Tag Archives: book review

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.]

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.]

Review: The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton

The Dream of You, by Jo SaxtonThe Dream of You, by Jo Saxton (WaterBrook, 2018)

This book’s subtitle invites women to “let go of broken identities and live the life you were made for” – and if that calls to something inside you, you’ll find practical insights that make it worth the time to read and reflect.

The Dream of You is more than a collection of verses telling women how God sees us, although it does include Scripture. It’s more than a list of self-help steps to empower us. Part memoir, plus examples from present-day and Bible times, it’s an honest, sometimes unsettling, look at the damage done by circumstances and people – and it tracks author Jo Saxton’s personal fight to reclaim her identity as the woman God made her to be, for the purpose He intended.

A Nigerian raised in England and now living in the United States, Jo Saxton has something to say to all of us about the need – and the possibility – of rediscovering our true identities in a world that wants to define and limit us. Reading her story and those of others in the book showed me how sheltered I’ve been. Still, I found key points to sit with and apply.

The title could imply a self-indulgent book, warm and fuzzy. Don’t expect that. Instead, this is a valuable tool that can make a significant difference. It presents truth and hope, and each chapter has simple questions to ponder and act on. If you skim them on a first read, go back and dig into them on a second read. Don’t miss what God wants to say to you.

The book begins with a look at God. Knowing who He is – and thus whose we are – is foundational. In turning from what life has made us believe, we need to know the truth to turn to.

Then it addresses some of the things we may need to turn from. More than other books I’ve seen, it’s very direct about this being a process. A sometimes difficult process, with wilderness times when we expect an easy victory. Because the wilderness times are teaching times that God will use for our ultimate growth.

I love how it illustrates the ongoing battle to wield the truth of God’s Word against the lies we’ve internalized. Again, we look for a one-swing cut, but if the chains are solid-forged and wrapped in layers, it will take time to make them fall. Jo Saxton shows us how to do that.

Another strength of the book is that it doesn’t end with free, happy women basking in fulfilling lives like Disney princesses. It ends with the call to take the stories we’ve lived – and the Good News about Jesus giving us our true identity –to share with the people around us. Like the original disciples, we’re on mission for the rest of our lives.

For more about speaker and author Jo Saxton and her ministry, visit josaxton.com. For more about The Dream of You, including the book trailer and sample first chapter, visit josaxton.com/the-dream-of-you.

[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.]