Tag Archives: grief

Review: Standoff, by Patricia Bradley

Standoff, by Patricia Bradley

Standoff, by Patricia Bradley (Revell, 2020)

Drug trafficking. Secrets. Murder. And romance. Standoff delivers all this and more.

Brooke Danvers is excited to follow her father John’s career path as a law enforcement ranger, but before she can be sworn in, John is found dead. Suddenly her childhood crush Luke Fereday is back on the scene, staying next door to her at his grandmother’s house. Luke can’t tell her that he’s working undercover to infiltrate the local drug ring—or that he blames himself for not being there to provide backup for John.

When the official verdict on John’s death is suicide, Brooke and Luke band together to prove it wrong and find the killer. Luke, meanwhile, is walking a dangerous line with the leader of the drug ring.

Luke’s grandmother, Daisy, has been a mentor to Brooke for years. I like her gentle support when Brooke is struggling with her father’s death:

“You may never get that answer,” she said softly. “But it’s okay to ask God why.” [Kindle location 1210]

As well as grief, suspense, romance, and faith, the novel also touches on identity and trust. And while readers know who some of the drug villains are, the identity of John’s murderer is a mystery for which there are a number of suspects.

I always enjoy Patricia Bradley’s novels. The suspense is strong but not overpowering and the characters’ relationships and their faith make them feel like real people.

The town of Natchez, Mississippi, and the 444-mile-long Natchez Trace Parkway are real places. The official US National Park site says the Parkway “roughly follows the ‘Old Natchez Trace,’ a historic travel corridor.” And “parkway” doesn’t just mean “highway”—the road goes through park land where people can bicycle, camp, etc.

The setting is a key part of the novel, and it’s well-rendered without that annoying travel-brochure feel that some authors give to real-life settings in their fiction. Still I wish I’d looked it up online first to have a better understanding. I think the word “trace” threw me off, because I’d never heard it applied to a road before.

Standoff is book 1 in Patricia Bradley’s new Natchez Park Rangers series. For more about the author and her books, visit ptbradley.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Words Aren’t Enough (Guest Post)

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Words Aren’t Enough

by Steph Beth Nickel

When I miswrote the title of this post, I realized I had stumbled upon truth.

Instead of “Words aren’t Enough,” I wrote “Word aren’t Enough.”

But wait! The Word is enough.

Only Jesus, the Living Word, can comfort the Nova Scotian families* (and others) who are grieving.

Only He can wrap them in His loving arms and sustain them today, tomorrow, and into the future.

Only He can give them the strength to put one foot in front of the other.

Only Jesus can stir the compassion in our hearts and remind us to pray for those whose hearts are broken.

Only the Living Word is enough!

And only the Written Word, the Scriptures, are enough to satisfy our desperate need for answers.

We won’t find the specific answers to the whys of this tragedy, but we will find the answers to questions we didn’t even know we were asking.

Can God really be trusted?

Does He care about what we do to one another?

Does He leave us on our own?

Will He hear me when I cry out to Him?

What does He know about the pain I’m going through?

Dear readers, may you find comfort in the Written Word. And may you come to the Living Word, who promised His followers, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30 ESV).

I know it doesn’t feel this way now, but when we humble ourselves and acknowledge our need of the Saviour, we learn that He is willing to bear the heaviest part of our burden on His own shoulders.

My words most definitely aren’t enough, but I pray that you will come to know the One who is the Word.

*[Note: I thank Steph Beth Nickel for this very timely and personal guest post written for Nova Scotians (of whom I am one) in the wake of Canada’s largest mass shooting, which claimed over 22 lives April 18-19, 2020. With all the world dealing with COVID-19 and other issues, this post still has something for everyone! Many thanks, my friend. ~Janet]

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com; join her Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738; or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Review: The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter Bookshop, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

Friendship, self-discovery, love, and a celebration of reading—and of independent bookstores.

Maddie Cullen had a knack for engaging with her customers and knowing the right book to suggest. When she died, she left envelopes for her two employees and her estranged niece. Each woman’s letter included a Bible passage and a list of books.

