Tag Archives: book reviews

Review: GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons

GraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons | daily devotionals, artwork, gift bookGraceLaced, by Ruth Chou Simons (Harvest House Publishers, 2017)

We tend to experience life in seasons, not necessarily in order, and often repeating. Whether you find yourself in winter, spring, summer, or fall, this beautiful interactive devotional book will minister to your spirit.

The gentle artwork and photography quiets the soul and invites readers to slow down, drop their defenses, and be open to receive God’s Word. Many of the Scriptures are familiar, well-loved passages.

Some verses are printed in text, others are hand-lettered as art, and others are set out for readers to pursue in their own Bibles. Many verses are ones I’ve loved over the years, and others I’d like to go back and memorize to keep with me.

Each day’s devotional finishes with a prompt for reader response: to identify a person to encourage, a fear to release, blessings to give thanks for, etc. Readers may want to have a journal handy, because this book is too pretty to write in although the spaces are there.

I had the privilege of reviewing this hard-cover book (no ebook option, that I can see), and it’s beautiful, with thick, glossy pages, suitable for display on your coffee table (provided you’ve written your personal responses elsewhere!). The one thing it lacks is an attached satin ribbon bookmark.

I do confess being disappointed to see the book was printed in China, since the publisher is North American. It’s still very expensive, with $29.99 USD ($41.99 CAD) list price, but, that said, it would make a lovely gift for yourself or for a special loved one.

The book has just released (September 2017) and at the moment, Amazon has a significant discount: $14.99 USD / $27.41 CAD. As much as I prefer to advocate supporting local bookstores, this might be a time for online shopping. Check your prices first. (Canadians, I see Chapters-Indigo has it for a few cents more, but with free shipping…)

GraceLaced is the sort of book a person can revisit again and again, long after the first 30-day devotional journey is complete. Related products are a journal and 17-month planner.

As well as being a writer, Ruth Chou Simons is an artist, speaker, and entrepreneur. Her website is at gracelaced.com, where you can learn more about her, read her blog, and perhaps even find your favourite piece of artwork from the GraceLaced book available for sale.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Harvest House Publishers and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Harvest House.]

Review: Another Stab at Life, by Anita Higman

Another Stab at Life, by Anita HigmanAnother Stab at Life, by Anita Higman (Forget Me Not Romances, 2011)

Bailey Walker is in desperate need of a fresh start, but the decaying old mansion left to her by her beloved grandmother is not what she had in mind. Still, she’s plucky and determined, with a sense of humour and nowhere else to go.

Along with the house, she’s challenged by neighbours who want to be her friends. Bailey’s rules for life tell her to be independent and not rely on anyone, but when it seems like someone’s trying to scare her out of her inheritance, she starts rethinking the value of isolation.

I liked the humour in the book, and the way it didn’t take itself too seriously. There are questions about the house that aren’t answered, but peeking at the summaries of the next two books suggests that everything will be wrapped up by the end.

Writing-wise, there is an issue with past/present tense. The story’s told in the past tense, but every so often there’s a slip.

Favourite lines (the first one shows the tone, but also the past/present issue, and the second made me chortle out loud):

This is a really old building but I can make it a home. Somehow. Eventually. But why was there always a prologue to every story in my life? [Kindle location 61]

The tellers at the bank had to call the head honchos down from upstairs so they could burble and stare like marmosets. [Kindle location 606]

Another Stab at Life is book 1 in the Volstead Manor series of cozy mysteries. It’s a light read (with a few tense moments). This isn’t the strongest book I’ve read this year, but it’s good fun and I look forward to finishing the rest of the series. I like Bailey and her mysterious house.

Anita Higman is the author or co-author of over 40 novels, present and historical, romantic and mystery, and even some young adult fiction. Another Stab at Life also comes in the ebook bundle, The Volstead Manor Series. For more about the author and her work, visit anitahigman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Bushwhacked, by Emily James

Bushwhacked, by Emily JamesBushwhacked, by Emily James (Stronghold Books, 2016)

It’s official. Nicole Fitzhenry-Dawes is moving to Sugarwood and learning the ropes of maple syrup making. Except before she even arrives, she’s pulled into another murder investigation. At least this time the police agree it’s foul play.

With the dubious blessing of interim Police Chief Erik Higgins, Nicole goes undercover at the local animal shelter to look for clues.

Erik, who she dated briefly last time she was in town, starts acting distant, and Mark, the county medical examiner, is friendlier toward her than a married man should be.

