Tag Archives: mystery

Hidden Secrets Giveaway and Interview

Book cover: Hidden Secrets
A Green Dory Inn Mystery, book 2

Here’s your chance to win a print copy of Hidden Secrets (or an ebook if you prefer them) anywhere in the world. Just pop over to A Christian Writer’s World – Characters Who Grip Your Heart and leave a comment. Click here. Draw ends January 17, 2020.

Already read the book but you like reading author interviews? Click the link above and join the conversation. Host Lena Nelson Dooley always has interesting questions.

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Review: Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

In Smoke Screen, Terri Blackstock gives us a novel of second chances, romance, faith—and mystery. It’s not a high-suspense story, but the emotional tension will keep readers turning pages.

Nate’s father has spent 14 years in prison for the murder of Brenna’s father, all the while claiming he’s innocent. If he is, then there’s a killer in town. Nate himself, now a smoke jumping firefighter, is thought by many to be responsible for burning down the dead man’s church. Even his father thinks he did it—but he didn’t. So who did?

Brenna and Nate were childhood sweethearts until tragedy scarred both their families. Now Brenna’s in a losing battle for custody of her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman. Her children are her life. When they’re gone on the weekend, not even alcohol can numb the pain.

What I appreciated most about the story is the compassionate and honest portrayal of a Christian struggling with drinking. It happens, and as in Brenna’s case, the faith aspect can increase the shame and guilt. I hope her example can bring hope to others who fight this battle in real life.

For more about the book and about New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock, visit terriblackstock.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

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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.]

New Mystery Now Available

Unknown Enemy, A Green Dory Inn Mystery, Book 1And it’s official…

Unknown Enemy is now available in print and from multiple ebook vendors.

If you’re in the market for a short, summer mystery, pop over to my book page and check it out. Or go directly to your favourite online retailer… 🙂


One other thing: If you know anyone who reads on Kobo who’d enjoy my novel, Secrets and Lies, it’s part of a promotion that lets readers take 3 books for $9. This is Canada-US only (sorry, international friends–Kobo’s choice, not mine!)

In Canada: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/p/3for9ca
In the US: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/p/3for9us

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: Ready to Fumble, by Christy Barritt

Ready to Fumble, by Christy BarrittReady to Fumble, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2017)

She’s a TV star who played a detective, but Joey Darling thinks of herself as the character’s klutzy opposite. Now her career is in ruins, and she’s fled Hollywood for the Outer Banks of North Carolina to search for her father.

Joey’s afraid to trust the local police, who may have been involved in his disappearance, but she doesn’t have many clues to follow. As if that weren’t enough challenge for this non-detective, a strange woman asks her to find her missing fiancé.

On the plus side, she’s a method actor who took some self-defense and investigative training. She actually has a PI license, just not for this state.

On the minus side, someone is recreating one of her TV episodes, and Joey doesn’t remember the ending but it might involve death: even her own, if she can’t pull off an escape like her alter ego.

The story is told in first person, and after Joey introduces herself, she asks:

Confused? Just keep reading. Please. Because maybe you can make sense of this mess I’ve made.

With an invitation like that, who won’t read on?

Christy Barritt kicks off her Worst Detective Ever mystery series with her signature snappy humour and upbeat delivery. This isn’t all a surface read, though. Joey has a lot of hurt and self-doubt from her abusive ex, and the two men who attract her more than she’ll admit each have layers of complexity that leave us wondering who they really are.

Plot, characters, and setting all work for me, and I’ll happily continue reading when the next book comes out. Here’s hoping I can keep up: she’s releasing “episodes” monthly. Just like Joey’s TV show. What I like about this is that each one is a full novel. Although the overall mystery of the missing dad spans individual books, Ready to Fumble is a complete story in its own right.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Vain Empires, by Brandilyn Collins

Vain Empires, by Brandilyn CollinsVain Empires, by Brandilyn Collins (Challow Press, 2016)

Seven deadly sins. Six people in a remote island mansion. One reality show.

