Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

Book cover: The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry

The Shadow of Memory, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books, 2022)

A stranger is found dead in the church yard—and he turns out to have a past connection with a local woman. When their mutual friends begin dying, can those deaths really be of natural causes? Meanwhile, Kate senses something fishy—and sinister—about a painting whose owners need to sell for quick cash.

I’ve been enjoying the Kate Hamilton mystery series, and book 4, The Shadow of Mystery, continues that trend. We have welcoming small British towns with just enough detail for atmosphere—and with plenty of good food for readers to savour vicariously.

In these books, the mystery comes first: cleverly plotted, clean, and with the present-day death somehow connected to secrets from one or more generations past.

The characters feel lifelike and come with personal and relational complications. These never overshadow the mystery, instead adding background flavour.

American Kate is an expert on antiques, currently assisting her English friend Ivor Tweedy (don’t you love his name?) with his shop, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Kate’s fiancé, Tom Mallory, is in British law enforcement. Once they set a date for the wedding they’ll need to decide which continent to call home. Kate and Tom have each lost a previous spouse and each have adult children. They each have a mother, too: Kate’s is a steadying source of advice, while Tom’s can’t accept him remarrying. Guess which one lives nearby?

We also have the elderly Vivian Bunn, with whom Kate currently boards, and the even older Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde living in the nearby manor house.

Readers can begin with this book with only mild spoilers for the previous ones, but I’d encourage you to start with book 1, A Dream of Death. You won’t regret it.

Despite the familiar and detailed way she writes British small town settings, Connie Berry is an American author based in Ohio. Check out her books at connieberry.com and sign up for her monthly newsletter, The Plot Thickens.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip, by Sara Brunsvold (Revell, 2022)

Life-affirming, inspiring, and heartwarming, this novel pairs a young female reporter with an elderly woman at the end of her days. Clara Kip may be dying, and she may claim to be ordinary, but the “simple” acts of love and friendship that unfold from her past have changed hearts, impacted her city’s history, and saved lives. All because she dared to hold onto her Saviour and love those He allowed to cross her path.

What begins as a disciplinary assignment for Aidyn Kelley will upend and reshape her life and goals. What she discovers in Clara’s words will challenge readers as well.

Clara is the star of the story: feisty, faithful, fierce, and not at all prepared to lie down and let the cancer take her quietly. Instead, arriving at the hospice that she knows will be her final earthly home, she believes the Lord has work for her to do even in this place. [Spoiler: He does!]

This beautifully-crafted novel celebrates friendship, faith, sacrifice, love, endurance, laughter, human kindness, care for refugees, and much more. Definitely life-changing fiction and well worth the read. Expect to see it showing up in lots of “favourites” lists and literary awards.

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip is Sara Brunsvold’s debut novel. For more about the author, and to download a copy of “Mrs. Kip’s 8 Rules to Live By” (limited time offer) visit sarabrunsvold.com.

[Review copy from the public library via Hoopla.]

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Review: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

book cover: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd (2021)

If you love stories with interconnected threads drawing characters’ lives together at the end, this one’s for you. Especially if you love strong, evocative description and characters with heart.

The Last Piece begins in 1937 with a talented young artist forced to sell the portrait of his dead sweetheart to a jigsaw puzzle company. He does so with a prayer of sorts that the one-of-a-kind puzzle not be completed until he’s reunited with her.

What follow are a string of short stories from that date until 2017 where various people attempt the puzzle at key moments in their lives. If they don’t finish the puzzle, they do experience situations that shape their lives and memories. And in 2017 the mystery of the artist’s identity and the threads that join the characters find conclusion.

Terrie Todd writes settings so real you can taste the dust and feel the sun and the breeze. She’s an award-winning Canadian author of historical fiction, plays and short works as well as the nonfiction book, Out of My Mind: A Decade of Faith and Humour. For more about the author, visit her blog  terrietodd.blogspot.com or her Goodreads page.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson

Cover of Joy that Renews: A devotional from Psalms to refresh your life every day, by Steve Akerson.

Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson (River Birch Press, 2021)

These devotions brim with infectious joy and confident trust in our Lord.

