Without Proof (review)

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Without Proof (Redemption's Edge, #3)Without Proof by Janet Sketchley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two years after her fiancé Gilles died beside her in the cockpit of the plane he crash-landed on a Nova Scotia highway, Amy Silver is getting back on her feet emotionally and physically. She has even taken off the gold chain that held Gilles’ engagement ring. Then comes the day reporter Troy Hicks makes an unwelcome appearance at the Stratton Art Gallery where Amy works.

He is full of questions. Despite that the police investigation concluded the crash was an accident, is Amy sure? He’s heard rumors of foul play. Will she help him dig deeper?

Troy’s snooping around followed by his article in the paper starts a series of events that make Amy more suspicious than ever that the plane malfunction of that awful day was no mishap after all. But should she try to prove it? At what price?

Gilles’ good friend, artist Michael Stratton now Amy’s boss at the gallery, begins acting strangely too—protective, even possessive. Trouble is, she has begun to fall for him. So what do his actions mean? They’re probably loyalty to Gilles, big-brotherly care, or even emotional instability—surely not a sign of the deepening relationship she hardly lets herself dream about.

In Without Proof, the final book in the three-book Redemption’s Edge romantic suspense series, author Janet Sketchley introduces threats, danger, and mystery into the homey tranquility of Stratton Gallery, the gallery / residence Amy, Aunt Bay, and Michael share. Soon the sinister lurks behind each phone call and text message.

We view unfolding events through Amy’s eyes and wonder, is art buyer Ross Zarin the considerate gentleman he appears to be? Why is Gilles’ sister Emilie so desperate to get Amy out of the way? Is Michael’s concern for her genuine or the first sign of a stalker-in-the-making?

Without Proof addresses many important themes including fear, forgiveness, and self-acceptance. Through the unflinching Christian faith of Aunt Bay, Amy faces her own feelings of unworthiness. Through the testimony of Ruth Warner (from book 1 of the series) Amy realizes she needs to forgive her absent father. There’s also the sweet, but never cloying, romantic side of the story that had me cheering for Amy from the first page.

Sketchley’s skillful way with words kept me spellbound until the story’s last action-packed scene. Though this book ends the series, let’s hope Sketchley has some more romantic suspense brewing in her Nova Scotia study!

I received Without Proof as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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Let’s Pretend We’re Normal (review)

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Let's Pretend We're Normal: Adventures in Rediscovering How to Be a FamilyLet’s Pretend We’re Normal: Adventures in Rediscovering How to Be a Family by Tricia Lott Williford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Mr Responsible died, suddenly and tragically. He was sick for only twelve hours. … A thief named sepsis stole his breath and his heartbeat, and his spirit slipped right through Curly Girl’s fingers, even as she tried to save him on the floor of their bedroom only two days before Christmas.”

This grim scene from the Prologue is the background of Tricia Lott Williford’s memoir Let’s Pretend We’re Normal—Adventures in Rediscovering How to Be a Family. You’d expect the story of how Williford and her two young sons, Tucker and Tyler, get back on their feet after their husband’s/father’s death to be a bummer. But it isn’t.

That’s because Williford is a great storyteller and fabulous writer. Though there are lots of sad times, she never melodramatizes them or milks them for sympathy. The only way we know she cries a lot is because her boys mention it in their conversations—of which she has wonderful recall.

In Let’s Pretend we see a mother trying to explain to two little daddy-less boys where God is in all this. We observe the three of them working through stages of grief. And Williford lives parenting before us in ways that I, if by some miracle I found myself parenting young children again, would want to copy.

There’s lots of humor too and scenes that any modern, busy, technology-blessed North American family can relate to. Plus there are stories that tug at the heart.

One of my favorites is of Williford buying a homeless man, Dave, a Happy Meal—and him coming back at her with encouragement from the Bible. Her conclusion:

“… I wondered if perhaps I had just had lunch with an angel sent on a mission” – Kindle Location 1180.

Another is the conversation she has with her boys one night after reading the story of God testing Abraham by asking him to sacrifice Isaac. Discussing their family’s test of losing husband/father, her older son asks:

“’But Mom, do you think God has an important job for you to do? And that’s why he asked you to give up my dad? … Mommy, do you know God has picked you to write these books. He made you a writer to tell stories. And so maybe God had to know you would trust him no matter what” – Kindle Location 2275.‘”

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends will gain insight, compassion, and wisdom from Tricia Lott Williford’s faith-saturated story of family, grief, and recovery.

