Tag Archives: mysteries

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: Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert

Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert. Murder in the Mountains book 3Guilt by Association, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2017)

When Tess Spencer reluctantly goes to help her ex-con mother hunt for a new home and a dead body turns up behind her mother’s trailer, she has no choice but to stay and clear her mother’s name – even though she’s afraid her mom might be involved.

Along with the mystery, this is a novel with layers of heart. It exposes the tragedy of the drugs that really do run rampant in the areas where the novel is set – and in so many other parts of North America and the world. It touches briefly on child abuse and foster care.

And it shows Tess, away from home and missing her husband and young daughter, comparing the mother-in-law who mothers her with her biological mother who’s let her down more times than she can count.

Lest that sound like a depressing read, it’s anything but. The mystery is engaging and fast-paced, there are delightfully quirky characters, there are heart-warming moments and hope.

Fans of the series will be pleased and/or intrigued to see Axel again, albeit briefly. We need another Axel story, I think, and more resolution with Tess and her parents.

Heather Day Gilbert is a Grace Award winner and bests-selling author of contemporary mysteries and Viking historicals. Guilt by Association is book 3 in her A Murder in the Mountains series, set in the mountains of West Virginia. For more about the author and her books, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]

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: Reign of Error, by Christy Barritt

Reign of Error, by Christy BarrittReign of Error, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

Reign of Error is book 2 in the Worst Detective Ever series, and while readers would have a better overall grasp of the series by starting with book 1, Ready to Fumble, they could begin here without feeling lost.

Joey Darling’s acting career is on hiatus while she looks for her missing father and tries to recover from some personal disasters. The problem is, she has one or more over-the-top fans who want her to play detective in real life, the way she did on TV.

The death of a stranger shortly after she’d spoken with him is all it takes for her invisible “fans” to start pushing her to solve the mystery. Unfortunately, the killer wants her to stop.

This is a light-hearted mystery series, complete with two appealing guys competing for Joey’s attention. Each novel is a complete story, with the over-arcing mystery of Joey’s missing father.

Joey is a bit of a drama queen, as one might expect of an actress, so she can be a bit tiring at times, but she’s a likeable character. The obstacles she faces make it easy to root for her to succeed.

Christy Barritt is a prolific author whose Christian fiction includes mysteries and suspense for adults and tweens. For more about the author, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtney

Go, Ivy, Go! by Lorena McCourtneyGo, Ivy, Go!, by Lorena McCourtney (Rogue Ridge Press, 2015)

Ivy Malone has been on the run from the Braxton family for years, but they haven’t tried to kill her recently. Maybe it’s safe to go home. Her boyfriend disagrees, but once Ivy gets an idea in her head, there’s no stopping her.

If you’re not familiar with Ivy, she’s a self-described “LOL” (little old lady). In the first book in the series, aptly titled Invisible, Ivy discovered that most people don’t notice elderly people – which came in very handy when she decided to solve a murder.

Ivy is down-to-earth, brave, and funny. She’s not terribly tech-savvy, but she has friends who can help when needed. She has a kind heart, and her faith is a quiet but important part of who she is.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and am glad this book came along to wrap it up. There was a long gap after the previous instalment. And now readers can look forward to a new series, The Mac ‘n Ivy Mysteries.

If you’ve loved the series, grab this final book. If it’s new to you, start with Invisible. Or jump in here, and catch up on the previous stories later.

Lorena McCourtney has also written the Cate Kincaid Files, Andi McConnell Mysteries, and the Julesburg Mysteries, all mystery-suspense stories.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Secrets of Sloane House, by Shelley Gray

Secrets of Sloane House, by Shelley GraySecrets of Sloane House, by Shelley Gray (Zondervan, 2014)

The year 1893 finds Rosalind Perry in the bustling city of Chicago, far from her rural home, working as a maid. Yes, her family needs the money, but Rosalind is there to discover what happened to her sister, Miranda, who disappeared without a trace from the family’s employ. In a time when young women might willingly disappear, many more are going missing.

Rosalind has stepped far outside her comfort zone, and she develops a confidence and perseverance she otherwise wouldn’t have found. Her eureka moment may be that relying on trusted friends brings a stronger result than trying to do everything herself.

One of the friends she’s surprised to make is Reid Armstrong, the son of a wealthy family and a welcome visitor at Sloane House. Reid’s struggle is with honouring his father’s dreams when it begins to feel like he’s losing himself in the process. For both characters, it’s a discovery of identity and about what matters most in life—and about love.

