Category Archives: Fiction

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.]

Review: Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell

Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell Nanostealth Book 1Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell (Faith-Filled Fiction, 2015)

Gemma Keyes tells readers her story in first person, as she writes an account of what happened one fateful day in her physicist friend’s secret lab. She’s funny, direct, and sometimes speaks directly to the reader.

She’ll tell you why she’s in hiding and who’s chasing her. She’ll explain enough of the nanotechnology (microscopic bits like computer chips, if I understand) but she’ll reassure you it’s okay if you don’t get it. She doesn’t get it, herself. She was simply the scientist’s assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or in the right place at the right time, to keep his creation from being stolen by a corrupt general.

As well as being a fast-paced techno-thriller, delivered with strong, fresh description and the aforementioned humour, this is a story with heart and with a thread of faith. There’s more going on with the 10-year-old neighbour boy than Gemma wants to see and there’s a friendly pastor with a criminal past who could be more than a friend… if he wasn’t a Christian, and if Gemma’s life wasn’t in danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. The mix of heart, faith, and action made the characters real to me. And since the story’s set in present-day Albuquerque, it’s only the science that’s a stretch from the real world. Otherwise, it’s just a corrupt-military-official-out-to-destroy-innocent-civilian-with-a-secret story.

Vikki Kestell writes faith-filled fiction—the 4-book Nanostealth series and a number of historical novels. Stealthy Steps is free in ebook format from most online stores, and if this is your type of story, I heartily recommend it. For more about the author and her work, visit vikkikestell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: When a Secret Kills, by Lynette Eason

When A Secret Kills, by Lynette EasonWhen a Secret Kills, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2013)

Three friends, separated the night of their high school graduation. Alexia left town as planned, to escape her troubled home life. Serena went on to university. Jillian fled, terrified by something she’d witnessed—a secret that could still kill her ten years later.

In fact, the danger’s mounting. Her enemies have discovered her new identity. She can’t let them find out about her daughter.

Jillian returns to her hometown to find the evidence needed to convict a prominent citizen of murder. Finding that evidence will mean working with Colton Brady, nephew of the murderer. Colton is also her former boyfriend, hurt that she didn’t say goodbye, and unaware that he has a daughter.

This is another fast-paced read to complete the series, and it delivers some satisfying twists.

When a Secret Kills is book 3 in the Deadly Reunions series, and while each one can be read as a stand-alone, there are spoilers for the previous books so they’re best read in order.

Lynette Eason is a multi-published author and a trusted name in Christian suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: When a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason

When a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason. Deadly Reunions book 2. #Christianfiction #romanticsuspenseWhen a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2012)

Work becomes personal for Medical Examiner Serena Hopkins when she realizes the victims of a copycat serial killer are all members of her high school graduating class. Tension grows as the killer (or killers) seem to be stalking Serena herself.

Meanwhile, she’s also being targeted by someone who wants documents she’s been entrusted with by her friend Jillian, who vanished at graduation after witnessing something too terrifying to share with her friends.

Serena must work with the local police—and with high school crush, FBI agent Dominic Allen—to find clues to end this new string of deaths.

When a Heart Stops is book 2 in the Deadly Reunions series, and it’s another strong read. Because the crimes in this book are more disturbing (although not graphic), I found parts of it harder to read. As in book 1, When the Smoke Clears, this is a stand-alone novel that also points toward the mystery of why Jillian disappeared.

Lynette Eason is a multi-published author and a trusted name in Christian suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson #Christianfiction #fantasyWorlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson (Little Dozen Press, 2007)

A richly-imagined fantasy set in a vaguely British Isles world, in a time where the weapons are sword and spears, and transportation is by horse, boat, or train.

Maggie Sheffield’s world is upended when she takes on a simple quest that makes her a target for evil beyond her imagination. Along the way, she befriends a boy who can hear what animals say, meets Gypsies and revolutionaries, and learns that there’s more to see than the world around her.

Maggie’s world is the Seventh World, and the other worlds seem to be spiritual realms. There are various types of spirits, some good, some evil. Ruler of all is the King, who loves humans greatly and who left the Seventh World when human rebellion broke His heart. But promise and prophecy say He will return.

Framing Maggie’s adventures are occasional entries from an ancient book written by one who calls himself the Poet, the Prophet. He remained behind when the other spiritual beings left, to leave a record for those whose hearts would one day seek the truth.