I received Let’s Pretend We’re Normal as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Sorry—I’m Not Sorry (review)

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Sorry I'm Not Sorry: An Honest Look at Bullying from the BullySorry I’m Not Sorry: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Bully by Nancy Rue

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When twelve-year-old Kylie, the leader of a posse of bullies, is summoned to the principal’s office of Gold Country Middle School one morning in June (along with her parents, her friends, and their parents), she’s not even nervous. That is, until she sees who else is there. Besides the principal, there is “Gingerbread,” the girl she and her friends have been bullying, and Lydia:

“…the Dwarf. Lydia Somebody. She was a weirdly short woman with too much hair who thought she could come in and stop it all” – Kindle Location 105.

The meeting that day begins a summer like no other for this privileged tween. Grounded from her cell phone and computer, she quickly loses power over Heidi and Riannon. She must also do weekly study sessions with Lydia and satisfactorily complete a project if she is to have any hope of returning to Gold Country and its cheer leading troupe in the fall. Part of the project turns out to be teaching a summer school dance performance number to a half-dozen klutzy elementary-aged girls—a real challenge for someone who is all about coolness and image.

Author Nancy Rue seems well informed about modern methods of bullying. She has the voice of a cocky tween down pat (Kylie tells the story in first-person). As the story unfolds and we work through Kylie’s issues with her, we begin to understand some of bullying’s dynamics. Kylie’s parents, with their permissive and inconsistent parenting style, may be part of the problem. And she also has some well-buried hurts and fears from early childhood that she hasn’t faced. Toward the end of the story Kylie has her own experience of being bullied, helping us experience bullying from both sides and making Sorry—I’m Not Sorry a great choice for pre-teen girls.

The Christian message is subtle. It mostly comes through Lydia who mentions, at one point, how she prays for wisdom before each session with Kylie, and models the listening ear, the love, and the firm direction that helps Kylie go from being a bully ringleader to an ardent member of the “Bullying is so not okay” movement.

I received Sorry—I’m Not Sorry as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Secrets and Lies (review)

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Secrets and Lies - Janet SketchleySecrets and Lies: A Redemption’s Edge Novel by Janet Sketchley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Carol Daniels has moved with her 16-year-old son Paul from Calgary to Toronto at the beginning of Secrets and Lies, Janet Sketchley’s second book in the Redemption Edge Series. It wasn’t a move of choice but of necessity, to get away from the terrifying lowlife associates that had begun threatening her in her western home—characters that were seemingly connected to her brother (the convicted killer Harry Silver from Heaven’s Prey – Redemption’s Edge 1).

Her hopes of hiding from the thugs are dashed when disturbing anonymous phone calls start again. Not only is the voice in the calls creepy but the threats are terrifying and the character behind them far too aware of her whereabouts and movements for comfort. His demand is for money that her brother has apparently salted away. The detective on the case suggests Carol will eventually have to get in touch with the brother she despises and has disowned.

Those calls aren’t her only worry. There’s Paul too—a good kid but too much like Skip, his egotistical musician father. At least Paul’s not into drugs—the most loathsome of substances that killed her other son, Keith. And she’s determined to keep him safe from the present danger and from following in the footsteps of his musical father.

When nightmares awaken her or worries about her son or the spooky calls keep her from sleep, she makes mint tea and phones the oldies station to talk to the DJ, Joey. He always has a sympathetic ear and a repertoire of Billy Joel tunes to serenade her out of any mood. It turns out that Joey, in person, is just as nice as on-air—and then she discovers he too is hiding secrets.

Sketchley’s skill at merging the believeable and homey details of a modern single mom’s life with criminal threats and shadowy danger makes her main character relatable and in a situation that seems real and plausible. More than once I found myself gripping my e-reader muttering: Don’t answer the stupid phone … don’t trust him … don’t go with him!

But the story is more than a well-plotted tale of romantic suspense. For in it Sketchley wades through all kinds of waters: a mother’s attempts to control her son, a son’s attempts to find his own way while not hurting his mom, trust: how we earn it and find courage to place it, forgiveness: God’s for us and ours for each other, and more.

In the faith department I appreciated the way Sketchley’s Christian characters don’t have all the answers but wrestle with their beliefs like we all do. Several characters have a strong faith and through them we hear good reasons why God is worth putting our faith in even if it seems He’s let us down in the past.