One of the six contestants will win their dream prize, valued at up to $10 million. All they have to do is discover which sin each of their competitors represents – and decide if they themselves represent one too. To help in the discovery? Clues are revealed – and broadcast worldwide. Clues that may destroy each one on the island.

It’s interesting to watch the civilized facades crack as the pressure mounts – and to watch most contestants labelling the others while excusing their own failures and counting themselves as sinless. Most don’t seem to have a faith connection, although one of them, Gina, does.

Chapters alternate among the six contestants, who are different enough that I didn’t have trouble keeping track. This is a book that entices you to keep turning pages, so prepare to lose some sleep.

I enjoyed it, although the ending didn’t work for me. There’s a nice twist, and everything makes sense, but the characters leave the island and that’s it. They’ve been through this great upheaval, but what difference, if any, will it make in their lives? For some characters that’s clear, but not for all. To me it felt incomplete.

Vain Empires comes from a best-selling author of Christian suspense, but it should appeal to most mainstream readers. And if you’ve always wanted to try one of Brandilyn Collins’ suspense novels but were too timid, this is a good one for you. The ticking clock and relentless clues make it tense, but it’s puzzle-tense, not traumatic-tense.

Brandilyn Collins is known for her Seatbelt Suspense® novels, and she also writes contemporary fiction. RT BookReviews calls her “a master storyteller,” and I agree. For more about the author and her work, visit brandilyncollins.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: A Fool and His Monet, by Sandra Orchard

A Fool and His Monet, by Sandra OrchardA Fool and His Monet, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2016)

Serena Jones has a cat, and she’s single, but she’s not a spinster cat lady. She’s just too focused on her new career with the FBI’s art crimes division to have time for a love life. Serena’s passionate about art, and about the job, and she harbours a lingering hope that somewhere in her investigations she’ll find the painting stolen from her grandfather years before.

Her mother wants her to quit investigating and take a safe, factory job – until she can get married and start producing grandchildren. Her father’s quietly proud of her. And her aunt… well, Aunt Martha may truly be a crazy, cat-loving spinster, although now she lives with Serena’s parents and her cat lives with Serena.

Here’s how Serena describes her aunt:

Aunt Martha was like one of those extreme sports nuts who didn’t realize “safety harness” was a pseudonym for “hang on for dear life or you’ll die harness.” [Kindle page 235]

In the midst of this fast-paced whodunit, there’s still time for family complications, personal danger for Serena, and the beginnings of a rivalry for her attention between her trainer and her apartment superintendant. Tanner and Nate are both such nice men, I feel bad for whichever one of them loses out. Interestingly enough, at the end of the book there’s a way for readers to vote on which one she should end up with. I wonder if the vote will carry it, or if the author already knows…

I’ve read most of Sandra Orchard’s books and always enjoyed them. A Fool and His Monet is the best one yet. With a snappy delivery, characters to care about, action, and a strong thread of humour, this one may show up as one of my books of the year. Someone called it “laugh-out-loud” funny, but to me it’s the kind that gives me a satisfied grin – and endears a story to my heart.

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning Canadian author of Christian romantic suspense. A Fool and His Monet is the first in her Serena Jones Mystery series, and as mentioned, there’s a romantic thread but it’s just beginning in book 1. This is also more of a “clean read,” without an overtly Christian thread. Serena is a church-goer, but the story isn’t about a spiritual lesson so much as about a crime and about her family and relationships. Book 2 comes out in the fall: Another Day, Another Dali. For more about the author, and to find some bonus book features, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Bitter End, by Linda Hall

The Bitter End, by Linda HallThe Bitter End, by Linda Hall (2015)

Most contracts see Captain Em Ridge delivering sailboats to wealthy owners who don’t like to do their own long-haul trips. This time, though, she’s ferrying an over-the-top TV host around the Bermuda Triangle looking for evidence of the bizarre.

It’s an uneventful assignment, until they discover an abandoned sailboat whose occupants seem to have vanished over dinner. Unlike the crew of the Mary Celeste, though, someone put out extra food and water for the ship’s cat before disappearing.

