Monday, November 29, 2021

The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan

This is the first book I've read by Colgan and I liked it. It takes place in Edinburgh. The main character is Carmen. She's just lost her job in a retail store. She's unmotivated and out of desperation, her mother suggests Carmen go to her sister's. She'll relieve a nanny to take care of nieces and a nephew Carmen has never bothered to give birthday gifts. And, she'll be staying with a sister who irritates her to no end.

Relationship issues between sisters are huge in this novel. We see it between Carmen and her sister Sofia and also in Sofia's two daughters. Another issue arises when Sofia has a job for Carmen, working at a bookstore that is in decline and needs rejuvenation before all is lost. The bookstore owner is somewhat of a recluse and Carmen has her work cut out for her.

In a sense, this book is predictable. We see wonderful character transformation and relationship transformation. Both transformations evolve within the atmosphere of the Christmas season.

Colgan's writing style is a pleasure to read, although there is a bit of foul language. I really like how we are taken through many interesting areas and buildings in Edinburgh. There is a little humor along the way and a potential yet complicated budding romance too. Reading the novel, I felt like reviewing what really makes one feel OK. Is it a person or a thing? It was fun being on the journey with Carmen in finding her answer to that question.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jenny Colgan is the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels. Her novels have won the 2012 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance and the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award 2013. She is married with three children and lives just north of Edinburgh in Scotland. Photo: Charlie Hopkinson

William Morrow, 336 pages.

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

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, November 28, 2021

You're Not Alone by Elaine Sequeira

This is an entertaining novel for teen readers, reminding me of the style of Pilgrim's Progress. The plot involves two American teens, Dave and Tim, bicycling off to get the doctor. Dave's father is dying of cancer and is in great pain. The doctor is not home and the boys are given directions to seek another person who could possibly help them. Winding down a country road, the boys soon find themselves in a different place and a different time.

The boys have many adventures from fighting off wild animals to helping the injured. Their experiences are often obstacles to faith and finding the healer they seek. They meet biblical characters and experience the reality of the events around Jesus' death and resurrection. At least one of the foes they battle is a supernatural being. Sequeira has done a great deal of research and her descriptions of people and places are very good. She has also included examples of the boys learning lessons, like helping others.

This novel is a good way to get teen readers to experience an example of pursuing faith while overcoming obstacles, such as fear. I would suggest the reading level for this book be that of upper teens as the story of the woman caught in adultery is told with a bit more detail. While there is nothing offensive in the woman's story, I don't think it would be appropriate for young readers. Other than that, the writing style is engaging and the novel is informative, inspiring, and entertaining.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Elaine Sequeira lives in the little beach town of Coronado in the Republic of Panama. She majored in English Literature and worked in the advertising industry, moving to the fast-paced arena of trading currencies and futures until she found a more thrilling venture of writing mystical tales. A Catholic and a questioner, she views life through the filter of faith. For more information, go to

Elaine Sequeira Books, 405 pp.

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

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, November 27, 2021

To Be Written on Your Heart by Tommy G Smith

Smith says this book is intended to help us begin the process of transcribing God's word from the page to our hearts. It is intended to be an aid to studying the Bible. As a law student, Smith says he relied heavily on outlines. Outlines are a way to assemble and organize information. He provides outlines to summarize some key points in the Bible. His “ultimate goal is to present God's Word in a way that is easy for you to review until it becomes a part of the way you think, a part of the way you live your life, and ultimately a part of who you are.” (p. 8)

This book is an amazing accomplishment. At over 750 pages, Smith has put a vast amount of time into analyzing the Word and creating outlines of the material in every chapter in the Bible.

Here is an example of 1 Thessalonians, chapter 1.

  • The Thessalonians were characterized by faithful work, loving deeds, and constant anticipation of the return of the Lord Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit gave the Thessalonians full assurance that the gospel was true; however, they endured severe suffering for their faith.
  • The Thessalonians were an example to all the Christians in Greece, and people everywhere talked of their faith in God.
  • They had turned away from serving idols to serve the true and living God.
  • Jesus has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. (p. 697)
I think there are two aspects of this book that make it valuable. I am currently reading in Thessalonians and I appreciate the concise way Smith has arranged the main points. It has helped me understand the structure of Thessalonians and the truth it contains.

Secondly, this book has inspired me to do the same kind of intense reading and outlining of the Bible. I know it will take time, but then, so does the transformation that comes from being in the Word.

You can watch the book trailer here.

You can purchase the book here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Tommy G. Smith found himself without a job after working thirty-two years in mid-level management for the same company. He was fifty-five with a degree in textiles. He and his wife moved to Virginia where he started taking first year law classes. He ended up graduating fifth in his class, worked for nearly nine years at an established law firm in Pensacola where he became a partner, and recently opened his own firm, Smith Law, PLLC. He is a Board Certified Elder Law Attorney.

Adverters, 786 pages.

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

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Freedom's Song by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Sawyer's novel explores two kinds of slavery with the theme of freedom running through both. Fanny's father had signed an agreement while in Europe that provided the entire family be transported to America in return for their eldest daughter spending seven years on a riverboat, entertaining by singing. Fanny's experience on the riverboat was not a good one. She was held captive, locked in a small cabin on the lowest part of the boat. And it looked like she would never be allowed to leave. When disaster strikes the boat, she takes a chance for freedom.

The other kind of slavery is is that of Blacks. It's 1860 and some are escaping the south through an underground railroad. The path of an escaping family merges with that of the escaping Fanny for a time.

I liked the tension Sawyer provided as Fanny tried to live a new life of freedom while being pursued by Sloan, the riverboat captain. I really felt Sloan was an inconsistent character and his actions near the end of the novel were just too unbelievable. That made the resolution to the tension less than adequate. I liked the eventual setting of the freedom of being in the wide open spaces of homesteading.

