Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Review: The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies

The Defenders of Practavia, by J. A. Menzies (That’s Life! Communications, second edition 2021)

Two twelve-year-old friends—and a Talking Camel—may be the only hope for a kingdom in danger in this middle-grade epic fantasy novel from author J. A. Menzies.

We have a princess who’s so strong-willed even her mother calls her Princess Persnickety. And we have her unlikely friend, Stefan the stable boy. Soon, they’re joined by Creed the Talking Camel (in a kingdom where Talking Animals are the stuff of fairytales) and the adventure begins.

This book would be ideal for a child who’s an avid reader and isn’t afraid of adult-level words like “persnickety,” or for adults who enjoy reading to children. The narrative has a definite read-aloud feel, with perhaps more description than I expect most kids to want to tackle. Having said that, I heartily encourage them to tackle it—it won’t take long for the story to hook them.

There’s plenty to appeal to kids—and kid-like adults—with the children taking front stage in the action despite the adults’ attempts to keep them out of danger. There are satisfying moments of bad guys being conked by frying pans or running into just-shut doors. There are the previously mentioned Talking Animals, along with a secret history of the kingdom.

For the map-lovers among us, there’s also a map. And for the series-lovers, book 2 is in the works. This story finishes with this book, but there’s definitely scope for more. There’s still a potential threat to the realm, and Stefan, an adopted son of loving parents, finishes book 1 with a growing desire to discover his family history.

J. A. Menzies is the alter-ego of author N. J. Lindquist. Between the two names, this Canadian author has produced mysteries for adults, contemporary coming-of-age stories for young adults, nonfiction material, and now a middle-grade epic fantasy. For more about the author and her books, visit jamenzies.com and njlindquist.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Follow me on BookBub

What are readers saying about Bitter Truth?

“A nice assorted cast of possible suspects, and lots of twists in the plot that will keep you guessing.” ★★★★★
Jeffrey C. Reynolds, blogger and reviewer

“Recommended reading for all who love a good puzzley story.” ★★★★★
Violet Nesdoly, author, blogger, and reviewer

“I definitely recommend this book!” ★★★★★
Amy C. Blake, author and Goodreads reviewer

“Lots of twists and turns. A must read!” ★★★★★
Charlene, Goodreads reviewer

“A fun and thought-provoking read” ★★★★
Miranda S., Goodreads reviewer

“I did NOT see the ending!!” ★★★★
Trudy C., Goodreads reviewer

"Janet Sketchley’s tight writing is full of homey details—nicely appointed rooms in a seaside inn on the shores of beautiful Nova Scotia, Canada, cups of coffee, tea, and fragrant baking—disarming us for the plot’s next whiplash development." ★★★★★
Violet Nesdoly, author, blogger, and reviewer

If you like clean Christian mystery and suspense, read Bitter Truth today! This link has international options for major ebook retailers and Amazon for print: books2read.com/bitter-truth.

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Once We Were Strangers, by Shawn Smucker

Once We Were Strangers: What Friendship with a Syrian Refugee Taught Me about Loving My Neighbor, by Shawn Smucker (Revell, 2018)

Do I have it in me? Not only to be a good friend, but to allow Mohammed to be a friend to me? What would my life look like if I made friendship a priority? [page 54]

This is a daunting question for a man with a wife and six kids, a writer who also drives long hours for a couple of rideshare companies.

When American writer Shawn Smucker decides to interview a Syrian refugee for a book, he doesn’t expect to make a friend—or to challenge the way he looks at life. What emerges, instead of an account of Mohammed’s family’s harrowing journey to the US, is the story of two different men and their families—and the similarities they discover between them.

We do learn the basics of the escape from Syria and the difficult years in Jordan. The story’s focus, though, is on their experiences as newcomers trying to build a life in a new culture with minimal resources—as relayed through Shawn’s reactions. As he learns, we can learn too: maybe North American independence and self-reliance have robbed us of the benefits of interdependence and interconnectedness.

Mohammed’s backstory is told in past tense, while Shawn’s is present-tense. I’m not sure why, unless it’s to give a sense of immediacy so we readers will share his reactions. There are some very pleasing word choices.

