Review: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

book cover: The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd

The Last Piece, by Terrie Todd (2021)

If you love stories with interconnected threads drawing characters’ lives together at the end, this one’s for you. Especially if you love strong, evocative description and characters with heart.

The Last Piece begins in 1937 with a talented young artist forced to sell the portrait of his dead sweetheart to a jigsaw puzzle company. He does so with a prayer of sorts that the one-of-a-kind puzzle not be completed until he’s reunited with her.

What follow are a string of short stories from that date until 2017 where various people attempt the puzzle at key moments in their lives. If they don’t finish the puzzle, they do experience situations that shape their lives and memories. And in 2017 the mystery of the artist’s identity and the threads that join the characters find conclusion.

Terrie Todd writes settings so real you can taste the dust and feel the sun and the breeze. She’s an award-winning Canadian author of historical fiction, plays and short works as well as the nonfiction book, Out of My Mind: A Decade of Faith and Humour. For more about the author, visit her blog  terrietodd.blogspot.com or her Goodreads page.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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New Releases in Christian Fiction (August 2022)

August 2022 New Releases from Members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW):

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

 


Action/Adventure/Biblical:

 

The Wanderer Scorned by Natasha Woodcraft — The Wanderer is a man shrouded in legend. Moving from place to place in the land of Nod, he is known primarily for the curse that hangs over his life. When that curse is invoked during the celebration of a murderous rampage, The Wanderer is summoned to tell his story. Few know the truth of the tale encompassing life, death, love, hate, faith and doubt, for it has been obscured by centuries of rumour. Now, it will be told by the one who lived it—the man who became The Wanderer. (Action/Adventure, Independently Published)

 


Contemporary Romance:

 

The Cowgirl’s Redemption by Mindy Obenhaus — She came home to make things right. Will she be given a second chance? Gloriana Prescott has returned to her Texas hometown to make amends—even if the townsfolk she left behind aren’t ready to forgive. But when her mother’s ranch manager, Justin Broussard, is tasked with saving the struggling rodeo so his teen daughter can compete, Gloriana sees a chance to prove she’s really changed. But can she prove to Justin, and the town, that she’s trustworthy? (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired (Harlequin))

 


Historical:


A Fallen Sparrow by Lynne Basham Tagawa — Three very different people, a printer’s daughter, a Shenandoah valley farmer, and a British spy, must deal with questions relating to the time of the Revolution: when is it biblical to resist tyranny? The story takes place over the entire war, from 1770 to 1782. (General Historical, Independently Published)

 

Escape from Amsterdam by Lauralee Bliss — Helen Smit believed she was called by God to become a teacher. Little does she know that her care for kids will take a drastic turn for survival when the Germans occupy Amsterdam and Jewish children and parents begin to be deported. Now all she can think of is helping children escape before it’s too late. Erik Misman’s newfound love for Helen is tested when he joins a plot to help move Jewish children to a safe place in the countryside. If danger can foster a closer bond with Helen and save the lives of the little ones, he will do it all. But a German patrol that stumbles upon the farm where they are hiding with three children and a soldier who takes an unexpected interest in Helen, could well destroy their plans for safety and love. (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)

The Finding of Miss Fairfield by Grace Hitchcock — When an engagement of convenience becomes anything but convenient . . .Forced into a betrothal with a widower twice her age, Charleston socialite, Sophia Fairfield is desperate for an escape. But, while her fiancé is away on business, he assigns his handsome stepson, Carver, the task of looking after his bride-to-be. Much to her dismay, Sophia finds herself falling in love with the wrong gentleman—a man society would never allow her to marry, given Sophia was supposed to be his new stepmother. The only way to save Carver from scandal and financial ruin is to run away, leaving him and all else behind to become a Harvey Girl waitress at the Castañeda Hotel in New Mexico. Carver Ashton has had his life planned out for him since birth, but when he encounters Sophia Fairfield, he glimpses a new life—apart from his overbearing stepfather’s business. But, when the woman he loves disappears before he can express his devotion, Carver abandons all to find her. However, his stepfather has other intentions for Sophia and will stop at nothing until she is his bride . . . even if it is against her will. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Sugar Baron’s Governess by Elva Cobb Martin — Banished from Charleston for his misdeeds years earlier, Joshua Becket built a new life on both sides of the law in Jamaica. As sugar plantation owner and member of the governing British Assembly, he’s known and respected on the island. But he guards a secret identity. As swashbuckling Captain Jay, he leads daredevil privateering exploits on his ship, the Eagle, when the mood suits him. Currently, he needs a governess for his young daughter whose mother has passed. Widowed gentlewoman Abigail Welch accepted the governess position, leaving behind her disintegrated life in Charleston. This new start in Jamaica might finally help her find healing for her broken heart after losing her husband in the Revolution and their infant son to yellow fever. Joshua’s precocious, undisciplined daughter is the drawing card that brings him and Abigail together like clashing cymbals of disagreement…and fiery attraction. Can love and the miracle power of God give them a new beginning and a happily ever after? (Historical Romance from Wild Heart Books)

