The Third Grace – review

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It’s always a joy to celebrate the coming out of a new book by a fellow Canadian writer. Today is the day we fete Deb Elkink and the re-release of her prize-winning debut novel The Third Grace (originally published in 2011). It comes out with a new cover, but the same rich interior. Here is my review of The Third Grace (review first published in 2011).

The Third Gracesumptuous as a period costume

Aglaia Klassen’s jaunt to Paris has been a long time in coming. But now it’s three days away—a business trip for which the main character in Deb Elkink’s debut novel The Third Grace, has significant plans of her own. On the evening we make her acquaintance she is trying to inveigle from her worldly friend Lou, how one would go about finding someone in that vast city.

When her country bumpkin mother Tina bursts upon their little soirée with the embarrassing request that Aglaia take the Bible that Francois left at the farm fifteen years ago and return it, Aglaia is beyond humiliated. But the Bible does find its way into her luggage and becomes a magnet once she discovers the notes this French exchange student scribbled in the margins all those years ago.

As she reads them, she is transported back to that summer of young love when she was seventeen and sure that Francois’ heart was all hers. She recalls the Greek myths of which the Bible stories they read in youth group reminded him, and finds tucked inside a photo postcard of the Three Graces. The Third Grace, Aglaia, is what Francois called her. That’s why she has not been Mary Grace—the name her parents gave her—for many years.

Much has happened since that crossroads summer at the farm in Nebraska. She has made an impression on the cultural scene in Denver where she works as an up-and-coming costume designer. As far as she’s concerned, her Mennonite past is history despite the longing in her parents’ eyes and their thinly disguised pleas for her help with the farm. Aglaia’s friend Lou has her own agenda and their paths get crazily entangled in this story that explores young love, faith, identity, and loyalty to family and friends.

The well-realized characters make this book a delight. Lou is a devious college prof who we don’t trust from the minute we meet her—though Aglaia wants to and tries to, to our dismay. Eb, Aglaia’s boss at the costume shop, is an eccentric, wise, father-figure and my personal favorite. Francois, the charming, lascivious student from the past plays a large role through Aglaia’s memories. Aglaia’s Mennonite parents ring true, with their homespun sensibilities, their ethnic cuisine, and their Plautdietsch-inflected pronunciations: “trock,”  and “tanse” for “truck” and “tense,” and germanisms like “Na jo,” En betje.”  Finally there’s Aglaia herself—talented and ambitious, yet idealistic, wistful, and tortured in the way she continues to carry the torch for her teenage sweetheart.

Elkink’s writing is a tailored garment of sensuous description, trimmed with just the right words to signal deeper meanings. Note this bit from the opening scene where Aglaia is entertaining Lou in her apartment:

“Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her.”

The Third Grace, page 12.

Or this snippet describing Aglaia’s relationship with her craft:

“From the time she was a child…she’d hankered to sew. She learned the smell of the flax beneath the linen, savored the variance between silk and wool. She had a habit still of chewing a strand  each time she laid out a length of yard goods ready for the shears. She made a sacrament of touching and sniffing and tasting—a sensual adulation.”  

The Third Grace, p. 42.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Eklink is herself a seamstress and has designed costumes.

I enjoyed this tale for its literary forays as much as its finely crafted characters. Elkink seems as comfortable recounting Aglaia’s fall from faith and attraction to the occult world of Greek myth as she is describing a scene of teenage seduction, a Paris bistro, or a child-squirmy kitchen. Through Eb she shares wisdom from Christian luminaries like Saint Augustine, Dante, and the Bible.

For a reading experience as layered and sumptuous as Aglaia’s period costumes, The Third Grace by Deb Elkink won’t disappoint.

Want more? Find out about Deb and her writing on her website DebElkink.com. Her second full-length novel, The Red Journal, came out in 2019 and is also available for purchase.

Behind Her Name – review

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Behind Her Name by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


You would never know from the confident look of the woman sitting at the bookstore table signing books for her fans, that Sage Bush was still trapped in her traumatic childhood. But she was. In Behind Her Name, author Eunice Cooper-Matchett explores, with wonderful story telling, the secretive world of bullying and its devastating effects.

The familiar Canadian setting (small town Alberta), a cast of complex and interesting characters, combined with the author’s exploration of serious themes like bullying, forgiveness, trust, and how to answer the age-old question, why does God allow evil in our lives, are aspects of this well-written book that make it more than just another entertaining tale. Oh, and I loved the unique way the author had Sage handle times of stress and overwhelm—with poetry!

