Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Mercy at Midnight by Sylvia Bambola

Bambola has crafted an engaging novel about the challenges of ministering to the inner city. It got off to a slow start but after about a hundred pages or so, I was hooked.

The plot revolves around three characters, Cynthia is a newspaper reporter. When the police fail to pursue the murder of two homeless men, killed within a few days of each other, Cynthia is disturbed. She convinces her boss to let her go undercover as a homeless woman to find the story of these men.

Cynthia finds her way to a newly re-opened homeless shelter and ministry. She meets Jonathan. He had been the pastor of a successful but dead church and had followed God's leading to bring the abandoned shelter back to life.

And then there is Stubby, a homeless man and good friend to the two men killed. He also finds his way into Jonathan's homeless shelter. The lives of these three people come together midst the dangerous territory of drugs and gangs.

The way these characters interact and are contrasted is well done. Cynthia is a pessimist. She has been a dirt digging reporter for years and is discouraged about mankind. Jonathan is a godly man who listens to the Holy Spirit and obeys His leading. He walks in faith, seeing people coming to the Lord and healed. Stubby has a big heart. He had a tough break in his career and never rebounded, turning to drugs. But when he meets Jonathan, he is in for a life changing event.

I really liked how Bambola helps us experience the world of the homeless. I had no idea the number of homeless women was on the rise. Many have children with them and are fleeing dangerous marriages. We get a good sense of what happens to people when they get beaten down.

There are other great characters too. Bernie is Cynthia's boss and treats her like he would a daughter. Gertie was Jonathan's secretary back at his church and is a busy body and gossip. Sweet Miss Emily is a seventy year old woman who used to be homeless and now loves them with her cooking.

This is a great novel. It has all the elements I require – well crafted and engaging characters, a plot that is realistic and captivating, and a setting in which we learn about an aspect of society. There's suspense and romance too.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Sylvia Bambola was born in Romania and lived in Germany. She was seven when her family came to the United States. She has written eight novels and has two grown children. You can find out more at

Heritage Publishing House, 408 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through BookCrash. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Undiscovered Treasures by Carole Brown

About the book:
Caroline and her brother own Undiscovered Treasures, an antique, collectibles, and junk shop in rural West Virginia. She's waiting for the right man to come along, missing the good specimen right in front of her eyes. Andy is an up and coming artist who paints what Caroline thinks are depressing scenes. Friends since childhood, Andy loves Caroline but thinks he's not good enough for her.

Caroline is besotted when handsome Linc shows up in town, wanting Caroline to write a Christmas play for his church. She thinks he is everything she has ever wanted in a man. Andy is unhappy about the slick man going after "his girl" but he has problems of his own. His paintings are being stolen right out of his studio. He enlists Caroline's help to uncover the thief. 

My review:
This is the third novel in this series and the first I have read. It took me a while to get oriented. While this book can be read on its own, having read the earlier books will fill in the historical and descriptive gaps not covered in this one.

Caroline is a testy character. She is argumentative, prickly and cranky. She was a hard character to like. Andy is a thoughtful and much more gentle character. He is a dear, being so patient with his pursuit of Caroline. I had mixed emotions about Linc. Brown did a good job of making me suspicious of him. I was disappointed that the secrets behind this character were left uncovered. Perhaps they will be in a later novel.

The plot had several aspects to it that kept me reading. Caroline's romantic thoughts are interspersed with her trying to uncover the thief of Andy's paintings. Brown drops hints but adds red herrings to keep us wondering who the villain is.

I would have liked more description. I felt like I was unable to really visualize the setting and many of the scenes. Reading the earlier novels in the series may help there.

This is a character driven romantic mystery. Much of the novel covers the thoughts of characters, such as the insecurity of Caroline. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy reading of the ruminations of characters more than action packed scenes.

You can find out more about the book and read a guest post from the author here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Carole Brown loves to weave suspense, tough topics, romance and whimsy into her books. She and her husband live in southeast Ohio and have ministered nationally and internationally.

Story and Logic Media Group, 286 pages. You can purchase the book here.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book.

Additional Blog Stops:

November 30: autism mom
November 30: Carpe Diem
December 1: Quiet Quilter
December 3: On Jenna’s Shelf
December 4: Pause for Tales
December 6: bigreadersite
December 8: Karen Sue Hadley
December 9: A Reader’s Brain
December 10: Moments Dipped in Ink
December 11: Blogging With Carol

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Smoke and Mirrors

This is a collection of eight brand new never before released contemporary romantic novellas from today's bestselling Christian authors. As is often the case with a variety of authors, the quality of the novellas differ. I give a synopsis of each and add my review. Overall, this is a good collection of novellas with mystery, suspense, and romance. I recommend it to those who would like to be introduced to some new authors while enjoying some good stories.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

