Tag Archives: book reviews

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.]

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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.]

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Review: Grace in the Desert, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Desert, by Christine Dillon (Links in the Chain Press, 2020)

Everyone else has forgiven her father, but Rachel can’t. Or won’t, despite her grandmother’s pleas. But what if that’s the very thing keeping her from forgiving herself?

Pete, the other key character, is slowly finding his way after a devastating loss. He finds himself still battling perceptions and ideas that would lock him in his pain.

A fun secondary character in the novel is Josh, a young man with Down Syndrome who works at the plant nursery with Rachel and Pete. His gentle heart makes him a good friend to them both, and I appreciated the way readers are given the chance to learn a bit about the struggles a real-life person like Josh would face.

Readers will also enjoy some vicarious travel in Australia—always a bonus!

Each novel in the Grace series has encouraged my faith life, and Grace in the Desert is no exception. I actually felt the delivery wasn’t as engaging in this one, with more talking and describing than action. I’d have preferred to read a few events, like Pete’s hospital conversation, as they happened in the novel’s timeline instead of as told later by the characters.

Readers will find a few possible takeaways with this story. What impacted me most was one character’s challenge not to feel sorry for himself or frustrated about a particular situation but instead to ask how God might want to work through him there.

Author Christine Dillon has released a companion nonfiction book to further address one of the other issues raised in this story. Sword Fighting: Applying God’s Word to Win the Battle for Our Mind takes a deeper, practical look at how Christians can use biblical truths to defeat the lies that often bind us.

There are now five books in the Grace series. For more about Christine Dillon, this series, and her other work, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Escape, by Lisa Harris

The Escape, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2020)

When the private plane transporting two dangerous prisoners to trial goes down, US Marshals Madison James and Jonas Quinn must recapture the surviving prisoner before he kills again.

The chase takes them through some remote (and beautiful) country as well as city streets and back alleys as their quarry stays one step ahead.

Madison and Jonas have met before—Jonas trained her when she first joined law enforcement—but this is their first time working together and they know nothing about one another on a personal level. Neither wants a romantic relationship, but this mission plants the seeds of a romance that will develop over the course of the series.

It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes story that doesn’t let up until the very end and definitely sets up interest to read the sequel.

The Escape is book 1 in Lisa Harris’s US Marshals series. Book 2, The Chase, is now available. For more about the author and her work, visit lisaharriswrites.com.

[Review copy from the public library. This title is available for borrow through Hoopla at www.hoopladigital.com/title/13510199.]

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Review: Out of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Out of the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2021)

As conditions grow increasingly more dangerous for Russian Mennonites (and everyone else who’s a common citizen in South Russia during the revolution following the Great War), Katrina and Johann Sudermann and their friends and loved ones struggle to stay alive. Emigration seems their only hope, but the government officials block them at every turn.

It’s a difficult book to read because of the suffering the characters endure, yet it can give readers hope and encouragement that we, too, can continue on and not be crushed by our personal hard times. And it reminds us that things can always be worse.

The characters in the Storm series are the kind who stick with readers after the reading is finished. Some have faith, others have none, but they’re all honest in asking the hard questions of “why” and “how”. Some aspects of the answers they find may help us with our own questions.

Favourite lines:

Mrs. Franz carried the news like a pelican carries rotting fish in her sagging bill. She had caught it and needed to get rid of it. [Kindle edition, page 24]

Thus far we have been spared, and now I look around me, and in spite of all the fighting and terrors, the Lord still takes time to coax the buds out on the trees and to paint the grass green. [Kindle edition, page 56]

That second quote reminds me to look for even small good things no matter how difficult the circumstances. They don’t change the pain, but they do bring a measure of peace and a reminder that God is present in the darkness.

Readers who’ve followed the series from the beginning (Calm Before the Storm) will be satisfied with the way it wraps up, despite the grief along the way. I appreciated the author’s sensitive touch with the most painful moments. There are enough details for readers to understand without being traumatized themselves. This was a terrible time to live and I’m so grateful not to have been there.

