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Monthly Archives: August 2020

James J. Cudney’s books on sale!!! Cozy mysteries and a thriller.

I have enjoyed all the cozy mysteries in Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery Series and want to share information about the great prices available for a limited time for different books in the series. To see his blog post about this sale and his works, follow this link. (There is also a thriller on sale, but I have not read it.)

Enjoy!!!

The Jerusalem Assassin–deadly peace proposal


The Jerusalem Assassin

by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Jerusalem AssassinNot every book is a good match for every reader. I think that may have been the case for me and Joel C. Rosenberg’s The Jerusalem Assassin which is a Christian political thriller. Most of this book is the setup for a very convoluted assassination plot involving groups of high level leaders and secret operatives from seven countries as well as a terrorist group.

It becomes apparent to world leaders that the president of the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who made peace. He wants to be remembered as the man who refused to surrender to the ‘criminal Zionists’…” In response, the leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel decide to meet on the Temple Mount and announce a peace proposal. Unfortunately, that opens the door for a targeted attack on the leaders of those countries.

Without the included Cast of Characters, I would have been lost. Instead, I was able to follow plot development by continual back and forth referencing of unfamiliar names, slowing the reading down considerably. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book until the final fourth when the action played out.

The main character is Marcus Ryker who is ostensibly working for the Diplomatic Security Service, but is actually a special operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Highly trained, efficient, and trusted, he uses his many connections to obtain critical information. He is a caring Christian, but his job puts him and those he loves in danger. I learned a lot about the daily physical and weapon training for agents and also the complicated logistics involved in setting up security for a U.S. president for a special event abroad.

Although the scenario of world conflict and years of attempts at a Middle East peace settlement are real, the details of the book’s plot and the people involved are fictional providing the author with much flexibility in creating his story. The results are deadly for many of the characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. #3 in the Marcus Ryker Series, but this book did not appear to rely on very much background from other books. 

  2. This author has written many books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus on the Middle East.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

They were coming, and he knew they were coming, and he knew why—they were coming to kill him and to kill the president and to kill anyone else who got in their way. They were coming to settle scores.

…he and his son-in-law “must have undergone a Vulcan mind meld at some point, so unified are their views on theology and politics and even where in the Old City to buy the best baklava.”

Mahdi, the long-awaited Promised One…when that savior came, he would finally judge the Jews, the Christians, the atheists, the agnostics, and the pagans. Indeed, the Mahdi would judge every infidel and do so with fire and fury such as the world had never seen nor imagined.

In the Land of Blue Burqas–eye opening view of the women behind the blue veils

In the Land of Blue Burqas

by Kate McCord

What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution. 

Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.

Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.

In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture.  I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions

Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.

Publication:   May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.

Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion. 

But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.

Montana Welcome–runaway bride and a cowboy

Montana Welcome

by Melinda Curtis

Lily Harrison loves adventure, and she has had plenty of them since she met daredevil Danny Belmonte at the age of seven. They remain steadfast best friends through good times and bad, including long term damage to Lily’s hands. But is friendship enough to take them to the wedding altar?

It seems everyone in Melinda Curtis’ Montana Welcome wants to arrange Lily’s life for her, to take care of her, but Lily has to decide if that is what she really wants. Woven into a runaway bride story are threads of family relationships and secrets; “Big E” wants to get to know his newly discovered granddaughters, and Rudy Harrison wants to keep the daughters he raised. Connor, a handsome cowboy, with hangups and responsibilities, is tasked with getting Lily from California to the Blackwell Ranch in Montana. Connor and Lily, along with her new-found cousin Pepper and Pepper’s maid of honor Natalie, have thrills and laughs as they make the trek in a travel trailer in time for Pepper’s cowboy style wedding.

Montana Welcome will entertain you as you get to know these characters along with their motivations and quirks. It is a quick read that will leave you wanting more. This is not a deeply complex romance, but it does deal with real issues of love, control, and secrets. The characters are interesting, and the plot includes action and contains surprises.

The Blackwell Sisters series, each book written by a different collaborating author, will focus on one of the Blackwell sisters who all consider themselves Harrisons. As the series moves forward, Rudy and Big E set out to look for Thomas Blackwell, the girls’ biological father to answer questions and possibly bring closure to the family. Bring on the next book!