Em knows this boat – and the cat. They belong to her beloved Uncle Ferd, the family black sheep – and the one who taught her to sail.

At first she fears he’s been taken by pirates, but the truth may be worse: he’s wanted by the authorities in connection with a murder. In setting out to clear her childhood hero’s name, Em may discover Uncle Ferd isn’t the man she thought he was.

The Bitter End is the second Em Ridge mystery, and I’m looking forward to more in this series. You could start with this one, but book 1, Night Watch, is also a good read and it lets you meet Em at the start of her adventures.

As well as being satisfying mysteries, the books give readers a taste of the sailing life. Author Linda Hall does a stellar job of sharing the experience with readers in a way that feels natural and without confusing us with jargon. Having logged many hours on her own sailboat, she knows the best details to include.

She also knows how to write memorable, flawed characters, and vivid descriptions. My favourite in this book:

“Where the doorbell should have been, a few threads of twisted wire stuck out like the veins of a robot.” [Kindle location 1159]

In the past, Linda Hall has written for the Christian market, but her Em Ridge novels are mainstream. As such, she allows her characters the occasional mild profanity, and there isn’t an overtly Christian thread through the stories. Em’s mother has a rigid faith, which sounds like it has a lot to do with Em’s lack of relationship with her family as well as with God. While I don’t think we’ll see Em experience a dramatic conversion in the series, I do hope we’ll see some resolution in these areas. She’s not happy this way, and her mother’s not healthy her way either.

Em is a widow, and there’s a handsome detective who keeps crossing her path, however he has baggage of his own – including an estranged wife.

These ongoing threads tie the novels together and keep me looking forward to the next one even after the current mystery has been satisfactorily resolved.

Linda Hall is an award-winning writer of mystery and suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit writerhall.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Burning Justice, by Helena Smrcek

Burning Justice, by Helena SmrcekBurning Justice, by Helena Smrcek (EverWind Press, 2015)

Nora Martin’s dream is to establish the Beacon of Hope residence as an alternative to prison or forced military service for young men who’ve been arrested. She has the government approval and the funding, but suddenly she may not have the farmhouse she leased from a church in rural Indiana.

The church assumed care of the property when its owner died. How could they have forgotten to notify the man’s heir? What else have the locals “forgotten” to mention? One thing’s sure, they know how to hold grudges.

Most of those grudges are aimed at Jake Schwartz, the farm’s heir, who arrives unexpectedly on leave from the military. Jake tells Nora and her FBI friend Alicia to stay out of his troubles, even when things escalate to violence.

How can Nora do that, when she’s in danger of losing her ministry? And how can she admit her attraction to Jake, when she takes her Mennonite pacifist beliefs seriously? For that matter, how did Jake, another Mennonite, end up in the Navy?

Burning Justice is set in the real town of French Lick, Indiana, and many of the settings sound like real places. Nora and Jake are both what I’d call expatriate Mennonites, keeping their faith but cut off from traditional communities. Jake, who looks to have compromised his beliefs, is more connected to God than Nora, who’s crushed by guilt over advice she gave in her previous career as a social worker.

Favourite lines:

Sometimes we are our own biggest obstacles in our walk toward God’s will. (Miriam, a young Mennonite mother, to Nora, Kindle location 2436)

For some reason, you seem to think that by clutching the steering wheel, you can change the direction of the road. (Jake to Nora, Kindle location 3100)

My only issue with this novel is the ending. It provides a satisfying fictional wrap-up, but in the real world I think the characters would be setting themselves up for trouble. I can’t give more details without giving spoilers, but I wouldn’t want an impressionable reader to follow this example.

Burning Justice is the first book in the Alicia Yu series. This is Nora’s story, but Alicia is an intriguing support character. I look forward to seeing what action she gets into in the next books: Glitter of Sorrow and Color of Money.

Helena Smrcek’s debut novel is a fast read laced with danger and romance and steeped in small-town secrets. For more about the author, visit her Goodreads page, and to read a sample chapter, visit her website. Burning Justice is currently free for Kobo. Amazon and the other online retailers will follow shortly.

[Advance review copy provided by the author.]