Favourite line:

They are small offices, like closets that somehow managed to swallow a desk and a filing cabinet and maybe a folding chair or two. [page 32]

I would have appreciated a bit more orientation early-on in the book. I think the idea to write about a Syrian Muslim’s immigration experience came to Shawn, an American Christian, as a way to help raise awareness. That wasn’t clear to me in the beginning, and I spent time wondering if it was an assignment from the organization that connected him with Mohammed. That group is Church World Service, which I spent part of the book trying to figure out when I should have just looked it up online. They’re a faith-based as the name suggests, not simply named after someone called Church.

Even with being a little confused in the beginning, I found this heartwarming and thought provoking book an easy and engaging read. Highly recommended in these times when fear and hostility are raising barriers.

As the author concludes,

Not long ago, Mohammed and I were strangers. Now we are friends. This, it seems to me, is no small deal in a world and a system that would prefer we fear one another. This, it seems to me, is the first step in bringing a lasting peace. [page 187]

Shawn Smucker is an author, co-writer, and award-winning novelist based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Once We Were Strangers is nonfiction. For more about the author and his work, visit shawnsmucker.com.

Follow me on BookBub

Review: False Pretense, by Heather Day Gilbert

False Pretense, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

Missing persons, unexpected power flickers, and sightings of a creature from West Virginia folklore… except the huge grey Mothman is being seen by trustworthy witnesses. And the winged creature isn’t just a guy in a costume, because it flies. More troubling still, its appearance seems to coincide with the disappearance of two local women—women who look a lot like Tess Spencer.

Mysteries keep finding Tess. She’s solved three as an amateur sleuth, earning enough respect from the police in her small town that Detective Zeke Tucker has hired her as admin assistant. Sure, it’s a desk job, but Zeke values her insights on active cases.

As Tess begins to suspect this case may be personal, she’s also concerned about her mother-in-law’s health and the dirty politics being played by her husband’s rival. As readers of the series know, Tess isn’t one to allow anyone to mess with her family.

I’ve liked Tess from book one. She’s a smart, brave, loyal, self-reliant woman of faith. Since she lives in a state where it’s allowed to conceal-carry a weapon, she takes a handgun and sometimes a knife into danger.

Favourite line:

I’ve always felt the woods are my native environment, a place I can be protected from the pressures of life. Now something—maybe some age-old evil, if I let my imagination run wild—has invaded our area. [Kindle location 539]

The mystery in False Pretense offers enough clues for readers to feel like we’re part of the investigation. I came up with a few ideas, but they were definitely off-base. Fans of the series will be glad to spend time with Tess and her family again, and will be hoping to finally learn the truth about the mysterious Axel Becker. And while this finishes the series, it left me wanting to go back and read again from the beginning.

Readers of the author’s Barks ‘n Beans mystery series will recognize a few mentions of those characters. I enjoy seeing nods like this to other fictional friends. 

False Pretense is a satisfying finale to a mystery series filled with heart and truly likeable characters. If you’re new to the Murder in the Mountains series, you could start here without feeling lost. But I’d encourage you to start with book 1, Miranda Warning, and enjoy the development of characters and relationships through the full series.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. To quote her bio on the Goodreads site, “She brings authentic family relationships to the page, and she particularly delights in heroines who take a stand to protect those they love.” For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review based on an advance reader copy provided by the publisher, because I couldn’t wait to read the copy I’ve preordered. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud

Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud

Tears in the Desert, by Karen V. Robichaud (Word Alive Press, 2020)

From the aptly-named Desolation Creek in the Australian Outback to a lighthouse in Blackheart Bay, Nova Scotia, this novel’s descriptive details draw the reader in with a strong sense of place.

Told in present tense from the point of view of Raine Hunter, both as a child and as an adult, the voice is sure, strong, and taut.

The first part of the novel introduces the trauma in Raine’s childhood. The second two thirds of the book, part two, bring Raine back to her hometown to care for her widowed brother Quinn’s children after he goes missing. Rumours hint that he killed himself or skipped town, but Raine blames the hostile neighbouring family for abducting or harming him.