Fans of Christian contemporary romance won’t want to miss this special offering!




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Under the Cloud (free Kindle Edition)

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I’m looking forward to today and attending my first-ever virtual writing conference (Inscribe Fall Conference)!

In gratitude for all the writers and writing mentors (from Inscribe and other writing groups) that have helped and encouraged me through the years, I’ve arranged a free download of my latest novel, Under the Cloud – Kindle edition.

GET IT FREE – September 25 and 26th…

Blood Ties – review

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Blood Ties by Tracy Krauss



My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In Blood Ties, Book 2 of Tracy Krauss’s Three Strand Cord series, we again get involved in the lives of Stella, Tempest, and Cherise.

College-educated Stella returns to her ranch home in Texas to find both ranch-hand brothers in love with her.

Dirk, Cherise’s brother, falls for Tempest but when she doesn’t reciprocate, this rich sometime-playboy decides to volunteer at a Mexican orphanage (maybe this new leaf will convince Tempest that he really has changed).

Cherise, meanwhile, gets involved in a relationship with one of Stella’s friends but, unable to face hurting him due to her track-record of short-term serial romances, decides to join Dirk at the orphanage. There, confronted by the superficiality of their lifestyles the siblings, Dirk and Cherise, are challenged to look for deeper meaning and purpose.

A mean-spirited computer hacker in Texas and suspected drug activity out of the orphanage add danger and suspense to this contemporary romance.

Though some of the shenanigans of Cherise and others would put this book (and the series) into the edgy category, the message of God’s love and ability to change hearts, desires, and actions comes across loud and clear. That dual focus makes the series relatable to contemporary young people, Christian and non-Christian.

I received a copy of Blood Ties as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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Three Strand Cord (review)

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Three Strand Cord by Tracy Krauss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The friendship bracelets that Stella, Cherise, and Tempest braid for each other in elementary school come to symbolize the ties that bind them long past their school days. However, when they meet again as young adults, their varied interests, experiences, social status, and temperaments have set them on vastly different paths. This makes for lots of conflict as their loyalties to each other compete with good sense, ethics, and even self-preservation.

Cherise, the rich bad girl of the trio, traps her girlfriends and others in a net of trouble when she decides to do whatever it takes to follow her latest boyfriend to Italy. Meanwhile Tempest, the professing Christian of the three, struggles with her part in Cherise’s deception, which involves living a lie of her own.

Krauss’s romantic suspense is well-written, has interesting characters, lots of action, many surprises, and Christian spiritual elements throughout.

I received a copy of Three Strand Cord from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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Calm Before the Storm (review)

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Calm Before the Storm by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The year is 1914. All is idyllic on the Hildebrandt’s Succoth estate in Crimea—but for the death of mother. This has left the well-to-do Hildebrandt family (father Heinrich, children Katarina [16], Maria [14], Peter, Nicholas, and Anna) wifeless, motherless, and without a teacher. Enter Johann Suderman, a young teacher from the Mennonite Molotschna Colony, whom Heinrich soon employs to tutor the youngest children.

The beginning of World War I together with growing tensions between the land-wealthy Mennonites and their poor Russian neighbours heightens suspense and brings a sense of foreboding. Through Johann’s Russian friend Paul Tekanin we see Bolshevism and the revolutionary movement take root. The Hildebrandt’s and Johann’s connections of family and friends in the Molotschna Colony make us privy to premonitions of change coming there as well.

A blossoming romance, that ripens like the sweet fruit of the Succoth orchard, ramps up emotional interest. Watching characters flesh out gradations of spiritual faith, from rote religion to a deeply personal relationship with God, challenges us to examine where we are in the practice of the faith we claim to have.

Calm Before the Storm is beautifully written. Characters are believable and sympathetic (even the not-so-favourite ones). Dick does a great job of placing us in the setting with masterful broad-brush descriptions of the landscape to fine-painted details of cottage and barn. I could all but taste the familiar foods—the zwieback, rollkuchen, borscht, and cracklings of my youth—which load the tables of these forefathers and foremothers.

Calm Before the Storm is a wonderful read for any lover of historical fiction and a must-read for the student of Mennonite history. I can’t wait for the release of Book 2, Eye of the Storm, hopefully later this year.