Favourite lines:

She ached to give them hope, but at the same time, she knew better than to give them such a gift. Hope was one of the Lord’s blessings, that was true. But in other ways, hope could be the very work of the Devil. It permitted a person to believe that their imaginations or dreams could actually be true. [p. 94]

Fans of deep point of view may be frustrated by the more “telling” style of narrative (like “He realized…” “She thought…”). However, this slightly distant point of view allows a gentle read even in the most disturbing scenes.

Secrets of Sloane House is book 1 in the Chicago World’s Fair Mystery series, and as such I expected the Fair to be a significant element in the setting, almost a character in its own right. While a few scenes took place there and others mentioned it, the central setting focuses on the rich society and the servants they consider second-class but necessary.

Shelley Shepard Gray is a NY Times and USA Today bestselling author perhaps best known for her Sugarcreek Amish novels. For more about the author, including a list of her novels, visit her website: shelleyshepardgray.com.

[A review copy was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I was in no way compensated for this review.]

Review: Strange Faces, by Linda Hall

Strange Faces, by Linda HallStrange Faces, by Linda Hall (Linda Hall, 2014)

It’s been too long since we’ve had fresh fiction from Linda Hall. Strange Faces is a collection of six short stories and a novella. Most are new, with a few reprints from other anthologies. I had read one story before, but happily read it again.

Linda Hall has a gift for evoking memorable characters and situations. Most of these stories are suspense or mystery, with the occasional strand of magic or the unexplained. Because the author weaves a form of magic of her own in these tales, pulling us into the fictional world, it’s a believable experience. Sometimes too believable, in the stories with narrators we discover to be less than trustworthy—I was reading in a public place and found myself studying the strangers around me and wondering…

In these stories we meet young and old, damaged and whole, down-and-out and starting over. Linda Hall never shies away from social issues in her mysteries, and readers will met lonely souls, caregivers, victims of bullying and of dementia. Many stories deal with family ties and loyalty.

As well as strongly-drawn characters, the author gives us vivid descriptions. Here are two of my favourites:

From “Pickers and Choosers” the narrator describes a television “muted but with the captioning picking its way across the bottom of the screen like little white crabs.” [Kindle location 30]

From “A Small Season of Magic” the narrator describes an old man: “his white head looked like a patch of dandelions gone to seed.” [Kindle location 1309]

The characters and their situations feel real. Each story contains a depth and richness, as if we’re joining fully-developed individuals in a slice of their lives. Back story is always introduced in an organic way in just the right amount to let readers discover what we need to know.

Well worth a read!

Award-winning author Linda Hall’s novels include the Terri Blake-Addison series, Canadian Mountie series, Coast of Maine series and others. For a full list, see her website: writerhall.com. [Note that her previous novels have been Christian fiction. The stories in Strange Faces are clean mainstream.]

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books, 2013

Author Louise Penny has woven a masterpiece of characters, plot and evocative description in her latest mystery. How the Light Gets In traces the investigation of an elderly woman’s murder while at the same time continuing a plot thread that’s been building from the series beginning.

You could jump into the series here and understand this book, but you’d miss so much of the larger story that’s been building around Inspector Gamache after his long-ago case that exposed a scandal high in the ranks of the Quebec Sȗreté force. And you wouldn’t know and love the characters enough to be emotionally affected by their turmoil.

This is a series well worth starting at the beginning, with Still Life. If you’ve seen the CBC television special, that was a teaser. The novel is richer, deeper and more satisfying and couldn’t be contained in such a short film. Louise Penny’s prose is beautiful.

Those who’ve read the previous books will be glad to be back in the idyllic fictional village of Three Pines, located somewhere outside of Montreal. It’s good to see the eclectic and unusual inhabitants of the village again, and the village itself feels like a character in the novels.

Inspector Armand Gamache is one of my fictional heroes, largely because of his practice of taking cast-off members of the police force and investing enough leadership in them to help them find their places as effective and motivated officers. Those he’s helped are (mostly) intensely loyal, while those he’s crossed are formidable.

I’ve enjoyed each book in the series, but this one (number nine) is the best yet. The tension is high, three significant plot threads interweave seamlessly, the characters shine, and the ending surprises. A most satisfying read.