The novel gives good insight into issues of the era, both indentured work and slavery. I did feel the plot was rather predictable and the ultimate action of resolution less than satisfactory. There is a good faith message included.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Kim Vogel Sawyer is a bestselling author with more than 1.5 million books in print in seven different languages. Her novels have earned the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Reader's Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. She lives in central Kansas with her retired military husband. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters and grandchildren. You can find out more at

WaterBrook, 352 pages.

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

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Crosshairs by Patricia Bradley

Bradley's latest novel takes us to Natchez. The heroine is Ainsley, an investigator with the National Park Service. Having grown up in the area, she is assigned to investigate a murder in the park.

The novel contains three interwoven plots. The first is the teen murdered in the park. Linc, a previous FBI agent and now with the NPS, is asked to help on the investigation. The two have a romantic history and sparks fly, at first generated by irritation on Ainsley's part.

The second plot involves three diaries Ainsley's aunt has found. They date to the 1850s and are valuable to several people. Two are stolen and the aunt is harmed. Ainsley and Linc are working on that case too. The final plot concerns an escaped convict Ainsley had helped put in prison. He had sworn to meet out deadly revenge upon her and her life is in danger.

The three plots make for lots of action and there is a good twist at the end. There is also an additional issue of Ainsley and her father. Tension exists between the two. It seems he is more concerned about his run for office than the welfare of his daughter. Bradley's writing style is good and I found the novel engaging. There is a good faith message included. I do wish Bradley had included more setting description as this is an area I have never seen and would like to know more about it. Lack of setting description is characteristic of all the books in this series. It looks like there is one more in the series and I'll be waiting for it.

You can read an excerpt here.

You can read my reviews of the earlier books in the series: Standoff, Obsession.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Patricia Bradley is the author of Standoff, Obsession, and Crosshairs, as well as the Memphis Cold Case novels and Logan Point series. She won an Inspirational Reader's Choice Award in Romantic Suspense, a Daphne du Maurier Award, a Touched by Love Award, and was a Carol Award finalist. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. She lives in Mississippi. You can find out more at

Revell, 384 pages.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Counsel of the Cunning by Steven C Harms Blog Tour

 The Counsel of the Cunning

by Steven C. Harms

November 8 - December 3, 2021 Virtual Book Tour


Roger Viceroy faces a return to the FBI and a life he vacated long ago, until a knock on his front door announces the presence of billionaire and former U.S. Senator, J├╝rgen Sandt.

The past has come back to rear its ugly head. Sandt stands on his threshold for a reason: a decade prior the senator’s only son disappeared into the jungles of Guatemala, and Sandt has come to convince Viceroy that further investigation is now necessary. A package left mysteriously outside the family estate, opens the door to the possibility that his son is still very much alive.

Viceroy and his team agree to take on the hunt. Their search steers them from the back streets of Milwaukee to the stealthy corridors of Washington, D.C.—an eerie trek that will ultimately lead to an ancient site that supposedly doesn’t exist.

As Viceroy closes in on the truth, a parallel plot emerges. Not only could it point to the reason behind the cryptic disappearance of Bertram Sandt, but it could also launch a deadly battle that will put millions of lives at stake. On pure instinct, Viceroy knows nothing is adding up. Somehow, somewhere they missed a clue, and if it’s not discovered soon…it may be too late.

My Review:

This is the second in a series and if, like me, you have not read the first one, the beginning of the novel may be a bit confusing. Viceroy, the hero, apparently had a life and career changing experience in the first book. Reading the first book will help understand the beginning of this one and the job he decides to take.

Harms has the style of writing that produces an exciting scene but then he ends the chapter in mid excitement and starts another chapter, going to a different location and major character. I felt the story telling was fragmented. First of all by not completely working through the scene and then by jumping around to a different part of the plot. The different people and places do come together in the end but getting to that cohesion was a bit of a rough journey. The plot is very complex as evidenced by the lengthy denouement.

And I have a pet peeve. At the beginning of the book, a very intelligent scientist goes missing. “She was never seen again.” (63/4424) That might be exciting writing but it is a lie. No spoiler here so I'll just say that the suspense heightened statement is not true and that bugged me.

This is a novel for readers who like a plot of one man against a powerful and evil individual who wants to control the world, so to speak. There is lots of suspense and travels to exotic locations. In the end, I did enjoy the novel.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Suspense Publishing
Publication Date: November 9th 2021
Number of Pages: 268
ISBN: 978-0-578-93379-5
Series:Roger Viceroy Series, #2
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads


Read an excerpt:


A howler monkey screeched, its shrill pitch adding to the endless cacophony.

Dr. Catarina Amador watched the animal move through the trees until it vanished in the dense canopy below, then drew a last puff on her cigarette, crushing the butt with the heel of her worn-out tennis shoe. Her eyes shifted to the ancient ruins sprawling in every direction; eroded, gray slabs of rock covered with vines, others crumbled beyond recognition.

Her prison.

Atop the temple mount, the slight breeze and mid-morning sunlight provided a respite from the enclave of stone ruins and paths that weaved through the jungle of whatever country she was in. To the east, the sun reflected off the lone glimpse of the river, catching her eye. The faint sparkles shimmering off the surface forever calling her home. Six years and counting. But each passing moment chipped away at her will, replacing those pieces with an ever-increasing hopelessness. She had become mostly devoid of thought save for the world-class talents she employed for her captor.

