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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Road to Nowhere (review)

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Road to NowhereRoad to Nowhere by Paul Robertson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre:
Literary, contemporary murder mystery.

Worldview:
Christian.

Plot in brief:
A proposed highway connecting tony Gold Valley to petrified Wardsville galvanizes Jefferson County residents and has everyone taking sides for and against. Who’s really behind it? How will it impact Wardsville’s quaint image and quainter businesses? Will the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors actually pass it? And who is so determined to have his way, he’s killing people to get it? The board will make their final decision at their December meeting. The telling begins in January.

My favorite thing about the book:
I love the way Robertson tells the story—through the points of view of the six individuals on the Board of Supervisors. I found it a challenging read at first as I jumped from one head to another without even any extra space left in the text to indicate a move. But very quickly I got used to it and really enjoyed the challenge of figuring out through whose eyes I was seeing things moment to moment. The characterization is outstanding.

I also enjoyed the writing, which is funny, observant, clever, and seasoned with generous amounts of homey wisdom. Here’s Wade’s impression of the coffee Rose Esterhouse serves Wade on his visit to the home of board chairman Joe Esterhouse:

“He held the cup up close to his mouth and inhaled enough to get a few drops of the coffee itself.

“He’d had straight-up horseradish that wasn’t this bitter.

“He tried an actual sip. After a cup of this stuff, he’d be out there plowing fields himself, probably with his bare hands. … Taste was not the point—this coffee was kick in the pants to get a person out the door to work” – p. 60 – Kindle Location 407.

Themes:
Evil, truth, community, relationships (we watch some beautiful interactions between hairdresser Louise and her husband Byron, insurance salesman Randy and his wife Sue-Anne, and farmer Joe and his wife Rose).

Who will enjoy this book:
Observers of human nature as well as readers who enjoy a well-constructed murder mystery. The portrayal of characters is as big a part of this story as the mystery plot. Some call it slow-moving. It may be that but it’s wonderfully insightful. I loved it!

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Prelude for a Lord (review)

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Prelude for a LordPrelude for a Lord by Camille Elliot

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lady Alethea Sutherton, main character in Camille Elliot’s regency romance Prelude for a Lord, is a social misfit, not only because of her suitorless old maid status, but because of her musical interest in the violin which is thought entirely unladylike.

For her part, Alethea has long since ceased to care, much to the chagrin of Aunt Ebena. Alethea has come to Bath to stay with her aunt after cousin Will kicked her out of the family home. Now she is living for the day she reaches her majority, gains her inheritance, and can flee England to the musically rich continent.

But the appearance in Bath of Baron Dommick, a musician she admired from her own disastrous season in London eleven years ago, and society’s demands soon have her attending balls and hobnobbing with members of a male string ensemble. Meanwhile she senses she is being watched, followed, and then is approached by a succession of sinister men who demand she sell her violin.

Main male character Baron Dommick’s reputation has been compromised by the effects of war. Despite that, he feels driven to ensure that his sister Clare’s upcoming season in London will be a success. This means making the right social moves in all departments. He is attracted to Alethea but could her strong personality impede his goal? And what if she should discover the real self he hides under that handsome exterior?

Elliot has combined compelling characters (including a list of who the various characters are, their many names and how they’re related to each other) with a circuitous plot that includes solving the mystery of Alethea’s violin.

As is characteristic of the genre, there is lots of wit and dialogue that sparkles. The writing is wonderful throughout:

“Then another crash, something heavy and wooden dropping to the floor accompanied by a tinkling descant of shattering pottery” – Kindle Location 2613.

“…the chapel lay empty and forgotten much of the time, an abandoned mother longing for her grown-up children” – Kindle location 5265.t:

Compelling themes include an exploration of how women in the regency era are treated and whether God cares for individuals—an issue especially for Alethea who feels as if God dislikes her, seeing as how He never came to her aid when her father, brother, and cousin abused her. Questions at the end of the book encourage readers to discuss, personalize, and apply what they’ve read.

Prelude for a Lord is a combination I found irresistible. It’s a tale I would hazard even Jane Austen would love.

I received Prelude for a Lord as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Strange Faces (review)

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Strange FacesStrange Faces by Linda Hall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The last time I enjoyed a book of short stores as much as I did Strange Faces by Linda Hall, it was authored by Alice Munro.

Strange Faces has some similarities. Like the characters in Munro’s books, Hall’s are all ordinary people—housewives, mechanics, teachers. And like Munro’s tantalizing first lines, the beginnings of each story in Hall’s seven-story collection pulled me in so I wanted to read more.