This second book in the Redemption ‘s Edge series is gentler than Heaven’s Prey but with moments just as nailbitingly tense. Sketchley’s sense of timing and ability to lull us with sweet ordinariness, only to fling us in the next page into the arms of cold, unscrupulous evil, makes this a must-read for lovers of Christian suspense. Believable, complex characters and a keen eye for telling details make Sketchley’s writing a pleasure to read for anyone. And there are bonus treats. For the music savvy, this book is a sentimental stroll down memory lane. For the reader with the munchies, all those good smells coming from the Sticky Fingers café and Carol’s own kitchen are enough to drive a person to brownies—with mint tea, of course.

A set of discussion questions at the end of the book makes this a perfect choice for book clubs.

Readers who can’t get enough fiction delivered with doses of tension and danger will want to keep an eye on Sketchley’s lengthening list of books. No Safe Place, Redemption’s Edge 3 is due out in 2015.

This excellent read launches TODAY, November 5th, 2014. Check it out.

Spend a sentimental afternoon with this Secrets and Lies oldies playlist.

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Grandma’s Fingerprint (review)

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Grandma's FingerprintGrandma’s Fingerprint by Ann Griffiths

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Grandma’s Fingerprint Ann Griffiths tells the story of her Grandma Mabel and how she impacted and influenced her life.

The story begins when Ann was six. She recalls her mother driving her and her siblings away from their father one night and how frightening that felt until they reached their destination and she discovered it was Grandma’s house. Then she knew everything would be okay.

Grandma providing a refuge for Ann, her mom, and siblings wasn’t the only way she helped. Her unconditional love soon had Ann in a tug-of-war as she found herself preferring Grandma’s peaceful, well-ordered home to the chaotic, stormy home of her parents. Grandma believed in her and challenged her to be her best self. She influenced her to attend church and modeled a life of service and hard work that made a lasting impression. She passed on to her granddaughter a rich legacy: a strong work ethic, a spirit of perseverance, the habit of putting her all into every task no matter how small, compassion, consideration and care for others, contentment in serving her family, and more.

Griffiths tells the story in first person. She fills in Grandma’s history as needed and supplements her own memories with material from letters, diaries, journals, newspaper clippings, and interviews. Her keen eye for sensory details adds interest and color to the telling. Here, for example, is her description of what met her each time she entered her parents’ home:

“To enter the house, we didn’t use the front door that usually was blocked by boxes or a piece of furniture. Instead, we walked through the carport … Once in the house, we walked through the laundry room to the kitchen.

Finding our way through the laundry room was like maneuvering a maze or obstacle course. The first hurdle was a Doberman dog named Whiskey, who often was scratching himself and complained when he was rousted from his spot on the outside step or just inside the door. When we made it inside, we had to choose carefully where to step on the gritty plywood floor, while a myriad of smells assaulted our senses—the powerful odors of wet dog, piles of stinking laundry that hopelessly waited to be washed, and the overpowering stench of sweat-ridden shoes and socks that my mom used to say could stand in the corner by themselves” – Grandma’s Fingerprint, p. 82.

A special feature of the book for me was its setting. It takes place in the area where now I live, so it was interesting to read about life here in earlier times–things like Grandma making a weekly three-hour one-way trek to clean house for relatives in West Vancouver, Ann’s involvement as a drummer in the Surrey School Band, the founding of Johnston Heights Church, and other local events and places to which I could relate.

The author begins and ends the book with letter-like chapters to her own granddaughter, so that we almost get the feeling we’re eavesdropping on a special conversation between her and her own family. But this is definitely more than a family keepsake and memoir. It has takeaway value for all grandmas (in the way it shows how the life of one simple woman continues to ripple through generations) and would be especially encouraging to grandmothers (and grandfathers) tasked with raising their grandkids for whatever reason.

The “Introduction” contains a list of people and the milestone dates of their lives (births, deaths, marriages, moves) so it’s easy to keep track of who everyone is. There are also four sections of black-and-white photographs that help bring Grandma, Ann, and the story’s other characters to life.

I first found out about this book when Griffiths gave a talk about the influence of grandparents and specifically her grandmother at a seniors’ lunch. She speaks often on that topic as well as the topic of mentoring, and has co-written A Mentor’s Fingerprint (with Donna Inglis). Check out their website Fingerprint Ministries.

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