Out of the Storm is book 3 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series, originally published by Herald Press and now re-releasing as part of The Mosaic Collection’s historical line. For more about the author, visit janicedick.com. For more about The Mosaic Collection, visit mosaiccollectionbooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Wing Over Wing, by Julie Cadwallader Staub

Wing Over Wing, by Julie Cadwallader Staub (Paraclete Press, 2019)

This beautifully written collection of poems is arranged by seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. You can easily read through them in one sitting, but you may find yourself going back to sit with them again.

With strong, evocative word choices, the poems touch subjects that range from the trivial to the tragic but mostly fall into that in-between area that makes up most of life. There are only a few truly heavy poems: powerful laments that honour the pain of racism and of innocence taken. These are part of the Winter section and I think are one reason the book starts with Fall and ends with Summer.

I’m grateful a poet friend recommended this book!

To sample poet Julie Cadwallader Staub’s work (in print and audio) and for more about her, visit juliecspoetry.com.

[Review copy from the public library. Available with the Hoopla app at this link.]

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Review: Tranquility Falls, by Davis Bunn

Tranquility Falls, by Davis Bunn (Kensington Books, 2020)

Daniel Riffkin has been sober for four years, carefully managing his life and limiting contact to his dog, a few close friends, and his AA meetings.

Now he finds himself sharing his home in Miramar Bay, California, with his teenage niece. And developing concern for Stella, a single mother who’s afraid she’s being framed for missing funds at her work. And hosting his best friends’ teen daughter to give them some breathing space.

Before he became a successful newscaster, Daniel trained in forensic accounting. He has the skills to help Stella. But as they begin to care for one another, can he risk failing her?

This is a feel-good, life-affirming, second-chance novel that speaks hope. As a Christian reader, I’d have loved to see it written to trace Daniel’s faith journey and how that impacts his changes and growth. However, the book is written for a general-market audience. Likely more readers will find it this way, and I hope it’s widely-read.

If you have an addict in your life (even yourself) or someone carrying deep regrets, Tranquility Falls offers a glimpse of hope that recovery and healing are possible. The author interviewed many people so he could portray Daniel’s struggles in a real and relatable way. In his closing acknowledgements, he writes, “This story is dedicated to everyone who taught me so much and granted me new reasons to hope.”

Addiction is only part of the story. There’s also identity, betrayal, grief, crime, Hollywood, legal drama, and beautiful scenery. And romance.

I really like Daniel. He’s honest in his struggles and he’s present in his conversations. Instead of serving easy answers, he knows he doesn’t have any. So he listens. Asks open-ended questions like he’s encountered in his years of counselling and recovery. Supports his friends with total attention.

Favourite lines:

Mornings like this, it was hard to believe the summer heat would ever arrive, as if the world told fables no one believed anymore… A San Francisco-style light drifted in gentle waves with the mist, a feather-like whisper of a world that remained just out of reach. [Chapter 10, page 2]

Readers familiar with the Miramar Bay series will recognize some characters from previous books, always a pleasant treat.

As well as crafting sweet, Hallmark-movie-like stories like these, internationally-bestselling author Davis Bunn also writes thrillers. And as Thomas Locke he writes science fiction and fantasy. For more about the author and his work, visit kensingtonbooks.com/pages/davis-bunn-books and tlocke.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Crazy About Maisie, by Janice L. Dick

Crazy About Maisie, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2021)

Happenstance… a small town off the beaten path, where second chances are free for all. Many who find their way through the covered bridge from the highway surprise themselves by deciding to stay.

In Maisie McDonald’s case, twelve years after she found a haven in Happenstance her past is trying to catch up with her. Not one but two suspicious strangers seem to be trying to link her to her former life in Seattle. And just when she needs him most, her husband is away for work.

Crazy About Maisie is book 2 in the Happenstance Chronicles series, gentle cozy mysteries without dead bodies. Readers familiar with book 1, The Road to Happenstance, will be happy to see the main cast again: the Misses Emmaline and Grayce at the Happenstance Hotel, Matt Sadler (who rode into town in book 1), Bear the mechanic, and more.

Cranky Morris Craddock is back, too, and it’s a treat to see his interactions with Matt and with newcomer Julia Freemont—ostensibly in town to renovate a disused shop into a new bistro. 

Happenstance is a town I’d love to visit, especially once the bistro’s up and running. The tea and baked goods sound amazing.