Madeline, her niece, inherited the store but doesn’t want to keep it. Claire and Janet, Maddie’s employees who supported her through her final days, wish the new owner would just let them carry on the business as usual. As the three women work together, each also reading the books Maddie’s letter “assigned,” they develop a strong friendship and each grow toward the potential Maddie had seen in them.

Each woman’s point of view is written in a different tense: first-person past, third-person past, and third-person present. I always find that sort of delivery jarring, and I confess I also had a hard time connecting with the characters. All three were a bit of a mess at first.

I’m glad I stuck with it, because it’s a heartwarming story. As it progressed I grew to care for each of them. And I wish I could visit the bookstore!

For more about Katherine Reay and her books, and for book club resources, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Going Back Cold, by Kelley Rose Waller

Book cover: Going Back Cold, by Kelley Rose Waller

Going Back Cold, by Kelley Rose Waller (Versive Press, 2019)

On the one hand, Going Back Cold is a science fiction novel about a small group of scientists based in Antarctica experimenting with faster-than-light technology. But it’s also an exploration of the different ways people grieve.

In year one of the four-year research and development project, Dr. Jane Whyse discovers she’s pregnant with her second child. After the baby girl is stillborn, Jane, her husband Dr. Lucas Whyse, and their young son Sebastian continue work on the project. Both committed Christians, Jane and Lucas find their faith shaken. Lucas is working through his grief, but Jane appears trapped in her anger. Her research soon becomes her obsession.

The science is intriguing (I can’t say I understood it, but I expect that in science fiction). The observation of a small group of people interacting in a closed environment is interesting, too. The Whyses’ grief is instructive for those who haven’t experienced a significant loss—and I expect it’s affirming for those who have. And the ethical dilemma Jane’s obsession unleashes could come from near-future headlines.

Negatives: This is Christian fiction, and I was surprised to find the occasional mild profanity, as well as some crude comments. (Yes, I know some Christians swear, but it always catches me off-guard in real life and in books.)  

Positives: There are some delightfully geeky references, and Jane and Lucas are transparently honest with God about their grief.

Favourite lines:

Jane was determined to have her family cake and eat the career, too. [On bringing their young son with them to the research base. Kindle location 268]

Good luck seeing God in me. I’m broken and failing when I try to rebuild. There aren’t words for where I am, none that make sense anyway. But I believe it. I will believe it. And I trust You. God, it hurts, but I trust. I will believe. [Lucas’s personal log. Kindle location 1941]

Kelley Rose Waller has also written The Senator’s Youngest Daughter. For more about the author and her work, visit kelleyrosewaller.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Book cover: Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes

Whose Waves These Are, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2019)

This is the most beautiful and heartwarming novel I’ve read in a long time. Satisfying. Peace-inducing and hope-whispering. Amanda Dykes writes with a gentle, lyrical quality that invites readers to linger in this tale and savour every page.

Annie Bliss and her great-uncle Bob (“GrandBob”) have shared a special bond since the summer she spent with him in coastal Maine as a child. Now his need calls her back to the struggling town of Ansel-by-the-Sea, away from the soul-drying big-city job where she’s been hiding.

The novel follows two timelines: Annie’s in the present and Bob’s in the past, weaving together to tell a story of great loss and greater hope. Of light in the darkness and faith in despair. Of breaking and mending.

The town and its inhabitants add a richness, evoking the best attributes of small fishing communities where the locals stand together, no matter what. 

See some of the evocative description:

There’s a strength in his stance, as if his feet are putting roots down into the very granite. [page 25]

The past uncoils like a fiddlehead fern, a tender ache with it. [page 81]

This part of Maine was a place like no other spot in the universe, and being back was like finding an old patch of sunlight in a long-lost home, and settling in. [page 86]

I won’t share my favourite line, because it’s too near the end. You’ll need to find it yourself. It’ll mean more to you that way.

I admit the present-tense narrative jarred me at times, but even with that, Whose Waves These Are has claimed a special place in my heart. I’m grateful for the experience.

Amanda Dykes’ tag line is “spinning stories, gathering grace.” Whose Waves These Are is her first novel, but readers may know her from her novella, Bespoke: A Tiny Christmas Tale, or from The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit amandadykes.com.