 


Literary Historical:

 

By Way of the Moonlight by Elizabeth Musser — Two courageous young women, tied together by blood and shared passion, will risk everything to save what they love most. For as long as she can remember, Allie Massey, a gifted physical therapist, has dreamed of making her grandparents’ ten-acre estate into a trauma recovery center using equine therapy—a dream her grandmother, Nana Dale, embraced wholeheartedly. But when her grandmother’s will is read, Allie is shocked to learn the property has been sold to a developer. Decades earlier, after losing her prized filly to the Great Depression, headstrong Dale Butler sets out to bring her horse home again. In the years that follow, she finds friendship and love in a congenial new riding partner, until tragedy strikes in the midst of World War II. As Allie searches her grandmother’s estate for a way to keep her dream alive, she uncovers bits and pieces of Nana Dale’s past with her champion filly, a young man named Tommy, and one fateful night in 1943 during the Battle of the Atlantic. (Literary Historical from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)

Land that I Love by Gail Kittleson — Set in the German Hill Country of Texas during World War II, this is more than a love story. It is about the racism and bigotry that still exist in our world. As these characters struggle with the problems of everyday life, they teach us that we survive hard times by being good neighbors despite our differences and that hatred can be conquered by love, understanding and forgiveness. (Literary Historical from WordCrafts Press)

 


Thriller/Suspense/Romance:

 

Tracking the Truth by Sharee Stover — Temporarily working in the cold case division was supposed to mean less danger for state trooper Trey Jackson and his injured K-9 partner, Magnum—until they thwart an abduction. Now he must protect profiler Justine Stark, even as she blames him for her friend’s death ten years ago. Can he right past wrongs by finally solving the murder…and making sure Justine lives to find closure?
(Thriller/Suspense/Romance from Love Inspired (Harlequin))

Twin Murder Mix-Up by Sami A. Abrams — A case of mistaken identity… has lethal results.
(Thriller/Suspense/Romance from Love Inspired (Harlequin))


Winter Deceptions: A Collection of Christian Suspense Novels by Dan Walsh, et. al — A collection of nine riveting wintry suspense novellas with whispers of romance by ten-award winning Christian suspense authors. (Thriller/Suspense/Romance, Independently Published)

Plus check out these recent additions to Fiction Finder published within the past month:

 
Grace on the Mountain Trail by Misty M. Beller, This epic journey is her last hope to find her lost brother—the only family she has left. (Historical Romance)
 
Jacob’s Hope by Sylvia Anne Nash, In the 1960s, racial prejudice and hatred resulted in a throw-away child. Can that child, now a grown man, forgive the unforgiveable? (Mystery)
 
More than Grit by Gretchen Carlson, When do secrets become lies? When is grit not enough?
(Young Adult)
 
Redemption’s Hope by Kathleen D. Bailey, A man without a country and a woman with too much past. (Western Romance)
 
Settlers’ Hope by Kathleen D. Bailey, He was the West, and she was the East. Could they make a place for themselves in the wet, wild Oregon Country? (Historical Romance)
 
The Help of a Cowboy by Elsie Davis , Once a cowboy…always a cowboy. But when life delivers Chad a chance to hang up his boots and spurs, he’s all in. (Contemporary Romance)

 

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Excuses vs. Reasons (Guest Post)

Signposts: One arrow says "one way" and the opposite one says "or another".
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

Excuses vs. Reasons

By Steph Beth Nickel

Do you scold yourself when you don’t get everything done on your daily To-Do List or when you don’t achieve everything you’d hoped to achieve?