Taking one verse from each of the Bible’s 150 psalms, Joy that Renews invites readers to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The daily devotionals focus on God’s goodness and love and on themes like living in freedom, thankfulness, and listening to God. Although the Psalms were written many years before Christ, they contain much that points to Jesus.

Each day’s reading begins with a title, a one-line summary, and then the Scripture, a brief application, and a heartfelt response. The conversational, transparent style makes for easy reading and relatability. The author uses The Passion Translation, which puts oft-familiar verses in a fresh light.

Anyone familiar with the psalms as a whole is aware that they’re not all light and jubilant. Some are laments, and some groan with deep pain and affliction. One of the points Steve Akerson draws from these heavier psalms is that “You will always have a big choice in your life—either to focus on your problems or on God’s goodness. That choice will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life and on those around you.” [Day 22, “Chased by Goodness,” Hoopla edition page 61]

And “It is good for you to praise Him, even if your praise is accompanied by tears and sorrows.” [Day 31, “Turn Distress Upside Down,” Hoopla edition page 77]

I appreciate how, whatever the circumstances, this book turns the focus back to God and His goodness. This helps strengthen our faith and leads us into worship. I also appreciate the encouragement to listen to God with expectancy—the more we train our spiritual ears to recognize His voice, the closer we’ll walk with Him. Or, as Day 110, “Listen—God is Talking,” says, “His words will bring richness to your soul.” [Hoopla edition page 253]

These daily readings blessed me, and I’ll be marking Joy that Renews as a book to read again. The book is also available in print and digital format from many online venues.

Author Steve Akerson is one of the Prayer Team leaders at Hosanna Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. For more about the author and his book, and to request the free study guide that accompanies it, visit joythatrenews.com.

[Review copy from Hoopla.]

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Review: Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard

Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard (Annie’s Fiction, 2022)

Cover art for Boughs of Folly. Christmas tree, gingerbread village, cat.

After 20 years away from her Georgia hometown, Jillian Green is back: living with her grandmother and great aunt in an antebellum mansion and slowly improving her baking skills at her grandmother’s Chocolate Shoppe bakery.

Christmas is approaching and she’s excited to decorate the mansion for the upcoming Merry Mansions tour. When one of the decorating team is found dead on the grounds, Jillian’s great aunt cries murder. Since the elderly woman is convinced her dead husband communicates with her through her cat, nobody takes the claim seriously—until handsome coroner Hunter Greyson agrees.

Jillian’s curiosity draws her into the murder investigation and also into a stranger’s quest to locate his long-lost high school sweetheart. As clues and complications multiply, she discovers the two mysteries may have a common thread.

Boughs of Folly is a feel-good Christmas cozy mystery that fits into a collection of books set in the same town, which means it comes with a well-established set of characters. This is a bonus for fans of the other books who get to see their fictional friends again. Not having read the other books didn’t affect me in terms of understanding the story although I did feel like there were a lot of people to keep track of.

Most fun thing about the book: the mansion’s decorations include an outdoor manger scene with lifelike sheep that Jillian remembers her grandfather regularly moving around so people would think they were real. Another good thing would be all the bakery goods references.

The mystery is satisfyingly tangled but it all comes out in the end. In traditional cozy fashion, readers will find a clean story with appealing characters and setting, a bit of humour, food, friendship, hints of romance, and a quirky pet.

Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book set called Jingle Bell Mysteries (with Klaus for Suspicion and Deck the Hearse) from Annie’s Fiction. Annie’s is a subscription book club delivering members a new read every 4-6 weeks. The Jingle Bell Mysteries set is available for purchase through Annie’s site without taking a subscription, so it’s a great way to check out the types of books they offer. For more about the book bundle or to order, click here: Jingle Bell Mysteries.

Believe it or not, this is Sandra Orchard’s 25th book. For more about the author and her mystery and romantic suspense books, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens

Crossed by Death, by ACF Bookens, Stitches in Crime series book 1

Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens (Andilit, 2021)

Paisley Sutton’s historical writing career went out the window when she became a single mom of a toddler too active to allow the necessary research time. Now she provides for herself and two-year-old Sawyer by salvaging vintage items from abandoned buildings and reselling them online.