The mystery is cleverly plotted and executed, with some delightful imagery, and the characters are fun to read. I found this one slower to get into than the previous books, until the action sped up part-way through. Nicole missed a couple of key things that were obvious to me, and I’m not a reader who likes to feel smarter than the characters.

My biggest issue with her, though, is Mark. He’s too nice a guy to be two-timing on his perpetually-absent wife, and as a reader, I don’t have the patience to watch a character angst for a whole book over something so easily solved with a single conversation. Especially when it started in the previous book and was already wearing thin because the answer seems obvious to me (maybe I’m wrong… I’ll find out in the next book).

Despite that, Nicole is funny and quirky. As well as figuring out the human relationships in her life, she needs to decide what she thinks about her uncle’s faith. For now, in crisis, she talks to “Uncle Stan’s God.”

Favourite lines:

My mind felt a bit like a chalkboard wiped clean with a dirty brush. I couldn’t quite make the words that should be there come into focus. [Kindle location 1649]

She chuckled, but it sounded like a cardboard cutout of what laughter should be. [Kindle location 1724]

So far, each book comes with a recipe, and this time it’s maple cookies. I tried it, and they’re very tasty. I look forward to the next book, Almost Sleighed.

To find out more about author Emily James and the Maple Syrup Mysteries, or to sign up for your free ebook copy of the prequel, Sapped, visit authoremilyjames.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Shadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr

Shadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr #bookreview Hill of Great Darkness seriesShadow of Tunguska, by H.C. Beckerr (Archway Publishing, 2017)

Shadow of Tunguska is book 2, “The Final Chapters,” of the Hill of Great Darkness series, and because it’s closely linked to the events of book 1, Hill of Great Darkness, I believe they’re best read in order.

The series is set on Earth, the moon, and in space, in the not-so-distant future. Ugandan scientist Simone Sytte finds herself in the middle of a highly secret military operation on the moon, one that conflicts sharply with her Christian faith.

At the same time, in Russia, a covert team of Americans explores macabre findings at the Tunguska event site—findings that link it with an archaeological site in the US. While I’m not conversant with the theories around the Tunguska event, I suspect this one’s a new twist on it.

This is a book for people who enjoy high-stakes science fiction adventure with high-tech equipment. It’s told in an omniscient style that explains multiple characters’ motivations and reactions in a given scene, which won’t work for all readers.

Although primarily an adventure story, the novel looks at what it’s like for a Christian caught in circumstances she wants no part of, learning “to be light in the darkness around her.” [page 79]

Favourite line:

At that instant, the forest became as silent as deep space, and three men leaned toward an old man, like children who were examining their first firefly.” [page 78]

H.C. Beckerr writes Christian science fiction, or “Chri-fi,” as he calls it. For more about his novels, or to check out his blog, visit shadowoftunguska.com. You can read my interview with H.C. Beckerr here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior

When the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior #bookreview #memoir #griefWhen the Bough Breaks, by Bobbi Junior (Angel Hope Publishing, 2016)

Nothing can prepare parents for the pain of losing an infant, either during pregnancy or following the birth. Bobbi Junior’s brief memoir about the death of her second child shortly after birth is, on the one hand, one couple’s personal story, and on the other hand, a window on how friends and loved ones can offer support to the grieving parents.

Told in short, conversational chapters, each charmingly illustrated by Ramona Furst, this is a quick read with a good take-away. Readers learn some of the things not to say, and in fact that it’s okay to say nothing but to be present in silence and with tears.

The book includes simple and practical things, too, creative means of comfort that worked for the Junior family and which may work for others. As the author points out, though, every person’s grief is different.

Favourite line:

Like carefully pushing aside a spider web before it could cling to me, I took great care in moving the comment aside before passing it by. I wouldn’t forget it, but I wouldn’t wear it, either. [On dealing with an unintentionally hurtful comment, page 29]

Bobbi Junior is also the author of The Reluctant Caregiver. For more about the author and her work, or to check out her blog, visit bobbijunior.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke

Fault Lines, by Thomas Locke. Prequel novel to the Fault Lines series. #technothriller #cleanreadsFault Lines, by Thomas Locke (Revell, 2017)

In which book 3 is book 1… Fault Lines, the newest release in the techno-thriller series of the same name, fits first in the series chronology. If you’ve read Double Edge, the free ebook prequel, you’ll recognize the first four chapters of Fault Lines, but the rest is all new, expanding on what the prequel set in place, and a highly recommended read.

