Tag Archives: book reviews

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.]

Review: Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon | Christian fiction, Australia, Bible storytelling, cancer, family
Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon (2018)

Author Christine Dillon’s fiction tackles some of the hard issues that Christians face in the real world. In Grace in Strange Disguise, the challenge was “what happens when the prayer of faith doesn’t heal?” In Grace in the Shadows, it’s “how—and why—would God love me, after what I’ve done?”

Book one’s Esther believed her faith wasn’t good enough, and book two’s Rachel believes she isn’t good enough. They both must overcome negative father influences and false ideas of who God really is.

Readers of book one will be glad to see Esther and her family again. Grace in the Shadows is Rachel’s story, but Esther has plenty of point-of-view time as well.

Rachel is resisting God’s call, while Esther, who’s been growing in faith, comes face-to-face with the realization that she needs to re-learn some of the lessons He’s already walked her through. Isn’t that typical of most Christians in our spiritual lives?

What keeps the Grace books from feeling preachy is that the conversations about God and faith are natural to the characters and their struggles. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on real people who are working these things through in their lives. Here are some of the lines that resonated with me:

“God loves to take the worst things and bring good out of them.” [Naomi, Kindle location 202]

Esther always wanted to rush in and explain, but Joy kept saying, “Use questions, not explanations.” [Kindle location 856]

“Your mistakes can’t derail God’s plans. You and I aren’t big enough to do that.” [Naomi, Kindle location 1801]

I didn’t engage as fully in this story as in the previous one, but I attribute that to the different subject and to having already encountered the Bible storytelling theme in book one. There is perhaps a storyteller voice to the narrative, instead of the deeper point of view that’s common these days, and this can make it easier to maintain a bit of reader distance. Yet the novel is well-executed, and the characters’ experiences are worthy of our time and can encourage us in our own daily lives.

And the ending is beautiful.

Christine Dillon is a missionary whose tag-line is “multiplying disciples one story at a time,” and the author of the Grace fiction series. She has also written non-fiction books about the Bible storytelling approach. For more about the author, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Asrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler

Asrian Skies, by Anne WheelerAsrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler (2017)

Avery Rendon needed special permission to leave her home planet, Asria, to join the interplanetary Commonwealth forces as a pilot. Asria’s government has many restrictions, especially for a member of the royal family. Add to that her doubts about her culture’s faith, and she’s happier elsewhere.

Naturally she finds herself back on Asria, embroiled in all she wanted to escape—and then things get worse. When Asria is invaded, she must do her part to fight the oppressors without pushing them far enough to kill her.

Interacting with those she trusts—and those she doesn’t—not only shapes her as a leader but it makes her take a second look at faith.

Asrian Skies is well-crafted, with unexpected twists and reversals. It’s a bit heavier in places than I’m used to (the planet is under occupation by a brutal enemy after all) but it’s not graphic.

Anne Wheeler writes character-driven Christian science fiction. The sequel to Asrian Skies, Unbroken Fire, is now out. For more about the author and her books, visit anne-wheeler.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Firewall, by DiAnn Mills

Firewall, by DiAnn Mills | Christian suspenseFirewall, by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale, 2014)

An explosive start, and the pace accelerates from there.

Taryn expected to be on her honeymoon. Instead she’s wanted by the FBI, and the man she married may not be who she thinks he is.

Meanwhile, someone wants to hijack the software project she headed—if they succeed, they can cause mass destruction on a global scale.

FBI Special Agent Grayson Hall must convince her to trust him—if he can keep up with her. And if he can keep them both alive.

I liked Taryn and Grayson, and Grayson’s Uncle Joe. I enjoyed the fast pace, and the way the story wasn’t too dark despite the danger. It did get a little heavy at the end, but not extremely so.

Taryn has a lot to deal with: physical injury, her supposed husband’s deception, danger and death on all sides. The crisis draws her to risk trusting not only Grayson but God.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author of Christian romantic suspense. Firewall is Book 1 in her FBI: Houston series. For more about the author and her books, visit diannmills.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: When the Smoke Clears, by Lynette Eason

When the Smoke Clears, by Lynette Eason

When 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.]

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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.]

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