Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: When the Smoke Clears, by Lynette Eason

When the Smoke Clears, by Lynette EasonWhen the Smoke Clears, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2012)

Alexia, Serena, and Jillian were inseperable until high school graduation—when Jillian fled, terrified by something she couldn’t tell even her closest friends. Alexia left too, desperate to get away from an abusive home life. Serena and Alexia kept in touch over the years, but neither of them know how to find Jillian.

Now, ten years after graduation, Alexia nearly dies fighting a fire—because her equipment was sabotaged. While she’s off work, she decides to go home to visit Serena… and face her estranged mother, since the woman is in hospital.

Can her mother really have changed, like Serena says? And what’s with Serena, Alexia’s mother, and even Hunter Graham (last seen making eyes at her at graduation, now a handsome-and-single cop in town) telling Alexia that God loves her? That He thinks she’s worth something?

More urgently, who keeps trying to attack her? And why?

When the Smoke Clears is a thriller first, with romantic and spiritual sub-plots. It’s also book 1 in the Deadly Reunions series, and while this book’s main plot resolves satisfactorily, the man who’s after Jillian is only getting more desperate. And Alexia’s and Serena’s lives may still be in danger.

Definitely a series I want to keep reading.

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 my personal library.]

Review: Shadows’ Sorrow, by Galadriel Pittman

Shadows' Sorrow, by Galadriel PittmanShadows’ Sorrow, by Galadriel Pittman (publisher, 2018)

Raven and his horse, Taikon, are a telepathically-linked team of Deinya warriors, sworn to protect against the returning dark forces of the Rakon. As if their current quest weren’t hard enough, Raven becomes the unwilling master of an honourable thief – and the party grows from there.

Tara, the thief, is my favourite character in the book (except perhaps for Taikon the horse). She’s skilled at reading people and situations and knowing how to fit in and gain whatever information or goods she needs.

The world of Shadows’ Sorrow has a medieval feel, poised for a battle between the opposing light/dark forces and the people who serve each side. In this book we begin to see the history of this conflict and the prophecies which may help the Deinya to succeed. We begin to see characters grow, and they have the rest of the series to become who they’ll need to be to defeat the darkness.

I enjoyed the novel, and would like to see what happens next. It’s a clean read (purists might take objection to one or two words) and it introduces interesting characters with significant potential for growth and heroism.

Shadows’ Sorrow is book 1 in the Morovian Destiny series. For more about the author and her work, visit galadrielpittman.com.

Review: Guilty Blood, by Rick Acker

Guilty Blood, by Rick AckerGuilty Blood, by Rick Acker (Waterfall Press, 2017)

The worst thing in Jessica Ames’s life was losing her husband in a construction accident. Until her son Brandon is arrested for a murder he insists he didn’t commit.

Afraid the public defender assigned to Brandon’s case won’t have the time or skill to prove his innocence, Jessica turns to Nate Daniels, a successful corporate lawyer who’s also a family friend. The feelings that develop between the two can only complicate matters.

Nate, Jessica, and the other lawyer, Sofia, scramble to find witnesses who can point to who really killed the victim, who had ties to an international group of human traffickers, while Brandon tries to survive life in jail.

Guilty Blood is an engaging, well-written legal thriller. It’s a clean read, including a few Christian characters whose faith comes out naturally in the story. Brandon’s doubts about God, and his anger at the injustice in his life, also comes out naturally.

One of the things I appreciated about the novel is that although it deals with horrific subjects like human trafficking and gang warfare, the content is neither sugar-coated nor traumatic. The author does a great job of presenting the realities while providing a “safe” read.

My favourite character is Kevin Fang, a 30-something computer genius on the Autism Spectrum, whose hacking is instrumental in finding many of the keys to the crime. Actually, I picked up this book after “meeting” Kevin in a novella by Rick Acker included in the Kill Zone box set.

The novel talks a lot about DNA and computer hacking, but never in a way that’s skim-worthy or that requires a PhD to understand. The possibilities are interesting—and disturbing.