Because most of what I review are Christian books, I’ll add a disclaimer for this series. The profanity count is high and there is a homosexual couple, complete with innuendoes. Institutional church is not well-thought-of by many characters, but the idea of God is present (both Christian and generic).

I will also say I’ve found truth in these books. Louise Penny understands humans in our glory and in our shame, and she crafts exceptional characters and intriguing mysteries. She also understands qualities like love and loyalty, hope and perseverance, and redemption.

Louise Penny has given readers a gift, and I’m glad to see her novels getting the attention and awards they deserve. If you’ve missed these books so far, do yourself a favour and begin with Still Life. For your own peace of mind, when you get to The Beautiful Mystery be sure to pick up How the Light Gets In at the same time. Those of us who’ve had to wait a year between them can tell you it hasn’t been easy.

To learn more about the author, you can visit louisepenny.com. You’ll find a list of the books, in order (note that some have different titles depending on which country you’re in) as well as background information, discussion questions and events.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dirty Deeds, by Christy Barritt

Dirty Deeds, by Christy BarrittDirty Deeds, by Christy Barritt (Princeton Halls Press, 2013)

Dirty Deeds finds Gabby St. Claire on a week’s holiday with her fiancé, Riley Thomas, at an exclusive resort. Riley’s there for a conference, and to reconnect with some lawyer buddies that he hasn’t seen since college. Gabby … well, the opulent setting and posh lawyers make her nervous.

Riley has a low-paying practice that’s more about helping others than getting rich, and Gabby is used to struggling for every cent. Still, relationships involve sacrifices, so she’s determined to fit in for Riley’s sake. She even promises not to snoop into any mysteries for the week.

Asking questions about a kidnapping isn’t snooping, is it? She’s just being … helpful, right?

Suddenly she’s not just a fish out of water, believing that her upbringing cuts her off from the rich and powerful, she’s keeping secrets from Riley and wondering what secrets he’s keeping from her about his past.

And now it’s not just about kidnapping. It’s murder.

Dirty Deeds is book 4 in the Squeaky Clean Mysteries series. Gabby is a fun character and the situations she gets into always provide a laugh. I’m glad to see her developing more faith in her worth—and in God. Book 1 in the series, Hazardous Duty, is a good place to meet her in her crime-scene-cleaning role, but if you want to jump in here with book 4 you won’t feel lost. (There are spoilers for the earlier books, though.) Book 5, The Scum of All Fears, has also released.

Christy Barritt is a multi-published author of mystery, suspense and romantic suspense. For more about the author and her books, you can visit her website.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtney

Dolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtneyDolled Up to Die, by Lorena McCourtney (Revell, 2013)

Cate Kinkaid is a private investigator—assistant PI, she’s quick to point out, which means she’s not allowed to carry a gun. Not that she should need one, since Belmont Investigations doesn’t take cases involving violence. Somebody should tell the criminals that last bit, because Dolled Up to Die is Cate’s second encounter with murder.

Cate wants to find out who killed her client JoJo’s ex-husband before the police decide it was JoJo herself. JoJo designs custom-made, child-sized dolls. She may talk about them as if they’re real, and she may have a donkey for a watchdog, but she’s not a killer… is she?

The Cate Kincaid Files books are cozy mysteries, with interesting characters and more focus on solving the crime than on frightening the reader. Even when Cate’s in danger, the suspense isn’t over-the-top. Cate is lovably impulsive, a bit too sympathetic for her own good, and not so sure of herself, but she’s enjoying this PI gig and she’s still alive to tell about it.

This story has a bit more Christian content than the previous one, because one of the characters professes to be able to discover facts about people’s “past lives” and when she encourages Cate’s boyfriend, Mitch, to try it out, he’s uncomfortable enough that he blurts out his Christian view of the subject in self-defense.

Octavia the deaf cat is back in this book, occasionally trying her paw at assisting the assistant PI. Octavia isn’t as adept as the cats in Lilian Jackson Braun‘s The Cat Who… series, but she occasionally points Cate in a useful direction.

You don’t have to have read the first book, Dying to Read, to enjoy this one, but if you plan to read them both, do it in order to avoid spoilers. New York Times best-selling author Lorena McCourtney is perhaps most widely known for her Ivy Malone series, where “LOL” means “Little Old Lady.” If you like Ivy, or you like mysteries with a bit of humour, check out Cate Kincaid. You can read an excerpt of Dolled up to Die, or view the readers group guide if you’ve already read it, by clicking the links.

[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.]