Tag Archives: book review

Review: Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes

Book cover: Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes

Up From the Sea, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2019)

After I read Whose Waves These Are, I went looking for more fiction from Amanda Dykes and was excited to find two free ebook novellas.

One of those is Up From the Sea, a prequel novella for Whose Waves These Are. Reading it later let me enjoy recognizing details significant to the novel, which features the next generation. It also made me want to go back and read the novel again with this deeper understanding of the past.

Savannah Mae Thorpe was born and raised in Georgia, but after her parents’ deaths in 1925 the young woman returns to her mother’s family in coastal Maine. She doesn’t fit in with her aunt and uncle’s ways, nor with her cousins, although Cousin Mary used to be a good friend.

A local legend from the 1700s captures her imagination with a wild hope to save her inheritance. Local lumberjack Alastair Bliss agrees to help, but Savannah’s quest sounds more like a fairy tale than reality.

Favourite lines:

Lord, you created the dark just as you created the light. Help me find life there, and not fear. [Chapter 3]

“She was imagination itself.” It felt good to speak of her [Savannah’s mother] with laughter, to feel the jagged edges of grief gentled with fond memory. [Chapter 7]

Vague light seeped in through a window whose wavy glass dripped with time. [Chapter 7]

Amanda Dykes’ tag line is “spinning stories, gathering grace.” As well as the historical fiction Up From the Sea and Whose Waves These Are, she’s written the novella, Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, and one of the stories in The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: True Confections, by Ruth Hartzler

Book cover: True Confections, An Amish Cupcake Cozy Mystery, by Ruth Hartzler

True Confections, by Ruth Hartzler (Clean Wholesome Books, 2019)

Unexpectedly divorced, 50-year-old Jane Delight moves into the apartment above her twin sister Rebecca’s cupcake store near Pennsylvania Amish territory. Rebecca commutes daily by horse and buggy, but Jane has long since left their Amish ways behind (she does, however, still have a personal faith).

When an unpleasant customer collapses in Rebecca’s store and dies, Jane decides to divert suspicion from herself and her sister by finding the murderer. Some of the comedy that ensues is a bit over-the-top, like when Jane literally falls into the handsome detective’s arms, but it’s a light-hearted mystery after all.

Jane’s quirky roommates are part of what makes this book fun: 80-somethings Matilda and Eleanor Birtwistle and their mischievous cat.

The narrative has a distant feel and I did find it a slow start, especially since Jane’s ex-husband’s dialogue doesn’t match his role as a successful lawyer. Once he was out of the picture, the story started to work for me.

Another aspect of the story I enjoyed was the Amish/non-Amish (English) dynamic, with the perceptions of outsiders and their awkwardness of knowing quite how to treat Rebecca as an Amish woman.

True Confections is the first novel in the Amish Cupcake Cozy Mystery series. Ruth Hartzler writes cozy mysteries, Christian romantic suspense, and Amish romance. For more about the author and her work, visit ruthhartzler.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Book cover: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2019)

This is the most beautiful and heartwarming novel I’ve read in a long time. Satisfying. Peace-inducing and hope-whispering. Amanda Dykes writes with a gentle, lyrical quality that invites readers to linger in this tale and savour every page.

Annie Bliss and her great-uncle Bob (“GrandBob”) have shared a special bond since the summer she spent with him in coastal Maine as a child. Now his need calls her back to the struggling town of Ansel-by-the-Sea, away from the soul-drying big-city job where she’s been hiding.

The novel follows two timelines: Annie’s in the present and Bob’s in the past, weaving together to tell a story of great loss and greater hope. Of light in the darkness and faith in despair. Of breaking and mending.

The town and its inhabitants add a richness, evoking the best attributes of small fishing communities where the locals stand together, no matter what. 

See some of the evocative description:

There’s a strength in his stance, as if his feet are putting roots down into the very granite. [page 25]

The past uncoils like a fiddlehead fern, a tender ache with it. [page 81]

This part of Maine was a place like no other spot in the universe, and being back was like finding an old patch of sunlight in a long-lost home, and settling in. [page 86]

I won’t share my favourite line, because it’s too near the end. You’ll need to find it yourself. It’ll mean more to you that way.