Beating yourself up about it rarely, if ever, gets the job done.

However, we all must be honest with ourselves and evaluate if we’re making excuses or have legitimate reasons for failing to cross everything off our list.

Excuses include the following (just ask me how I know):

  1. Watching “just one more” episode of a show we’re enjoying…or, at least, tolerating.
  2. Scrolling through our newsfeed for “just a few more minutes.”
  3. Thinking, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” (Trust me; I put the PRO in procrastination.)

On the other side of the coin are legitimate reasons for not achieving the things on our list:

  1. Something truly urgent comes up that demands our immediate attention.
  2. Our expectations of ourselves are unreasonable.
  3. Our physical and/or emotional well needs refilling.

These are only a handful of examples, but you get the idea.

And now for the good news!

Whether you’ve been making excuses or have perfectly good reasons for what you do or don’t get done, there are ways you can silence that finger-wagging inner voice:

  1. If you make a To-Do List or simply record deadlines and occasions you don’t want to miss, prioritize your list. What is time-sensitive and something you must/really want to remember? To make sure you don’t miss anything important, write it down somewhere you will check often—whether in a paper planner or on an app.
  2. While it’s important to take other people’s feelings and ideas into consideration, be careful not to allow their priorities to influence your schedule unless those priorities line up with what you believe to be God’s plans and purposes for you.
  3. Be reasonable. There are only so many hours in the day, and you’re only one person.
  4. If you don’t achieve everything on your list, be honest with yourself. Did you have legitimate reasons, or did you find yourself making excuses?
  5. If you find you’re making excuses, choose ONE to work on until it’s no longer a default. Don’t try to eliminate all the excuses at once, or you’ll simply become frustrated and scold yourself even more.
  6. Get into the habit of making an Accomplishments or Victory List. Record what you get done and regularly review the list. It will help when you’re tempted to become discouraged. (Include household chores and running errands. It may feel like you’re getting very little done, but an itemized list will put that misconception to rest.)
  7. As believers, committing our day to the Lord before we get out of bed, praying over each task, and laying down what we did or did not achieve before Him each night will make a huge difference in how we create our To-Do Lists. It will also help us keep our focus where it belongs and will make us more sensitive to His leading.

Be positive. Be patient. And be prayerful.


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

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.

New Releases in Christian Fiction (July 2022)

July 2022 New Releases from Members of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW):

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.


Contemporary Romance:

Leaving the Past Behind by Sandra Ardoin — The joy Danni Barnett found in her job as a travel writer and photographer faded around the same time her husband walked out on her. When her late sister-in-law’s will brings the couple together to care for her children, Danni must face her fear of motherhood or lose a second chance with Brooks. Brooks Barnett’s life has spun out of his control. A crumbled marriage. A career on hold. The loss of his sister. Brooks determines to keep Danni at arm’s length, but it’s a daunting task when his niece and nephew love her as much as he does. How will Brooks protect two grieving children from more loss when he can’t even protect his heart from Danni’s pull? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Muskoka Blue by Carolyn Miller — For Sarah Maguire, spending the summer at Lake Muskoka was supposed to be about finding the courage to put back the pieces of her shattered life—not falling in love with the charming yet unsophisticated hockey player from next door. Daniel Walton may have been praying for Miss Right to appear, but Sarah’s ice princess act just cries Miss Wrong. Dan’s summer plans hadn’t included befriending a redhead with a sassy tongue and cute accent, but as Muskoka works its magic he soon discovers that underneath the frost and prickles is the funny, feisty, loving woman he’s waited all his life to meet. As their friendship deepens, Sarah comes to appreciate Dan’s patience and kindness yet struggles to let go of the past and embrace the future, while Dan, only too conscious of the personal history he wants to forget, questions the wisdom of pursuing a girl whose heart may never be wholly his – who may soon return to live on the opposite side of the world. Will past regrets lead to further heartbreak? Or can Sarah and Dan learn to leave the past in the past and embrace God’s promises for the future? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Seaside Proposal by Narelle Atkins — Billie Radcliffe has a secret. And she isn’t sharing it with anyone, including Zach Montford. Even though she feels an instant connection with the good-looking banker and youth leader, she’s wary of rejection. Besides she’s only in the close-knit beach community until she meets the one man who can fill in the blanks about her history. Zach hopes his temporary stint with the church will help him decide whether to go into full-time ministry. Though his career plans are uncertain, he’s sure about his growing feelings for Billie. When a shocking revelation throws everything into question, Zach and Billie have a chance to put the past to rest … and walk into the future together. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