As well as writing legal thrillers, Rick Acker is a Supervising Deputy Attorney General. For more about the author and his work, visit rickacker.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Wounded Shadow, by Patrick W. Carr

The Wounded Shadow, by Patrick W. CarrThe Wounded Shadow, by Patrick W. Carr (Bethany House, 2018)

This is one of those books I didn’t want to end. It felt so good to be back with these characters, even in their overwhelming struggle, and I found myself rationing the reading time to make it last.

Willet Dura, the hero, has been my favourite all along, and I became very fond of Mark early on in this book.

The Wounded Shadow is the third and final book in the Darkwater series, and it’s not one to pick up if you haven’t started at the beginning. The scope is vast, and enough has happened that a reader starting here would feel lost.

In this, book three, the hints and threads set out in previous instalments come together in satisfying and surprising ways. Even nearing the end, I couldn’t see how this conflict could find a satisfactory conclusion, but it did.

I confess I didn’t fully understand part of the ending, but that’s me, not the writer. I need to re-read it and to talk to others who’ve also finished the story. For now, my limited understanding doesn’t diminish my sense that this is a rich, immersive series that I look forward to re-reading in the future.

I highly recommend the series, and suggest readers begin with the free ebook-only novella (you can read it on your phone if need be) By Divine Right. The rest of the series is available in print and ebook versions, and it’s too good to miss even a bit. Great characters, epic story, lots to love… even some humour.

This is Christian fiction with an allegory feel, and definitely without pat answers or anything trite or simplistic. As with everything else in the series world, the faith is complex and nuanced.

As well as the Darkwater Saga, Patrick W. Carr has also written The Staff & The Sword series (also highly recommended). For more about the author and his books, visit patrickwcarr.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dark Star, by Creston Mapes

Dark Star, by Creston Mapes (Multnomah, 2005) Dark Star, by Creston Mapes

Rock idol Everett Lester has dragged himself and his band from sordid beginnings to the peak of fame—and into as many excesses and vices as he can find. Through it all, two women hold increasing influence in his life: Endora Crystal, his personal psychic, and Karen Bayliss, a young stranger whose letters say she’s praying for him.

The novel is written in two intertwining threads: Everett’s past leading up to his present, and his present, told in the form of an autobiography written from prison while he’s on trial for murder.

It’s a dark tale of redemption, with elements of spiritual warfare and the occult. Some readers may be uncomfortable with scenes of Endora’s tarot cards in use. She does have power, which Christian readers would recognize as not the power of the occult but the power of the devil working through her.

I found the book a good read, although some aspects of the ending didn’t work for me. What I enjoyed was watching Everett discover the Light and then learn how to live it out as his world fell apart.

I love what Karen says to Everett at one point:

What do you think, that God’s looking at you going ‘Oh my! This Lester is a bad one… I better stay away from him, or he’ll rub off on Me?’ You think you scare Him? You think He doesn’t know your problems or can’t overcome your sin? He’s God, for heaven’s sake. [page 172]

Good message for any of us.No one's too far gone for redemption. If you liked Dark Star, try Heaven's Prey.

Dark Star was Creston Mapes’ first novel, followed by book 2 in the Rock Star Chronicles series, Full Tilt, and a number of Christian suspense novels. For more about the author, visit crestonmapes.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: By Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson

By Darkness Hid, by Jill WilliamsonBy Darkness Hid, by Jill Williamson (Enclave Publishing, 2009)

In a world where orphans are physically branded as “strays” and subject to suspicion and abuse, Achan Cham has reached his teen years and somehow maintained a compassionate heart and a dry wit. Coming of age brings an unexpected opportunity to leave his kitchen drudgery and train as a knight’s squire—which thrusts him into conflict with the prince soon to be crowned king.

Then he starts hearing voices in his head, and discovers the legends of “bloodvoicing” are true. Those with the gift (he’d call it a curse) can communicate mentally across great distance.

