Tag Archives: Sandra Orchard

Review: Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard

Boughs of Folly, by Sandra Orchard (Annie’s Fiction, 2022)

Cover art for Boughs of Folly. Christmas tree, gingerbread village, cat.

After 20 years away from her Georgia hometown, Jillian Green is back: living with her grandmother and great aunt in an antebellum mansion and slowly improving her baking skills at her grandmother’s Chocolate Shoppe bakery.

Christmas is approaching and she’s excited to decorate the mansion for the upcoming Merry Mansions tour. When one of the decorating team is found dead on the grounds, Jillian’s great aunt cries murder. Since the elderly woman is convinced her dead husband communicates with her through her cat, nobody takes the claim seriously—until handsome coroner Hunter Greyson agrees.

Jillian’s curiosity draws her into the murder investigation and also into a stranger’s quest to locate his long-lost high school sweetheart. As clues and complications multiply, she discovers the two mysteries may have a common thread.

Boughs of Folly is a feel-good Christmas cozy mystery that fits into a collection of books set in the same town, which means it comes with a well-established set of characters. This is a bonus for fans of the other books who get to see their fictional friends again. Not having read the other books didn’t affect me in terms of understanding the story although I did feel like there were a lot of people to keep track of.

Most fun thing about the book: the mansion’s decorations include an outdoor manger scene with lifelike sheep that Jillian remembers her grandfather regularly moving around so people would think they were real. Another good thing would be all the bakery goods references.

The mystery is satisfyingly tangled but it all comes out in the end. In traditional cozy fashion, readers will find a clean story with appealing characters and setting, a bit of humour, food, friendship, hints of romance, and a quirky pet.

Boughs of Folly is part of a three-book set called Jingle Bell Mysteries (with Klaus for Suspicion and Deck the Hearse) from Annie’s Fiction. Annie’s is a subscription book club delivering members a new read every 4-6 weeks. The Jingle Bell Mysteries set is available for purchase through Annie’s site without taking a subscription, so it’s a great way to check out the types of books they offer. For more about the book bundle or to order, click here: Jingle Bell Mysteries.

Believe it or not, this is Sandra Orchard’s 25th book. For more about the author and her mystery and romantic suspense books, visit sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. I wasn’t required to write a review, and my opinions are my own.]

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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: Another Day, Another Dali, by Sandra Orchard

Another Day, Another Dali, by Sandra OrchardAnother Day, Another Dali, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2016)

Someone is replacing privately-owned artwork with forgeries, and one victim is a friend of Serena’s grandmother. How can Serena say no when Nana asks her to investigate privately? But what if her findings only widen the gap between her grandmother and herself?

Suddenly Serena’s in danger. Is it because of her unofficial case, or her involvement in FBI co-worker Tanner’s investigation?

Another Day, Another Dali continues in the same light-yet-potentially-deadly style as A Fool and His Monet. I enjoy the humour in this series, and yet there’s a deeper thread, too, as Serena learns a few things about herself as well as about the case.

There’s plenty of action, multiple suspects, schemes, and secrets. After a heart-warming ending, I’m not sure all my questions were answered, but the important ones were.

My vote for favourite character in this novel is Mr. Malgucci. Can’t tell you why without spoiling part of the story.

As if mystery and danger aren’t enough, Tanner and Nate, Serena’s apartment supervisor, seem to be competing for her attention, and her relatives are choosing sides. Author Sandra Orchard has had a reader poll going since book one to decide which man Serena will choose, and we’ll find out in book 3. They’re both such nice fellows, and I really don’t want to see either of them hurt.

Favourite line:

Tanner turned over every rock, log, and snitch for a lead on who was bent on terrorizing me. [Kindle location 2880]

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning Canadian author of romantic suspense. The Christian thread in the Serena Jones mystery series is present, but it’s low-key enough that readers of other (or no) faith should be comfortable reading. For more about the author and her work, visit sandraorchard.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: Desperate Measures, by Sandra Orchard

Desperate Measures, by Sandra OrchardDesperate Measures, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2015)

If you haven’t read the first two novels in the Port Aster Secrets series, don’t read this review or you’ll find spoilers for those stories. Desperate Measures concludes the over-arching plot threads about the drug company that has been after Kate because of her father. It also completes the romance between Kate Adams and Detective Tom Parker.

Desperate Measures picks up where Blind Trust left off. Kate  is angry with Tom about the choices he made to protect her, and she’s back to acting on her own, hiding plants from the drug company and trying to find out what makes the plants so valuable. She becomes so invested in her project that she’ll take any kind of risk to keep working on it.