Raine’s tragic experience as a child shapes her into a bitter person with poor social skills. Because we see the event first, we can be patient with her brusque—rude?—behaviour and hope she’ll discover a positive change. We may even find some of her interactions funny. This woman has no clue how to interact with children. I had to be careful her crankiness didn’t jump-start my own. 😊

Raine is in that difficult place, spiritually, of not being able to fully walk away from God while not being able to press in with Him either.

After the story, I found myself thinking about some of the more extreme characters: the eccentric, the hostile, the bullying… and the unconditionally accepting. Some of the latter modelled Jesus’ love far better than most of us do.

Tears in the Desert is a winner in The 2021 Word Awards for work published in 2020. It’s Canadian author Karen V. Robichaud’s sixth novel. For more about the author and her work, visit kvrobi.wixsite.com/karen-v-robichaud.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Cover art: Holding On When You WAnt to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh (Baker Books, 2021)

Subtitled “Clinging to Hope When Life is Falling Apart,” this book takes a candid and compassionate look at the struggles that can make us want to let go and give up. And it takes a clear-eyed look at the God who holds us in His care even when life really does seem to be falling apart.

Each chapter opens with a verse of Scripture and a relevant quote. The first five address the main things that threaten to overwhelm us: feeling like life’s out of control, feeling alone, when God is silent, when we’re afraid, and when we’ve messed up.

This is an easy to read, conversational-style book that feels a little bit like we’re sitting with the author over coffee. Sheila Walsh doesn’t write “down” to us in an instructorly way. Instead, her personal stories and those she shares from others prove she has the credibility to write about this. She’s been there, and is still there, just as we are. But she’s learned some solid strategies to keep holding on.

Those strategies are the focus of the second half of the book: learning to focus on the God who is holding us. We read about His promises, His character, and he amazing things He has done for us. The invitation is to actually let go… and to be held by the One who won’t let go.

Favourite lines:

I still felt like that five-year-old girl who was afraid of being known. What if someone saw the crack in my soul. [page 78]

The simple act of thanksgiving reminds us that God is with us and that He is in control. [page 103]

If life is making you feel like letting go or if you just want a little reassurance, this book can be a helpful resource. I love how it keeps pointing back to God and to His Word.

Sheila Walsh is an author, speaker, and teacher who I first discovered in my younger years through her music. Scottish-born, she makes her home in the US. For more about the author and her ministry, visit sheilawalsh.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Detour, by Lorena McCourtney

Detour, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2018)

Another enjoyable mystery, packed with suspects and unusual characters. This time, Mac and Ivy take a detour on the way to their honeymoon destination in Arizona for Mac to cover a magazine assignment covering a Northern California dinosaur theme park.

The park is run down and Ivy has doubts about the couple running it. Suspicions and motives fly even before a body comes to light. Naturally, shenanigans ensue. I had a little trouble getting into this one, and found the occasional clunky sentence, but Ivy and her mutant curiosity gene are a delight. By the end, I was reading at full speed.

Ivy MacPherson (formerly Malone) is a self-titled “LOL” (little old lady) with a knack for finding—and solving—mysteries. The Ivy ‘n’ Mac series follows the Ivy Malone series now that she and Mac are a couple.

Ivy is funny, sassy, and possessed of a double helping of spunk. She’s a treat to read, and it’s worth going back to meet her in her first book, Invisible. She and Mac travel the US in an RV, yet murders somehow find her at every turn.

To learn about author Lorena McCourtney and her other mysteries, visit lorenamccourtney.info.

[Review copy from the public library. This title is available through Hoopla.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson

Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson (Bethany House, 2021)

Did you know there are 24 chapters in the Gospel of Luke? That’s one for each day of December until Christmas Eve.

Prepare Him Room is a gentle invitation to make space in our lives this Christmas season, to take time to refocus our spirits on Jesus and not miss the “sacredness of the season”. As the introduction says,

…it’s precisely this season when Christians most often lose sight of what’s available to them in Christ Jesus. [page 11]

In Prepare Him Room: A Daily Advent Devotional, each reading opens with related Scripture verses and quotes from other authors. In a friendly, conversational style, author Susie Larson shares anecdotes and applications that reorient us to Jesus, His presence, and His power.

