Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Baggage Handler, by David Rawlings

The Baggage Handler, a novel, by David Rawlings

The Baggage Handler, by David Rawlings (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

Three people under pressure. Three identical black-with-red-tags suitcases. One airport baggage carousel.

Here’s the official description:

When three people take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, their lives change forever. 

A hothead businessman coming to the city for a showdown meeting to save his job.

A mother of three hoping to survive the days at her sister’s house before her niece’s wedding.

And a young artist pursuing his father’s dream so he can keep his own alive.

When David, Gillian, and Michael each take the wrong suitcase from baggage claim, the airline directs them to retrieve their bags at a mysterious facility in a deserted part of the city. There they meet the enigmatic Baggage Handler, who shows them there is more in their baggage than what they have packed, and carrying it with them is slowing them down in ways they can’t imagine. And they must deal with it before they can leave.

In this modern-day parable about the burdens that weigh us down, David Rawlings issues an inspiring invitation to lighten the load.


[via the Thomas Nelson website]

My thoughts:

This gift-book-sized hardcover novel is an engaging read that’s sure to keep readers thinking long after they’ve reached the end. Most of us will relate to one of the three situations, and likely we’ll recognize a few people other than ourselves. If we can come away from the story inspired to “hand over” some of our personal baggage, we’ve gained more than the pleasure of a good tale.

Chapters alternate between David, Gillian, and Michael as they follow the same path of attempting to retrieve their baggage and discovering what’s weighing them down. Because of the parable-like nature of the story, the ending can’t be as happy as I’d like, but it’s a satisfying ending.

The book is published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publisher, and written by a Christian author, but the message and worldview is subtle. Who exactly is The Baggage Handler? An angel? Jesus? Because it’s not stated, this is a book that can also cross into the hands of non-faith readers who also have baggage to unload.

The Baggage Handler is an excellent debut novel from Australian author David Rawlings. Look for his next release, The Camera Never Lies, in December 2019. For more about the author and his work, visit davidrawlings.com.au.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Romeo’s Rules, by James Scott Bell

Romeo's Rules, A Mike Romeo Thriller by James Scott Bell

Romeo’s Rules, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press, 2015)

Mike Romeo is an former cage fighter trying to stay off the radar in Los Angeles—until he comes to the rescue of an attractive woman whose children are missing after a church bombing. Helping Natalia gains him some powerful—and violent—enemies, but Mike is not one to back down.

This is a noir-feel thriller, fairly clean but so violent in a couple of places that I skipped some pages. That said, it’s written with a pleasing dry humour. And Mike and his wheelchair-bound Rabbi friend Ira (a former Mossad agent) are seriously impressive in their skill sets.

Although this is a mainstream novel, the author’s Christian worldview comes through in a few places, never in a preachy way. The hero, Mike, is prone to highly intellectual philosophizing—often right before he has to lay somebody out. And violent as he can be toward criminals, he’s outspoken against domestic abuse.

Romeo’s Rules is the first in the Mike Romeo Thriller series. At the half-way mark (the bit I skipped) I thought it’d be the only one I could read, but after that scene it was manageable and I hope to read book 2, Romeo’s Way.

James Scott Bell also writes legal thrillers (including a few with zombie lawyers) and he’s a respected author of books on the craft of fiction writing. For more about the author and his work, visit jamesscottbell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Exile, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Exile: The Oneness Cycle, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Exile, by Rachel Starr Thomson (Little Dozen Press, 2013)

On a stormy sea, fishing buddies Tyler and Chris discover a young woman in their net. As if that’s not startling enough, once she’s dry and recovering in their cottage, they hear a window break and rush to find her holding a sword and claiming to have killed a demon. On the floor lies a dead bat, but Chris is sure he saw something larger before it shrank.

So opens Exile, book 1 in The Oneness Cycle. The young woman, Reese, has been exiled from her group of believers. That shouldn’t be possible, but it happened and the grief is almost more than she can handle. The sword shouldn’t be possible for an exile, but it appeared in her hand when needed.

The Oneness is “one of three spiritual forces” (Kindle location 167) in the world, with the other two being angels and demons. Members of the Oneness look like ordinary people, but they are variously-gifted spiritual warriors holding the world together.

Exile is a gripping urban fantasy novel of spiritual warfare suitable for adults and young adults. As well as enjoying the read, I was encouraged by Reese’s and April’s challenge to persevere in the darkness instead of giving in to despair. That’s an example I can bring into real-life situations.

Favourite line:

“I don’t pray to get around the plan; I pray to be part of it.” ~Richard, a prayer warrior. [Kindle location 1175]

Exile is free in ebook format from major retailers. Rachel Starr Thomson writes Christian fantasy novels and has also recently released the writing memoir, Left Turn to the Promised Land. For more about the author and her (many) books, visit rachelstarrthomson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas | biography

Bonhoeffer, by Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson, 2010)

Subtitled “Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy,”
Bonhoeffer traces the shaping of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts and life from childhood until his execution in 1945 as an enemy of the Third Reich.