On one level, this is a classic fantasy with an oppressive regime and a handful of humans who want a better way. On another, it’s a spiritual allegory I found encouraging for living in my own world, where the key to courage is to remember the King and trust Him.

Worlds Unseen is a clean read with a bit of a C.S. Lewis feel, and although the evil beings and deeds are dark, the author doesn’t stray from fantasy into horror. This is a book both adults and young adults can enjoy. Highly recommended!

The novel is book 1 in the Seventh World series. It’s free in ebook form (also available in print), and well worth reading. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Rachel Starr Thomson writes both fiction and non-fiction, both from a Christian perspective. She’s also a speaker. For more about the author and her work, visit rachelstarrthomson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dying to Remember, by Karin Kaufman

Dying to Remember, A Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery by Karen KaufmanDying to Remember (Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery #1), by Karin Kaufman (2018)

Smithwell, Maine. An ordinary town in an ordinary New England state. On her 50th birthday, newly-widowed Kate Brewer is feeling her ordinariness and wishing there was something – just a little bit – more to life.

But when she encounters a fairy, she’s terrified. Fairies don’t exist outside of folklore. Is she losing her mind?

When a neighbour is killed, Kate and her best friend, Emily, are sure it’s linked to a previous murder in the town. Not trusting the police, they start investigating on their own. The fairy, Minette, insists on helping Kate while keeping her presence hidden from everyone else.

I enjoyed the mystery, the characters, and the descriptions of the people – including the fairy – and their small town. I also thought it was a neat touch that Minette sees herself as created by God (years ago) and sent by Him (now) to help Kate with this investigation. Kate, a church-goer, rejects the idea that God would send anyone – especially a fairy – to do anything in her life. I’m curious to see how Kate and Minette’s relationship will develop over the series, and if Emily will ever meet Minette.

Tea and chocolate aficionados will find other details to appreciate in the book. It’s a quick read, at 129 pages. Book 2, A Fatal Fall, is coming soon.

Karin Kaufman is the author of the Juniper Grove mystery series and the Anna Denning mysteries. Dying to Remember is book 1 in her new Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery series. I’m looking forward to reading more. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié

The Lord's My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, two mysteries by Debbie Viguie | Psalm 23 Mysteries book 1 and 2 #cleanreads
The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié (Abingdon Press, 2013)

The Psalm 23 Mysteries series has 15 books, including one that released this year, and I expect there’ll be more. The titles haven’t finished the psalm yet.

These are cozy mysteries featuring church secretary Cindy Preston and her unlikely partner in amateur sleuthing, Rabbi Jeremiah Silverman from the synagogue next door to the church.

I found the first two as an ebook bundle. They’re clean reads, and treat both the Christian and Jewish faiths with respect. One of the neat side-lights in book 1 was learning more about Passover preparations from Jeremiah.

Thanks to her mother and to the loss of her sister as a child, Cindy’s strongest motivators as the series opens seem to be safety and appearances. Of the two characters, Jeremiah is more in touch with his spiritual side and more likely to think about how God might relate to his circumstances.

By book 2 Cindy is beginning to discover glimpses of her own strength and identity, and Jeremiah’s letting readers know he has dubious skill sets from his past that aren’t what his congregation would expect.

Seeing these progressions motivates me to read further into the series. I confess at first I wasn’t sure. When there are Christians in a novel, I like them to share with me on a spiritual level. Not necessarily anything deeply theological or sermon-like, but a connection that encourages my own faith walk. Cindy, though, is a Christian who doesn’t think much about her faith, so there’s not much connection there—at least yet.

In The Lord’s My Shepherd, a serial killer arranges his victims in parodies of various scenes from the week leading up to Easter. In I Shall Not Want, someone’s killing people and stealing their dogs—even from homeless people. I appreciated the advice—and the challenge—one of the homeless characters gives about treating the homeless with respect.

It does take a stretch of the imagination to accept all the details involved in the first book’s plot, especially that the killer could find the appropriate situations with characters whose names also match his plan.

But both stories flow quickly, with action and banter and a surprisingly light touch, given the high body count.

