A Stranger’s Game
by Colleen Coble
Torie Berg introduces herself at Jekyll Island Club Resort as their new IT specialist. In reality, as the daughter of the owner of a huge resort chain, she spent her early childhood there. After eighteen years she has returned to find out what happened to her best friend Lisbeth who recently died while tracking down leads on Torie’s mother’s death.
Someone recognizes Torie and wants her to abandon her investigation. Who knows how far this creepy person will go in intimidating her and what their motive might be. Is it personal or does it have anything to do with the war games the Navy is conducting? Is Torie getting too close to the truth or does this involve the many important visitors the hotel is expecting for a major financial meeting?
Joe Abbott trains dolphins to intercept saboteurs and lives at the resort with his eight year old daughter Hailey in exchange for providing security. He is caught up in issues with the Navy when Simon, a dolphin he is training, catches a diver planting a bomb. As Torie’s neighbor on Jekyll Island, Joe becomes involved in protecting her from a mysterious stalker. He has not been interested in dating in the three years since his wife died, but he is attracted to Torie and she is drawn to his daughter Hailey as they share a sense of loss that both experienced in losing their mothers as children.
A Stranger’s Game is a fast-paced mystery that includes some psychological creepiness and suspense, but not enough for me to classify it as a thriller. It has a touch of clean romance, but the emphasis is on the plot. The Jekyll Island Club Resort setting is critical to the story. The characters are allowed to develop as the story progresses. The novel contains adventure and three major plot lines along with cross threads that give the book both color and cohesion. I did not guess the identity of the criminals behind the detailed plotting of various crimes or those who executed the plans. Well done! Colleen Coble has created a standalone that will send you looking for more of her books.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Mystery, Christian Fiction, Romantic Suspense
Publication: January 4, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction
“It’s hard to understand even for adults. But evil things happen to all of us, honey. Hard things, bad things. We don’t understand and a lot of the time, we can’t understand because we aren’t God. When those times come—and they come to everyone—all we can do is trust that God loves us.”
“By its very nature, life involves loss. If we stop taking chances, stop living our lives, we might as well crawl in the grave and let someone kick the dirt over us. Real life is worth the risk.”
The reserve she’d donned all her life had made ruts through her soul, tracks she followed like a mule plodding a well-worn trail.
A Tourist’s Guide to Murder
by V.M. Burns
Samantha Washington (Sam) is the owner of a mystery bookshop in North Harbor and has just landed a three book deal with a publishing house. She will spend the next week in England doing research for the British historic cozy mystery she is writing. She is slated for a mystery tour accompanied by her Nana Jo and Nana’s three best friends from the Shady Acres Retirement Village. Of the four senior citizens, not a one meets the stereotype of frail, little old ladies. They have a reputation for helping Sam solve mysteries that come her way through interviews, eavesdropping, feminine wiles, deduction, and the occasional use of martial arts as two of them have blackbelts. They keep the plot moving and the reader laughing.
There are complications just in reaching London with jet lag and no luggage, but that’s only the beginning of their troubles. The owner of the tour company is murdered, but the police, oddly, are not investigating. Unfortunately, there is another murder, and one of the assigned detectives is “as bright as a burned-out light bulb” and “a few sandwiches short of a picnic.” It’s time for Sam, Nana Jo, and “the girls” to join forces to discover the truth.
In order to free up her conscious mind when stymied in her investigations, Sam spends time when she can’t sleep or between tour stops writing her own mystery. Although the book she is writing takes place in 1939, Sam is able to use elements in the murders she is currently investigating and apply the principles to her own mystery with great success. When the flow of the contemporary mystery was first interrupted with this secondary story, I was a little miffed because I wanted the action to continue in the primary story. By the time I reached the next transition to 1939, however, I was anxious to read about the progress made in Sam’s own whodunit. The character Sam’s writing seems a little stilted at first, compared to the rest of the book, but that is perhaps due to the titles of “Lord” and “Lady” still being used along with formalities involved with a household of servants and adherence to etiquette rules. It is quite a contrast to our contemporary society.
I enjoyed Sam’s eagerness in visiting The Grand Hotel in Torquay where Agatha Christie honeymooned in 1914 and the Torquay Museum that displays the famous author’s memorabilia and items from movies based on her books. Next they went to Greenway, Christie’s home in Devon where she wrote many of her books. Sam “fangirled” on the tour of the house taking many pictures and drooling over first editions. Because of the two murders, the itinerary for the trip had to be revised several times, but most of the highlights are still included, and the group is able to visit several places that were alleged to be the settings or inspiration of mysteries by authors like Dorothy L. Sayers and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
If you like cozy mysteries, you can’t get any more “bookish” than V.M. Burns’ A Tourist’s Guide to Murder. It has two plots within the same book, a tour of significant literary locations, a writer-sleuth, and a mystery bookstore. It’s not heaven, but it’s pretty close. The tour intentionally lays on some misdirection, and there are red herrings in both plots to keep you guessing. The retirement home group is anything but retiring: they bring to minds phrases like “more fun than a barrel of monkeys” and “herding cats.” I want to read more from this series.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #6 in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. This was my first book in this series and I had no problem reading it as a standalone.