Vrell Sparrow is a young noblewoman hiding out as a boy stray so she won’t be forced to marry the prince. She, too, has the gift, and there are those who want her secrets—and her service.

Many citizens follow pagan idols, but Vrell serves the one true God, known in this world as Arman. Achan only knows of the local goddess, and she doesn’t seem to have paid him any attention throughout his harsh life.

The author’s website describes By Darkness Hid as an “epic medieval fantasy tale.” The characters are engaging, the settings are rich and interesting, and there’s trouble rising in this land which is already half in the shadow of Darkness.

The teen protagonists may make this a young adult novel, but I fully enjoyed it as an adult, and look forward to finishing the series.

By Darkness Hid is book 1 in the Blood of Kings series. It Christy Award for Visionary (2010), ACFW Carol Award Nominee for Speculative (2010). Jill Williamson has also written The Kinsman Chronicles and other speculative tales. For more about the author and her work, visit jillwilliamson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Awakening, by Tracy L. Higley

Awakening, by Tracy L. HigleyAwakening, by Tracy L. Higley (StoneWater Press, 2014)

New York City museum employee Kallista Andreas has a passion for antiquities, especially those associated with the ancient Minoan civilization. Yet she doesn’t know her own past. Her memories begin seven years ago, when the curator found her in the museum.

Now she’s experiencing visions so disorienting that she begins journaling them as a story—the story of a young princess from the ancient past.

At the same time, she’s forced out of her comfort zone—and away from her safe office—as part of a team searching for a relic that could unlock the mysteries of the Minoan language.

Kallista’s patron for this globe-spanning search is mysterious, romantic, and wealthy enough to give the team all they need along the way. It makes for an enjoyable novel with exotic locations and moments of danger. I liked how it was tense but not too intense.

I’d call this a clean read as opposed to a Christian novel, but Kallista is curious about spiritual truth and whether any of the ancient gods or goddesses can point to that truth. Toward the end, she sees that Christianity may indeed offer what these pre-Christian religions hinted at.

Because Awakening is split between the story-present (contemporary times) and Kallista’s journal stories (ancient past), it’s a novel for those who enjoy either time period.

Tracy L. Higley writes historical and contemporary fiction, and travels extensively in her research. For more about the author and her work, visit tracyhigley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Justice Buried, by Patricia Bradley

Justice Buried, by Patricia BradleyJustice Buried, by Patricia Bradley (Revell, 2017)

The novel opens with Kelsey Allen scaling the side of a building for a break-in. A security company has hired her to infiltrate their clients’ buildings to expose the weak spots.

She was not hired to be shot at. Why was the half-glimpsed shooter in the building at all? And did he see enough of her face to recognize her?

Kelsey’s next assignment is to go under cover at a famous Memphis museum, the Pink Palace, and stop whoever’s been stealing artifacts. What makes it hard for her is that her father disappeared years ago after thefts from the same museum.

When she’s thrust into the company of Brad Hollister, newly reassigned from Homicide to the Cold Case Unit, she asks him to look into her father’s disappearance. As crimes at the museum keep bringing them together, Brad finds himself in the role of protector—which is complicated by his ex-fiancée deciding she wants to try their relationship again.

Brad is the brother of Andi Hollister, the news reporter from the first Memphis Cold Case novel, Justice Delayed. Although Justice Buried would read well as a stand-alone, those who’ve read the first book will appreciate recognizing familiar characters crossing the occasional page.

Justice Buried has suspense, romance, faith, and characters who need to learn not to let their pasts define them if they’re to discover a better future—assuming, of course, they survive.

Patricia Bradley writes fast-paced romantic suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit ptbradley.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Stillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson

Stillwaters, by Yvonne AndersonStillwaters, by Yvonne Anderson (Gannah’s Gate Publishing, 2017)

A novel written like an autobiography… about someone who’s famous on another planet. How’s that for a premise?

