Christmas Eve is fast approaching, and the wedding guests are arriving any day. American antiques expert Kate Hamilton is set to marry her British detective fiancé, Tom Mallory, in a carefully-organized wedding in a quaint English village.
What could possibly go wrong?
If you guessed flight delays, wardrobe issues, and last-minute schedule changes, you’d be right. And of course Tom’s mother’s continued disapproval of Kate as a future daughter-in-law.
But this is a mystery series. And this time, the mystery is too close to Kate’s heart. Neither she nor Tom could bear to leave on their honeymoon without seeing it resolved.
Readers will enjoy a novella-length visit to the village of Long Barstow and the regular cast of characters. Those familiar with the series will recognize some visitors from previous books. If you’re new to the series, you can start here and not feel out of place. But it’s worth starting with book 1, A Dream of Death, and following the series from the beginning.
Each Kate Hamilton Mystery is a contemporary story with connections to the past.
Mistletoe and Murder is book 4.5 in the series. To learn about author Connie Berry and her books, or to sign up for her newsletter and receive a free short story, visit connieberry.com.
[Review copy from the public library via the Hoopla Digital app.]
The best memoirs let us experience something of the writer’s world but also invite us to apply some of the life lessons to our own hearts, however different our circumstances.
Risking Rest is a memoir in two parts, linked by the imagery of pregnancy and birth from Dr. Carolyn Watts’ obstetrics training. The first two-thirds of the book revisit her brief years serving in a medical mission to Afghanistan’s “hidden women” in a remote village. A sensitive soul with an as-yet-undiagnosed illness that taxed her body, she nonetheless proved wrong the assessing psychologist’s declaration that she’d never make it—never make meaningful connections there.
For North Americans, this glimpse into the harsh beauty of rural Afghanistan and its courageous women will help us better appreciate the needs. And it helps us see some of what these women have since lost under the restrictive Taliban regime.
For non-medical readers, the narrative of serving 24/7 with never enough staff—or heat!—and while working in a language not their own is the stuff of heroes. But Carolyn Watts is quick to deny the heroic—they served because the need was great, even when exhaustion wore their compassion thin and government officials threatened to shut them down.
In the middle of this intense season, Carolyn wrestled with Jesus’ invitation to rest: “How did ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light’ mesh with words about taking up your cross and sharing in Christ’s sufferings? [Page 128]”
She describes feeling a strong call from God to this part of Afghanistan, and that call kept her focused through the hard times—until her deteriorating health brought her back to Canada.
Enter part two of the memoir, learning to let go of the first calling—to focus on the One who gave the call and who was now giving a new call: to be cradled in His love and to learn that weakness could be a gift.
When the outward things that define you are stripped away, who are you?
…the One who brings life into being in us, tending it gently and with great skill, is little worried about the mess of the process. [Page 12]
Cling not to the call but to the One who called. [Page 166]
There are times grace hurts. [Page 167]
Risking Rest is a transparently vulnerable account of one Christian’s lifelong desire to grow closer to God. Each chapter opens with a heart-warming Scripture pointing to how she experienced God’s care even in the hard places. The book concludes with some practical and personal questions to help readers consider their own faith journeys and how they might apply the same lessons for themselves.
Dr. Carolyn Watts is a Canadian writer and blogger. You can find her at Hearing the Heartbeat, which she describes as, “Listening together to God’s heart and making our home in Christ’s love.” I highly recommend subscribing to follow her hope-filled blog posts. To view the trailer for Risking Rest or to download a free chapter, visit hearingtheheartbeat.com/risking-rest.
“Meet Kelsie Butler. Coffee addict. Dog lover. Mystery buff.” She’s also a recent widow in a small Colorado town, with some good friends who’ll help her solve this mystery.
Outline for Murder is a classic locked-room whodunit—or in this case “locked-store.” Kelsie has partnered with her friend Gwen to stage a mystery party in Gwen’s café. The only problem is, one of the players turns up dead—in a manner very similar to the script Kelsie wrote for the event.
Kelsie is an appealing character, and I enjoyed the friendship dynamic as she, Gwen, and Angela (plus rescue dog Stella) teamed up to solve the case. And the food… I do enjoy a mystery with vicariously tasty treats.
Outline for Murder is book 1 in the new Kelsie Butler series. Book 2, Murder by Eggnog, is next. These short reads are clean and entertaining.
Karin Kaufman writes cozy mysteries and suspenseful novels for adults as well as the Geraldine Woolkins children’s books. For more about the author and her work, visit karinkaufman.com.
Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune is a Canadian serving on the local police force in Norfolk, England.
By this point in the series (book 3) his colleagues are beginning to trust that however erratic his methods, he’ll solve the crime. Except this time he seems distracted by an unconnected death that’s not even local.
This time the mystery centres around rival research groups and a controversial plan to mitigate global warming. The murder victim had switched sides and is found on the property of his former employer. With the company owned by wealthy internationals, Jejeune’s superintendent insists he not turn the investigation into a political crisis.
As the story plays out, it’s interesting to watch the developing relationships between the characters. And as always, readers will find richly detailed natural settings and sightings of birds both rare and common.