To Begin Again by Emily Conrad — Michaela Vandehey’s reality show win transformed her from the girl whose own father ignored her into a pop singer loved by the masses. But fame has proven hard to keep. To bolster her floundering career, she heads to Wisconsin to snag a collaboration with the iconic rock band Awestruck. There, she meets bass guitarist Philip, a dad whose devotion challenges her skepticism about love and family. Whatever faith Philip Miller had died with his wife. Now, “Amazing Grace” is nothing but a lullaby to sing to his children in her memory. Thanks to Awestruck, he can provide privileged lives for his kids, but he has no intention of finding love again. If only he weren’t so drawn to Michaela. When he falls for her despite himself, Michaela learns the dark secret that threatens his family’s future. The grace they’ve heard so much about might grant them the fresh start they need, but to begin again, they’ll first have to sacrifice what they hold most dear. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)


General Contemporary:

The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold — Frustrated reporter Aidyn Kelley begrudgingly agrees to help a hospice patient prepare her obituary. But old Clara Kip has some incredible stories–and some surprises up her sleeve–that promise to make this seemingly throwaway assignment a life-changing one. (General Contemporary, from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group)

More Than Sparrows by Claire SpencerChristensen — Kate is at a crossroads. A lapse in judgement has her clashing with management at Westbrook Community Justice Service, her offer to accommodate a client in her own home breaching department regulations. Not only does this infuriate her team leader, but it provides the clever, charismatic department psychologist, Dr Paul Leeuwin, yet another opportunity to heap scorn on her world view and rubbish her belief in God. The pressure increases when she dares to question a church leadership decision to fund an extension, seemingly ignoring needy families in the surrounding suburbs. Her concerns dismissed, she falls out with friends when she suggests the community could be better served if the money was spent on a parachurch organisation. In conflict at work and at odds with fellow believers, what is God trying to tell her? (General Contemporary, Independently Published)

Perfectly Placed by Liana George — Six weeks after leaving China, Nicki Mayfield returns to complete two critical tasks: restore order at New Hope Orphanage and re-connect with the little girl who stole her heart. However, between a stubbornly stone walling supervisor, missing documents, and personal tragedy, Nicki faces challenges at every turn. Is she the best person to bring order – and longevity – to the place these children call home? Then, with the help of an unexpected ally, Nicki makes a life-altering decision that upends her well-planned life and the lives of those around her. Will she lose it all, or has she found the way to save what matters most?
(General Contemporary, from Scrivenings Press)


Historical Romance:

A Feeling of Home by Susan Ann Mason — Isabelle Wardrop’s well-to-do life has completely unraveled. Within months, she’s lost both her parents, her fortune, and her home. With nowhere else to turn, she and her younger sister move in with a trusted former servant in an impoverished area of the city. Desperate for work but having no qualifications, Isabelle is forced to accept help from Dr. Mark Henshaw, the very man she blames for her mother’s death. (Historical Romance from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)