At the opening of Stillwaters, Jem (the narrator) is a feral child of perhaps twelve. Her “death” is the end of everything she ever knew and the beginning of a new life in a new place. The bulk of the novel traces her second life.

Although Jem’s home planet is much different than ours, some of the interpersonal struggles are quite relatable. We see the distrust between country and city folk (here, there’s the one City: either a benefactor or an oppressor, depending on your point of view). There’s distrust between the uneducated poor and the educated rich.

It’s interesting to watch a character like Jem, with deeply-held opinions and prejudices, learn to see her world differently as she becomes like those she once despised. Watch how she views her new surroundings soon after being taken from her wild existence:

All the plant life was tamed, confined to pots or standing alone and afraid in a bare expanse of gravel. [Kindle location 611]

And, much later:

At a time when many were discovering what an ugly place the world could be, I saw its beauty for the first time, now viewing it through the narrow lens of love. [Kindle location 4583]

This is in some ways a difficult novel to read. Jem’s traumatic beginnings have made her a foul-mouthed, hard-edged person. (Her world has different cuss words than ours, but the sheer volume wearied me at times.) Her experiences, past and in the novel, include some moments that are hard to read but discreetly presented.

In other ways it’s a treat to read. Yvonne Anderson nails world-building. I always enjoy the setting details she creates, exotic and yet relatable. In the middle of a tense time, there’ll be a spot of humour. And there’s heart. It’s good to see Jem grow and make something of herself.

Faith… Jem’s world has a number of religions, much like the gods and goddesses of Earth’s past. Jem doesn’t have much use for any of them. In the novel we find casual mention of a minor religion called Sonmanism, where “one god had a son who became a man.” [Kindle location 2947]

From the progression of the story, I think we’ll see the development of a Christian thread as the series progresses. For now, it’s begun but this isn’t your grandmother’s Christian fiction. It is, however, a well-written and worthwhile read. I’m glad I toughed through the hard parts.

Yvonne Anderson has previously written the Christian science fiction series, Gateway to Gannah. She describes her writing as “telling ‘the old, old story.’ In surprising new ways.” Stillwaters is book 1 in the series The Four Lives of J.S. Freeman. For more about the author and her work, visit yswords.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane NobleThe Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble (David C. Cook, 2014)

Elaine Littlefield, “El” to her friends, is a widow “of a certain age” who’s been known to combat stress by baking triple-chocolate cookies in the wee hours while wearing sock monkey pajamas and dancing to Mozart.

By day, she runs a catering company and solves mysteries. And spends as much time with her daughter and granddaughter as she can.

El has landed a huge catering job for the retirement party of local university professor Dr. Max Haverhill, but when the guest list triples two days before the event, and then Max wants to cancel the event for security reasons, it’s no wonder she’s trying to manage her stress level.

The party goes ahead, and as the back cover says, “countless guests fall ill, a two-hundred-year-old relic is stolen, and her best friend vanishes. All in the first hour.”

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is a fast-paced, light-hearted mystery blended with romance: Max is a lifelong bachelor, but as he and El work together to solve the crime, they may also be falling in love.

Certain aspects of the story may be a bit over the top, but they suit the story and the characters and provide readers with an enjoyable experience.

El, Max, and the other key character, Hyacinth, are fun and courageous. El’s chapters are written in first person, with the others in third person. It wasn’t as confusing as it sounds, because whenever the point of view changed, there was a label on the new chapter telling whose eyes we were seeing through now.

The three are each Christians, and it’s interesting to see how each one’s faith helps sustain them in crisis moments. The faith aspect is subtle in the story, but there are discussion questions at the end of the book to encourage readers to think through different aspects of faith as it pertains to forgiveness, sacrifice, love, and friendship.

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is listed as “A Professor and Mrs. Littlefield Mystery,” but I don’t see any more in the series. Pity. Author Diane Noble has also written historical and contemporary suspense and women’s fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit dianenoblebooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]