   We meet J. T., an ex-FBI agent in The Long View. His pride got him fired from the government agency and placed distance between him and Destiny, the girl he loved and daughter of his FBI mentor. Years later, his mentor asks him to go undercover to investigate a possible terrorist. He's taken aback when he finds out Destiny owns a shop in the same mall as the suspected terrorist.
   There is quite a bit packed in this novella. It is overtly Christian. There are good discussions about the differences between Christianity and Islam. We find out there are sects of Islam, some peaceful while others cultivate terrorists.
   There is some good suspense in the latter part of the plot, as well as a slight bit of romance.
   Connie Almony was trained as a mental health counselor, helping her develop motivated characters. Her husband loves mischief, giving her ideas for bantering dialog. She has written several novels. You can find out more at

   In Taken, we read about being a surrogate mother. The people who arranged for a surrogate demand testing. When they find out the child will be defective, they demand the surrogate mother have an abortion. But she is a Christian. What price is she willing to pay to do the right thing?
   In addition to this thought provoking aspect to the novella, there is a good bit of romance and suspense.
   Sally Bradley has had fiction as her passion since childhood. She writes books that entertain and point people to Christ. You can find out more at

   In On the Ropes, a woman witnesses a Russian mafia execution. Even though she is put in witness protection, she is found before the trial begins.
   She had been dating Victor, the son of the mafia boss, and had introduced him to church. But after seeing the execution, she had fled to the police. When Victor finds her in hiding months later, she is terrified.
   There is lots of suspense in this novel – right to the very end. Hacking into facial recognition software was part of it. It was enlightening to read about the mafia and their control of prostitution, etc. There is a good gospel message included too.
   Hallee Bridgeman is a bestselling Christian author with more than half a million sales. She lives in central Kentucky with her husband and their children. You can find out more at and

   In Out of Circulation, Katie is a quiet librarian. First gunman invade the library then her house is searched. Then there are attacks on her life. Her dad was an FBI agent and was on a bank heist case when money went missing. Do they think she has the money? Her mother hires a body guard but can he be trusted?
   Heather Day Gilbert was born and raised in the West Virginia mountains. She is a graduate of Bob Jones University and is married to her college sweetheart. She and her husband are raising their children in the same house she grew up in. She is the author of several novels. Find out more at

   In Dangerous Alternative, Levi Boulter is thrust into an FBI investigation of an assassination plot aimed at the First Lady. In movie production, he works undercover for the FBI, taking photos and passing them along. An explosion on a movie lot places his life in danger. He is determined to protect the woman he loves too.
   There is an interesting foundation to the plot. The reason someone wants to assassinate the First Lady is that she in promoting alternative medicine, a possible reform that would cost drug companies billions in profits.
   There is quite a bit of action in this novella but it has a very complex plot, perhaps too complex for this length work. This novel also contained many references to eastern practices and was a little too graphic in the romance area for me.
   Kelli Hughett is a native of Colorado and enjoys the rural life outside of Windsor with her husband and their three kids. She homeschools and is the co-founder of Oil in My Lamp ministries. You can find out more at

   We travel to rural Alaska in Identity Theft. Lacy is in a rural community as a result of the witness protection program. It has been four years since she witnessed a murder and testified. Even though she is being courted by a fine man, she still thinks of the love of her life, the man she was with all those years ago. She was told he was dead but then she thinks she sees him. Could he still be alive and what was he doing in Alaska?
   This novella is a good character study. Lacy has a dilemma? Doe she trust the man from years ago or trust the man who loves her now, even though he doesn't know who she really is? There is lots of ruminating by her. That slows the action a bit but there is plenty of action elsewhere. And mosquitoes. I'd think Terry was exaggerating the mosquitoes but I've been to Alaska and, yes, there are lots of mosquitoes!
   Alana Terry is a pastor's wife, homeshooling mom, and and award winning Christian suspense author. She and her family live in rural Alaska.

     In Obsession, two pregnant women are found murdered, slashed with a knife. Amanda's adoptive mother is at the scene of the second murder, as is Amanda. Her mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, is implicated in the murder. Amanda, a police detective, is bent on protecting the woman who raised her. She is also caring for her pregnant with twins niece, a thirteen year old. Her FBI agent husband is by her side.
     I found this novella to be the hardest one to read in this collection. The plot is good, even if it is very complicated with lots of past events we're not privy to. It is the author's writing style I found hard to grasp. There are incomplete sentences. Phrases as sentences. Pronouns with confusing antecedents. Dialog without identifying the speakers.
     I also felt like I had missed a previous novella. How did the teen get pregnant? It seems she might have been kidnapped but there is only hints to it, to Amanda's husband's accident, maybe Amanda's abduction, and much more. The novella has good potential but needs work.
     Rachel Trautmiller writes novels filled with murder, mayhem, and romance. She and her husband have one toddler. You can find out more at