There are some continuing threads from previous books, but a person could begin here and not be lost.
A Cast of Falcons is book 3 in the Birder Murder Mystery series, which is at least 7 books long. Book 1 is A Seige of Bitterns. For more about the book and about Canadian author Steve Burrows, visit steveburrows.org.
New York City in the 1920s—glamour, prohibition, and corruption. And “Egyptomania”—the fascination with all things to do with ancient Egypt after the recent discovery of King Tut’s tomb.
Dr. Lauren Westlake is the underappreciated assistant curator of Egyptian Art of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. An expert in her field, she longs to visit one of the dig sites in Egypt. She also longs for her archaeologist father’s approval.
Suddenly, her long-absent father is back in her life—along with long-time friend Joe Caravello. Now serving as a detective with NYPD, Joe recruits Lauren to help identify forged antiquities. As Lauren grows closer to Joe, she struggles to overcome the barriers that keep her from trusting her father.
The Metropolitan Affair is a gently-told mystery and romance with themes of family, loyalty, faith, trust, and betrayal. The art details add an interesting element. I did find it hard to keep up with the large number of secondary characters, but I enjoyed the story.
Dead people were easy to talk to. It was the living ones that often gave Lauren trouble. Even her father. No. Especially him. [From the opening.]
So while Lauren had wanted to run, she had stayed. And she had only survived the staying because of the people who stayed with her. [Chapter 37.]
Jocelyn Green is an award-winning and bestselling author of historical fiction and nonfiction. For more about the author and her work, visit jocelyngreen.com.
In 2019, Diana has a perfect life—if you don’t count the recurring nightmares of her disastrous wedding. She’s single, with a successful career and a meaningful Big Sister relationship with a needy teen girl, Carly. And her best friend Shane is as happy as she is to leave romance off the table.
Discovering a twist in her family tree and learning the story of her grandmother Lilly will affect Diana’s present—and her choices for the future. When Diana quizzes her father, Dale, he decides to write the story for her as a book, one tantalizing chapter at a time.
Diana’s portion of the story is told in first person, present tense and Lilly’s in third person past (1922-1944). In the 1920s, children Lilly and Tommy commit a crime with devastating consequences. Bound together by the secret shame of what they’ve done, they spend their lives trying to atone.
Richly told with settings solidly anchored in present and past, Lilly’s Promise is a thought-provoking book that touches on a number of hard topics including infidelity, abortion, and wartime injuries and trauma. Yet it’s a hopeful story, pointing toward God’s love, encouraging its characters (and readers) to choose life, forgiveness, and freedom from fear.
This is one of those books where the characters stayed with me between reading times. And even as Lilly’s choices went from bad to worse, the present-day presence of her now-elderly son, Dale (Diana’s father) gave hope that her story would turn out.
Lilly’s Promise is a Braun Book Awards Winner. Canadian author Terrie Todd writes heartfelt historical and contemporary women’s fiction and has a nonfiction book as well. She is the author of The Silver Suitcase, The Last Piece, and more. For more about her books and to read her blog, visit terrietodd.blogspot.com.
[Book provided by the author. My choice to write a review.]
A lovely feel-good story with fantastic descriptions of the settings—both in California and Sicily.
A painting that could be a previously-unknown lost masterpiece pulls art history expert Derek Gaines out of his quiet life and back into places of prestige in the art world—places he left when his wife died.
Seeking to establish provenance of this unsigned work and prove his suspicions of the painter’s identity—and perhaps find more valuable art—Derek finds unlikely support from Kelly Reid, one of the VPs of a famous auction house. He’s a widower, she’s been burned by a cheating (now ex) husband, and in the thrill of the art chase they may yet find unexpected romance.
The art plot could have been written as a high-energy thriller, which would also have been good, but I enjoyed it this way as a safe and intriguing read. The Miramar Bay series is one place I turn for gentle, non-scary tales with happy endings. Sometimes that’s what we need.
The Emerald Tide is book 6 in the Miramar Bay series of standalone novels. Readers following the series in order will recognize occasional recurring characters in peripheral roles but each story is self-contained with different characters in the major roles.
Davis Bunn is a prolific and award-winning writer whose work spans multiple genres in Christian and clean mainstream fiction. The Miramar Bay books are clean reads without overt faith threads. To learn about the author and his work, visit his Goodreads page.
I don’t know if this is the best book in the Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery series (it’s # 6) or if it’s just the long wait since the previous one released, but I really enjoyed being back in the fictional town of Smithwell, Maine, with Kate Brewer (human widow) and her fairy sidekick Minette. They make a great mystery-solving team, along with Kate’s next-door neighbour Emily and her possibly-a-spy-but-we-don’t-know-for-sure husband. Plus a little off the record help from local Detective Rancourt.
What do you do when the wrong body turns up? A woman’s husband is missing—a man mysteriously connected with Kate’s late husband Michael—but the guy in the morgue is not him. Despite having the missing man’s ID in his shoe.
The police think Daniel ran off for a fling. But why would he leave clues only his wife could follow?
