Tag Archives: contemporary fiction

Review: Lilly’s Promise, by Terrie Todd

Book cover: Lilly's Promise, by Terrie Todd

Lilly’s Promise, by Terrie Todd (Word Alive Press, 2022)

In 2019, Diana has a perfect life—if you don’t count the recurring nightmares of her disastrous wedding. She’s single, with a successful career and a meaningful Big Sister relationship with a needy teen girl, Carly. And her best friend Shane is as happy as she is to leave romance off the table.

Discovering a twist in her family tree and learning the story of her grandmother Lilly will affect Diana’s present—and her choices for the future. When Diana quizzes her father, Dale, he decides to write the story for her as a book, one tantalizing chapter at a time.

Diana’s portion of the story is told in first person, present tense and Lilly’s in third person past (1922-1944). In the 1920s, children Lilly and Tommy commit a crime with devastating consequences. Bound together by the secret shame of what they’ve done, they spend their lives trying to atone.

Richly told with settings solidly anchored in present and past, Lilly’s Promise is a thought-provoking book that touches on a number of hard topics including infidelity, abortion, and wartime injuries and trauma. Yet it’s a hopeful story, pointing toward God’s love, encouraging its characters (and readers) to choose life, forgiveness, and freedom from fear.

This is one of those books where the characters stayed with me between reading times. And even as Lilly’s choices went from bad to worse, the present-day presence of her now-elderly son, Dale (Diana’s father) gave hope that her story would turn out.

Lilly’s Promise is a Braun Book Awards Winner. Canadian author Terrie Todd writes heartfelt historical and contemporary women’s fiction and has a nonfiction book as well. She is the author of The Silver Suitcase, The Last Piece, and more. For more about her books and to read her blog, visit terrietodd.blogspot.com.

[Book provided by the author. My choice to write a review.]

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Review: Always By My Side, by Iola Goulton

Always By My Side, by Iola Goulton (2023)

A sweet, opposites-attract Christian romance with a suitably heart-happy ending.

Set in a small town in Washington State, this instalment of the Trinity Lakes Romance series features Tabitha, the overworked mainstay of the Lakeview Inn, and Logan, the New Zealand-born world traveller.

Tabby and Logan both need to learn—or re-learn—to ask for God’s direction for their lives instead of forging ahead on their own. And then to trust Him in the waiting.

It’s book four in the series but reads easily as a standalone. The setting is beautiful, the characters easy to spend time with, and there’s a hint of mystery about the abandoned boathouse on the edge of the property.

Check out New Zealand author Iola (pronounced yo-la) Goulton at iolagoulton.com.

[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: Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2020)

Lyrical, beautiful, heart-warming and satisfying, Set the Stars Alight is a must-read.

Page one welcomed me in like I was coming home.

Before I even reached that page, the dedication spoke to me—the part about wonder:

Hang on to it, brave ones.
And more—hang on to the Giver of it.
Though darkness may fall and times grow hard,
hold fast to this given light. [Kindle location 45]

Timely words for a hard year like 2020.

The novel follows two timelines: 1987 – 2020 and the 1800s during the Napoleonic wars, each revealing what’s needed to understand the other. It’s not choppy, switching timelines each chapter; instead, the story flows in segments with time enough to settle in place and care about the people involved.

In the contemporary thread, childhood friends Lucy and Dashel reunite as adults in a quest to locate a legendary shipwreck in the English Channel. The historical thread follows Frederick, a landowner’s son, and the young lovers Juliette and Elias.

Some of the many lines I highlighted in the book are sparks of light to hold close:

Taking note of the good, the true, the just, the miracles hidden at every turn is like…a deliberate act of defiance against the darkness. [Lucy’s father, Kindle location 431]

Such freedom, to know our limits. And to know the God who has none. [Clara, Kindle location 3347]

Others are just beautiful:

The woman had a way of almost gliding—not in the graceful, practiced way of the ladies of gothic novels, but rather more like an apparition gliding over ice. [Kindle location 1625]

Set the Stars Alight is a novel of love and loyalty, friendship and faith, that encourages wonder and affirms the value of everyday actions and individual lives. As an added bonus, readers who loved Amanda Dykes’ debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, will welcome the quiet nod to that book in chapter 25.

For more about author Amanda Dykes, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley.]

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Review: Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn

Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn Miramar Bay, by Davis Bunn (Kensington Books, 2017)

Sometimes you need to run away to find yourself. And so we meet Connor Larkin, up-and-coming actor, seeking anonymity on the midnight bus out of Hollywood after his highly-publicized engagement event.

Connor has been to the town of Miramar Bay once before, and he thinks it’s the place he’ll find some clarity. He’s not expecting to find an ally in the local police chief, or to be brought to tears by the music drifting from a local restaurant.

Sophie Cassick, the restaurant owner, can’t let her own troubles keep her from hiring “Connor Smith” when he pleads for a job. Whatever his secrets, he’ll fit in with the rest of her loyal crew of misfits.

Miramar Bay is a heart-warming, feel-good novel, perfect for a summer read. Complex characters and meticulous details make it more than a romance. It’s also a story of friendship, loyalty, estrangement, regrets, and second chances. It’s about remembering to dream again.

Internationally-bestselling author Davis Bunn is most known for his Christian fiction. Miramar Bay is a general-market book, so don’t expect an overt faith thread. As a Christian reader, I see God’s work through the characters and circumstances and in response to one woman’s cry of “I need help,” but the characters themselves don’t fully think that through on-page.