The youngest daughter of a large family from the slums of Mexico City, her intellect and scientific acumen made her a prodigy. World-renowned in academic circles by the age of fourteen. At fifteen she began her studies at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; flying through, she graduated just five years later with a PhD in biomedical engineering. Her human molecular manipulation thesis elevated her into the scientific world’s stratosphere. Upon graduation, blank check offers from a hundred different companies and research labs spanning the globe filled her mailbox. All she had to do was pick one. Her parents had come to Baltimore for the graduation and to help with the decision. Over dinner, the list was pared down to four opportunities in the western hemisphere. When the evening came to a close, they parted company—her parents back to the hotel and Catarina to a local establishment to celebrate graduation with her peers. She was never seen again.

Sighing, she took a few steps forward to look out over the plaza area, resting her arms at chest height on the massive stone wall encircling the space. Standing just over five feet, her stature matched her frame. A lithe body and long, black hair kept in a ponytail most days accentuated her stunning facial features. A foot taller and she would have graced magazine covers instead of medical journals.

She peered down at a bird-faced stone sentry near one of the plaza’s entryways and the eyeless human statue set a few yards to its left. A variety of bizarre figures were sprinkled throughout the ruins. She felt the strangest ones were the two tall snakes, standing erect at twice her height with human feet, holding large blackish orbs of polished rock in their massive jaws. Positioned on either side of “Main Street,” as she had nicknamed it, they guarded a small but steady waterfall spilling in front of a steep rock wall. The falls travelled over the rock above creating a wall of water ten feet high, cutting off the path with no way forward. A five-foot-wide chasm stood between the path’s end and the water wall. She once had peered into it. No splash sound, the rushing water just disappeared into an eternal abyss. Beyond the water wall was the forbidden canyon and the treasure of the ancient ruins.

She closed her eyes tight and bowed her head, reflecting on the moment she first penetrated the water wall, not knowing what was on the other side.

Two men had tossed her over the chasm where she landed on hard ground and found herself in a dank cave, lit only by a torch on each wall. Soaking, she followed the orders she was given and took ten steps forward to a turn in the cave, which led to the opening on the other side. About sixty feet ahead was the jagged mouth of the exit, perfectly outlined by the sunshine stabbing through on the other side. Picking her way carefully towards it, the temperature warmed until she was standing at the cave’s exit. She took the final step, ducking slightly into the beyond, and took in the wonderment of her surroundings.

It was a smallish canyon with sheer, steep sides and thick vines growing in bunches among the rocks. Clinging in arbitrary clumps was a fruit she had never seen before, displayed in a spectrum of light green to black and every variation in-between. Above the canyon the jungle had formed a natural ceiling of branches; not overly dense, but enough to provide a protective layer yet still allow the sun to push through to the polished, black-stained stone floor in various spots.

And there, in the middle of it all, stood a man of some years with his hands clasped behind his back. Wearing a panama hat, unassuming slacks and a floral print button-down, the hat’s shadow cut across his face making his mouth the only discernible feature.

He gestured to her to come and sit at a small wooden table to his left. She had walked with slow, unsure steps towards him. What would he do? Was this the end? As she neared, his persona became clear. A man of Hispanic descent, well-manicured, with an air of self-assurance that clung to him like an invisible but tangible layer.

Once she sat, the man took his own seat and lit a cigar, drew a few puffs, and spoke.

“Good afternoon, Dr. Amador,” he had said. “Welcome to my kingdom,” he added, with a sweeping hand gesture.

“Where am I?” she remembered asking, as if in a dream.

“Where you were born to be.”

“Who…who are you?” she asked.

Her mind’s eye recalled the memory of his response at this particular moment. A smile. Cryptic.

“My name you will never know. But take heart. You are here to lead a significant advancement in a little science project I have a vested interest in. You, Dr. Amador, will be its shining star.” Then came his explanation for her kidnapping and what he wanted.

He began with a cloaked apology for his men taking her off the streets of Baltimore and blindfolding her for two days.

Her memory replayed the horrible experience. Someone coming from behind as she passed an alley. A hood suddenly coming down over her face. A vice-grip hand that quickly covered her mouth. The man whispering something in her ear—a throaty, aged timbre—before hustling her into a vehicle. Once inside, he let go but ordered her to be silent as she felt the unmistakable hardness of the barrel of a gun being pressed against her temple. She recalled the vehicle speeding up, taking a number of tight turns before zooming along a straight path, then slowing to a stop and taking a final turn. The last slice of recollection was a breeze touching her arms as she was pulled out of the vehicle, being carried up a flight of stairs and into an enclosed space, as the sound of an airplane’s engine roared to life. For a brief moment the hood was removed, but an instant later, a man she assumed was her captor, sprayed something in her face. That was it. Her recollection of a hazy, in-and-out consciousness was the only vestige of the bridge between boarding that plane and coming off it some amount of time later. Once again hooded and placed back in a vehicle for a short ride, she was then in a helicopter—the sound of its rotors were unmistakable. She remembered the flight being incredibly long. Upon landing, the same throaty voice said something she couldn’t understand and then her hood was removed.

The bright stab of lush greenery walling in a sunlight-splashed landing pad pierced her vision. She recalled squinting, trying to discern the environment. The warmth of the climate immediately registered. Baltimore and her parents were the first thought that came to mind and then the understanding that they and the city were now thousands of miles away.

Two different men, not so gently, had taken her arms and steered her to a pathway that directly led into what she then was able to realize was a tropical forest, and finally to the waterfall and the eventual meeting with the man in the panama hat.

With another puff of the cigar, he then presented her with the whole tale of what lay ahead.

She was to develop a new drug, and he had stated that her opportunity to use her intellect and talent when it came to molecular manipulation was going to be unfettered. “Anything and everything is at your disposal,” he had said with firmness and a hint of delight.