This interesting and educational account is scholarly enough for academics yet accessible to the average reader. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was highly intelligent as well as intensely committed to living out his faith. Some of the quotes from his writings, shared to illustrate the progression of his understanding of his calling, are more intellectual than I easily digest, but others are practical enough for all.

Watching Bonhoeffer’s perspective on Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and subsequent destruction of the German nation helps readers understand the times. It reveals how this man, a committed Christian and a conscientious objector to fighting in the German army, could feel compelled to be part of a plot to kill Hitler.

Bonhoeffer’s observations of the German church (and the American church) troubled him. “What is the church?” (as in what is the church supposed to be) was his life-long question. To him, it involved listening to God and obeying Him in full trust and submission. His part in the church came to mean working to end the injustices inflicted on the Jews, the handicapped, and those who opposed Hitler’s evil ways.

The description of the “well-meaning Christians in Germany” raised troubling parallels in the present day:

They were convinced that if they bent their theology a bit, it wouldn’t matter—the results would be all right in the end. Many of them honestly believed that under Hitler the opportunities for evangelism would increase. [p. 155-156]

At times I felt the writing was overly complex:

Public figures eager to curry favor with the increasingly popular dictator would outdo each other in contorted calisthenics of sycophancy. [p. 307]

At other times, I appreciated the chance to laugh:

Indeed, for two days the British engaged in diplomatic back and forth, but at some point someone lent Chamberlain a vertebra, for against Hitler’s calculations, on Sunday, Great Britain declared war. [p. 348]

Perhaps what impacted me most was a quote from Bonhoeffer about grief:

Where God tears great gaps we should not try to fill them with human words. They should remain open. Our only comfort is the God of the resurrection, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who also was and is his God. [p. 349]

Thought-provoking discussion questions offer readers the chance to process what they’ve read—and to apply it to the times in which they live.

The book was published to honour the 65th anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s death and went on to become a New York Times bestseller. Eric Metaxas has written biographies of other Christian figures as well as other books, including over 30 books for children. For more about the author, visit ericmetaxas.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah

The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah | Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot

The Mystery of Three Quarters, by Sophie Hannah (HarperCollins, 2018)

Sophie Hannah does a fantastic job writing further adventures for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. The Mystery of Three Quarters is her third, and I think it’s the best yet.

Poirot feels true to life (true to fictional life?). In these novels his Scotland Yard contact is Edward Catchpole, and neither Inspector Japp nor Hastings appear. Nor Miss Lemon. I don’t recall where the stories fall in the overall Poirot timeline.

The Mystery of Three Quarters is a satisfying mystery with sprinkles of humour, and I enjoyed watching Poirot untangle the mystery which began with four letters accusing the recipients of murder—and falsely signed “Hercule Poirot”.

Sophie Hannah is an internationally-bestselling author of crime fiction including three Poirot novels. For more about the author and her work, visit sophiehannah.com. For all things Agatha Christie, including games, visit agathachristie.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland

Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland

Wayfarer, by K.M. Weiland (PenForASword Publishing, 2018)

Wayfarer is a satisfyingly long and richly-crafted novel that takes readers from the open country to the dark heart of a London slum, from ornate mansions to Marshalsea Prison. Danger abounds, the stakes are overwhelming, yet there are glimpses of loyalty, love, and even a bit of humour.

Favourite line (as Will is about to jump into the midst of a crowd he needs to impress):

Falling just now, screaming in pain, would probably fail to inspire these good people.

This is a clean read, if grim in places. I’m pleased to see the ending leave room for a sequel.

For more about K.M. Weiland and her novels, visit kmweiland.com. Writers are encouraged to visit her teaching site, Helping Writers Become Authors.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Picks from 2018

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 99 books in 2018. And that’s not counting Bible reading. Here are the books (and new-to-me music) that I’ve most enjoyed this year. Some were produced in 2018, some previously. Pop a note into the comments with your own favourites?

My top picks from 2018:

Book of the year: Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson (epic fantasy)

Christian living: The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton

Contemporary novel: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Fantasy novel: The Wounded Shadow, by Patrick W. Carr

Favourites revisited: The full “Cobra” series, all 9 books, by Timothy Zahn

Mystery/suspense novel: Guilty Blood, by Rick Acker

Science Fiction novel: Skyward, by Brandon Sanderson. Also notable: For Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa, Cold Welcome, by Elizabeth Moon, and Thrawn: Alliances, by Timothy Zahn

Series of the year: I’m liking the new Smithwell Fairies cozy mystery series from Karin Kaufman

Surprisingly fun: The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White

Thriller:  Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell (techno-thriller)

New-to-me songs that blessed me most: “Living Hope,” by Phil Wickham, “Who You Say I Am” by Hillsong Worship, and “You Say” by Lauren Daigle… And “Even If,” by Mercy Me. Wow.