Tom, meanwhile, is trying to find a missing youth while keeping an unofficial eye on Kate. He doesn’t trust her research assistant’s boyfriend, or the shady character who’s back from book one.

This entire series is well-crafted. Deadly Devotion and Blind Trust have both won awards, and Desperate Measures is likely to continue that trend. The writing is strong, the characters complex, and the tension is high.

I did find the wrap-up a touch confusing. There were a few additional players beside the drug company and I wasn’t sure how they all fit together. I did read the ebook, so I should have used the search feature to go back and orient myself. I also found Kate’s “desperate measures” a bit trying to my patience, but her behaviour was true to her character, based on all the stress that pushed her to that point.

Sandra Orchard is an award-winning, Canadian author of Christian romantic suspense. I hope we’ll see another long-format series from her like this one. She also writes shorter novels for the Love Inspired Suspense line. For more about the author and to check out her book bonus features, visit her website: sandraorchard.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Highlights from Write Canada 2015

I spent part of last week at Write Canada, an annual conference for Canadian Christians who write and/or edit. This is my happy place, where I gain practical teaching and build friendships, in an atmosphere that renews my spirit.

Write Canada 2015 Canada's largest conference for Christians who write

After many years at the Guelph Bible Conference Centre, the conference moved to a Toronto hotel this year to be more accessible. This was a positive step, although a few logistics need tweaking for 2016.

I missed the restful beauty of the grounds in Guelph, but the open-air market behind the hotel provided fresh Niagara strawberries and there was a lovely little park a few blocks away.

Best thing about this year’s conference, for me?

Janet Sketchley and Matthew Sketchley at Write Canada 2015

One of my sons attended with me. Matthew was a runner-up in the Fresh Ink Contest at the university level. He can write circles around me, and that makes me proud. If you like dark fantasy from a Christian perspective, keep an eye out for him in the next few years.

Other best thing? Early morning and impromptu prayer times with treasured people (you know who you are.)

What did I learn?

From the panel on book launches (I was one of the panelists): One panelist recommended the short ebook, Hosting a Virtual Book Release Party by Shanna Festa. Another reminded me to contact the local cable TV channel with my book news.

From the Titles, Keywords and Blurbs workshop with NJ and Les Lindquist: The homework gave me a decent beginning on the back-cover blurb for Redemption’s Edge #3, and the workshop suggested No Safe Place may not be the best title for this one.

Indie Author/Publisher class with suspense author Linda Hall:

  • Free “simplenote” app for note-taking, syncs from one device to another.
  • Beta Readers: give them a few questions (sequence, believability, characters etc)
  • Android tablet: Google Play Books will read your manuscript aloud in epub format – read along silently with it to see what you catch.
  • If your ebook includes internal graphics, reduce them to 500×700 pixels or less. Link them to full-sized images on your website if necessary.
  • Cover: Can you read the print cover from 10 feet? Can you read the ebook cover in a thumbnail? Keep the title at/near the top so it won’t be lost if print books are stacked in a tier.
  • theindieview.com/indie-reviewers/ is a list of reviewers of indie books.
  • Goodreads for Authors course

Marketing Best Practices with Mark Lefebvre from Kobo:

  • The “3 P’s of Self-Publishing Success: practice, patience, persistence” – to which I add a fourth: prayer.
  • Your “street team” is your secret weapon. Treat them well.
  • Set up an Amazon Central page for the Canadian and international sites, not just the US one.
  • Book signing tip: have a stack of books ten feet away from you, so people can check them out without fear that you’ll “sell at them.”
  • Wattpad can be a great place to find beta readers and reach your target audience, but it needs an investment of time.
  • $1.99 is the worst price for an ebook online.

Going Global: Write Locally, Publish Globally, with Mark Lefebvre from Kobo: In the US, most ebooks sold are for Kindle, but Kobo outsells Kindle in Canada and in the rest of the world (Kobo started in Canada and is now part of the Japanese Rakutan company).

Writing from the Middle with writing teacher and thriller author James Scott Bell: I need to read this book. He made a lot of sense in the one-hour workshop. (No surprise. I’ve learned a lot from his other books on writing.)

The Word Awards Gala (for work published in 2014): My romantic suspense, Secrets and Lies, didn’t win in the suspense category, but to be a finalist is still a positive endorsement of the book’s quality. The suspense winner was Sandra Orchard’s Blind Trust, (Book 2 in an excellent series. I suggest starting with #1, Deadly Devotion.) You can read the full list of winners on The Word Guild site or by clicking the photo below.