Next was a tour of the compound and her new living quarters—a luxurious penthouse adjacent to the ancient temple featuring a grand view. It was stocked with a closet full of clothes, toiletries, a hot tub on the small balcony, a desk, books for reading, and a computer to be used for her research. Following that came an introduction to the world-class lab with five qualified scientists, also prisoners. Her operation to run. Her scientists to lead. A deadline of three years.

Included in the “tour” was a modern, plain brick building housing more prisoners, each given a simple cell. Haggard-looking people. Further on came the trails, the statues, the ruins. Another cement block building looking completely out of place, with a large “F” scratched into the door, and behind it the three men and one woman chained to the wall. Final stop, a spherical hut off the southwest corner of the plaza, secured by barbed wire and an armed guard.

“Sometime in the coming weeks I will escort you here again,” the man had said in a different, almost reverential tone. “The treasure inside is truly priceless. Perhaps the single greatest discovery in the long, brutal history of this ancient empire.”

His final comment echoed in her mind, reverberating, before she eased her eyes back open, fluttering them as they adjusted to the bright sunlight atop the mount. The present day resumed its rightful place in her awareness, which she reluctantly gave into.

It was an off day from the lab. No scrubs. Worn-out gray cargo shorts and an equally frayed white halter top draped her body. Utility and comfort for the task ahead. Eleven harvesters with large baskets strapped to their midsections came up beside her: seven adult women, three men, and one five-year-old girl. She looked down and winked at the child, giving her a soft pat on the head.

“Hello Isabella,” she said. The girl giggled as she always did and hugged her leg.

Dr. Amador savored the indulgent moment before a cocked rifle cracked the air behind the group, making them all spin around. Atop a small, three-walled structure on the back edge of the temple mount, stood an enforcer, and next to him, the man with the unknown name. The king of the ancient empire. Panama hat and all.

“Time for the harvest,” he said in his now familiar deep voice. “Thank you for your continued service. Business is prospering as planned.” He tipped the hat before disappearing. The group stared back; prisoner slaves in the heart of ancient ruins whom the outside world didn’t even know existed.

“Let’s move,” the enforcer screamed. “The Tat,” as they had come to call him, had markings covering his skin, save for his face. As the group moved, Dr. Amador loitered just enough to ensure she was the last one in line down the familiar steps. Three more enforcers stood ready at the bottom to escort them to the canyon—two positioned twenty paces away on the plaza and one at the base of the steps. When her foot touched the plaza, she shot a sideways glance to the enforcer who stood there. He was a relatively short man, fortyish, with half his right ear missing and raven black hair fashioned in a bowl-cut. Her pet name for him was “Mrs. Lobe,” a play on words that he found amusing. He caught her glance, blinking both eyes simultaneously before grabbing her elbow and shoving her forward to pick up her pace. The Tat joined him as they crossed the plaza.

The trail to the canyon was directly across. Wide at the start, it narrowed to single file after the first bend near a statue of a half-man, half-bird figure. Two enforcers led the group down the path, with The Tat and Mrs. Lobe bringing up the rear.

As Dr. Amador passed the statue she stumbled, taking her over the path’s edge and down a steep incline into a heavy cluster of ferns; landing awkwardly, she yelled in pain. The Tat screamed at her, sending down Mrs. Lobe. Once there, he roughly lifted her upright and then hoisted her up the hillside, pushing her in the small of her back while she used her hand in his as a leverage point to climb. When she reached the trail, The Tat grabbed her neck and moved her quickly to catch up with the group.

They were out of sight around another bend when Mrs. Lobe reached the path from his climb back up. He looked around for a moment before opening his palm to look at the flash drive Amador had given him. One more glance around, he then pulled out a satellite phone and punched in a message before heading down the path to rejoin the work party.

At the receiving end, a man in cowboy boots stared at the words.



Excerpt from The Counsel of the Cunning by Steven C. Harms. Copyright 2021 by Steven C. Harms. Reproduced with permission from Steven C. Harms. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Steven C. Harms is a professional sports, sponsorship, broadcast sales, and digital media executive with a career spanning over thirty years across the NBA, NFL, and MLB. He's dealt with Fortune 500 companies, major consumer brands, professional athletes, and multi-platform integrated sports partnerships and media advertising campaigns. He's an accomplished playwright having written and produced a wildly successful theatrical production which led him to tackle his debut novel, Give Place to Wrath, released November 9, 2021 from Suspense Publishing. Harms is a native of Wisconsin, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse. He now resides in the greater Milwaukee area as a sponsorship executive.

Catch Up With Steven C. Harms:
BookBub - @StevenCHarms
Instagram - @stevencharms
Twitter - @steven_c_harms
Facebook - @authorstevencharms


Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Click here to view The Counsel of the Cunning by Steven C. Harms Tour Hosts.


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. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Simply Christmas by Tama Fortner


About the Book:

Thirty-one encouraging devotions to help busy moms pause and ponder the true miracles of the Christmas season–the wonder of a Savior who would leave heaven to save us and the love of those who share our home.

Between holiday baking, hunting for the perfect tree, decorating, preparing for visiting relatives, and making sure everyone gets the ideal gift, Christmas can be anything but peaceful for a busy mom. Too often, the stress and busyness of the season make it difficult to find time to just sit and reflect on the wonder of the Savior’s birth.

If this sounds familiar, allow Simply Christmas to be your personal invitation to slow down and savor the beauty of the manger this year. These thirty-one devotions are not dated, so you’re welcome to begin reading anytime–whether that’s on December 1, Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, or the middle of July–without even a smidgen of guilt or shame.

Accompanied by seasonally inspired full-color photographs, this thirty-one-day devotional brings a bit of calm to each day through a short reflection and Scripture, together with points to ponder and fun ideas for simplifying your Christmas traditions.

