Category Archives: Reviews

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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Picks from 2019

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 91 books in 2019. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books I’ve most enjoyed last year. Some were produced in 2019, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2019:

Book of the year: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Christian living: The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, by Charles Stanley

Contemporary novel: As the Light Fades, by Catherine West

Fantasy novel: Wayfarer, by K.M Weiland

Historical Novel: The End of the Magi, by Patrick W. Carr

Mystery/suspense novel: A Better Man, by Louise Penny

Science fiction novel: Thrawn: Treason, by Timothy Zahn

Review: Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar

Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar

Bring Each Other Home, by Angelina Fast-Vlaar (Word Alive Press, 2019)

Subtitled “A Caregiver’s Journey,” Bring Each Other Home is a book for everyone. Most, if not all of us, will have someone in our circle of acquaintance who’ll deal with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

While Angelina and Joe’s story is their own, the experiences she shares can make readers more sensitive to the needs of both caregiver and patient. Let us not be people who add more hurt by disbelieving, blaming, or judging caregivers if we don’t see in a brief encounter what they see in 24/7 care. Nor let us add hurt by avoiding the dementia sufferer.

Readers who are caregivers will find strength in knowing their struggles are not unique, and will be encouraged to reach out to support groups and healthcare professionals for much-needed help. [Note: caregivers new to this role and still dealing with the rawness of it all may not be ready to read this book just yet.]

Favourite lines:

“This is my child. I love him dearly. He has walked with me a long, long time. I need for you to walk with him the rest of the way.” [The author’s impression of God speaking to her, p. 76]

…gradually we began to see the treasures God always tucks into the dark places He guides us through. [p 110-111]

Angelina Fast-Vlaar writes with honesty and poignancy of the long, slow loss of her beloved husband, Joe. The narrative is interspersed with poetry and restful black-and-white photos. It’s a sad story, but one of love, faith, and persistence.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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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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Review: Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

In Smoke Screen, Terri Blackstock gives us a novel of second chances, romance, faith—and mystery. It’s not a high-suspense story, but the emotional tension will keep readers turning pages.

Nate’s father has spent 14 years in prison for the murder of Brenna’s father, all the while claiming he’s innocent. If he is, then there’s a killer in town. Nate himself, now a smoke jumping firefighter, is thought by many to be responsible for burning down the dead man’s church. Even his father thinks he did it—but he didn’t. So who did?

Brenna and Nate were childhood sweethearts until tragedy scarred both their families. Now Brenna’s in a losing battle for custody of her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman. Her children are her life. When they’re gone on the weekend, not even alcohol can numb the pain.

What I appreciated most about the story is the compassionate and honest portrayal of a Christian struggling with drinking. It happens, and as in Brenna’s case, the faith aspect can increase the shame and guilt. I hope her example can bring hope to others who fight this battle in real life.

For more about the book and about New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock, visit terriblackstock.com.

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

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