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis and Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #1 in The Blackwell Sisters series from Harlequin Heartwarming, noted for their clean romances. This is a followup series to The Return of the Blackwell Brothers, and it is written by the same authors. You absolutely do not have to have read the first series to enjoy this one.

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She knew what she should do. and it didn’t involve walking down the aisle on the arm of a man who wasn’t her father to pledge herself to a man who didn’t want to marry her.

On the trip out west, he’d been lulled to sleep by Big E’s snoring, which was like listening to waves regularly crashing on a beach. Loud waves that covered the noise semitrucks made when they pulled in and out of the rest stops where he and Big E parked each night.

Pepper’s carefully constructed dreams, her life plan, her desire for lucrative freedom. Could it be possible that Pepper hadn’t been frivolously wishing upon a star? That she’d been wanting to create a life she, and she alone, controlled?

Dog On It–funny K-9 mystery

Dog On It

by Spencer Quinn

Dog On ItHave you ever looked at your dog and wondered what in the world he or she (Chet says, “no ’it’s’ please”) is thinking? In Dog On It, you will be treated to author Spencer Quinn’s take on the imagined inner workings of a dog’s thoughts and personality. His vehicle for sharing these insights is the very likable and competent K-9 sidekick named Chet. The story is humorously told from his point of view.

I figure my dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old. They have a little understanding of the English language, even a smattering of Spanish, but I’m sure most of what I say goes over their heads. In a similar way, P.I. Bernie Little of Little Detective Agency talks over his cases with Chet. Chet picks up on the tone of the conversation, and over the years they have developed cues and routines that make them an outstanding team. When it comes to expressions like “wild good chase,” however, Chet is excited but confused.

We get to know Chet very well as he tells the story emphasizing what he and his “tribe” can do and how they are different from humans. Seen from his perspective, we learn the importance of scents, what delights Chet, and how easily distractible he is. Bernie does the thinking, but Chet’s role is equally important in following even the faintest whiffs and intimidating criminals.

Chet says that Bernie often has a cash flow problem although he doesn’t understand what that is. The source of the problem seems to be undercharging and an abundance of pro bono work. Bernie works to control his smoking and drinking. He has a combat past that Chet only shares a little about. Bernie is divorced and has a young son he adores. The detective displays intelligence, courage, and physical prowess. He isn’t perfect, but he is a very likable character.

Although this book truly brought a smile to my face throughout, don’t be deceived. Packing a good solid mystery with plenty of leads and some adventure as well, Dog On It is much more than a humorous book. On the other hand, don’t expect a deep plot exploring heavy issues; that’s not what this book is about. It is a quick read because it is so entertaining. I never tire of hearing what Chet is thinking or even why he is not thinking at all. This work is the most exquisitely funny example of anthropomorphism I have read in a very long time. I am looking forward to more reading pleasure with this series which currently has ten books.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: 1. This book does not contain much in the way of casual inappropriate language, but it does take God’s name in vain multiple times.

2. #1 in the Chet and Bernie Mystery Series

Publication:  February 10, 2009—Atria Books

Memorable Lines:

At that moment I heard a funny swishing sound. Susie glanced over. “Getting close to home, huh?” I realized the funny swishing sound came from my own tail, whipping back and forth against the seat.

The woman’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. I loved when Bernie made that happen. We walked outside feeling like winners, at least I did.

I’d been in a few car chases like this—one of the very best perks in our line of work, car chases—and they always ended the same way, with some perp’s pant leg between my teeth.

Shake Down–reality TV is so fake!

Shake Down

by Kendel Lynn

Shake DownElliott Lisbon is the director of the billion-dollar Ballantyne Foundation and is also a very frustrated PI-in-training. There are plenty of cases to work on, but her boyfriend Lieutenant Ransom and other law enforcement officers do not share much information with her. So, Elliot enlists her best friend Sid, and the pair hone their investigative skills in the complicated search for Daphne who has a reputation for going missing and following her whims without warning. Would she do that with her friend’s wedding less than a week away?

In Shake Down by Kendel Lynn, lots of plot lines intersect. The Ballantyne Foundation is sponsoring a BBQ fundraiser honoring families who host the homeless. We are also introduced to Daphne who disappears shortly before she is to be maid of honor for her best friend Juliette. The girls met on a reality TV show where they were competing for an eligible bachelor. Much of the plot is centered around the town’s search for Daphne. That part of the book drags just a bit, but the pace and action pick up later and culminate in a conclusion I could never have predicted.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series but OK as a standalone as characters from previous books in the series are clearly reintroduced.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

She stopped as if her soles had been superglued to the asphalt. She seemed to be experiencing the second half of fight or flight. Freeze or faint.