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

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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: Missing, by Lisa Harris

Missing, by Lisa HarrisMissing, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2016)

Nikki Boyd and her partner, Jack Spencer, specialize in finding missing persons. Their newest case also involves murder, and the body count keeps growing. Can they find the missing woman before her enemies do?

Complicating the issue is the fact that Nikki’s good friend Tyler Grant and another man she knows are both linked with the crime. And somewhere in the process of comforting Tyler after his wife’s death, she’s fallen for him, even though he’s not ready to move on.

Missing is a fast-paced suspense novel that starts with action and doesn’t slow down. Nikki and Tyler are realistic characters with depth and struggles, learning to live with crippling loss. And learning not to blame themselves for what happened. In Nikki’s case, her younger sister’s abduction is the reason she’s in this line of work. It lets her empathize with victims’ families, but it also takes an emotional toll.

This is book 2 in the Nikki Boyd Files series. You don’t have to have read book 1, Vendetta, first, but it’s a series worth starting at the beginning. For more about author Lisa Harris and her novels, visit lisaharriswrites.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher for an unbiased review.]

Review: The Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. Robichaud

The Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. RobichaudThe Unforgiving Sea, by Karen V. Robichaud (Word Alive Press, 2014)

When thirteen-year-old Logan Blanchard’s father dies in an accident, Logan loses not only his dad but his community. His mom drags him away from their military base home and his friends to a tiny seacoast town in Nova Scotia. And they don’t even get their own house. Logan is stuck living with his grandmother, who he loves, and her four special care patients, who drive him crazy.

Grief, resentment, and an anger at God for not keeping his father safe set Logan on a path of bad choices. He starts skipping school to work on a lobster boat, operated by a man who’s unstable and cruel.

The book’s greatest strength is the description of the sea scenes. Early mornings, fog, or storm, it feels like the reader is right there with Logan and his boss.

Its second strength is its characters. With all that he’s lost, and with the immediacy of first person, present tense, it’s impossible not to feel Logan’s frustration and pain. Occasional chapters from other characters’ points of view (his mother and a local police officer) fill in a broader perspective.

Logan’s “voice” sounds more like an adult, but his attitudes are definitely teen. I had some logistical concerns about the plot, mostly to do with how Logan could come home after a day’s fishing without his mother or grandmother detecting the smell of his activities. Or how neither of them grilled him that very first day when he returned after disappearing before breakfast.

Logan has no use for his grandmother’s clients, but it’s thought-provoking to see how his attitude begins to change as he gets to know them. There’s one scene in particular between him and Maxine, when he realizes she’s more than her surface behaviour.

The Unforgiving Sea is a coming-of-age novel with a lot of heart, and it won a Word Award (novel — contemporary) for work published in 2014. Canadian author Karen V. Robichaud‘s other books are An Evening Sky in Autumn and Where the River Flows.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Ithaca, by Susan Fish

Ithaca, by Susan FishIthaca, by Susan Fish (Storywell, 2014)

When your life revolves around your husband and his work, what do you do when you have to start over? Alone?

Ithaca is a coming-of-age story—for a 59-year-old woman.

Daisy Turner’s husband, Arthur, was a professor at Cornell University. She typed his notes and kept his home. And made soup for a crowd every Wednesday.

They married young, and Daisy found fulfillment as a wife and mother. Now her son works overseas, and she’s a widow. And most of her friends are really Arthur’s friends.

She finds herself developing a friendship with a man who is slowly losing his wife to illness, and with a young woman who’s an environmental activist. Daisy surprises herself—and her son—by signing up for a university course to learn about fracking. She doesn’t know what it is, but the protest signs are everywhere, and she’d like to learn.

There’s so much to appreciate about this novel. Daisy seems quiet and ordinary, but it’s that very ordinariness that connects with readers. She’s candid about her grief, and the struggles it brings. We can identify. As her concern grows about the possible environmental danger from the fracking proposals, we can relate to this polite, reserved, non-activist who’s afraid that by doing nothing she’s surrendering the fight.