I admit the present-tense narrative jarred me at times, but even with that, Whose Waves These Are has claimed a special place in my heart. I’m grateful for the experience.

Amanda Dykes’ tag line is “spinning stories, gathering grace.” Whose Waves These Are is her first novel, but readers may know her from her novella, Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, or from The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

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Review: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Book cover: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell, 2019)

When their widowed father announces that he’s sold the family home and bought an island off the coast of Maine, Cam Grayson and her sisters are afraid he’s losing his mind. Partly due to this fear and partly due to life circumstances, each of the women decide to spend some time with him on Three Sisters Island.

Their father, Paul, plans to renovate the rustic island camp where he first met his wife. He hopes the family project will draw his daughters closer together. In the beginning, this is a family who don’t listen to one another, who may work together but without sharing any depth of relationship.

The daughters are widely different in personality and goals. I feel they’re perhaps too much defined by their dominant traits, to the point I didn’t really connect with any of them. We have Cam the driven businesswoman, Maddie the counsellor-in-training who analyzes family members at every opportunity, and Blaine the 19-year-old who can’t decide on her future path.

Despite a bit of disconnect, I enjoyed the story. The setting is isolated and beautiful, and I enjoyed watching the camp restoration. There’s a nice romance between Cam and Seth, the island’s schoolteacher. Seth’s gentle conversations with Cam about faith are a good example of natural ways to engage with non-Christian friends in real life.

There are flashbacks sprinkled throughout the novel and I don’t think they added anything that wasn’t (or couldn’t have been) conveyed in straight story time. For me they were more of a distraction than a bonus. The bonus was watching the interaction between teacher Seth and Cam’s son Cooper.

Favourite lines:

The driveway unfurled in a lazy curl through strands of trees until it reached the clearing where the old house sat against a windbreak of pines. [page 69, Cam’s first sight of their father’s new house]

“It’s okay to start with a small faith. We’ve got a big God.” [page 220, Seth to Cam]

On a Summer Tide is book 1 in the Three Sisters Island series, and since Cam was the central sister in this story, I expect Maddie and Blaine will each be the heroine of their own book as the series continues.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a multi-published author of contemporary and historical novels. For more about the author and her work, visit suzannewoodsfisher.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

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Review: Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon

Book cover: Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon

Grace in Deep Waters, by Christine Dillon (Links in the Chain Press, 2019)

Should Blanche go home? But how can she resume life with her legalistic husband now that her growing faith conflicts with his dogma? And while he denies their shared grief over their daughter’s death?

William didn’t even go to the funeral. And he denies the existence of their other daughter, Rachel, who left home many years ago at 15.

Grace in Deep Waters is book 3 in the ongoing Grace series (there are more books to come). New readers can start here and not feel lost, but I’d recommend starting at the beginning with Grace in Strange Disguise.

The women in this series develop a faith that’s nothing like the showy façade William has drilled into them. When life circumstances hit—and hit hard—Esther, Rachel, and Blanche each discover a truer Christianity and make the hard choices to live for God’s honour instead of living to satisfy or defy William’s rules.

William is proud, self-centred, and unyielding. Author Christine Dillon does a fine job of letting readers into his head to understand him and develop enough compassion to hope he’ll change.

Part of the novel is his story: will he change or harden himself further? Can he change, even if he wants to?

Another part is a beautiful observation of Blanche, a fallible woman growing in her faith and trying to find a healthy way to grieve.

Is this a depressing novel? Not at all. It’s heartwarming, inspiring, and it can challenge us to prayerfully make better choices in our own lives.

Favourite lines:

She’d let fear bind her. What might life be like if she walked free? [Kindle location 288]

The kid turned around and gazed at  him with a piercing eye a high school principal would die for. [Kindle location 2159]

Anyone who thinks Christian fiction is light and fluffy or dry like a dusty sermon needs to read Christine Dillon’s Grace series. The faith message is strong and clear yet presented organically through the characters’ thoughts and decisions, leaving readers free to draw their own conclusions. The questions are real and deep.

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?” In Grace in Deep Waters, characters wrestle with grief, marital breakdown, and that contentious issue, submission.