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Beyond the Purple Sky – review

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Beyond The Purple Sky by Eunice Cooper-Matchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


In dramatic scenes fueled by an informed imagination, Cooper-Matchett takes us into a little-known time in Israel’s history. The Jews are in exile in Babylon. Zerubbabel—a brilliant Jewish lad and companion of Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar and sister Belshalti-Nanner, is being groomed for service to Babylonian royalty.

However, Zerubbabel also feels the tug of his Jewish heritage. We follow him as he matures to adulthood and is challenged with the ultimate assignment—to lead his people back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. The cost is great and the pursuit of his divine destiny—predicted by prophets Daniel, Zechariah, and Haggai—tests him to the core even as it highlights God’s intricate plan for His people.

Matchett’s writing is tight, her story-telling taut and filled with Middle Eastern sights, sounds, smells, and machismo. Beyond the Purple Sky is a good read!




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The Road to Happenstance – review

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The Road to Happenstance by Janice L. Dick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


“Happenstance: A chance happening or event” (Dictionary.com)

That is what Matthew Sadler’s (aka Matthew Smith’s) arrival at the town by that name seems to be at first—a chance event. But the town’s welcoming vibe and quirky inhabitants cast a spell over the fleeing-from-demons teacher, whose motorbike, pony tail, and new growth beard are outward signs of the inner changes he seeks.

However, not all is as it seems even in the town that bills itself as “A Town You Can Trust.” As Matthew gets to know his two aging hosts at the Happenstance Hotel, the local mechanic, the coffee shop owner, the pastor, the woman who is a fellow guest at the hotel, and others, he realizes that strange things seem to be afoot—and even here his past might find him.

The wonderful writing, colourful characters, cleverly contrived plot, that reinforces themes of faith and grace, made this cozy mystery a welcome winter diversion for me.

A set of discussion questions at the end would make it a good book club choice.

Recommended!

I received a copy of The Road to Happenstance as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.




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Unknown Enemy (Review)

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Unknown Enemy (A Green Dory Inn Mystery, #1)Unknown Enemy by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Landon Smith gets a call to help Anna, the woman who was an anchor to her in her troubled past, she leaves her college dorm in Toronto for a weekend in Nova Scotia with hardly a second thought. Once there she is immediately caught up in the mystery of who is terrorizing Anna’s business, the Green Dory Inn. Or is Anna, whose husband died recently, falling apart mentally and seeing things?

Unknown Enemy is full of tension as we try to puzzle out with Landon and Anna who, in Sketchley’s cast of colourful (and complex) characters, could be behind this. When the weekend has passed and the mystery is still not solved we wonder, will Landon be able to get to the bottom of this before her exacting prof drops her from her course.

I love the local colour of the Lunenberg setting—an actual town in Nova Scotia—and all the homey touches of the inn (beautiful décor, lots of tea and homemade baking). I wish the Green Dory Inn wasn’t fictional as I’d love to stay there!

Faith plays a big part in all of Sketchley’s stories and this one is no exception. Landon has made a practice of handling flashbacks of past trauma with prayer. That’s something she learned from the almost saintly Anna, who is a paradigm of loving the outcasts and marginalized.

I enjoyed this quick read, which kept me turning pages way past when I planned to stop.

With this novella, Sketchley introduces a new series: The Green Dory Inn mysteries. Fans of contemporary Christian mystery won’t want to miss one installment. Unknown Enemy releases August 2nd, 2018.

I received a copy of Unknown Enemy as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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Keeping Up With the Neighbours (review)

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Neighbours 2In Keeping Up with the Neighbours (Neighbours Series 2) author Tracy Krauss treats us to the adventures of colourful Newfoundland siblings who have left the Rock to find their fortunes in Alberta.

The characters (the Malloys—five young men and their sister) are earthy, relatable, often humorous, and interesting. We follow them as they find jobs in construction, the oil patch, the woods, the local bar, and a hair dressing salon, and socialize in the evenings with the locals at a neighbourhood watering hole.

These salty characters are not without their realistic problems and flaws, so be prepared for a little more edginess than you’d find in some Christian fiction. But Krauss incorporates faith as well in plot twists that feel plausible and inevitable.

Keeping up with the Neighbours (Neighbours 2) is a lot of fun as well as thought-provoking, dealing with subjects like loyalty, conflicts between immigrant parents and their adult children, alcoholism, religious faith and more. It’s a bit like reading a Calgary-based season of Cheers.