Byway to Danger by Sandra Merville Hart — Everyone in Richmond has secrets. Especially the spies. Meg Brooks, widow, didn’t stop spying for the Union when her job at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency ended, especially now that she lives in the Confederate capital. Her job at the Yancey bakery provides many opportunities to discover vital information about the Confederacy to pass on to her Union contact. She prefers to work alone, yet the strong, silent baker earns her respect and tugs at her heart. Cade Yancey knows the beautiful widow is a spy when he hires her only because his fellow Unionist spies know of her activities. Meg sure didn’t tell him. He’s glad she knows how to keep her mouth shut, for he has hidden his dangerous activities from even his closest friends. The more his feelings for the courageous woman grow, the greater his determination to protect her by guarding his secrets. Her own investigations place her in enough peril. As danger escalates, Meg realizes her choice to work alone isn’t a wise one. Can she trust Cade with details from her past not even her family knows? (Historical Romance from Wild Heart Books)

Inventions of the Heart by Mary Conneally — Her heart seeks safety. But will trouble find her even here? After her sister’s marriage, Michelle Stiles is left hiding at Two Harts Ranch with the handsome but stubborn Zane Hart. She’s managed to stay one step ahead of her stepfather and his devious plans, but if he finds her, she will no longer be safe. Zane has problems of his own. Having discovered a gold mine on his property, he must figure out how to harvest it without kicking off a gold rush. Michelle, educated and trained to run her father’s business, wants to manage all aspects of the mine, but Zane thinks for a person so smart she can have some misguided ideas. Running the mining operation will be a dangerous job, and he can’t risk putting her in harm’s way. But danger finds Michelle anyway when she’s suddenly attacked. If they go to the sheriff, they’ll reveal her location, but if they do nothing . . . their troubles have only just begun. (Historical Romance, from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)

Matters of the Heart by Heidi Gray McGill — Katie is an unconventional and impatient Irish immigrant with a determination to champion the needs of Civil War orphans and widows, no matter the fallout. Hans served his time and has no desire to join another cause to help the needy unless he’s the one in question. Stubbornness and demons of their past may keep them from their goals and each other, yet in the end, they realize the answer isn’t always in the one you seek. (Historical Romance, ACFW QIP (Qualified Independently Published))


Speculative Fiction:

Aivan: The One Truth by Kayla E. Green — Rune has grown up all of her life in the mountainous northern nation of Kansanai. As granddaughter of the Senior Elder, she has been a devout believer of the Vihishki gods her whole life. Yet, when a prophet challenges the Vihishki gods against his Aivan, the One Truth, everything she thought she knew is turned upside down. Will she be able to let go of the life she thought she deserved for something far greater than what she could have ever imagined? (Speculative Fiction from Ambassador International)

When Legends Rise by Daphne Self — He is now one of them. Genetically altered… Designed to kill… Trained to eradicate…Until he became more. Juliet 7-A was the top elite assassin for the Global Federated Territories until an ambush deemed him unsalvageable. He was scheduled for decommission. His only recourse for survival is a new identity and his search for the one friend he had–a friend who deserted him. Those he once hunted will save him. Yet it comes with a price. A price that demands much of him. What happens when an assassin awakens? (Speculative Fiction from Ambassador International)


Thriller/Suspense/Romance:

Sabotaged Mission by Tina Radcliffe — When a failed mission leaves CIA operative MacKenzie “Mac” Sharp injured and her partner presumed dead, going off-grid is the only way to survive. But her old flame, CIA officer Gabe Denton, has tracked her down and led a well-connected enemy right to her door. Now with someone trying to frame and kill her, working with Gabe is the only way to clear her name…and stay alive. (Thriller/Suspense/Romance from Love Inspired (Harlequin))


Western:

The Sister’s Search by Susan Page Davis — Molly Weaver and her widowed mother embark on an arduous journey at the end of the Civil War. They hope to join Molly’s brother Andrew on his ranch in Texas. When they arrive, Andrew is missing and squatters threaten the ranch. Can they trust Joe, the stranger who claims to be Andrew’s friend? Joe’s offer to help may be a godsend—or a snare. And who is the man claiming to be Molly’s father? If he’s telling the truth, Molly’s past is a sham, and she must learn where she really belongs. (Western from Scrivenings Press)

Plus check out these recent additions to Fiction Finder published within the past month:

Anchored at Mackinac by Carrie Fancett Pagels, Will hearts be broken when choices are made—or will all hoped-for wishes be fulfilled? (Historical Romance)
 