As the characters wrestle, readers can wrestle, too. This isn’t a series that hands out easy answers. Discussion guides are available on the author’s website, for book clubs or individuals who want to dig deeper.

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.]

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Review: Touched by Eternity, by Susan Harris

Touched by Eternity, by Susan Harris (White Lily Press, 2019)

Book cover: Touched by Eternity (A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels) by Susan Harris

I was eager to read this book, since I’ve communicated enough with author Susan Harris to respect her Christian faith and her integrity. Despite the popularity of books recounting near-death experiences (NDEs) I’ve avoided them until now because I had no way to verify the writer’s trustworthiness.

Subtitled “A True Story of Heaven, Healing, and Angels,” Touched by Eternity is a memoir of the author’s three NDEs and related visions and how these events have shaped her life. A nonfiction author with an analytical mind, she relies heavily on details (including her hospital records and notes taken at the time) to anchor her personal experiences in as much fact as possible.

At the same time, the events themselves make the book as easy to read as a novel.

An experienced speaker, leader, and teacher, Susan Harris makes no claims to having touched Eternity by her own merit or strength. Instead, as one would expect with a near-death experience, her moments of greatest physical pain and weakness have been the gateways to the spiritual realm.

She writes with honesty about her personal failings and about her struggle to understand what happened and to accept the disappointment of tasting Heaven and then being returned to earthly life.

Christians can be uncomfortable discussing NDEs out of fear of drifting into heresy or false teachings. The Bible shows people being brought back from the dead, but we don’t get their testimonies of what they saw while they were gone.

I appreciate how Susan Harris finds biblical connections for many of her observations and how she’s careful to present her interpretations as her own and not as doctrine or fact. Her stated purpose in writing this book is to stimulate discussion, encourage the faith of Christians, and inspire non-Christians to seriously consider Jesus’ words about Heaven and Hell.

It’s interesting to read that in her research into other NDE accounts, she found similarities and yet differences, as if individuals were seeing part of a much-greater whole.  

Favourite line:

My whisper was hoarse, the broken kind He hears because He Himself had hung ragged on a rugged cross. [Kindle location 2284]

No matter how much or little pain we’ve endured, Touched by Eternity reminds us that it’s in our brokenness that we’re closest to God. It challenges us to take time alone with Him, to remember what He’s taught us in the past, and to obey anything He’s called us to in the present that we may have been neglecting. Our time on earth is limited, and we need to be about our Father’s business before that time runs out.

Other books by Susan Harris include Little Copper Pennies (a history of the Canadian one-cent piece) and Remarkably Ordinary. She currently hosts a television show called ETERNITY. For more about the author and her work, visit susanharris.ca.

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

Review: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Book cover: Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick

Far Side of the Sea, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2019)

Danny Martens, now a man, was an infant when his Mennonite parents fled the USSR to China in the 1930s. The refugees became farmers, then refugees again. At long last, they’re in a refugee camp in Germany—far from their promised destination in Oregon.

Far Side of the Sea is book 3 in the In Search of Freedom trilogy, beginning in 1951 and spanning 40 years to bring this multi-generational family saga to a satisfying conclusion.

I appreciate the characters, especially Rachel and Luise. Despite their many hardships, these two women live a sincere faith. They don’t deny the pain, but they choose to let it press them closer to their Saviour. Danny carries trauma he won’t share with them, and in his anger at God he bears it alone.

With this novel, we move from a foreign setting to the western US, and from the 1950s (which are still in the historical genre) to 1990, which is recent enough for me to remember. Readers with longer memories will enjoy recognizing nods to their past.

While you could enjoy this novel as a stand-alone, I recommend beginning with book 1, Other Side of the River. Take time to savour the Martens family’s full experience. As difficult as parts of their journey are, there are also moments of laughter. And some well-turned phrases.

Some of my favourite lines from this book:

As Rachel watched Luise from day to day, the older woman grew more tired, more worn. But then, they all felt weary after years of homelessness, persecution and fear, as though their souls were getting thin.

He didn’t even say amen, because now that he’d begun a conversation with God, he didn’t think the dialogue was over. [Danny, after a brief, desperate prayer for help.]