     Scent of Danger is a good story for the final one in this collection. Maya, a small town police woman, is trying to find her missing twin, January. She attends a charity event at the senator's mansion, impersonating her sister. She meets Connor, handsome son of the senator and friend of Maya's twin. The two work together to find out what has happened to January. But they run into danger again and again as people are willing to kill to keep secrets hidden.
     This novella has a great mix of suspense and romance. Connor was once a policeman so he works well with Maya when danger invades. The scenes are done well and the characters are developed as the plot progresses. I liked this novella.
     Alexa Verde is a teacher and translator turned author of Christian romantic suspense. She has over 200 short stories, poems, and articles published in the five languages she speaks. After traveling the world, she now calls Texas home. You can find out more at

Olivia Kimbrell Press, around 1300 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this anthology through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig

Juliet, manager of a popular coffee house in Nashville, has another adventure in this third novel of the Java Jive series. Juliet finds the body of a young woman who lives in her apartment complex. That murder might be connected to a young women who had gone missing days before. And then one of the young women working at Java Jive goes missing. Even though the police tell Juliet to stay out of the investigation, she is soon on the trail of the murderer.

I like this series. Juliet reminds me of Stephanie Plum. Juliet's not quite as funny but her character makes for lots of action and suspense. Juliet gets into all kinds of odd situations trying to identify the culprit. Her sidekick is Pete, long time friend and owner of the coffee house she manages. There is a little spark of romance between these two in this novel. I have to admit, I like Pete better than Ryder, the man Juliet had been seeing. Ryder is a detective whose wife had been murdered years before. He's been promoted to detective and is investigating this case. He and Juliet do not see eye to eye with respect to her involvement in pursuing the killer.

Juliet is a fun character. She is a true sleuth, going to almost any length (like interviewing for an escort service) to find the killer. She gets into some pretty crazy situations. Snappy dialog, humor, and good suspense make for an entertaining novel. There are some surprises near the end of the novel too.

There is some foul language and casual sex in this novel. Other than that, a good mystery that is fun to read.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Caroline Fardig is the USA Today bestselling author of the Java Jive Mysteries series and the Lizzie Hart Mysteries. Her Bad Medicine was named one of the best books of 2015 by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a school teacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in the same town with an understanding husband and two sweet kids. You can find out more at

Alibi, Penguin Random House, 345 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Liked by Kari Kampakis

We all want to be liked. God made us to live in community and to need friends. But what about when our desire to be liked takes our eyes off of God? Kampakis challenges us to consider if we care more about what our friends think about us than what God knows about us.

She reminds us that the only audience that really matters is God. He is the One who loves us just the way we are. Our deepest desire to be known and loved can only be fulfilled by God.

Kampakis has good teaching for us, helping us understand the art of friendship, our identity in Christ, and making God our top priority. She helps us understand our search for identity and how finding it in Jesus is better than trying to find it through people. She gives good suggestions as to how to cultivate one's real self. She reminds us of the importance of developing a godly character and what it means to have positive social media habits. She distinguishes between social friends and real friends, the ones worth our time and effort.

I really like her emphasis on physically connecting with friends as opposed to “friends” on social media. She provides good suggestions for deepening friendships. I also like her insights on dealing with emotions, having humility, growing in faith, having courage to be the person God created me to be, and living a life that pleases God.

Kampakis uses both fictional stories and real life experiences to illustrate her teaching. She has also included discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

I recommend this book to teens and those working with them. While people of all ages could benefit from the teaching in this book, the illustrations and writing style are aimed at teens and perhaps young career age. It would be a good book for a teen study or reading group.

You can find out more at

My rating: 4/5 stars,

Kari Kampakis is a blogger, author, speaker, and newspaper columnist from Birmingham, Alabama. Her first book, 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, has been used widely across the country by teen youth groups and small groups to empower girls through faith. Her work has been featured on The Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, and other national outlets. She and her husband have four daughters. You can find out more at and find her on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Thomas Nelson, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Icon Media. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Spoken From the Heart: Embracing the Adventure by Cheri Swalwell

Swalwell continues her collection of devotions with stories centering on her embracing the adventure of following after God in the beginning of 2015. She shares insights from sermons she has heard, books she has read, words from God during fasts, and her own personal experiences.