My Review:

This devotional is a good one for busy moms. The devotions themselves are short and can be read in just a few minutes. I like how Fortner reminds us to let go of appearances and the pressure to live up to others' expectations. I like her suggesting we snatch quiet moments and that we collect treasures in our hearts, like Mary. Taking a hot chocolate break is a fun suggestion. My favorite devotion was encouragement for when we mess up and lose out temper.

There are practical tips included to help simplify the season and keep the focus on Jesus. We are given permission to not consider decorations a competition but rather bundle up the kids and take a drive to see the effort and time others have put into their decorations. My favorite tip was the grandparents giving reasonable gifts, the rest of the money going into a college fund. Another great tip was how to survive those Christmas parties.

This is a good collection of devotions helping us keep our focus on the reason and meaning of Christmas. There are a few good tips to keep the season simple as well.

You can watch the book trailer here.

You can sign up for the five day reading plan at YouVersion here.

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author:

Tama Fortner is a bestselling writer with more than thirty-five titles to her credit. As a ghostwriter, she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for children, teens, and adults. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her family and an incredibly lazy dog who doubles as a footwarmer. Photo: © Rachel Baldwin Photography

Ink & Willow (an imprint of Penguin Random House), 128 pages

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by the publisher.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Recorder by Cathy McCrumb Blog Tour

About the Book

Book: Recorder

Author: Cathy McCrumb

Genre: Dystopian Science Fiction

Release date: November 8, 2021

The Consortium is All. But Recorder Can No Longer Obey.

Recorder has no family, no friends, and no name. Donated to the Consortium before birth, her sole purpose is to maintain and verify the records. A neural implant and drone ensure compliance, punishing for displays of bias.

Suddenly cut off from controlling technology, Recorder tastes what it means to be human. But if the Consortium discovers her feelings, everyone she knows will be in danger.

With no name, no resources, and only an infinitesimal possibility of escape, Recorder’s time is running out.

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

I am a science fiction reader from childhood and I was pleasantly surprised with this debut novel. I found the main character, Recorder, engaging. She is an example of a technologically enhanced human trained to be emotionless, almost like a robot. Her purpose in life is to objectively record actions and conversations and report them to the ruling government. But what happens when she is separated from the enhancements? She's just human. That brings up a major issue in the novel. How do you adjust when you have outlived your original purpose? How do you handle feelings, desires, and distressing observations that are no longer controlled? How do you function at the sluggish pace unenhanced humans must endure?

McCrumb has provided a good balance of character development, human interaction, and science fiction technology. The setting is the future when nanodevices deliver neurotransmitters to level out emotions and to heal. Immediate pain is used to punish wrong behavior. People are eliminated when they are no longer useful. And Recorder-that-isn't must face the reality of her uncertain future since she can no longer function in her designated role.

The novel has lots of character growth and developing relationships. Some humans provide support but there is also a mystery to solve and a potentially deadly threat to face from others. There is even the hint of a possible romance.

One aspect of the novel I found difficult was the background sections for several of the characters. Often the chapter would begin with a seemingly unrelated event. By the end of the chapter, the relationship to a character would become clear but reading those sections was disorienting. And, this novel leaves readers hanging. Be prepared for an unresolved situation when you finish this novel. A sequel will be necessary to resolve the disturbing tension at the end.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Cathy McCrumb graduated from Biola University with a degree in English Literature and a love for stories. She and her husband, whom she met while writing letters to soldiers, have five children and currently live within the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. While writing is one of her favorite things to do, she also enjoys reading, long hikes and long naps, gluten-free brownies and raspberries, and crocheting while watching science fiction movies with friends and family.

More from Cathy

When I was about three, my first imaginary friend, Sally from Clap-Hands-Land, threw a man’s hat in the air. At the time, I found her action uproariously funny, though I no longer remember why. As I grew older, speculative fiction—almost any variety of fantasy or science fiction—became my favorite stories to tell and read.

Once I had children, however, all I managed were practical lists on scraps of paper. I shoved down that desire to create until after my youngest was born, when a friend challenged me to write again. That first short story began a landslide of words and ideas about grace, worth, and the sometimes-bittersweet reality of daily life. Soon afterward, a story was born from a vivid dream set on a stark moonscape. As I wrote it down, the Recorder herself sprang into being, and Recorder became inextricably bound to her point of view.

For me, stories are fundamentally about possibilities. The tension between catastrophe and eucatastrophe plays out with relative safety on the page. I believe that when ideas and themes intersect, however, stories can reach deep within authors and readers. Indeed, if they do not touch the author, they are unlikely to impact anyone else. When failure, grief, and evil are contrasted with faith, hope, and love, the narratives inspire deeper connections with our own emotions, others, and God. Tales of light and dark challenge us with the opportunity to think through truths and lies without leaving home.

And yet, transformation itself isn’t safe, and therefore fiction can’t be, either. The risks inherent in change open the possibilities of growth and failure. Stories provide an exploration of becoming. They can open a divide through which we can glimpse something greater or worse than our own worlds. Fiction allows us a place where we can practice and triumph.

And maybe, perhaps, even throw our hats into the air.