Most of us have concerns about some issue or another, and we know that feeling of helplessness. It’s interesting to watch Daisy discover how she fits into the bigger picture, how she can express her concerns in a way that’s true to who she is.

Ultimately, I think that’s what the story is about: finding—and being true to—one’s identity. Prepare to be charmed by Daisy, and by the town of Ithaca, NY, along the way.

Ithaca is a mainstream novel, and certain characters occasionally use mild profanity. Daisy herself was raised in the church, left for a time, but returned as an adult. Her faith shapes her life, but she’s still human and still open to making poor choices, as are we all.

Susan Fish writes beautifully and with an honesty I admire. Here are some of my favourite lines:

I needed the present to hold me very close because the past was threatening to engulf me. [p. 15]

Mondays were the days I stayed in my housecoat and watched hours of television shows, just to hear a human voice. [p. 19]

She carried loaves of bread from the restaurant like she was Miss America and they were her flowers. [p. 20, Daisy, about another friend]

I’m a farmer, Daisy Jane. I save my anger for what really matters. [p. 91: Carmel, the young activist. I love this perspective.]

Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. You can find her blog at susanfishwrites.wordpress.com. If you missed the character interview I did with Daisy Turner, you can read it here.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

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Character interview: Daisy Turner

Susan Fish is a Canadian author and editor as well as the principal of Storywell, an online resource for writers. Her new novel, Ithaca, releases October 1, 2014.

Susan Fish

Susan Fish

Today I’m chatting with Daisy Turner, the main character of Ithaca.

Janet: Welcome, Daisy, and thanks for taking time to join us. First, let me offer my sympathy for your loss. Would you care to tell us a little about yourself, and about Arthur, too? You were married a long time, and you’re bound to have shaped each other along the way.

Daisy: Thank you, Janet. I appreciate your sympathy. My husband, who died in May, was a geology professor at Cornell University. I was his right-hand man. Right-hand woman, I should say. I typed his papers for him and, as much as it isn’t fashionable to say this, I was very happy being Arthur’s wife and Nick’s mother, and running our household.

Janet: What do you miss most about him?

Daisy: Oh goodness, my answer to that would probably be different every day. What surprised me was that it’s the little things more than the big things, the things only I would know about him.

Janet: Shh… is there anything that’s easier about living alone again?

Daisy: This is actually the first time I’ve ever lived alone. I was very young when I married. I’m not sure easier is the word I would use, generally. Arthur had a heart condition and we had to adopt a low-sodium diet. It is nice to be able to season my food again.

Janet: Your son is working overseas, correct? Do you think you might visit him at some point?

Daisy: My son works in Singapore. We visited him a couple of years ago. I always keep a small rock in my pocket, a rock I picked up on a beach in Singapore. It helps me feel that he isn’t so far away. I imagine I will visit him again at some time, but he’s been good about coming home too.

Janet: I love that idea of the pocket-rock for connection! So much of your life revolved around Arthur’s schedule. I see you’ve kept the weekly Wednesday soup nights. How did those start? And do you find comfort in keeping up the tradition?

Daisy: I don’t think the people who come to Wednesday nights would let me stop even if I wanted to! But I don’t want to stop. It’s been part of my life almost since we moved to Ithaca. Initially it was just Arthur’s grad students who came to dinner, and soup was the easiest thing to make—because it stretches to accommodate an extra person or two. After a few years, it became a standing date.

Janet: Do you create your own recipes? And are you a local food cook, or does that matter to you?

Daisy: I cook for a large crowd so I have to adapt but I usually start with a recipe. Over time, it becomes my own. We have a vibrant farmer’s market in Ithaca and that’s where I get most of the food for my soups. All the vendors there come from a small radius around the town, so I suppose yes, I do cook local foods.

Janet: I confess I hadn’t heard of Ithaca before. It sounds like a charming university town, and I’d love to see the waterfalls. Please tell us about your home. What do you like best about where you live?