Every fall Swalwell asks God for a word upon which to concentrate for the coming year. For 2015 it was hope. She shares lessons she gleaned during the fall and winter of 2014-2015. Some of the lessons include:
  • that our focus needs to change from an earthly perspective to a heavenly one
  • we are to fully embrace the moment while continuing to have hope for God's planned future
  • we can choose peace instead of worry
  • we can understand God's purpose in trials, trusting Him
  • we can invite God into our mess
  • we are to recognize the privilege of being part of God's plan

Swalwell's book is a good example of how we can learn about God and His plan for us through our daily experiences. I did find some repetition in the experiences covered, such as losing her employment as of February of 2015. Nevertheless, this collection of 33 devotions is a good one.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Cheri Swalwell is a Christ follower who enjoys her calling as a wife, mother, and writer. She writes regularly for Book Fun Magazine and Life to the Fullest. She also contributed to the book, 31 Devotions for Writers. Her book Hope During Heartache as well as her Spoken From the Heart series are available in both ebook and paperback. You can follow her blog and like her on Facebook.

Spoken From the Heart, 90 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Web Thinking by Linda Seger

Is it best to be an individualist, competing for that prize we think we have to have? Seger argues that it is rather through our relationships that we find true success.

She presents a new way of thinking, concentrating on our connectedness. She helps readers understand the process of transitioning to web thinking, suggesting we develop new imagery and visualize connecting rather than competing.

This book could be used for renewing reasons for teamwork models and skills. She has included discussion questions at the end of each chapter for group use. The book could also be used on an individual level for personal development. Seger tells of her own spiral downward into depression and how it took her web thinking to find the resources to get out of it.

While Seger writes quit a bit about the spiritual aspect of web thinking, she has a religiously inclusive view. This is something evangelical Christians may find difficult.

This book was written nearly fifteen years ago. Seger's examples and references to people and issues are evidence of its 2002 publication date.

Food for thought: “...we are all surrounded by people who can help us mature into better human beings.” (95)

My rating: 3/5.

Linda Seger has a background in both drama and theology. She has focused her career as an international script consultant, seminar leader in the area of screenwriting, and is the author of nine books on screenwriting. In the last eight years she has also been writing books on spirituality.

Inner Ocean Publishing, 160 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers

This cozy mystery was a delight to read. It has all the elements I require for a satisfying novel.

Reading this novel was my introduction to the Santa Fe Cafe series. This one takes place at the Christmas season. Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Cafe is trying to entertain her mom, visiting from Minnesota. She's also keeping track of her teenage daughter performing in the outdoor Christmas play. When Rita discovers a dead actor during the first performance, she swears she is not going to investigate. Try as she might, she is soon involved in a very dangerous situation.

I love the characters in this novel. Rita is good but the side characters make this novel so much fun. I love the Knit and Snitchers, an elderly group of ladies who who knit pieces they sneak onto statues, stop signs, and other items. One of them even makes her own moonshine. She was kicked out of the farmer's market when she tried to sell it there but was a hit for one day. These women provide inside information for Rite and are a hoot.

There are other great characters too, like Rita's mother who is a little out of her element. I like how she adapts to her daughter's life in the south. Other entertaining characters include a Native American witch casting spells, a zen focused woman spreading healing herbs, and a villain who is really mean. There are even quirky animals, like the miniature donkey who loves baked goods, snitching muffins from admirers.

The setting is wonderful, Santa Fe at Christmas. I learned a great deal about the Christmas celebrations they put on. I also suffered from drooling over all the ethnic food described. Myers provides several recipes and the bizcochitos sound delicious.

I like it when I am entertained and informed by a novel. Myers has included information on a serious issue for Native Americans. Many Hopi artifacts have been recovered and taken from sites over the years as there is a lucrative market for them, especially sacred items. Many local tribes are asking museums to return items and this is a thought provoking issue.

I like how, as the plot progresses, the possible motives for murder multiply, as do the suspects. And there is a good bit of suspense and danger near the end. Even so, an added plus in this mystery is humor. It is a welcome treat throughout the novel.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a cozy mystery with quirky characters, an informative and entertaining setting, and an issue to think about. I suggest you only read this novel on a full stomach as the food described is mouth watering.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers' Tour Participants.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Ann Myers writes the Santa Fe Cafe Mysteries. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced cafe chef and amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 2016). She and her husband live in southern Colorado. You can find her online on Facebook and her website.

Book Details:

Genre: Cozy Mystery, Christmas
Published by: Avon
Publication Date: October 25th 2016
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 0062382322 (ISBN13: 9780062382320)
Series: Santa Fe Cafe Mystery #3

Feliz Navidead Can Be Found on: HarperCollins, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads.