A Place to Heal by Allie Pleiter, Dana’s found the perfect place for her camp–but will Mason agree to her terms? (Contemporary Romance)
 
A Thousand Lies by Kathy Cassel, Will uncovering her true identity bring the closure and purpose Bailey seeks—or turn out to be the worst mistake of her life? (General Contemporary)
 
Ben in Trouble by Luana Ehrlich, Can Titus get them out of the mess they’re in, or will Ben salvage the operation and bring it to a successful conclusion? (Thriller/Suspense)
 
Close Encounters of the Mysterious Kind by Marissa Shrock, Bobbi Sue knows she can’t stay quiet, and the problem is, the person behind the murder is intent on her doing exactly that, no matter what it takes. (Mystery: Cozy)
 
Love at the Garden Tomb by R. F. Whong, Love—one plus one can’t be two. Longline: Chance meetings at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem force ex-lovers to journey through betrayal, guilt, redemption, and reconciliation. (Contemporary Romance) 
 
Shadow of Honor by Ronnie Kendig, Faced with her true identity, Eija sees her purpose snap into focus, and she realizes the war Marco fears may be the very one he has been called to start. (Speculative Fiction)
 
Wages of Sin by Urcelia Teixeira, To find her future, she must embrace her past.
(Thriller/Suspense)
 
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Review: Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson

Cover of Joy that Renews: A devotional from Psalms to refresh your life every day, by Steve Akerson.

Joy that Renews, by Steve Akerson (River Birch Press, 2021)

These devotions brim with infectious joy and confident trust in our Lord.

Taking one verse from each of the Bible’s 150 psalms, Joy that Renews invites readers to grow deeper in their relationship with God. The daily devotionals focus on God’s goodness and love and on themes like living in freedom, thankfulness, and listening to God. Although the Psalms were written many years before Christ, they contain much that points to Jesus.

Each day’s reading begins with a title, a one-line summary, and then the Scripture, a brief application, and a heartfelt response. The conversational, transparent style makes for easy reading and relatability. The author uses The Passion Translation, which puts oft-familiar verses in a fresh light.

Anyone familiar with the psalms as a whole is aware that they’re not all light and jubilant. Some are laments, and some groan with deep pain and affliction. One of the points Steve Akerson draws from these heavier psalms is that “You will always have a big choice in your life—either to focus on your problems or on God’s goodness. That choice will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life and on those around you.” [Day 22, “Chased by Goodness,” Hoopla edition page 61]

And “It is good for you to praise Him, even if your praise is accompanied by tears and sorrows.” [Day 31, “Turn Distress Upside Down,” Hoopla edition page 77]

I appreciate how, whatever the circumstances, this book turns the focus back to God and His goodness. This helps strengthen our faith and leads us into worship. I also appreciate the encouragement to listen to God with expectancy—the more we train our spiritual ears to recognize His voice, the closer we’ll walk with Him. Or, as Day 110, “Listen—God is Talking,” says, “His words will bring richness to your soul.” [Hoopla edition page 253]

These daily readings blessed me, and I’ll be marking Joy that Renews as a book to read again. The book is also available in print and digital format from many online venues.

Author Steve Akerson is one of the Prayer Team leaders at Hosanna Church in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. For more about the author and his book, and to request the free study guide that accompanies it, visit joythatrenews.com.

[Review copy from Hoopla.]

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Fiction and Fencing Lessons

The Canadian magazine Faith Today did a quick Q&A with me recently, just three questions about my mystery/suspense fiction and about those fencing lessons I mention on my “about” page. Pop over for a 2-minute read!

Here’s the interview link: Faith Today Q&A. If you click the link at the start of this post it’ll take you to the magazine homepage… where Canadians can subscribe for free!

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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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99-cent Ebook Sale: Unknown Enemy

Come to the Green Dory Inn for the mysteries, stay for the characters.

Book 1, Unknown Enemy, is 99 cents for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Apple, and Google Play until July 5. Great time to discover a new-to-you Christian fiction series set in beautiful Nova Scotia!