Book finalists in The Word Awards, for work published in 2014

Book finalists in The Word Awards, for work published in 2014

Review: Blind Trust, by Sandra Orchard

Blind Trust, by Sandra OrchardBlind Trust, by Sandra Orchard (Revell Publishing, 2014)

This is not a book to read at bedtime, because Sandra Orchard is too good at motivating readers to turn “just one more page.” The tension is high, in part due to Kate’s tendencies to seize whatever opportunity she sees to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Blind Trust is book 2 in the Port Aster Secrets series, and if you jump in here you’ll understand all you need to know, but I highly recommend starting at the beginning with Deadly Devotion (read my review here).

Kate Adams is still grieving for her friend, Daisy, who died in the previous book, and she’s afraid the killer may yet duck justice. Suddenly someone’s out to sabotage Kate’s reputation, and she’s acquired a stalker.

In the middle of looking after herself, she also dives into protecting her elderly neighbour from being forced into long-term care.

That’s the thing about Kate: she has a big heart, and she acts before she thinks. Which is why Detective Tom Parker has such a hard time keeping her safe. He doesn’t dare act on his feelings for her – emotion clouded his judgement in the past, and cost his partner’s life.

The irony of this story is, as Kate finally learns to trust a cop – Tom – even to trust him blindly, he has to deceive her in order to save her life.

Favourite line:

The softly spoken word flitted around her chest, touching here and there like a tiny bird looking for the perfect place to nest. [page 76, Kindle version]

Canadian author Sandra Orchard has delivered another compelling read, blending a solid plot with complex characters, and leaving readers waiting for the next book in the series. Deadly Devotion won in the suspense category in The Word Awards this year, and I won’t be surprised if Blind Trust does the same next year. For more about the author and her books, visit sandraorchard.com. Be sure to check out the bonus features on the Blind Trust page.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Deadly Devotion, by Sandra Orchard

Deadly Devotion, by Sandra OrchardDeadly Devotion, by Sandra Orchard (Revell, 2013)

Research scientist Kate Adams’ mentor died from toxic herbal tea, and the police rule it self-inflicted if possibly accidental. Since they won’t investigate it as murder, Kate vows to find the killer herself.

Detective Tom Parker, the newest member of Port Aster’s small force, warns her that nobody is who they seem to be. Although the case is closed, Tom starts some quiet checking, more to keep Kate from endangering herself than out of agreement with her theories. Attraction grows between them, but this case is only one of the issues likely to keep them apart.

Deadly Devotion is a murder mystery plot delivered as romantic suspense. There are at least three very plausible suspects, and they kept me guessing until very near the end. Even then, I guessed right but for the wrong reason.

Sandra Orchard creates complex characters whose personalities shape how they react to the story unfolding around them. In Deadly Devotion, Kate sees the best in people—well, everyone other than the police—and she has no idea how to recognize a villain. Tom, on the other hand, deals with flashbacks and what looks like post-traumatic stress syndrome from his FBI work. It’s hard for him not to see threats and deception all around.

We also meet Tom’s father, Keith, an ex-cop who’s withdrawn into grief after losing his wife. And with Kate’s background in herbal research, we glimpse the world of herbal tea and natural remedies… and poison.

I appreciate how Kate and Tom integrate their Christianity into the grief and suspense they encounter in the novel. Sometimes it comes up in their conversation, but usually it’s just the force shaping how they view their world and how they act within that world.

Deadly Devotion is one of those novels where each chapter hooks you into the next one without stopping. Suspense balances with quieter scenes for an intriguing read without the high intensity of a thriller. It’s well-crafted, with some fresh descriptions. I’ll share my two favourites:

Setting the scene and introducing Kate and Tom (Parker) in the police station: “Parker glanced tiredly into each of the three coffee cups sitting on his desk, stacked them, and chucked them into a wastebasket.” (p.13) It’s just a day-in-the-life moment, but I can feel the atmosphere and I sense a bit about Tom.

Kate, feeling a bit uneasy: “A creepy bugs-under-the-collar sensation pitter-pattered across her neck as she stepped past him.” (p. 33) We’ve all felt it, but I’ve never thought of it that way before.

Deadly Devotion marks Canadian author Sandra Orchard’s first step into longer-length novels (she also writes the shorter Love Inspired Suspense novels). She handles the longer format well, and I prefer them. I’m looking forward to book two in the Port Aster Secrets series. The murder mystery was solved, but there are questions from Kate’s past, among other things.

You can find a sample chapter, deleted scenes, interviews with Kate and Tom, and more on the Book Bonus Feature of Sandra Orchard’s website. You can also interact with Sandra on Facebook.

[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.]

Interview: Sandra Orchard

Sandra OrchardSandra Orchard is a Canadian author of romantic suspense. She visited my blog last year to celebrate the release of her debut novel, Deep Cover (interview here), and she’s back to tell us about the next in the series. Welcome, Sandra!