Review: The Advent of Christmas, CD by Matt Maher

The Advent of Christmas, by Matt Maher

The Advent of Christmas, by Matt Maher (Essence Records, 2018)

This new Christmas album from Matt Maher mixes songs of worship with others that are just plain fun. Christmas, after all, is a time for both.

I love this album and would put it in my top three for Christmas. The musical styles are diverse, so don’t sample one or two tracks and think you have a feel for it all.

A bit about the songs:

  • “Gabriel’s Message” leads off, slow and haunting.
  • “He Shall Reign Forevermore” melds the traditional hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” with a new chorus and tune. It’s beautiful, and you may be singing it in your church this season. One of my three favourites on this album.
  • “Born on that Day” is a new one, with a soft rock feel. It’s my new favourite Christmas song.
  • “Jingle Bells” has a jazz/swing feel in a Michael Bublé style. This is a song I usually ignore, but not this time!
  • “The First Noel” is another song I wouldn’t ordinarily pick, because usually it feels like it drags on and on… Not this time. A new chorus replaces the endless “Noel, Noel” and I like it. It’s slow, gentle, reflective.
  • “Hope for Everyone” has a simple rhythm and repetition that makes me think of a campfire song.
  • “Glory (Let there be Peace)” is the first to encourage us “do not be afraid”.
  • “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a song I always like, despite its minor key. This version includes a new chorus of hope and encouragement.
  • “Always Carry You” (featuring Amy Grant). Okay, this one’s going on my playlist year-round, and has become very special to me. It’s another “do not be afraid” song, reflective in nature, and although it comes from the perspective of Mary later in life looking back at Jesus’ birth, it’s a song worshippers can make our own.
  • “Love Came Down to Bethlehem” is meditative and reflective.
  • “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” has a new chorus and a driving beat. You may hear it on Christian radio.
  • “Little Merry Christmas” is straight-out kitchen party, complete with some clever lyrics. This one might get you dancing.
  • “When I Think of Christmas” ends the album on a softer, nostalgic note.

The Advent of Christmas is available for download through the usual stores, and as a physical cd as well. Every track carries its weight well and contributes to the whole, so don’t short-change yourself by only buying a few pieces.

Award-winning singer/songwriter Matt Maher has also released a children’s book with the same title. You can see more about the book here: goodreads.com/book/show/41785402-the-advent-of-christmas. For more about Matt Maher, visit mattmahermusic.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley

Deadly Noel, by Margaret Daley | Christmas fiction, romantic suspenseDeadly Noel, by Margaret Daley (2015)

Assistant D.A. Kira Davis blames herself for the wrongful conviction of Gabriel Michaels in his wife’s murder. She was sure he was guilty, as were most members of the local law enforcement, but hindsight says she was wrong. Not that the police chief is willing to admit Gabriel is innocent.

Gabriel’s been released because the killing didn’t stop when he went to prison. Now he’s trying to rebuild life with his daughter and keep her out of his controlling mother-in-law’s clutches. He wants nothing to do with Kira, but when someone shoots at her on his property, his protective nature kicks in.

Kira and Gabriel team up to catch the killer before anyone else dies.

Deadly Noel is part of Margaret Daley’s Strong Women, Extraordinary Situations series, and it’s a tightly-woven romantic suspense set in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays.

Margaret Daley is a multi-published romantic suspense author. For more about her and her books, visit margaretdaley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Incense Road, by Tracy Higley

The Incense Road by Tracy Higley | Christmas fiction, historical fiction, Christian fictionThe Incense Road, by Tracy Higley (StoneWater Press, 2015)

This ebook bundles Star of Wonder, Star of Night, and Royal Beauty into one, and it’s the best way to read the three novellas because they don’t stand alone well. Together, they form a sweeping and engaging historical tale of intrigue, romance, and spiritual warfare as a caravan of mages set out on a quest for a rumoured object of power, their way lit by a mysterious star.

The three central characters are Misha (a mage who rejects his Jewish heritage), Reza (a general who’d rather be a scholar), and Kamillah (an Egyptian princess sent to learn from the mages).

Their adventures drive them to trust one another and to discover truths about themselves – and about the true source of power.

I enjoyed the voice, the characters, and the pacing of the story, as well as the exotic setting.

The Incense Road collection takes place after the novel The Queen’s Handmaid, and some characters reappear. I hadn’t read the first novel and had no trouble following the plot.

Tracy Higley writes fiction set in the ancient past and has travelled extensively in her research. For more about the author and her books, or to check out her travel blog, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]