“He’s being all cagey and friendly. Helpful in a distinctly not very helpful way.”

The shot was beyond loud. Like saying a hurricane was breezy or a ghost pepper had a little kick.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague

by Geraldine Brooks

Year of WondersOur book club undertook Year of Wonders by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. There are many things to recommend it, especially the depth of character development. Also prominent is the ability of the author to immerse the reader in the year 1665 in a small town in England where women of all classes were subject to the whims and humiliation of men.

We divided the reading and the discussion into two parts. The first half of the book was well received even though graphic descriptions of the Plague were tough to read. Several of us had to put the book aside for a time because of the horrors of the Plague and the difficult lives of the characters. 

The ending of the book was met with a consensus of disappointment. After detailed and extensive exploration of the characters, author Brooks turns everything upside down leaving a shambles of motivations and actions that are disjointed based on expectations drawn from previous descriptions of their personalities. There is a baseness and meanness rising to the surface of characters who have been portrayed as admirable. The theology exposed by the ministers is not Biblically sound, but if one were to read the notes at the end of the book, it would not be surprising as the author refers to herself as having a “secular mind.”  This is a dark book and not one that I would recommend mainly because the ending tries to provide closure much too quickly and, in the process, rather bizarrely changes the essential characters of all the major actors in the story.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes:  This book includes an afterword, interview with the author, and discussion questions.

Publication:   April 30, 2002—Penguin Books

Memorable Lines:

I liked her, too, because it takes a kind of courage to care so little for what people whisper, especially in a place as small as this…She was a rare creature, Anys Gowdie, and I had to own that I admired her for listening to her own heart rather than having her life filled by others’ conventions.

And so, as generally happens, those who have most give least, and those with less somehow make shrift to share.

“…we must take stock of these herbs and such remedies as the Gowdies may have left here. The key to defeating this Plague, I am convinced, must lie here, in the virtue of such plants as can be used to nourish those who remain in health. We must strengthen our bodies that we may continue to resist contagion.”

One Little Lie–dangerous thriller

One Little Lie

by Colleen Coble

One Little LieI didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed. 

Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?

The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series

2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.

But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.

She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.

My Fair Latte–coffee, wine, and classic flicks

My Fair Latte

by Vickie Fee

My Fair LatteHere’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new cozy mystery series by an established author, Vickie Fee. In My Fair Latte, Halley Greer inherits an old theater from an uncle she barely knew. Immediately, the reason for this bequest to Halley arises as a background puzzle, but the real mystery centers around vandalism and murder in the theater that  Halley is working hard to resurrect as a business that combines her two passions—old movies and coffee.

The residents of the little tourist town of Utopia Springs, Arkansas, welcome Halley and encourage her in her new business. She has to clean up both the theater and the upstairs apartment, quite an undertaking as her uncle was a hoarder. Favorite characters are George and Trudy, local artists who take her under their wing, and Kendra who owns the escape room business across the street. There are several romantic interests as well.

I enjoyed meeting the residents of Utopia Springs and watching Halley develop her creative ideas on a shoe string budget. It was great to witness her new friends pitching in to help, building community around her. As the police seem to suspect Halley, she and Kendra investigate to try to put the focus on other possibilities. I found myself doing that myself, but missed the mark until the end. Eartha Kitty, another inheritance from Uncle Leon, has an important role in the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but hoping that I won’t gain weight just reading about the huge, fresh cinnamon rolls that are a staple in Halley’s breakfast routine.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Café Cinema Mystery Series

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

While it may have been a glamorous leading lady in its prime, the Star Movie Palace was now a faded beauty whose slip was showing from beneath its tattered couture.

Their fanny packs and I-heart-Utopia-Springs t-shirts were like tattooing tourist on their foreheads.

“I dearly love George, but this morning he started tap dancing on my last nerve before I’d even had a cup of coffee.”

The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow

The Crow’s Call

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Crow's CallI like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call  which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the  pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.

The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.

With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.

It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Women’s Fiction, Mystery

Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.

Publication:   March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines: 

Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.

“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”

She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.

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