Janet: Shades of Truth is the second in your Undercover Cops series, and although there’s a new hero and heroine, the story is set in the same small town. How is writing a series different than a stand-alone title? Did you know when writing Deep Cover that it would be part of a series?

Sandra: From the beginning, I’d hoped it would be picked up as a series. I deliberately created secondary characters that could move into the roles of hero or heroine in future books. I also introduced locations that I imagined future characters frequenting. The main difference in writing a series versus a stand-alone is that you need to anticipate people or things that you’ll want in place for the next novel. The challenge is keeping facts straight from one book to the next. I don’t want my sidekick with brown hair and eyes showing up in the next book with green eyes and red hair…unless of course she’s working undercover!

Janet: I notice that many Love Inspired authors produce two or three books in a year. Does working on a series make this easier, perhaps in terms of character or setting creation?

Sandra: I find it easier, because I’m already familiar with the locale and many of the characters, and the editor’s expectations.

Janet: One of the secondary characters in Deep Cover is a special needs adult. Shades of Truth is set in a young offenders’ detention centre. Do you have a personal interest in groups who tend to be marginalized?

Sandra: I have several friends with special needs children so, yes, they are definitely a group that is close to my heart. I became more compassionate to the plight of young offenders after listening to our pastor’s daughter share about her experiences working with the youth at a detention centre.

Janet: By writing these elements as an organic part of your stories, you give readers the chance to understand. Is there another personal connection in the series’ next instalment, Critical Condition?

Sandra: Yes, I suppose there is. Experimental and alternative cancer treatments play a role in the investigation. My mom had tried a number of experimental treatments and my critique partner who fought the disease for over twenty years had tried many alternatives as well as experimental treatments. I also have a friend whose mom travelled to Mexico to seek alternative treatment unavailable here. She died there alone.

Janet:  Those experiences leave a person sensitive to the needs of cancer patients and their families. I think it’s your inclusion of these heart-connections that make your stories so strong. Was it hard to convince your US publisher to accept a Canadian setting?

Sandra: No, Love Inspired (an imprint of Harlequin owned by Torstar) is actually a Canadian company, only its editorial offices are in New York. They are open to Canadian settings.

Janet: Very cool! I did not know that. Thanks for joining us today, Sandra, and all the best as you keep writing.


Shades of TruthBack cover summary:

Big-city detective Ethan Reed is working deep undercover at a Christian youth detention center. The kind of place he spent some harrowing time in as a kid. Ethan’s mission: ferret out who’s recruiting resident teens for a drug ring. He expects help from the lovely, devoted director of Hope Manor. But Kim Corbett won’t tell Ethan anything—even when she’s threatened and attacked. When Ethan discovers what Kim is protecting, his guarded heart opens just a bit wider. Enough to make this the most dangerous assignment of his career.

Review: Shades of Truth, by Sandra Orchard

Shades of TruthShades of Truth, by Sandra Orchard (Love Inspired, 2012)

Kim Corbett works with her brother Darryl at Hope Manor, the youth detention centre founded by their dying father. This is a Christian facility, and it’s recently lost the government funding required to keep in operation. Kim’s so desperate to get the funding back, she won’t say anything that could bring bad press—even if it means keeping quiet when a former resident nearly runs her down.

Ethan Reed was recruited from Toronto’s city police to go undercover at the centre as a new employee. One of the workers is setting the youth up as drug dealers when they get out. And at least one of the small town’s own officers is likely involved.

This is a rough assignment for Ethan, because he’s a former young offender himself. His past lets him bond with the kids, but it brings back a lot of pain he thought he’d already dealt with. Falling for Kim doesn’t make things any easier when he’s convinced himself he doesn’t deserve love and happiness.

Shades of Truth is the second novel in Sandra Orchard’s Undercover Cops series, set in the same town of Miller’s Bay, and readers of the first book will recognize Kim’s friend Ginny, the previous heroine.

It’s a fast-paced read, with believable characters. I like how we get to see the young offenders as real people and not just trouble-waiting-for-a-way-to-happen, and how we see Kim and Ethan each struggling with their own areas of growth.

Shades of Truth will be on-shelf in stores for early March 2012, so now’s the time to get your copy the easy way. If you miss it there, it’ll still be available online in print and ebook formats.

Canadian author Sandra Orchard’s next Love Inspired novel will be Critical Condition, releasing October 2012. You can visit her website, and be sure to check out the fun “extras” for readers of Deep Cover. Sandra blogs at Conversations About Characters, and there’s an interesting interview with Sandra at Fiction Finder and another at Canadian Christians Who Write.

[Review copy provided by the author.]