Although lawyers only play a small part in the novel, my favourite lines both describe them:

Everything was very normal about Harold. However, Sylvie often suspected that given the right motivation, the top would spring open to his tight little box, and out would pop the evil clown. [p. 181]

Sol offered a cat’s smile, all teeth and malice. [p. 257]

For more about the author and his books, visit Davis Bunn Books. Writers and aspiring writers are strongly encouraged to check out his blog, Notes from Davis. Curious readers may find it interesting too, to peek behind the scenes at the struggles many writers face.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Unforgotten, by Kristen Heitzmann

Unforgotten, by Kristen HeitzmannUnforgotten, by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House, 2005)

Lance Michelli’s family is living the generational effects of past tragedy. He can’t stop comparing himself to his perfect brother, Tony, who died in 9-11. And in trying to bring closure to his beloved Nonna Antonia for the trauma of her youth, it seems he’s only made things worse.

This is the second in a series, and in book one, Secrets, Antonia sent Lance to her girlhood home on a mission. Unforgotten leads Lance and the woman he loves (Rese, who has renovated the home to be a bed and breakfast) into more fallout from the past. A secondary thread reveals more of Antonia’s past as the elderly woman processes the revelation of even more secrets.

Secrets was set in California wine country. Unforgotten brings Rese and Lance back to his home in a run-down part of the Bronx – a home packed with his extended family. We see the solitary Rese learn to not only survive but to find her place in the mayhem.

Unforgotten brims with deeply flawed characters, some of whom are learning what it means to grow in relationship with God and with each other despite misconceptions, mistakes, and setbacks along the way. There’s a lot of love in the novel: romantic, family, and between friends. There’s also an element of spiritual warfare and an honest portrayal of the Christian’s struggle to understand why God allows so much suffering.

These characters have a place in my heart, and I can’t wait to follow them to the series conclusion in Echoes.

Bestselling author Kristen Heitzmann writes contemporary romantic suspense, psychological suspense, and historical fiction, that connect with readers’ hearts. For more about the author and her books, visit kristenheitzmannbooks.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Legacy, by Mary Hosmar

Legacy, by Mary HosmarLegacy, by Mary Hosmar (2014)

What 15-year-old boy wants to tag along with his mother, visiting relatives in the Netherlands over Christmas, when he’d been planning a ski adventure with his buddies?

Not Jake Thompson. But it’s a condition of his late great-uncle’s will. So Jake, his attitude, and his mother fly from Canada to meet the strangers who are their extended family.

Bit by bit, they discover family history – and secrets – that neither of them had known, wrapped up in the fallout from World War 2.

Jake’s point of view makes Legacy an easy read, and I enjoyed watching him try to deny his grief for his great-uncle and his growing interest in his heritage. Although his relatives tell him the stories from the past, much of those tales are written from the point of view of the characters who experienced them, making the memories come alive.

Favourite line:

If this was Bert’s idea of a good time, no wonder he hadn’t married. [Kindle location 1166]

The book offers an interesting insight into the early days of the liberation of the Netherlands and the after-effects of the war. I’d recommend it for young adult readers, especially those interested in history, but also for adults.

The subject matter makes it appropriate for reading at Remembrance Day (Veterans’ Day) or Christmas, but it would be a good read at any time of year.

Canadian author Mary Hosmar has also written A Matter of Conscience, another young adult historical novel, set in Canada. For more about the author and her books, visit maryhosmar.weebly.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus, by Joyce Magnin

Harriet Beamer Takes the Bus cover artHarriet Beamer Takes the Bus, by Joyce Magnin (Zondervan, 2012)

Harriet Beamer is a 72-year-old, independent-minded widow who lives with her super-sized hound, Humphrey. She’s agreed to move in with her son and daughter-in-law, but she doesn’t have to go quietly. Or conventionally.

All her life, Harriet has lived a conventional life. The only unusual thing she’s done is collect salt and pepper shakers. She’s never travelled, never had an adventure. So she sends her dog to their new home by air and sets out to join him by bus. Local transit where possible, Greyhound or train at a last resort. All the way from Pennsylvania to California.

Her journey is a hoot. Think of something funny that could happen: odds are, it does. A few not-so-funny things happen too.

As she travels, and as her writer son Henry and his wife Prudence wait and worry, each one reaches a change in thinking that should let them live happily ever after.

This is a fun summer read that prompted a lot of snorts and laughter. I have no idea if the details of various transit stations are accurate, but they’re fine for an armchair journey. And Harriet’s feistiness is inspiring.

It’s a Christian novel, and because of the sensitivities of some within the faith I’ll issue two warnings: 1) Harriet has been known to place small bets. Selling her house is actually the result of losing the only high-stakes bet she’s ever made. 2) Harriet uses words like “dang” and “geeze”. This won’t bother most readers at all, didn’t bother me although the gambling surprised me, but if either of these things are on your don’t fly list, you’ll want to choose a different novel.

It’s not a preachy novel, although Harriet meets more believers than a realistic slice of US demographics would produce. It’s the sort of book you can read, enjoy, and share with a friend. And if it encourages your own sense of adventure, so much the better. The world needs more Harriets.

Joyce Magnin is the author of The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow, Carrying Mason and the Bright’s Pond Series. To learn more, you can visit Joyce Magnin’s blog or her Zondervan author page.

[Review copy from my personal library.]