiler: He does!]

This beautifully-crafted novel celebrates friendship, faith, sacrifice, love, endurance, laughter, human kindness, care for refugees, and much more. Definitely life-changing fiction and well worth the read. Expect to see it showing up in lots of “favourites” lists and literary awards.

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip is Sara Brunsvold’s debut novel. For more about the author, and to download a copy of “Mrs. Kip’s 8 Rules to Live By” (limited time offer) visit sarabrunsvold.com.

[Review copy from the public library via Hoopla.]

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Review: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

book cover: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd (2021)

If you love stories with interconnected threads drawing characters’ lives together at the end, this one’s for you. Especially if you love strong, evocative description and characters with heart.

The Last Piece begins in 1937 with a talented young artist forced to sell the portrait of his dead sweetheart to a jigsaw puzzle company. He does so with a prayer of sorts that the one-of-a-kind puzzle not be completed until he’s reunited with her.

What follow are a string of short stories from that date until 2017 where various people attempt the puzzle at key moments in their lives. If they don’t finish the puzzle, they do experience situations that shape their lives and memories. And in 2017 the mystery of the artist’s identity and the threads that join the characters find conclusion.

Terrie Todd writes settings so real you can taste the dust and feel the sun and the breeze. She’s an award-winning Canadian author of historical fiction, plays and short works as well as the nonfiction book, Out of My Mind: A Decade of Faith and Humour. For more about the author, visit her blog  terrietodd.blogspot.com or her Goodreads page.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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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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