These are contemporary novels set in a small town that feels a bit out of step with our time… gentler, somehow, and a bit slower paced. There’s a touch of whimsy in the effect it has on visitors, and in the uncanny awareness the hotel’s cook, Johanna, has concerning when different people need a certain type of comfort food.

There’s a delightful hand-drawn map of town in the beginning of the book, and interspersed with the story are brief snippets from various longer-term residents telling how they arrived to stay.

Author Janice L. Dick also writes Russian Mennonite historical fiction. Historical or contemporary, her work includes a thread of faith that gives her characters hope. For more about the author, visit janicedick.com.

[I received a complimentary advance reader copy from the author with no obligation to review, and have also bought an official copy for my personal library.]

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Review: The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié

The Lord's My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, two mysteries by Debbie Viguie | Psalm 23 Mysteries book 1 and 2 #cleanreads
The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié (Abingdon Press, 2013)

The Psalm 23 Mysteries series has 15 books, including one that released this year, and I expect there’ll be more. The titles haven’t finished the psalm yet.

These are cozy mysteries featuring church secretary Cindy Preston and her unlikely partner in amateur sleuthing, Rabbi Jeremiah Silverman from the synagogue next door to the church.

I found the first two as an ebook bundle. They’re clean reads, and treat both the Christian and Jewish faiths with respect. One of the neat side-lights in book 1 was learning more about Passover preparations from Jeremiah.

Thanks to her mother and to the loss of her sister as a child, Cindy’s strongest motivators as the series opens seem to be safety and appearances. Of the two characters, Jeremiah is more in touch with his spiritual side and more likely to think about how God might relate to his circumstances.

By book 2 Cindy is beginning to discover glimpses of her own strength and identity, and Jeremiah’s letting readers know he has dubious skill sets from his past that aren’t what his congregation would expect.

Seeing these progressions motivates me to read further into the series. I confess at first I wasn’t sure. When there are Christians in a novel, I like them to share with me on a spiritual level. Not necessarily anything deeply theological or sermon-like, but a connection that encourages my own faith walk. Cindy, though, is a Christian who doesn’t think much about her faith, so there’s not much connection there—at least yet.

In The Lord’s My Shepherd, a serial killer arranges his victims in parodies of various scenes from the week leading up to Easter. In I Shall Not Want, someone’s killing people and stealing their dogs—even from homeless people. I appreciated the advice—and the challenge—one of the homeless characters gives about treating the homeless with respect.

It does take a stretch of the imagination to accept all the details involved in the first book’s plot, especially that the killer could find the appropriate situations with characters whose names also match his plan.

But both stories flow quickly, with action and banter and a surprisingly light touch, given the high body count.

Debbie Viguié is a New York Times bestselling author, and while most of the other books on her website look like fairly dark mainstream fantasies, the Psalm 23 series does come from a Christian publisher. For more about the author and her books, visit debbieviguie.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt

Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt | Lantern Beach mysteries book 1 #cleanreadsHidden Currents, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2018)

Alias: Cassidy Livingston.
Occupation: operating a mobile ice cream truck.
Goal: stay incognito.

A detective with a price on her head must hide out in the small seacoast community of Lantern Beach until the gang leaders who want her dead go to trial.

The problem is, when a body washes up on shore Cassidy’s not at all convinced the local police will arrest the right person. She should stay out of it, but somehow she can’t.

Then there’s her antagonistic-yet-handsome neighbour, Ty Chambers, who she shouldn’t be noticing because she has a boyfriend at home.

As well as the murder mystery, which is solved by the end of the book, there are other undercurrents of trouble in Lantern Beach, plus Cassidy’s ongoing fear of being found by the gang. Vignettes of her past suggest some of the people in her life are not who she thinks they are—or maybe I’m just imagining trouble.

This is a clean read, not specifically Christian fiction, although Ty and his friends met through a Bible study. Cassidy doesn’t seem to be a person of faith, but she often quotes inspirational lines to herself and eventually notices that the ones she likes best come from the Bible. So, who knows how this will develop as the series progresses?

Christy Barritt is a prolific author of romantic suspense, often with quirky characters. Hidden Currents is book 1 in her six-book Lantern Beach Mysteries series. For more about the author and her books, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]