Exploring a long-closed rural gas station was not supposed to end with her finding a dead body. Nor was meeting the town sheriff supposed to unfold into a potential for romance.

I enjoyed following Paisley’s research as she tries to untangle generational secrets that might explain not only the present-day murder but the long-ago one that closed the gas station.

Cozy mystery fans will find a few familiar staples: a well-stocked yarn store is a key setting (although Paisley herself prefers cross-stitch), there’s an interesting pet (a Maine Coon cat) and plenty of food references, along with the law enforcement romantic hero. Her salvage career is interesting, and the mystery is an engaging puzzle to follow.

I like Paisley’s accepting way with people and her desire to contribute to their lives. Her mama-bear determination to provide for and protect her son create a strong reader connection. The book does a great job of showing white characters (including Paisley) interacting with Black characters with no prejudice but also with no sense of “hey, look at us being non-racist.” It’s just natural, as it should be, with a few regretful references to past segregation.

Crossed by Death is book 1 in the Stitches in Crime mystery series. A.C.F. Bookens has a few other cozy mystery series as well, one of which is a free download on her site: acfbookens.com. Fans of Karin Kaufman’s Juniper Grove series will want to give this author a try, and vice versa.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, The Happenstance Chronicles Book 3, by Janice L. Dick

Gossip and Grace, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2022)

When you mess up in a small town, everybody knows it. Which is why 19-year-old Sol Wuppertal does not want to return to Happenstance when he gets out of prison. No matter his claims of innocence—all the townsfolk will remember is that he hung around with bad characters and has done time.

Readers of the Happenstance Chronicles series will recognize Sol’s large, energetic family: his dad owns the general store. Other fan favourites are back as well: Matt and the Misses Grayce and Emmaline, Bear, the crotchety Morris Craddock, and more. If you’re new to the series, you’ll fit right in and quickly develop a fondness for these folks.

In this book, Sol is lured home by his sister Rachel who’s running the new bistro and needs a helper. Sol needs a job but doesn’t want to work in the family store—his father hasn’t forgiven him for shaming the family name. But working at the bistro puts Sol in regular contact with Mr. Craddock. Words will fly and tempers will flare.

As if conflict with his father, the local gossip columnist, Mr. Craddock, and his parole officer isn’t enough, Sol also finds himself in the middle of a mystery. Someone’s been stealing rare books from the library attached to the bistro.

Gossip and Grace is a blend of contemporary fiction and cozy mystery, with a dash of whimsy. The mystery is clearly secondary to the challenges and changes in the characters’ lives.

Sol has a lot of negative mental baggage and as he tries to learn to reframe his perspective I appreciate the realistic ups and downs in the process. Too many books make it look easy or like a one time choice. Negative self-talk and false beliefs about others are things that affect so many of us in the real world, and I think Sol’s journey can point to real-life change. Not that it’s preachy in any way—his growth is an organic result of his struggle.

Gossip and Grace is the newest feel-good mystery in the Happenstance Chronicles, with delightful characters, amusing banter, and a whimsical small town you’ll wish was real. As well as this contemporary series, Janice L. Dick has also written historical fiction. For more about the author and her books, visit janicedick.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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Review: Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (Barks & Beans 6)

Cold Drip, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2022)

A tour of the local caverns with her visiting boyfriend plunges Macy Hatfield into another mystery when a young woman falls over a cliff during a suspicious power outage.

I’m always happy to return to the West Virginia-set Barks and Beans Café for a vicarious dose of tasty treats and canine company. And as the series continues, I appreciate how some of the secondary characters are included in aspects of the mysteries. It lets readers get to know them along with brother-and-sister sleuthing duo Bo and Macy—and Coal, my favourite fictional Great Dane.

Fans of Heather Day Gilbert’s other books will be happy to recognize a new character in Cold Drip who was introduced in False Pretense, the recent finale to her Murder in the Mountains series. Cold Drip also includes some hints that may shape future mysteries in the series.

The Barks and Beans books are light-toned cozy mysteries with characters who’ll keep you coming back for more. There’s an overall arc of developing friendships and romance, yet a reader could start with any book.

Author Heather Day Gilbert writes contemporary mysteries (some faith-based and some clean mainstream) 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.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. I was not required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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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.]

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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.

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