“A broken heart does not heal quickly, but it does mend enough to allow us to live again.” [Brigette, another favourite character, who doesn’t appear often.]

Historical novelist Janice L. Dick has also written Calm Before the Storm, Eye of the Storm, and Out of the Storm, a Mennonite historical series set during the Russian Revolution. For more about the author and her work, visit janicedick.wordpress.com.

[Note: I received an advance review copy from the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, by Heather Day Gilbert

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, an Exotic Pet-Sitter Mystery by Heather Day Gilbert

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, by Heather Day Gilbert (Lyrical Underground Books, 2019)

Fun start to a new series. Belinda Blake rents a carriage house on the luxurious Carrington estate, but she’s a casual country girl at heart. Her relaxed clothing and gamer tee-shirts don’t exactly match the designer shoes on the corpse she finds in the garden.

The Carringtons’ son, Stone the fifth, persuades Belinda to help him investigate because the dead woman was his friend. But is the charming heir using Belinda to hide his guilt?

Between the mystery, the challenges of pet-sitting a large tropical snake, and Belinda’s sense of humour, the pages fly past. And although this is a light-toned cozy mystery, there are some thoughtful observations of human nature. Nothing’s simple, and not much is as it seems.

The book includes a sneak peek at the second installment in the series. Belinda’s next pet-sitting assignment? Wolves. I’ll be in line to read it when it releases.

Heather Day Gilbert is an award-winning author of Viking historical fiction and contemporary suspense as well as the Belinda Blake, Exotic Pet Sitter cozy mystery series. For more about the author, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: Puzzle House, by Lillian Duncan

Puzzle House, A Novel of Healing and Hope, by Lillian Duncan

Puzzle House, by Lillian Duncan (Harbourlight Books, 2017)

Nia is a 15-year-old cancer patient whose doctors say there’s nothing more they can do. When her aunt drops her off at the Puzzle House, she’s angry and sick—and full of skepticism at the notion of God wanting to do anything good for her.

Over the course of a week’s stay, visitors are to complete a jigsaw puzzle boxed without a photo of the finished image. As Nia works on her puzzle and slowly warms to the other occupants of the house, her hostess, Rachel, shares her own story of the healing gift she received years earlier.

Puzzle House is a heart-warming novel about brokenness and healing—and how the healing doesn’t always look like we want it to. In places the dialogue feels a little stiff (never with Nia in the scene!) but it’s a feel-good read and it touches on some common themes.

I found this particularly relatable:

Guilt pressed on her. It wasn’t about her. It was about God. But it was so easy to forget that. Especially since she’d done such a spectacular job of humiliating herself. [chapter 8]

Lillian Duncan is better known for her suspense novels, but Puzzle House is a book from her heart. She has personal experience with the rare brain tumours Rachel lives with. For more about the author and her books, visit her Goodreads page.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Outbreak, by Davis Bunn

Outbreak, a novel by Davis Bunn

Outbreak, by Davis Bunn (Bethany House Publishers, 2019)

Epidemic? Plague? Whatever’s killing whole villages on Africa’s western coast seems connected to the changing sea currents and prevailing winds. Winds which, come hurricane season, will blow toward North America.

It’s not just certain African governments who want to keep this a secret at all costs. Someone in the US has enough power to bring the courts and the FBI—and a high-priced assassin—against the small team of Americans racing to develop a cure.

From the African continent to North America, Outbreak moves at Davis Bunn’s breakneck pace, immersing readers in danger and suspense while investing us in the lives of the main characters. The unlikely heroes are Theo Bishop, an economics professor and business-owner, Della Haverty, a journalist who’s infiltrated Bishop’s brother’s company with ulterior motives, and Avery Madison, a brilliant biologist catapulted out of his lab and into a danger zone.

A clean international thriller with threads of romance and faith, Outbreak is plausible enough to be frightening. In that sense, it reminds me of The Domino Effect, also by Davis Bunn (except where Outbreak deals with an environmental/medical risk, The Domino Effect is economic).

Davis Bunn is an incredibly prolific writer whose fiction spans multiple genres. He also writes as Thomas Locke. For more about the author and his work, visit DAVISBUNNBOOKS or see his page on Goodreads.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]