Buy your copy here: https://www.books2read.com/unknownenemy

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Chasing Inspiration (Guest Post)

Tile letters spelling "inspiration" with floral background.
Image by Mango Matter from Pixabay

Chasing Inspiration

by Steph Beth Nickel

I wrote over 40K words of my first YA speculative fiction novel during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2020. And then . . .

True confession time . . .

I left it so long that I wanted to go back and read it from the beginning, making minor changes and getting my momentum back.

But that didn’t happen. At least not until June of this year.

In just three days, I read the 44K+ words, tweaked those 140 or so pages, and organized my notes (character names, questions that needed to be answered, an idea for a possible freebie, etc.).

The more I worked on it, the more motivated I became.

Waiting for inspiration hadn’t worked. Chasing after it . . . did.

Are you stuck? Unmotivated? Uninspired?

Here are three ideas to help you get your mojo back:

  1. If you’re a discovery writer (aka a pantser) like I am, there comes a point when it’s a good idea to make yourself some notes. Keep track of who’s who. Make a list of times you dropped “the first shoe.” If you never drop the second, your readers will not be pleased. Unanswered questions and unresolved issues are not your friend. When you reread your work, be on the lookout for inconsistencies. I once had the wind inexplicably change directions—on the same page. I’m so glad I caught it before letting anyone else read that story. Diving into the details can inspire you to get back to writing.
  2. I love giving my characters the freedom of taking me where they want to go. Of slowly but surely revealing their personality traits and quirks to me. Of making me unexpectedly laugh or gasp. But if I don’t have a rough idea of where the story will end, I can find myself wandering around aimlessly by the middle of the story. I have the epilogue written for a contemporary women’s fiction story I plan to get back to. Plus, I’m currently working on the last chapter of the YA novel I mentioned earlier, even though I’ve only written approximately half the manuscript. The plan is for it to be the first book in a series. So, I need a cathartic ending that is still open-ended. I’m happy with what I’ve settled on. Writing a possible ending for your story may help you decide how to get from where you are to where you want to go.
  3. We’ve all heard it. And it may be the last thing many of us want to hear again. But I’ve found it’s true. I have to turn off Netflix (and Disney Plus and Prime Video and Paramount Plus), not to mention social media, and sit at my computer, open my writing program, and keep at it—even when the ideas don’t come pouring out. Walking away from distractions and focusing on your writing may be just the thing you need to get those words flowing again. It’s 100% fine if it begins as a trickle. Keep pumping out the words, and that trickle could very well become a steady stream.

While my focus is on fiction, the same principles apply when you’re writing nonfiction, although it’s far more challenging to apply discovery writing techniques to nonfiction.

How do you chase inspiration?


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

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: Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens

Crossed by Death, by ACF Bookens, Stitches in Crime series book 1

Crossed by Death, by A.C.F. Bookens (Andilit, 2021)

Paisley Sutton’s historical writing career went out the window when she became a single mom of a toddler too active to allow the necessary research time. Now she provides for herself and two-year-old Sawyer by salvaging vintage items from abandoned buildings and reselling them online.

Exploring a long-closed rural gas station was not supposed to end with her finding a dead body. Nor was meeting the town sheriff supposed to unfold into a potential for romance.

I enjoyed following Paisley’s research as she tries to untangle generational secrets that might explain not only the present-day murder but the long-ago one that closed the gas station.

Cozy mystery fans will find a few familiar staples: a well-stocked yarn store is a key setting (although Paisley herself prefers cross-stitch), there’s an interesting pet (a Maine Coon cat) and plenty of food references, along with the law enforcement romantic hero. Her salvage career is interesting, and the mystery is an engaging puzzle to follow.

I like Paisley’s accepting way with people and her desire to contribute to their lives. Her mama-bear determination to provide for and protect her son create a strong reader connection. The book does a great job of showing white characters (including Paisley) interacting with Black characters with no prejudice but also with no sense of “hey, look at us being non-racist.” It’s just natural, as it should be, with a few regretful references to past segregation.

Crossed by Death is book 1 in the Stitches in Crime mystery series. A.C.F. Bookens has a few other cozy mystery series as well, one of which is a free download on her site: acfbookens.com. Fans of Karin Kaufman’s Juniper Grove series will want to give this author a try, and vice versa.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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