Blog Stops

Debbie's Dusty Deliberations, November 20

Texas Book-aholic, November 21

Mary Hake, November 21

Inklings and notions, November 22

Library Lady's Kid Lit, November 23

A Modern Day Fairy Tale, November 23

Book Reviews From an Avid Reader, November 24

Musings of a Sassy Bookish Mama, November 24

Blogging With Carol, November 25

Labor Not in Vain, November 26

For Him and My Family, November 26

deb's Book Review, November 27

Locks, Hooks and Books, November 28

Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, November 29

Because I said so -- and other adventures in Parenting, November 30

Through the fire blogs, November 30

The Meanderings of a Bookworm, December 1

Wishful Endings, December 2

Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, December 3

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book Through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Once Upon a Seaside Murder by Maggie Blackburn

About the Book:

Summer, on leave from teaching as a Shakespeare scholar, now owns Beach Reads after the death of her mother. Her Christmas cheer turns to fear as she uncovers a deadly secret about her mother. When the local library hosts a cozy mystery panel, Summer finds out that one of the authors wrote a novel about an unsolved murder that happened on the island thirty five years ago. When the author's life is in danger, Summer must solve the decades old murder.


My Review:

This is the second novel in a series. I have not read the first one but felt this one read rather well on its own. Summer is an interesting character as she has reluctantly taken over her mother's bookstore after her mother's death. She is gone from the store frequently, even before a potential mystery occupies her. Her employees often call, asking where she is, over worked and frazzled during the Christmas season. I found Summer a bit hard to like.

Part of the plot didn't make sense to me. There is an author who wrote a novel about a decades old murder and when her life is in danger, a demand is made on Summer. That demand just did not make sense to me. Near the end of the book, as facts are reviewed, Summer says, "It makes no sense." (3998/4395) A revealing statement.

I appreciated an exploration of cozy mysteries by a couple of authors visiting the island for the library panel. They say cozy mystery readers do not want blood and gore. They are more interested in the characters, the setting, and the puzzle of the mystery. This novel is more about characters, namely Summer, and the puzzle of the unsolved mystery. I found it interesting that there was not much to the setting. It's on an island and Summer walks the beach and boardwalk but there is nothing about the birds, the kind of sand, or really much description at all.

Blackburn's writing style is clear and I found the novel entertaining.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author:

Maggie Blackburn is a pseudonym of Mollie Cox Bryan. She is the author of the Cora Crafts mysteries and the Cumberland Creek mysteries. Her books have been selects as finalists for an Agatha Award and a Daphne du Maurier Award. She lives at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley, VA. You can find out more at

Crooked Lane Books, 336 pages.

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

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, November 22, 2021

Deadly Target by Elizabeth Goddard Blog Tour

 Deadly Target

by Elizabeth Goddard

November 1-30, 2021 Virtual Book Tour


Criminal psychologist Erin Larson’s dreams of a successful career come to a screeching halt when she nearly loses her own life in a boating accident on Puget Sound and then learns that her mother tried to commit suicide. She leaves her job as a criminal psychologist to care for her mother in Montana. At least she is able to produce her podcast, which focuses on solving missing persons cold cases.

Nathan Campbell’s father was investigating such a case when he was shot, and now Nathan needs to enlist Erin’s help to solve the case. She’s good at what she does. The only problem? She’s his ex.

As the two dig deeper, it becomes clear that they, too, are being targeted–and that the answers to their questions are buried deep within the past Erin struggles to explain and longs to forget.

The race is on for the truth in this gripping and complex tale of suspense, intrigue, and murder from USA Today bestselling author Elizabeth Goddard.

My Review:

While this is the second book in a series, it reads well on its own. Characters from the first book do come into this one later in the plot but knowing their previous story is not essential to enjoying this one. You can read my review of the first book, Present Danger.

This novel got off to a bit of a rough start for me as the meaning of the initial suspenseful event does not become clear until well into the latter half of the book. Erin, the main female character, was a bit of a mystery to me. She is a psychologist focusing on criminal behavior. Even with all her training, she has panic attacks, freezes in a suspenseful situation, and struggles with the truth, hoping it is a dream. (4095/5049) An interesting issue in the novel is the reason Erin studied criminal psychology and perhaps that is the foundation for her not putting its principles to good use in her own life.

This is a novel for readers who like lots of internal character thinking and reflecting and reviewing and wondering and supposing. There is suspense but it is not the main focus of the plot until the end. At one point we are told, “While Erin had gotten completely lost in her thoughts...” (4095/5049) That was not surprising but happened rather often. There is a good faith message included in that the characters voice their trust in God.

An interesting issue facing characters in this novel is honesty about the past. There are secrets stirred up through innocent action because people were not truthful about the past. And those secrets turn out to be deadly.

This is a good novel focusing on character thought with suspense interspersed from time to time. You'll also get a little romance.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Suspense
Published by: Revell
Publication Date: November 2nd 2021
Number of Pages: 336
ISBN: 0800737997 (ISBN13: 9780800737993)
Series: Rocky Mountain Courage #2 || This is a Stand-Alone Novel
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | | IndieBound.Org

Read an excerpt:


Puget Sound

For a few hours every Saturday morning, Erin Larson could forget that evil existed.

And usually, only on the water.

She dipped the double-bladed paddle into the sea, then again on the other side—left, right, left, right, left, right—alternating strokes in a fluid motion to propel her kayak across the blue depths. Her friend Carissa Edwards paddled close behind.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

On the water she was close to nature and far from the chaos and noise of the city even though she and Carissa paddled along the shoreline and could see the cityscape in the distance. The quiet calmed her mind and heart. The rhythmic paddling mesmerized her. The exertion exhilarated her. Cleansed her of the stress and anxiety acquired after a week of forced labor.

Okay, that wasn’t fair. Her suffering certainly wasn’t physical in nature.

Water. Mountains. Sky. She took in the sights and once again . . . forgot.

Beautiful snowcapped Mount Baker—the Great White Watcher—loomed large in the distance to the east.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

The slosh of paddles along with the small waves lapping against her boat soothed her and were the only sounds except for seagulls laughing above her—ha, ha, ha.