2. There are many reasons to read this book, but one of them should not be the two cute toy poodles on the cover. They belong to Sam, but she doesn’t take them with her to England, so they are only briefly mentioned in the book.
Publication: January 26, 2021—Kensington
Lady Clara’s cheeks flamed and her eyes flashed. After a split second, she gave the captain a smile and then stomped down hard on his foot. “Oooph.” Captain Jessup bent over in pain. “Dear me, was that your foot?” Lady Clara said in a voice that oozed sweetness.
Nana Jo glanced at Hannah. “I don’t know about your national health care system, but in the United States, the pharmaceutical companies are running the whole country, and they’ve got a pill for everything.”
“Let’s face it, Stinky Pitt couldn’t find a killer who was standing naked in the middle of the street with a neon sign over his head.” Nana Jo and the girls nodded. Hannah looked confused. “Stinky Pitt?” Ruby Mae looks up from her knitting. “He’s the local detective in North Harbor, Michigan.” “Not the sharpest knife in the drawer?” “I’ve got sharper spoons.”
The Magician’s Nephew
by C.S. Lewis
I entered The Magician’s Nephew not really knowing what to expect. It was written by C.S. Lewis the year prior to the publication of the last book in the series, The Last Battle, which I have not read yet. At the suggestion of a member of our book club who was actually rereading the series, we inserted The Magician’s Nephew immediately before The Last Battle—not because it belongs there chronologically, but because it could perhaps be appreciated better at that point in our reading. I don’t think you could go wrong with any sequence of these books! C.S. Lewis intended it to be read first in his Chronicles of Narnia, but by the time it was first published, many of his readers would have already greedily devoured the first five books. It is indeed a prequel to the delightful The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe, but for those who have already read that first classic tale, you will enjoy the “ah ha” moments that arise as Lewis gives you a backstory that renders both subtle and obvious connections. It never has the feel of a book written at the instigation of a publisher who just wants to squeeze more out of a popular series. It seems that it is Lewis’ desire to bring the pictures he has painted in his novels together with cohesion and forward looking vision.
In The Magician’s Nephew, a story which begins in London, you will learn of the creation of the world Narnia, meet Aslan the Lion, and witness the awakening of the Witch. There are many connections to the creation of Earth and its population as found in the Bible; but of course it is Narnia and in this fictional realm we learn how the animals came to talk and see the never changing character of Aslan who reigns with power and love, who grieves for the things that grieve us, and gives us hope during times of devastation.
This book has sad and fearful moments as well as happy and triumphant ones. The humor as the animals plant and water Uncle Andrew in hopes that the poor “plant” will revive is more refreshing to the reader than to Uncle Andrew! The pure evil of Jadis the Witch is the stuff of ancient fairy tales as is the conflict of good and evil. The characters are ones you can feel strongly about. The setting, as always with C.S. Lewis, is so vividly and well described that you can visualize both the “real” world of London and fictional worlds to which the children (main characters Digory and Polly) can transport themselves. As to plot, it constantly throws in surprises, but events are always connected. It becomes a quick read, not because it is short or light reading, but because it is so much fun to read. As with all the books in the series, it can be read as a child enjoys fiction or as an adult looking for deeper meaning. I suggest you read it both ways at once. Come to the story for entertainment and leave with the enrichment of a well-told tale imbued with rich symbolism.
Category: Fiction, Christian
Notes: #1 in The Chronicles of Narnia series, but can be read at any time in the reading of the series. Warning: If this book is your first experience with this series, you will probably want to read more!
This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children. It is perfect for a read-aloud.
Publication: 1955—Harper Collins
For what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what sort of person you are.
She has won her heart’s desire; she has unwearying strength and endless days like a goddess. But length of days with an evil heart is only length of misery and already she begins to know it. All get what they want; they do not always like it.
For the rest of that day, whenever he looked at the things about him, and saw how ordinary and unmagical they were, he hardly dared to hope; but when he remembered the face of Aslan he did hope.
Murder in a Teacup
by Vicki Delany
The Locality: Cape Cod Bay in North Augusta, Massachusetts
The Setting: Victoria-on-Sea, a B&B owned by the elderly Rose Campbell
Tea by the Sea, a tearoom on the B&B property operated by Rose’s granddaughter Lily Roberts
Friends: Bernie, AKA the Princess Warrior, a frustrated writer
Simon McCracken, horticulturalist from England hired as a temporary gardener
Pets: Rose’s cat Robbie
Lily’s Labradoodle, Éclair
Vicki Delany’s Murder in a Teacup centers around a family reunion with events at both businesses. The organizer is Heather, a very wealthy, young, New York widow who is paying all expenses for the trip for her grandmother and her estranged, greedy family—her father, mother, brother and his wife and their two teenagers—all from Idaho. Also included in the fun are Heather’s brother-in-law and his wife. No one seems to know that the other side of the family is invited. If you look up “dysfunctional” in the dictionary, you will probably find this family listed as an example.