If you’ve read the previous books, grab this one. If you’re new to the series, dive in here. It’s fast-paced, a great read, and it’s clean. Although Revell is a publisher of Christian fiction, this book has only faint references to faith and would suit readers of all backgrounds.

This is the story of Charlie Hazard, a “risk containment specialist” whose life is upended when a strange and beautiful woman implores him to help her with a mysterious – and dangerous – mission.

Charlie is my favourite type of hero: a strong, competent character who’s over his head but readers know that somehow he’ll find a way to beat the odds. He draws together a team who will need to do the impossible.

The technology at the core of the series doesn’t exist yet, but with the events rooted in the present (or very near future) I hesitate to call it science fiction.

As always, the author’s choice of words and phrases adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the story. Here’s an example:

Every now and then she would stop talking and touch her tongue to her lips, as though she wanted to taste a certain word, as though another thought was crowding into her mouth. [Reese, page 58]

And my favourite line, because of the nod to the film, Casablanca:

“You think I would drive to Como for the waters, perhaps? For my health?” [Edoardo, page 244]

Fault Lines is a great read, and now I want to re-read the next book in the series, Trial Run.

Thomas Locke is the pen name of the prolific and award-winning Davis Bunn, who incorporates a stronger faith thread in the books under his own name. For more about the author and his books, visit tlocke.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz

The Soldier Who Killed a King, by David KitzThe Soldier Who Killed a King, by David Kitz (Kregel Publications, 2017)

Remember in the account of the Crucifixion of Christ, the soldier at the foot of the Cross who declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God”? (Mark 15:39, NIV)

The Soldier Who Killed a King is this soldier’s story, told first-person, beginning on Palm Sunday and ending on Resurrection Sunday. One week in the life of an ordinary Roman centurion who was caught in the tumultuous events of Holy Week.

Well-written and with as little brutality as possible, this is a thought-provoking novel worthy to be part of a Christian’s reading each year before Easter. It’s powerful any time of the year.

Sometimes seeing a familiar story through a fresh lens helps us find new insights. This time, I was struck by an aspect of Barabbas’ release that I’d never considered before. (I’ve read the previous version of this book, The Soldier, the Terrorist, and the Donkey King, but somehow this snippet didn’t stick with me.)

The language is fresh and approachable, with just a hint of formality to remind us this is a man from an earlier time. The centurion, Marcus Longinus, is an impartial observer of both Jesus and Herod as each arrives in Jerusalem through the Messiah Gate and proclaims kingship in his own way. Marcus’ language in describing them matches the opinions he forms.

My favourite lines:

The news of Herod’s arrival spread like flies on a rotting corpse. [page 64]

He [Jesus] was the donkey king. A horse would have put him above the crowd. A horse would have meant elevating himself like all the other egotistical men who led in this upside-down world. [page 119]

As a Bible dramatist, David Kitz presents the one-man, four-act play, The Centurion’s Report. He’s also the author of the devotional book, Psalms Alive! and the children’s book Little Froggy Explores the BIG World. And he posts regular reflections on the Psalms on his blog, complete with photos. See davidkitz.wordpress.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: On Love’s Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson

On Love's Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson Prince Edward Island Dreams Book 3On Love’s Gentle Shore, by Liz Johnson (Revell, 2017)

Natalie O’Ryan fled a painful childhood on Prince Edward Island, Canada, and was never going back. Until her fiancé decided it’d be the perfect place for their wedding. Right in her hometown. Surrounded by people who’d be too happy to tell him all the things she doesn’t want him to know.

Even worse than the gossips, though, is facing her childhood best friend, Justin Kane. Natalie and Justin each blame the other for ending their relationship, and now they have to work together on the wedding venue… and readers can’t help thinking these are the two who should be getting married, instead of bringing Natalie’s work-obsessed fiancé into the picture.

On Love’s Gentle Shore is book 3 in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, and it released just after Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations. Readers who are new to the series can start here and not feel lost, but there is a continuity of secondary characters from the beginning, and if you’ve read the previous books you’ll recognize them and see the ongoing developments in their lives.

Reading this series is like coming home, to a place we wish home could be. Rose’s Red Door Inn, where the bridal couple stay, is warm and welcoming, and it’s staffed with the kind, caring people readers met in book 1.

There are caring people in the community, too, although Natalie has spent too long focusing on those who caused her to leave. It’s good watching her realize how many people did love her as a child, and who haven’t given up on her now.

My only issue after reading is that Natalie’s childhood was dysfunctional enough that in the real world, the people who loved her would have reported her parents. The fact that they didn’t changes how I feel about their goodness. Still, there’s much to appreciate in the novel.