To the west, the impressive Olympic Mountains begged for attention. Erin couldn’t wait for Mom to join her out here, when she finally convinced her to move.

A salty ocean breeze wafted over her as peace and beauty surrounded her.

She couldn’t ask for more.

She shouldn’t ask for more.

But God . . . I need answers.

Carissa caught up with Erin and paddled next to her kayak. “Thanks for coming with me today. I needed this.”

“The exercise or the scenery?” Erin had just broken a sweat despite the early morning cool.

“How about a little of both. And the company makes all the difference, I’m not going to lie.”

“Yeah,” Erin answered with reluctance. She and Carissa had an understanding between them. On their kayaking excursions, peace and quiet were supposed to reign.

“By the way, I listened to your podcast last night,” Carissa said.

Maybe she’d forgotten their unspoken pact.


Erin wanted to know Carissa’s thoughts, but at the same time, she didn’t want to hear the criticism. Nor would she trust any praise.

“Why keep it anonymous?”

“It could get complicated.”

Carissa’s laugh echoed across the water. “In my case, I’d probably want the dean of the college and my students to know. But then again, I wouldn’t be talking about crime or missing people. I’d be talking about history. So, what took you so long to tell me?”

Erin lifted a shoulder, opting for silence. Maybe it would be contagious.

Now she wished she hadn’t told Carissa, but letting her friend in on her secret was a step toward opening up. She kept too much hidden inside. Erin had never been good at letting others in. Although as a psychologist, she was all about learning what made people tick on the inside.

Erin breathed in the fresh air, listened to the mesmerizing ripple of the water, felt the warm sun against her cheeks, and chased away thoughts of crime and work.

“Cold cases. Do they ever get solved?” Carissa asked.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

“Some do.” Few.

“Why do you do it?”

“I need a hobby, I guess.” Erin couldn’t begin to explain the complex events that drove her to talk about missing person cold cases in hopes that answers could still be found.

“I’ve been thinking.” Carissa’s kayak inched ahead.

Erin remained silent.

“We do this every Saturday,” Carissa continued.

Left, right. Left, right. Left, right.

“It’s been a lifesaver,” Erin said. “Thanks for inviting me along.”

After a week working for the State of Washington, the endless hours spent researching and writing reports for forensic evaluations, she needed the break. The job wasn’t what she had dreamed about when she’d become a criminal psychologist. Still, she hoped it was a means to an end. In the meantime, she’d started the cold case crime podcast.

“How about we switch it up? Go hiking. Mountain trails and lush forests all around us.”

“This is close. We don’t have to drive far. Plus, I really love the water.” And have an aversion to dense forests. Carissa didn’t need to know that, as a psychologist, Erin was a walking oxymoron.

“I thought you might enjoy a change.”

“No, I’m good with this.” Erin’s shoulders and biceps started burning. She was relieved they would soon turn around and head back.

“I hope you’ll think about it. I’d love for you to join me next weekend. I’m hiking in Mount Baker National Forest, and I’m inviting you to join the group.”

“What? You’re ditching me to go hiking?”

“Um . . . Is it just me, or is that boat heading directly for us?” Panic edged Carissa’s voice.

Erin glanced over her shoulder in the direction of Carissa’s wide-eyed stare. A thirty-foot cruiser sped toward them. She and Carissa had strayed a bit from the shoreline. Regardless, that boat shouldn’t be approaching them in this area or at that speed.

“Hurry.” Erin quickened her pace. “We can get out of its path.”

“We won’t make it.” Carissa stopped and raised her paddle, waving to get the boater’s attention. “Hey, watch where you’re going! Kayakers on the water!”

Arms straining, Erin paddled faster and propelled the kayak forward. Her friend hadn’t kept up. “Carissa, let’s go! Just angle out of the path.”

Carissa renewed her efforts and joined Erin. Together they paddled toward the shoreline that had seemed so much closer moments before.

Carissa screamed. Heart pounding, Erin glanced over her shoulder. The boat had changed course and was once again headed straight for them.

Fear stole her breath. “Jump! Get out of the boat and dive!”

It was all she could think to do.

“Now, now, now!” She sucked in a breath and leaned forward to flip the kayak until she was upside down in the water for a wet exit. Holding her breath, she found the grab loop and peeled off the skirt. Then she gripped the sides and pushed the kayak away from her body as she slid out. Instead of heading for the surface, she kicked and dove deeper. She was grateful she was wearing a manually inflatable life vest over her wetsuit or it would drag her back to the surface, which was normally a good thing.

But today that could get her killed.

She pushed deeper, deeper, deeper . . . away from the surface.

We’re going to make it.

Erin twisted around to glance upward. The water was murky and visibility was only about ten feet, but she could still see her friend struggling to get free of her kayak. Terror stabbed through her. Erin swam back to Carissa to help her, even as the boat raced toward the kayaks and was almost on them.

Her eyes wide, Carissa pushed forward, freeing herself.

The hull of the speeding boat sped right over the top of the kayaks, breaking Carissa’s in half—the stern of her broken kayak propelled toward Carissa. Her head jerked forward.

All the bubbles of air burst from her lungs, then her form floated—unmoving. Unconscious? Or was she lifeless?

Her pulse thundering in her ears, Erin swam toward Carissa, grabbed her, and inflated their life vests. They rose quickly to the surface. Erin broke the water and gasped for breath as she held Carissa. The water remained disturbed from the speeding boat’s wake and crashed over them.

Erin confirmed what she already feared. Carissa wasn’t breathing. Adrenaline surged through her. She had to keep moving. Holding on to Carissa, Erin started swimming them back to shore.

She spotted the errant boat making a big circle.