Daisy: I’m from the South originally but Ithaca has been my home since the early ’70s. I think I’d have to say—and I’ve never really thought about this before exactly—that there are two things I like most about Ithaca, and they aren’t that different from each other. One is the waterfalls and the other is the students. In both cases, what I love is the liveliness, the sense of movement. We have dozens of waterfalls in our area and I’m fond of all of them. You really should visit, and this time of year is a beautiful one with all the leaves in color. We aren’t a big city but Ithaca is home to Cornell, where my husband taught, and Ithaca College. Having the students around brings a freshness to our town; I always look forward to the end of summer when the students come back.

Janet: One of your friends keeps bees. Are you learning a few things about helping with them?

Daisy: I used to think bees were just a menace—other than the honey. Our friend Henry invited me to help him harvest honey recently, and it was fascinating to watch the process. I think we could learn a lot from bees. I’ll tell you one thing: bees eat honey but they don’t live long enough to eat the honey made from the nectar they collect. They have to depend on those who came before them, and they leave food for those who come behind them,

Janet: There’s a life lesson for humans in the bees’ pattern, I think! And there’s a new word in your vocabulary these days: fracking. I’m hearing more about that here in Nova Scotia, too. Do you think you’ll be able to figure out what it’s all about? It’s hard to know whose information to trust.

Daisy: I decided to take a course at the university to understand more about fracking. And yes, there are a wide variety of opinions on fracking—all of them quite strong too.  There’s a lot of excitement about being able to retrieve little pockets of gas from the shale, but I do worry that they are acting first and thinking afterward. That’s not the way to mess with things, if you ask me.

Janet: Your story isn’t particularly about faith, but you’ve recently returned to church. You’re even a Sunday School teacher now. Is there anything you’d like to share about what brought you back, or what difference faith makes in your life?

Daisy: I did come back to church. My son had moved to Singapore not long before the tsunami hit in south-east Asia. Singapore was not directly affected and my son was safe, but it unsettled me and it made me aware of how small I was and I needed something, Someone, who was bigger than a tsunami. I do teach Sunday School, and Father Jim comes to Wednesday nights, and I have a good friend who also came back to church with me. I feel like there’s solid rock under my feet now.

Janet: I find comfort in knowing there’s Someone bigger than me, too. Coffee or tea? And what’s your favourite season?

Daisy: Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon. Goodness, my favorite season… how can I choose? I don’t think I can pick one.

Janet: If you could do anything at all—travel, try something new, whatever—what might it be?

Daisy: I feel that that is exactly the question I am asking of myself these days. I don’t know the answer. There’s a lot that is new in my life, my new life without Arthur. I’ve had a nice, settled life until the last few months—and now I need to figure out what comes next.

Janet: Susan Fish is a fine person to write your story. Is there anything you’d like to say to her?

Daisy: She keeps asking me for my soup recipes. I was a bit surprised when she wanted to tell my story but she says she’s interested in grief and food and the power of community and sharing food, and I suppose my story really is about all these things, isn’t it? I would like to thank her for writing my story.

Janet: Daisy, I’m glad you joined us today, and I’m looking forward to getting to know you better as I read your story. I trust there are good surprises in store for you.


Ithaca, by Susan FishFor 39 years, Daisy Turner has been a professor’s wife, typing his notes and helping out. The centerpiece of her life is a weekly community dinner she hosts—one that always features soup. When her husband drops dead, Daisy has nothing to hold onto except, perhaps, the soup. Then, suddenly, Daisy finds herself entangled with a man whose wife is disabled, mothering a young activist-farmer, and swept into the controversy about fracking that has begun to concern their small Ivy League town.

Ithaca explores what happens when a quiet, almost sedimentary life meets the high-pressure forces of a small town. How do you rebuild after life as you know it is suddenly turned upside down—or is fracked?

Want to win a copy of Ithaca on Goodreads? Enter the giveaway before October 1, 2014.

Ithaca can be pre-ordered on Amazon or through your local bookstore. Book club members, this would be a great story for you to read together.

Susan Fish is a writer and editor (storywell.ca) in Waterloo, ON Canada. She loves to cook, walk her dog, and spend time with her husband and three kids. You can find Susan at her blog, Susan Fish Writes, and at Storywell.