As well as being a romance, it’s a story of forgiveness, and faith, and relationships worth mending. The scenery is brought to life until you can almost picture yourself there, and the descriptions of the food may add a pound or two just in the reading.

Favourite line:

That didn’t stop a bucket of dread from gnawing its way into his belly and settling in like it was paying rent. [page 32]

Liz Johnson has written over a dozen novels, both contemporary romance and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her work, visit lizjohnsonbooks.com.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Over Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard

Over Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard #bookreview #overmayadeadbody mystery romantic suspenseOver Maya Dead Body, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2017)

FBI agent Serena Jones is trained to spot illegal activity – even when she’s on vacation. A stranger’s suspicious behaviour makes her think he’s smuggling art antiquities, and the unexpected death of the man she and her family had travelled to visit has her looking for a murderer.

The evidence suggests that Jack fell, but what happens next convinces Serena otherwise. Unless she’s too obsessed by her job and these incidents are truly accidents like the local police say.

Serena, her parents, and her incorrigible Aunt Martha are joined by Nate (Serena’s apartment superintendent, who’s more than he seems) and Tanner (her FBI boss) to help untangle the clues. Aunt Martha brings a few of her contacts into play, as well.

It looks like Jack was killed to keep him from talking about an antiquities smuggling ring. Then, there’s his missing nephew. And rumours of drugs. In the middle of trying to solve the mystery, Serena can’t stop comparing her feelings for Nate and Tanner and wondering how she can be attracted to them both.

Many fans of the series have already voted on which guy Serena will choose, and it’s been a source of some contention. They’re both fine men, and my one hesitation about reading this book was I didn’t want to see either of them sad at the end. Author Sandra Orchard has that covered, though, with an epilogue that forecasts happiness in the future for the man who lost out.

This is a fast-paced mystery filled with banter, twists and turns, and pages that practically turn themselves. Aunt Martha is a hoot as she tries to help with the investigation. As Serena says,

As sidekicks went, she was the best. If I ever decided to quit my day job and become a PI, I’d hire her in a flash. Well, except for the fact that Mom would kill me. [page 121]

Over Maya Dead Body is book 3 in the Serena Jones Mystery series. I heartily recommend starting with book 1, A Fool and His Monet, and reading all three books.

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning, Canadian author. She has also written the Port Aster Secrets series, and a number of other romantic suspense novels. For more about the author, and to see the bonus features she provides for each book, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]

Review: Serving Up God, by Colin MacDougall

Serving Up God: My Workplace as Ministry, by Colin MacDougall #bookreview #ChristianlivingServing Up God, by Colin MacDougall (WestBow Press, 2017)

This book is subtitled “My Workplace as Ministry,” and its memoir-style vignettes illustrate author Colin MacDougall’s premise that “Your purpose in life, simply put, is to live Christ where you are” [page xi].

With candour and gentle humour, chapters explore various facets of work and relationships: with customers, co-workers, and employees. It’s clear that the author doesn’t consider himself to have achieved perfection. As he “serves up God” in his business, as much as that impacts those around him, they in turn impact him – for the better.

Since most Christians spend far more time in the marketplace than in faith-based settings, books like this are a valuable resource on how to avoid a Monday morning disconnect from the Sunday morning worship.

The book begins with the idea that work is a gift given by God to be given back in worship, and that doing so involves seeing those around us as children of God: not judging, not trying to push people into their final identity as mature believers, but doing our best to help them move one step closer to God.

Employers and managers are encouraged to take time to know and pray for the employees in their charge, to lead by example, and to discipline fairly and always with the goal of helping employees reach their potential. Jesus is cited as the ultimate example of how to be a leader, as well as how to be a follower (in how He followed God the Father).

Favourite lines:

No matter how big or how small you may feel your job is, do it for the glory of God, and who knows the lives you will be able to impact. [page 6]

It’s important for me to recognize that, although I refer to my workplace as my ministry, it is really God’s ministry. I am quite fortunate to be along for the ride. [page 32]

This book is only 110 pages, but it’s filled with wisdom for Christians who want to live their faith on the job. Some sections apply specifically to managers/owners, but employees will find insights for co-worker and customer relationships as well.

Colin MacDougall has an extensive background in management, and at present he and his wife, Joanne, own a thriving cheesecake restaurant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, called Sweet Hereafter. Serving Up God is his first book. For more about the author and his book, visit servingupgod.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]