Each day concludes with a prayer and a suggested “fast” from a thought pattern, attitude, etc. I’m sure we’re not expected to magically erase each one from our lives in one day, but in training us to notice these things in our lives, the author gives us a tool for ongoing, prayerful growth in the days ahead.

Favourite line:

Even though God delays, He delivers. [page 17]

My review copy is a delightful hardcover gift book complete with ribbon marker. The simplicity of the cover is like a deep breath, slowing me down to rest as I open to the day’s reading. I look forward to going back through the pages when December comes. [An ebook version is also available.]

For more about author and speaker Susie Larson, and for her online devotional encouragement, visit susielarson.com.

[Review copy provided by Baker Publishing Group via Graf-Martin Communications. My review is voluntary and is my own uninfluenced opinion.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Yours is the Night, by Amanda Dykes

Yours is the Night, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2021)

This lyrical tale of hope found in the darkness released just in time to honour the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Readers learn from the prologue that a soldier significant to the story will not survive. Then we meet the American Matthew, Mira, a young woman who lives in a forest in France, and others who intersect their lives.

Any fan of Amanda Dykes’ work will know to expect characters who are at once “everyperson” and yet whose particular circumstances lead them through pain to hope—in ways that linger in our imaginations long after the story ends. Without shielding them from hardship, she presents their lives with tenderness and their surroundings in often poetic description.

This makes Yours is the Night, a story set near the end of the Great War, an accessible read. The horrors of war aren’t in-your-face graphic. Instead, perhaps more powerfully, they’re shown mostly by the way they affect the characters. Despite its at-times fairytale feel, this is no lightweight novel.

It is, however, beautiful and hopeful. Heartwarming and encouraging. And it’s told with great respect for the real-life men and women who endured the unthinkable in the war. Highly recommended!

Here are some of my most favourite lines:

His smile did not fall, but it changed. It looked like one of Grand-père’s creations, carved into wood. [Mira, about her father, page 28]

…his eyes seemed to hear things even when his ears could not. [Mira, observing Matthew, page 121]

He was all of us, just a boy in a war too dark for him in a world too big, trying to do his part. [Matthew’s thoughts of a young fellow soldier, page 284]

Christy Award-winning author Amanda Dykes has written two previous novels, Whose Waves These Are and Set the Stars Alight, as well as shorter fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com. As well as book club resources, you’ll find links to her blog and a way to sign up for her newsletter, “The Scriptorium”.

[Review copy provided by Baker Publishing Group via Graf-Martin Communications. My review is voluntary and is my own uninfluenced opinion.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, by Ricardo Fayet

How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market, by Ricardo Fayet (Reedsy, 2021)

Highly recommended for indie authors from beginners to veterans.

I’d heard positive things about this book, and I confess the opening chapters left me wondering what the fuss was about. As I kept reading, I found a wealth of helpful information.

Reedsy co-founder Ricardo Fayet has built on many of the site’s blog posts to assemble a comprehensive overview of what indie authors need to know to market their books. I appreciate his balanced approach and his advice to pick one thing to implement at a time instead of blindly striking out in all directions. He also stresses that marketing is not a one-size-fits-all activity.

This isn’t a smarmy, trickster type of marketing book, but one that emphasizes marketing as a way to help the readers who’ll want your book to find it. That’s helpful, not pushy.

Because many of the topics covered in this book can be books (and courses) in their own right, chapters include referrals to more in-depth material from experts in the field. If you’ve been around indie publishing awhile, you’ll recognize most of the names.

Although it’s packed with information, the book’s friendly, encouraging tone makes it an easy read. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt equipped to choose among my possible next steps.

Bonus about this book? The digital version is free (on all platforms) and I believe it’s intended to remain that way. Here’s the link at the Reedsy site, or you can find it on your favourite ebook store site. Warning: you may find you’ve highlighted the digital version enough that you’ll want to buy a print copy for easier reference.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Follow me on BookBub