Read an excerpt:

Mom stopped mid-stroll, thumping one hand to her chest, gripping a hip-high adobe wall with the other. “I need to catch my breath, Rita,” she declared, rather accusatorily. I murmured, “Of course,” and issued my best good-daughter sympathetic smile. I did, truly, sympathize. At seven thousand feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico, can literally take your breath away, and my mother had flown in only a few hours earlier from the midwestern lowlands. Adjusting to high altitudes takes time. About a week, the experts say, although I’ve called Santa Fe home for over three years and still blame the paltry oxygen when I pant through my morning jog and puff under overladen burrito platters at Tres Amigas Cafe, where I’m a chef and co-amiga. I’ve even postulated that the thin air makes my thighs look larger. Lack of atmospheric compression, that unscientifically tested theory goes. The more likely culprit is my steady diet of cheesy chiles rellenos, blue corn waffles, green chile cheeseburgers, and other New Mexican delicacies. Mom took deep breaths beside me. I wasn’t too worried. If Mom was at risk of anything, it was overacting. I strongly suspected she was making a point, something she likes to do indirectly and with drama. Things Mom doesn’t like? High altitudes, dry climates, hot chiles, and disturbance of her holiday routine. I knew she wasn’t thrilled to spend Christmas away from home. My goal was to win her over, and lucky for me, I had Santa Fe’s holiday charm on my side. I leaned against the wall, enjoying the warmth of solar-heated adobe on my back. A group of carolers strolled by, harmonizing a bilingual version of “Feliz Navidad.” String lights and pine boughs decorated the porticos along Palace Avenue, and pinon smoke perfumed the air. To my eyes, the self-proclaimed “City Different” looked as pretty as a Christmas card. Once Mom got over the initial shock of leaving her comfort zone, she’d come around. I hoped . . . Mom reached for a water bottle in her dual-holstered hip pack. “Hydration,” she said, repeating a caution she’d first raised nearly two decades ago, when I embarked for culinary school in Denver and its mere mile-high elevation. In between sips, she reminded me that proper water intake was the key to fending off altitude-induced illnesses ranging from headaches to poor judgment. She tilted her chin up and assessed me through narrowed eyes. “You’re not drinking enough, Rita. I can tell. Your cheeks look dry. Your hands too. And your hair...” Mom made tsk-tsk sounds. “Perhaps a trim would keep it from getting so staticky. You do look awfully cute when it’s short.” I patted my shoulder-length locks, recently cut into loose layers that emphasized my natural staticky waves. I could use a drink. A tart margarita on the rocks with extra salt would do. My mouth watered. Behave, I chastised myself. It wasn’t even two in the afternoon, way too early for tequila. Plus, I loved my mother and her cute silver-flecked pixie cut. Most of all, I was delighted that she’d come to visit me and my teenage daughter, Celia. It was nice of Mom. No, more than nice. The visit bordered on maternal sacrifice. As far as I knew, my mother, Mrs. Helen Baker Lafitte, aged sixty-eight and three quarters, of Bucks Grove, Illinois, had never left home for Christmas before, nor had she wanted to. Mom is a retired high school librarian, a woman of card-catalog order and strict traditions, otherwise known as doing the same thing year after year. Under usual circumstances, Mom keeps our “heirloom” artificial Christmas tree perpetually decorated and stored in the garage until the day after Thanksgiving, when she takes it out, dusts it off, and installs it to the left of the living-room fireplace. She places electric candles in each front window, hangs a wreath on the door, and wraps the holly bush in tasteful, nonflashing white lights. All of her holiday cards are mailed by the twelfth of December. Food traditions are similarly strict. The Christmas Day lunch begins promptly at noon and is typically attended by my Aunt Sue, Uncle Dave, Aunt Karen, and younger sister Kathy and her family. Kathy’s husband, Dwayne, watches sports in the den, while their three kids hover between completely exhausted and totally wired from their morning gift frenzy. My mother and aunts whip up a feast of roasted turkey and stuffing, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows, Tater Tot hot dish, amazing monkey bread, Aunt Sue’s famous (or infamous) Jell-O surprise featuring celery and cheese cubes, and my favorite dish: pie, usually apple, mincemeat, and/or pumpkin. It’s a lovely meal, which I truly miss when I can’t attend. However, I also love Santa Fe and want to make my own traditions here. “That’s one benefit for your sister,” Mom said, polishing off her second water bottle. I swore I heard her stomach slosh. “The beach is at sea level.” “Yep, that’s the beach for you,” I replied in the perky tone I vowed to maintain for the rest of Mom’s visit. “Kath and the kids must be loving it. What a treat! A holiday to remember!” “I warned Kathy about jellyfish,” Mom said darkly. “Rip currents, sharks, sand, mosquitoes. . . . It simply doesn’t seem right to be somewhere so tropical for Christmas, but Dwayne went and got that package deal.” Mom’s tone suggested Dwayne had purchased a family-sized case of hives. I gave Mom another sympathetic smile, along with the extra water bottle she’d stashed in my purse. Of course she was out of sorts. Once the kids learned that they’d get to open their presents early and go to Disney World and the beach, Mom and the holiday hot dish hadn’t stood a chance. I, meanwhile, saw my chance to get Mom to Santa Fe. I employed some of the guilt she usually ladled on me, telling her truthfully that Celia and I couldn’t get away this year between my work and Celia’s extracurricular activities. Mom, the master of loving manipulation, countered with how much my Illinois relatives would miss us. I was also single, she needlessly pointed out, implying that I could easily uproot. Furthermore, I lived in a casita, a home with tiny in its very name. She wouldn’t want to put me out, she said. Mom then played her wild card, namely Albert Ridgeland, my junior prom date. Wouldn’t you know, Mom had said. She’d recently run into Albert and he was divorced just like me, and with his own successful dental clinic and a mostly full head of hair and he sure would love to catch up. Mom might be indirect, but she’s never subtle. Ever since my divorce from Manny Martin, a policeman with soap-opera good looks and accompanying philandering tendencies, Mom’s been after me to move back “home.” She sends me clippings of employment ads and monitors eligible bachelors. Peeved that Mom had dragged a divorced dentist into the debate, I went for the guilt jugular, reminding Mom that she was retired yet hadn’t visited in nearly two years. My tactic worked, possibly too well. Mom was staying for nearly three weeks—to get her money’s worth out of the flight—and I’d feel terrible if she didn’t have a good time. I looked over and saw Mom eyeing a brown paper lunch sack perched a few feet down the adobe wall. The bag was open at the top and slightly singed on the sides. I could guess the contents. A votive candle nestled in sand. Mom stepped over to peek inside. “It’s a wonder this entire state doesn’t burn down,” she declared. “Remember when your middle school band director, Mr. Ludwig, put on that world Christmas festival in the gymnasium? He almost set the bleachers on fire with one of these . . .” She paused. “What do you call them?” “A farolito,” I said, proud to show off my local knowledge. “Some people call them luminarias, but Santa Feans are very particular about terminology. Here, luminaria refers to small bonfires. Farolitos are the candles in paper bags. There are electric farolitos too. You’ll see a lot of those along the rooflines of hotels and businesses. They’re pretty but nothing compared to the real ones on Christmas Eve. You’ll love it, Mom. You’ve never seen anything like it.” Mom shuddered, likely imagining Santa Fe bursting into a spontaneous inferno rather than aglow with thousands of flickering lights. I decided not to tell her about the amazing three-dimensional paper lanterns I’d once seen soaring above the adobe city, lifted by the energy of the candles burning inside them. I needed to work on Mom before I exposed her to flying flames or peppers for breakfast. Mom was rooting around in her hip pack. “I thought I had a granola bar. This time change and the lack of air are making me light-headed. You need to keep eating too, Rita.” Eating, I always had covered. I also had a better idea than a squished fanny-pack snack. “It’s the holidays, Mom. Let’s get some pie.”