There is a death that is possibly attributable to something served at one of the establishments. That is bad news for both businesses when the police shut down the tearoom. Not only are cancellations necessary, but social media is going to have a field day. Lily cooks for both facilities. Rose and Lily desperately need to be open as they depend on summer tourist income to get them through the winter. The further complication is that the murderer must still be at the B&B and is probably part of the family.
I kept changing my mind as to who the murderer is: an easy thing to do with so many unlikable characters. Pulling together possible motives is easier than pinpointing opportunity once the method of murder is discovered. The identity reveal comes as a shock to the characters and to the reader.
There are subplots that add interest. Lily’s life has an intense pace as she puts in 12-14 hour days seven days a week struggling to make both businesses succeed. Bernie gave up her Manhattan job as a forensic accountant to become a writer but is having trouble settling into her new profession. There are the barest beginnings of a romance for both young ladies. The pets are ever-present but don’t participate much in the action. I enjoyed watching the conflict between the two detectives on the case play out. One is lazy and fumbling. His counterpart is sharp and cares. Both are limited in what information they can share with Lily and the others making it more difficult for Lily, Rose, and Bernie in their informal investigations, but they persist anyway.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #2 in the Tea by the Sea Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone as the author provides all needed background information while diving into the current story.
2. Recipes at the end of the book include Chocolate Chip Cookies for children’s tea, Shortbread Cookies, and Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches.
Publication: July 21, 2021—Kensington
Plump orange and raisin scones in the middle, perfectly cut sandwiches on the bottom, delicious sweets on the top: a carefully controlled explosion of color, shape, and flavor.
Matt was a true-crime writer, successful enough to have been able to buy his family property when his father wanted to sell it, but not successful enough to be able to pay for all the renovations it needed.
“Stay!” Her ears dropped, her face crumbled, her tail drooped. Slowly, ever so slowly, she crawled under the table and sat down. She let out a mighty sigh and stared at me through enormous liquid brown eyes. “Drama queen,” I said as I bent over and reached under the table to give her an affectionate pat.
When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence
by Squire Rushnell
I used to be intrigued by coincidences, seemingly chance occurrences that draw you to ponder how an event could happen at a certain time and place. As I have experienced these coincidences over the years, I have come to recognize that they do not happen by chance, but are part of the bigger plan of an omniscient, omnipotent, loving God. That idea is what When GOD Winks at YOU is all about, and its subtitle is How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence.
In this short, inspirational book, Squire Bushnell shares numerous examples of how “Every time you receive what some call a coincidence or an answered prayer, it’s a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you—what I call a godwink.” The anecdotes feature strangers, family members, friends, and celebrities. They are tales of God working in people’s lives in amazing ways.
The godwink might be an arrangement of events that lead toward a goal or it might be a “message of reassurance” that God sees you, hears you, and is there to support you. It could be an answer to prayer or a guidepost giving you direction.
Some of the stories are sad, some are happy, but all are fascinating. Rushnell, a former television president and CEO, is an excellent writer, taking what could be a long story with a confusing timeline and recording it in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. After introducing the concept of godwinks, the author follows with eight more chapters based on instances of godwinks in various scenarios such as transitions, unanswered prayer, and quests. All are interesting, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite as each addresses a different area of concern. Rushnell adds his own brief commentary and interpretation to each chapter very unobtrusively. A feature I enjoyed is a scattering of quotes throughout the book as sidebars. They are short, closely related to the theme, and never interrupt or repeat the text. The content within each chapter flows. Although it could probably be read in one or two sittings, it could also be spaced out into a chapter or even part of a chapter per day. Any way you choose to read When God Winks at You, you will find inspiring reading that will lead you to look for the godwinks, past and present, in your own life.
Category: Christian, Inspirational
Notes: This book is one of many “godwinks” books written by this author. There are ones that focus on specific topics like marriage and prayer and Christmas themed godwinks books. I am interested in reading Dogwinks: True Godwink Stories of Dogs and the Blessings They Bring.
Publication: 2006—Thomas Nelson
Every godwink is another reminder—another small, still message from God—that everything is going to be okay. Someday you will see everything from His perspective, and you’ll understand.
Some people have a divine desire placed into their hearts at a very early age that becomes a beacon to follow like a medieval knight’s quest. God erects signs along the way to guide us on our journey—godwinks to assure us that we are indeed on the right path.
The chain of godwinks that showered peace and forgiveness on two families on opposite sides of the globe is a remarkable tribute to God’s power in each of our lives and how He places signposts of reassurance along the paths of each of our quests.
A Portrait of Emily Price
by Katherine Reay
There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.
Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.
Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.
Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.
Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers
It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.
Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.
…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.
This week, as the holiday weeks in the U.S. come to an end, I will be putting away my Christmas decorations. May 2022 be a year of blessings, peace, and good health for you and those you love and pray for. Happy New Year!