Coming back? Had someone lost control? She had to make it to shore to give Carissa CPR. And maybe even to save them both.

Stay calm. Panic wouldn’t help either of them. The water was cold, but not so cold that she needed to worry about hypothermia. At least not yet. The whir of a boat from her left drew her attention, kicking up her already rapid heartbeat. As she took in the slowly approaching trawler—a far different boat from the speeding cruiser—relief eased the tension in her shoulders. Three men and a couple of women waved.

A silver-haired man in a Seahawks cap shouted, “Do you need help?”

“Yes! Hurry!”

The boat edged slowly toward her, and she swam to meet it. The men reached down and pulled Carissa up into the boat.

Erin used the ladder on the side. “She needs CPR. She’s not breathing!”

When she hopped onto the deck, she saw that one of the men had started administering CPR.

A redheaded woman wrapped a blanket around Erin. “Oh, honey, are you okay?”

Hot tears burned down her cold, wet cheeks. “No . . . no, I’m not okay.” She dropped to her knees next to her friend.

Carissa coughed up water and rolled onto her side. When she’d finished expelling seawater, she sat up and looked around.

Erin hugged her and spoke against her short, wet hair. “I thought you were done for.”

Carissa held on to Erin tightly, then released her to cough more. Erin took in the group standing around them, their watchful eyes filled with concern.

“I’m Vince. And this is my wife, Jessie.” The man with the Seahawks cap gestured to the redhead, then made introductions. John, his son, and Terry, John’s friend, and Mavis, John’s girlfriend. A family affair.

“I’m Erin, and this is Carissa.”

Jessie placed a blanket around Carissa. “Why don’t you have a seat? I’ll get you something warm to drink.”

“Thank you.” Erin sat with Carissa on the cushioned bench and took in her friend. She looked shell-shocked, and why shouldn’t she? Was she going to be okay?

Carissa closed her eyes. Was she in pain or thinking back to what happened? Jessie had disappeared below deck to grab warm drinks. Mavis, Terry, and John were trying to recover the kayaks and bring them onto the trawler.

Vince remained standing, his arms crossed as if he were a sentinel sent to protect them. And at this moment, Erin needed that reassurance.

“If you hadn’t come when you did,” she said, “I don’t know what would have happened. I can’t thank you enough.” She searched the waters around them. “Is that boat . . . Is it gone?”

“What boat?” Mavis approached and glanced at Vince.

“You didn’t see that?” Erin got to her feet and pulled Carissa with her. She searched the waters. “A boat came right for us. Ran over our kayaks and almost killed us. They must have lost control. Maybe they were drunk or something.”

“I saw a boat heading west,” Vince said, “but I didn’t connect that to seeing you in the water swimming to shore. Kayaks and canoes are hard to spot sometimes. I’m sorry that happened. But I’ll contact the Seattle Police Harbor Patrol and let them know. In the meantime, is there somewhere we can take you?”

“Back to the marina at Port of Edmonds. We could talk to the police there and tell them what happened,” Erin said.

Vince eyed Carissa. “I’ll let SPHP know we’re on the way and to meet us there. Should we get you to the hospital?”

Erin shared a look with her friend. “She sustained a hit to the head. Maybe an ambulance could be waiting for us when we get to the harbor.”

Carissa nodded but said nothing. Erin ached inside. She’d almost lost Carissa. She was grateful that her friend had survived. They had both survived.

Erin replayed the events in her mind. Had the boat deliberately veered toward them or had she imagined it? These boaters who’d helped them had simply been out enjoying the day when they spotted Erin and Carissa in the water, their kayaks floating, Carissa’s in two pieces.

I can’t believe this happened.

The water had been her place of peace and tranquility.

But no more.

Erin pulled her ringing cell from the plastic bag tucked in a pocket on her suit. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was a Montana prefix. Her heart jackhammered as she answered, “Erin.”

“Dr. Larson . . . Erin.” The familiar male voice hesitated. “This is Detective Nathan Campbell.”

Dread crawled up her spine. Nathan would never call her without a good reason. “Nathan . . . what’s going on?”

“It’s . . . your mom. She’s okay. But she tried to commit suicide. I’m so sorry.”

A few heartbeats passed before she could answer. “Wha . . . What?”

Nathan apologized again and repeated the words.

The air rushed from Erin. She couldn’t breathe and stood. She headed for the rail and hung her head over the water, gasping for breath.

“Erin! Erin, are you there?” Nathan’s concerned voice shouted over the cell loud enough she could hear him despite the boat’s rumbling engine and rushing water.

Carissa joined her at the rail. “Erin, what’s happened?”

The darkness closed in on her all over again, but this was different from before. Why hadn’t she seen the warning signs? She had to fix this.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she lifted the cell to her ear again. “I need details.”

Nathan relayed that her mother was in the hospital and in stable condition.

Ending the call, she stared at the cell. Mom was in trouble. The fact that the awful news had come from the man she’d left behind compounded the pain in her chest. This, after she and Carissa had barely survived a boating accident.

Evil wouldn’t let her forget that it existed, even for a few hours.


Excerpt from Deadly Target by Elizabeth Goddard. Copyright 2021 by Elizabeth Goddard. Reproduced with permission from Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Elizabeth Goddard is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than fifty novels, including Present Danger and the Uncommon Justice series. Her books have sold over one million copies. She is a Carol Award winner and a Daphne du Maurier Award finalist. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, traveling to find inspiration for her next book, and serving with her husband in ministry.

For more information about Elizabeth Goddard, visit her website at:
BookBub - @ElizabethGoddard
Instagram - @elizabethgoddardauthor
Twitter - @bethgoddard
Facebook - @ElizabethGoddardAuthor


Tour Participants:

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I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)