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Intended for Evil by Les Sillars

Sillars tells the story of Radha Manickam, a victim of the Khmer Rouge.

Radha had become a Christian in 1973 through an independent missionary teaching English classes. For the three previous years, the U.S. had done intensive bombing in Cambodia aimed at aiding the pro-American Khmer Republic government in a brutal war against Khmer Rouge, communist guerrillas backed by North Vietnam. The Americans ended up officially leaving in 1975.

Interwoven with the background information about the war is the story of Radha. His whole family was forced to evacuate Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge invaded in 1973. They were forced marched to settlements where they were forced to work in cooperatives. Radha saw much horror and thanked God every day for letting him live. They experienced malnutrition. Radha was forced into marriage (and was surprised to later find his wife was a Christian too). They suffered under leadership purges and saw many atrocities. He and his wife survived when the Vietnamese invaded and eventually ended up in a U.N. refugee camp. They later emigrated to America and Radha was involved in ministry to Cambodians in Seattle. He made several visits to Cambodia to minister and connect with his remaining family members.

I recommend this book to those interested is a very good history of Cambodia in the 1970s. While Radha's story is the main theme of the book, there is a great deal of information about the country during this time. Radha's story is a powerful one of survival, forgiveness and a determination to help Christians remaining in Cambodia.

You can find out more about Radha's current ministry at

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Les Sillars has been a journalist for over twenty years, seventeen of those with WORLD magazine. He is a journalism professor at Patrick Henry College in Virginia.

Baker Books, 312 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Troutbeck Testimony by Rebecca Tope

This is the fourth novel in the Simmy Brown series. I have only read one other in this series and this novel reads well on its own.

Persimmon owns a florist shop in the Lake District of England. She and her dad are out for a day of walking the hills when they encounter mysterious happenings. Simmy's dad overhears a conversation in a pub between two men. He is convinced they were discussing a crime about to be committed. As Simmy and her dad leave the pub they see a red car with two men and a boy in it. The owner of the car is later found brutally murdered and Simmy is involved yet again in a murder mystery and investigation. Added to the plot is that Simmy and her dad, while on their walk, had found a dog that had been killed. Are the two deaths related?