Kate, Emily, and Minette know the longer a person is missing, the greater the danger. If the police won’t investigate, it’s down to them.
These are clean cozy mysteries with enjoyable characters. There’s some progression within the series but you could start with this book and not be confused. Then go back and start with book 1, Dying to Remember, because the whole series is worth reading.
I enjoy the descriptions: characters, food, and especially scenery. In Counterfeit Corpse, the images of small-town Maine give readers a vicarious autumn getaway.
She puckered her lips as though she were about to spew bits of sheriff all over my kitchen floor. [The missing man’s wife, talking about the sheriff’s lack of concern. Chapter 1, at the 3% mark on my Kindle app.]
Karin Kaufman writes cozy mysteries (the Juniper Grove and Smithwell Fairies series), suspenseful mysteries (the Anna Denning and Teagan Doyle series), as well as the Geraldine Woolkins children’s series. For more about the author and her work, visit karinkaufman.com.
[Review copy from my personal library.]
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The chance at a partnership with the reclusive owner of a mysterious cliffside mansion brings Ashley Scott to the Oregon coast with the goal of establishing it as a premiere wedding destination.
The historic house is well maintained and stocked with period furniture. Transforming the grounds falls to local landscaper Jonathan Gray and his crew. Physically and emotionally scarred from the near-fatal explosion that ended his military service, Jon has come to the remote village of Hope Harbor to live a simple life and hide from gawkers.
Built by a lumber baron for his bride, the house’s subsequent tragic history led to rumours of haunting. But this isn’t a paranormal book, despite the isolated setting and the fog that creeps in. It’s a story of realistic, likeable people.
Filled with characters readers will embrace, this gentle story of second chances invites us to step out from any protective boundaries we may have allowed circumstances to construct around us. Sometimes secondary appear to have divine insight in what to say, especially Charley the taco truck owner. When God wants to get our attention, we’ll often meet His message at every turn. Fiction usually avoids this but when you’re looking for a heart-warming read with a comforting, almost fairy-tale feel, it’s a good fit.
Windswept Way is my first taste of Irene Hannon’s Hope Harbor series. It’s book 9 and now I’d like to pick up book 1. Linked by place, each novel seems to feature different core characters and a fair dose of feel-good serendipity. Fans of Davis Bunn’s Miramar Bay series will enjoy the Hope Harbor series, and vice versa. The main difference I see is the Hope Harbor books have a strong faith thread where Miramar Bay is clean mainstream.
Irene Hannon is a bestselling, award-winning author of over 60 books, both romance and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her work, visit irenehannon.com.
Lyrical, beautifully crafted, and luminous with hope, All the Lost Places is a dual-timeline historical novel. Rather than my stiff summary, here’s the official back cover copy:
When all of Venice is unmasked, one man’s identity remains a mystery . . .
1807 When a baby is discovered floating in a basket along the quiet canals of Venice, a guild of artisans takes him in and raises him as a son, skilled in each of their trades. Although the boy, Sebastien Trovato, has wrestled with questions of his origins, it isn’t until a woman washes ashore on his lagoon island that answers begin to emerge. In hunting down his story, Sebastien must make a choice that could alter not just his own future, but also that of the beloved floating city.
1904 Daniel Goodman is given a fresh start in life as the century turns. Hoping to redeem a past laden with regrets, he is sent on an assignment from California to Venice to procure and translate a rare book. There, he discovers a city of colliding hope and decay, much like his own life, and a mystery wrapped in the pages of that filigree-covered volume. With the help of Vittoria, a bookshop keeper, Daniel finds himself in a web of shadows, secrets, and discoveries carefully kept within the stones and canals of the ancient city . . . and in the mystery of the man whose story the book does not finish: Sebastien Trovato.
This is a gentle, luxurious read best enjoyed slowly like a fine dessert. Having said that, I admit to reading parts too fast because I had to know what happened next. Daniel and Vittoria, Sebastien and Mariana and their friends… these characters mattered to me. And I knew I could trust author Amanda Dykes to treat their story carefully even when they couldn’t see the way forward.
All the Lost Places reads in part like a fairy tale, understandable perhaps since Sebastien’s story is birthed in the pages of the book Daniel is assigned to translate. Daniel and Sebastien are both men haunted by the broken places in their lives. As they grapple with this, they discover that perhaps a lost or broken place is an opportunity to be filled with light.
Daniel is an artist, living now with an injury that prevents him from picturing in his mind what he wants to draw. As he tries to discover how to move from who he was and how he worked to who he is—and can he work this way?—he must also learn how to find redemption when restitution is not enough.
Such serious themes don’t weigh the story down. Readers will enjoy a detailed vicarious tour of Venice as the men in both times engage with a variety of engaging characters. Sebastien’s multiple adoptive guardians, Daniel’s bookseller and gondolier, these and more are delights. And oh, the settings!
This is a novel with far too many favourite lines for me to quote. I encourage you to read it for yourself and discover your own.
Amanda Dykes is the author of the 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year for her debut novel, Whose Waves These Are. Her more recent books are Set the Stars Alight and Yours is the Night. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com.
[Review copy from the public library.]
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