Debbie Viguié is a New York Times bestselling author, and while most of the other books on her website look like fairly dark mainstream fantasies, the Psalm 23 series does come from a Christian publisher. For more about the author and her books, visit debbieviguie.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt

Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt | Lantern Beach mysteries book 1 #cleanreadsHidden Currents, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2018)

Alias: Cassidy Livingston.
Occupation: operating a mobile ice cream truck.
Goal: stay incognito.

A detective with a price on her head must hide out in the small seacoast community of Lantern Beach until the gang leaders who want her dead go to trial.

The problem is, when a body washes up on shore Cassidy’s not at all convinced the local police will arrest the right person. She should stay out of it, but somehow she can’t.

Then there’s her antagonistic-yet-handsome neighbour, Ty Chambers, who she shouldn’t be noticing because she has a boyfriend at home.

As well as the murder mystery, which is solved by the end of the book, there are other undercurrents of trouble in Lantern Beach, plus Cassidy’s ongoing fear of being found by the gang. Vignettes of her past suggest some of the people in her life are not who she thinks they are—or maybe I’m just imagining trouble.

This is a clean read, not specifically Christian fiction, although Ty and his friends met through a Bible study. Cassidy doesn’t seem to be a person of faith, but she often quotes inspirational lines to herself and eventually notices that the ones she likes best come from the Bible. So, who knows how this will develop as the series progresses?

Christy Barritt is a prolific author of romantic suspense, often with quirky characters. Hidden Currents is book 1 in her six-book Lantern Beach Mysteries series. For more about the author and her books, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon | Christian fiction, Australia, Bible storytelling, cancer, family
Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon (2018)

Author Christine Dillon’s fiction tackles some of the hard issues that Christians face in the real world. In Grace in Strange Disguise, the challenge was “what happens when the prayer of faith doesn’t heal?” In Grace in the Shadows, it’s “how—and why—would God love me, after what I’ve done?”

Book one’s Esther believed her faith wasn’t good enough, and book two’s Rachel believes she isn’t good enough. They both must overcome negative father influences and false ideas of who God really is.

Readers of book one will be glad to see Esther and her family again. Grace in the Shadows is Rachel’s story, but Esther has plenty of point-of-view time as well.

Rachel is resisting God’s call, while Esther, who’s been growing in faith, comes face-to-face with the realization that she needs to re-learn some of the lessons He’s already walked her through. Isn’t that typical of most Christians in our spiritual lives?

What keeps the Grace books from feeling preachy is that the conversations about God and faith are natural to the characters and their struggles. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on real people who are working these things through in their lives. Here are some of the lines that resonated with me:

“God loves to take the worst things and bring good out of them.” [Naomi, Kindle location 202]

Esther always wanted to rush in and explain, but Joy kept saying, “Use questions, not explanations.” [Kindle location 856]

“Your mistakes can’t derail God’s plans. You and I aren’t big enough to do that.” [Naomi, Kindle location 1801]

I didn’t engage as fully in this story as in the previous one, but I attribute that to the different subject and to having already encountered the Bible storytelling theme in book one. There is perhaps a storyteller voice to the narrative, instead of the deeper point of view that’s common these days, and this can make it easier to maintain a bit of reader distance. Yet the novel is well-executed, and the characters’ experiences are worthy of our time and can encourage us in our own daily lives.

And the ending is beautiful.

Christine Dillon is a missionary whose tag-line is “multiplying disciples one story at a time,” and the author of the Grace fiction series. She has also written non-fiction books about the Bible storytelling approach. For more about the author, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Asrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler

Asrian Skies, by Anne WheelerAsrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler (2017)

Avery Rendon needed special permission to leave her home planet, Asria, to join the interplanetary Commonwealth forces as a pilot. Asria’s government has many restrictions, especially for a member of the royal family. Add to that her doubts about her culture’s faith, and she’s happier elsewhere.

Naturally she finds herself back on Asria, embroiled in all she wanted to escape—and then things get worse. When Asria is invaded, she must do her part to fight the oppressors without pushing them far enough to kill her.

Interacting with those she trusts—and those she doesn’t—not only shapes her as a leader but it makes her take a second look at faith.

Asrian Skies is well-crafted, with unexpected twists and reversals. It’s a bit heavier in places than I’m used to (the planet is under occupation by a brutal enemy after all) but it’s not graphic.

Anne Wheeler writes character-driven Christian science fiction. The sequel to Asrian Skies, Unbroken Fire, is now out. For more about the author and her books, visit anne-wheeler.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]