This novel has a bit of a complex and confusing plot. About a quarter from the end of the book the Detective Inspector says, “It's like being in the middle of a very elaborate conjuring trick.” I felt the same way. There are red herrings and hidden relationships that made it difficult to understand what was going on.

Reading this novel did not endear me to Simmy. She seemed less capable and in control in this novel than in the previous one I read. She is short tempered most of the time and was not as congenial and insightful as I remembered. None of the characters in this novel seemed to get along very well. They were at odds with each other most of the time, making for a rather unpleasant reading experience.

There is little action in this novel and no suspense. Besides the dialog, the novel has much thinking by Simmy. Those who enjoy long passages of the main character ruminating would like this novel. I prefer a little more suspenseful action and a sleuth that actually does some sleuthing.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Click here to view the 'The Troutbeck Testimony by Rebecca Tope' Tour Participants.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery & Detective, Cozy
Published by: Morrow/Witness Impulse
Publication Date: October 2016
Number of Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780062567468
Series: Persimmon Brown #4

Grab a copy of The Troutbeck Testimony on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, & Add it to your TBR list on Goodreads!

Read an excerpt:

The first anniversary of Persimmon Brown’s opening of her florist shop in the Lake District had almost coincided with Easter and an explosion of spring flowers and blossom. Wordsworth’s daffodils performed to their greatest strength and pussy willow attracted hosts of honey bees who had failed to notice that they were meant to be in terminal decline. A month later, on the first long weekend in May, walking along a sheltered footpath to the west of Troutbeck, Simmy – officially Ms Persimmon Brown – could hear an energetic buzzing and murmured ‘something something something in the bee-loud glade’ to herself. Not Wordsworth, she was sure, but somebody like Yeats or Hardy. She would ask her young friend Ben, who knew everything.
The sun was warm on her shoulders; the light so clear that she could pick out numerous fast-growing lambs on the fells far above the village. Every weekend throughout the coming summer, she promised herself, she would get up at first light and go for an early walk. The anniversary had been a time for resolutions and one of them was to make much better use of the natural delights that surrounded her.
She felt an almost pagan euphoria at the burgeoning landscape, vibrant with flora and fauna at the start of another cycle of life. Her mother would say it was a mark in Christianity’s favour that it had been clever enough to superimpose all its biggest rituals onto far more ancient moments in the natural year, with Easter an obvious example.
There was now a bonus Spring Bank Holiday that Simmy was savouring with complete abandonment.
The late morning, with a sunny afternoon still ahead of her, brought feelings of richness and privilege that were almost shameful. But she had earned it, she reminded herself. The winter had been grey and protracted, interspersed with a number of unpleasant adventures. She had been repeatedly drawn into events that demonstrated the darker side of human behaviour, forced to confront far too much reality.
Now that spring had arrived with such a colourful crash, she was determined to shake all that off and concentrate on her flowers.
The plan for the day was to meet her father, Russell Straw, for a long-promised fellside walk after a modest lunch at the Mortal Man. The full walk, along Nanny Lane and up to the summit of Wansfell Pike – and back – was easily four miles in total, with some steep sections of stony path. ‘By rights, we should go across to the Troutbeck Tongue at the same time, but that’s rather ambitious,’ Russell conceded.
‘I shall want some fortification first,’ Simmy had warned him. ‘And if there’s the slightest risk of rain, I’m cancelling the whole idea. Neither of us is fit enough to do anything rash.’
There was no suggestion of rain, the sky a uniform blue in every direction. It was, in fact, the most perfect day for very many months and Simmy was duly thankful for it. Her father would bring water, map, and dog. She would provide a camera, mobile phone and two slabs of Kendal mint cake.
The fells above Troutbeck were stark, dramatic and uncaring. There were barely any flowers or trees adorning them, other than the tiny resilient blooms that crouched underfoot. More than happy to accommodate her father’s wishes, Simmy nonetheless preferred the softer and more moderated lower levels.
This explained her morning stroll, taking a zigzag route from her house to the hostelry along lanes that had been colonised by humanity, with gardens and houses taking their place in the picture. The bees at least agreed with her. Azaleas and rhododendrons were in bud, reminding her of her startled surprise at the vibrant colours, the year before. Not just the natural purples and pinks, but brilliant orange, deepest crimson and a wide array of other hues shouted from gardens all over the relatively balmy area around Windermere and Ambleside. Even the wilder reaches of Coniston boasted spectacular displays. Aware that it might be foolish to expend energy on this pre-walk stroll, she nonetheless felt the need to exploit the sunshine and the flamboyant floral displays. It was semi-professional, too – she ought to be apprised of the full range of seasonal blossoms in gardens, in order to echo and embellish them in the offerings she stocked at the shop. Flowers were her business, and any lateral information she could acquire would always come in useful.