“I’ve suspected for some time that I should go to the authorities about Lewis. Why haven’t I? Fear, I suppose. Even anonymous calls aren’t anonymous” – first lines of “Mad Scientist.”

“I’ve always been very protective of my sister. Even when she started killing people at her work” – first lines of “Weather Ladies.”

Such beginnings give us a taste of Hall’s cat-and-mouse game with the reader as we try to figure out: is this person reliable, wearing a white or black hat, is he/she even sane?

Most of these tales are dark. Through her characters Hall plumbs the depths of the human heart’s capacity for jealousy, fear, desire for revenge, rage at being deserted. Several stories speak about bullying. She asks ‘What if…?’ and then sees the matter through to its deadly conclusion. And so there’s murder and mayhem, but ever so genteelly disclosed.

Hall’s stories are full of homey but significant details and whiplash surprises—a very entertaining combination.

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Shaded Light (review)

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Shaded Light - ebook cover - J.A. MenziesShaded Light by N.J. Lindquist

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

In Shaded Light I felt like I was reading a game of Clue. Author J. A. Menzies (the new ebook edition is published under the author’s pseudonym; original edition under N. J. Lindquist) sets up the game board and player pieces in the first part of the book as members, wives and various hangers-on of the Toronto law firm Brodie, Fischer & Martin meet for a relaxing weekend at the lavish new home of senior partner George Brodie and his wife Ellen. The cast of characters is large. Menzies delves into the past and present of each just enough to get us caring for them but not to the point of distraction. (The Kindle edition I read had a linked table of contents which included a list of characters—most helpful in keeping everyone straight through the information-heavy first part of the book.)

Once the body is found the glue of the series, middle-aged investigator Paul Manziuk and his rookie partner Jacqueline Ryan arrive on the scene. They bring with them their own goals and issues.

The questioning of each potential perpetrator (basically everybody, for everyone is a suspect) and the reaction of the cops to each other kept me busy as I tried to figure out who did it and worried these investigators wouldn’t be able to get past their own sensitivities to solve the crime before another redhead got knocked off. Provisional solutions kept me occupied till Menzies’ investigators solved the crime and all the other loose ends got tidied away at the very end of the book.

Though most of the characters have a pleasure-seeking, self-absorbed outlook (fueled by lots of alcohol) one character, Lorry Preston, lives her life as a committed Christian. She acquits herself well and makes the book a worthwhile read for the mystery lover who enjoys a serving of faith alongside generous helpings of intrigue and red herring.

Shaded Light and a second book in the Manziuk & Ryan mystery series—Glitter of Diamonds—are available as ebook downloads from J. A. Menzies’ website and as Kindle editions on Amazon.

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Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann (review)

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Secrets  (Secrets, #1)Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Twenty-seven-year-old Lance Michelli and his Nonna have a deep connection in Secrets, Book one of Kristen Heitzmann’s Michelli Family Series. That’s why when Nonna has a stroke and can no longer talk, Lance is still able to understand something of what she wants. It has to do with righting a family wrong–a mission that takes him eventually from New York to Sonoma California and the estate that the family once owned.

Twenty-four-year-old Rese Barrett has recently bought that property and is renovating it as only this female protege of a construction-company-owning-father knows how. She is going to turn it into a B&B–her last renovation project ever. Though her deep love for working with wood hasn’t lessened, it’s too painful to continue in the line of work that so brutally snatched her dad.

Lance manages to convince Rese to hire him on as a cook, entertainer (he’s also a musician), and jack-of-all trades in helping to finish the reno. With full run of the property, he unearths all kinds of family-related baggage but not before his relationship with Rese develops way beyond what he planned.

For her part, Rese is a tough nut to crack, but once charmer Lance has her in his spell, she becomes an unwitting temptress, challenging Lance’s Christian standards on more than one occasion.

The book is beautifully written. The characters are complex and loveable despite their faults. Lance struggles with his Christian faith in a believable way but is a truly warm, caring guy, even though the fallout from his lack of limits in some areas (there is a lot of kissing and other touching) seems to surprise him.

The questions still unanswered at the end of Secrets make the description of Unforgotten (Book 2 in the series) awfully inviting: “Unforgotten returns … to the Belmont neighborhood of the Bronx where Nonna Antonia hopes to find peace. Instead she learns that what she thought she knew was only a shadow of the truth…”

I got Secrets as a free Kindle download. As of this writing, it’s still free, so go and check it out!

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