Her father was waiting for her at the pub, sitting at an outside table on a lower level, with his dog. She kissed the man and patted the animal. ‘Is he going to cope with such a long walk?’ she wondered. It was a rather ancient Lakeland terrier, officially named Bertie, but mostly just called ‘the dog’. His forebears had failed a purity test, it seemed, and poor Bertie had found himself rejected as breeding stock and consigned to a rescue centre until eventually rescued by kindly Russell Straw.
‘Oh yes. And if he doesn’t we’ll have to carry him.’
‘When did you last take him on a jaunt like this?’
‘About eighteen months ago. We’ve been waiting all this time for you.’
‘Dad! That’s ridiculous.’ In spite of herself, she laughed. ‘Poor old chap. He won’t know what’s hit him. His feet will be sore for weeks.’
‘Not a bit of it. He spends all his time digging up stones. His feet are as tough as iron. He could easily outwalk both of us. Now let’s get on with it. I want to set off by one at the latest.’
That gave them forty-five minutes to eat a hearty pub lunch with beer to wash it down. ‘We shouldn’t walk on full stomachs,’ Simmy remarked. ‘We’ll get a stitch.’
‘Better than trying to do it empty. We need the food to give us stamina.’
‘At least we’ve got the weather for it. And listen to those birds!’ A pair of collared doves cooed at them from an overhead wire, the gentle three-note song a backdrop that Simmy always loved, despite the blatant lack of musical variety. Her habit of feeding garden birds had attracted another pair of doves to her own little patch, a few hundred yards from the pub, and she had grown used to waking to their call, imagining that they were deliberately asking her for some breakfast.
Russell cocked his head. ‘They’re not native, you know. They’re quite recent immigrants. I mean recent. I was about ten years old when the first ones settled here. The BBC put them in a medieval radio play by mistake not long ago. Lots of people wrote in about it.’
‘Well, they’re very welcome as far as I’m concerned.’
‘I agree with you. I also like grey squirrels, even if I get lynched for saying so.’
She laughed again, after a wary glance around. In Troutbeck, the red squirrel was verging on the sacred and the grey accordingly considered devilish. Anyone overhearing Russell was liable to take exception to his views. But nobody at the neighbouring tables was reacting. Nothing could sully her delight at the carefree afternoon ahead with the best of all possible fathers. It took a lot to disturb Russell Straw – but then a lot had happened in recent times, and his daughter had certainly caused him some worry over the winter. His wife was the powerful half in the marriage, leaving him to contented pottering and sporadic researches into local history. They ran a somewhat eccentric bed-and-breakfast business in Windermere, in which Angie Straw broke a lot of rules and earned a lot of profound gratitude in the process. Her reviews on TripAdvisor veered from the horrified to the euphoric, depending on how much individuality her guests could stomach. She was a capricious mixture of old fashioned and hippy, refusing to use guests’ first names unless they insisted, and cheerfully producing full breakfasts at ten-thirty, if that’s what people wanted.
‘Let me just pop to the lav and then we can be off,’ Russell said. ‘Mind the dog, will you?’
She took the lead attached to Bertie and nodded.
The sun was as high as it was going to get, and the afternoon stretched ahead of them with no sense of urgency. The sky remained an unbroken blue.
The views from the summit of Wansfell Pike would be spectacular. At least two lakes would be visible, and any number of fells on all sides. Russell knew the names of most of the main landmarks, and had a map with which to identify others. Simmy had only a rudimentary and theoretical knowledge of any of it.
Bertie whined and pulled annoyingly. ‘He’ll be back in a minute,’ Simmy told him. ‘Don’t be silly.’ Dogs were generally annoying, to her way of thinking. So dreadfully dependent and needy all the time. It had come as a surprise when her parents rescued this little specimen, and even more so when Russell developed such a fondness for it. To Simmy’s eyes, the animal lacked character, which Russell insisted was a consequence of his harsh life, full of betrayal and confusion. ‘He just wants everything nice and peaceful from here on,’ he said.
Which was generally what he got, apart from a never-ending procession of B&B guests, who mostly patted his head and then left him alone.
‘You were a long time,’ she told him, when her father eventually returned.
‘I know.’ He was frowning distractedly. ‘I overheard something, outside the gents, and I have no idea what to make of it. I kept out of sight for a minute, just in case they didn’t like the idea of anyone hearing them.’
‘Two men talking. It sounds a bit wild, I know, but I think they were planning a burglary.’

Author Bio:

Rebecca Tope is the author of four murder mystery series, featuring Den Cooper, Devon police detective, Drew Slocombe, Undertaker; Thea Osborne, house sitter in the Cotswolds and now Persimmon Brown, Lake District florist. She is also a “ghost writer” of the novels based on the ITV series Rosemary and Thyme.

Catch Up with Ms. Tope on or on twitter at @RebeccaTope.

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