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A Stranger’s Game–from the boardroom to a boardgame

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian Fiction, Romantic Suspense

Notes: Standalone

Publication: January 4, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“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.

The Magician’s Nephew–another C.S. Lewis masterpiece

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.

Rating: 5/5

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

Memorable Lines:

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.

When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence

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.

Rating: 5/5

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

Memorable Lines:

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–forgiveness

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.

Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers

Memorable Lines:

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.

The Horse and His Boy–excellent storytelling

The Horse and His Boy

by C. S. Lewis

Herein lies the tale of Shasta, abused son sold as a slave. He joins forces with Aravis who is trying to avoid marriage to a much older, ugly, powerful, rich man. Shasta and Aravis devise a plan of escape that includes their Narnian horses who can, of course, talk.

There are many complications on their adventure including mistaken identity for Shasta and recognition of Aravis by an old friend. Lucy and Edmund, characters from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, play minor roles in this book as does their big sister Susan. Her rebuff of a suitor, Prince Rabadash, could cause a war.

Aslan, the Lion, appears and disappears, always a part of events as they occur. The characters learn that there is more to happenings than luck or chance. Even those who don’t already know about Aslan immediately feel there is something special about Him when they first encounter Him.

The Horse and His Boy includes characters who are noble and heroic and also those who are traitors. Aslan gives the despicable Prince Rabadash a second chance, and the outcome is perfectly constructed. It is fitting, but I certainly couldn’t have predicted it.

The Horse and His Boy is another storytelling triumph by C.S. Lewis who again has written a book that can be enjoyed on two levels. It is a fascinating fantasy, but it can also be read with religious themes in mind. Regardless of your reading goals, you will enjoy this entertaining fantasy without the intricate world building of current fantasies.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is #3 in The Chronicles of Narnia. 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. The series begins with the highly popular The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but many readers find each one of the books in the series to be their “favorite” as they encounter it.

Publication: 1954—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Aravis immediately began, sitting quite still and using a rather different tone and style from her usual one. For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.

“I must have come through the pass in the night. What luck that I hit it!—at least it wasn’t luck at all really, it was Him, and now I’m in Narnia.”

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.”

The Deeds of the Deceitful–diverse group, common goals

The Deeds of the Deceitful

by Ellery Adams and Tina Radcliffe

Richmond, Virginia, is the setting for this delightful cozy mystery The Deeds of the Deceitful by a team of two authors, Ellery Adams and Tina Radcliffe. I could tell at once that I had jumped into the middle of a series, but the authors did a great job of identifying the main characters. Cooper Lee is a manager at Make It Work! where she is in charge of office machine repairs. She is also part of her church’s Sunshine Bible Study, a group who gathers to study the Bible but somehow finds itself in the middle of crime investigations. Currently, the diverse group is studying the book of Proverbs and are amazed at how often they can apply Biblical wisdom to solving crimes and in their personal lives.

The Sunshine Bible Study is invited to a soft opening of the Atwood Inn. There are issues between the two owners, and one has a car accident under suspicious circumstances during this special weekend. Another crime occurs there that same night. Are they related? There are several major suspects, and the Sunshine Bible Study group feels compelled to investigate as friends come under scrutiny.

Meanwhile, Cooper is trying to help with her boss’ marriage vows renewal, and she meets an attractive chef at the inn. She is thirty-five, single having broken off two engagements, and can only afford to live above her parents’ garage as she pays off her cancelled wedding reservations. Her mother’s emerging pastry business may be ruined, especially if the Atwood Inn can not recover from all of the bad publicity.

Cooper is one busy lady and a very likable main character. I’m looking forward to reading more in this series. It’s clean, has interesting characters, and moves forward at a fast pace. The interaction with the police is believable as the police do not overshare and the Sunshine Study Group keeps the authorities in the loop with their discoveries.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Hope Street Church Mystery Series, but worked great for me as a standalone.
2. Includes 3 recipes at the end.

Publication: November 10, 2020— Beyond the Page Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“Hiring staff and dealing with Chef Mayberry has been like juggling meatballs with one hand tied behind my back.”

Perhaps it was divine appointment, because each time they were able to support someone who desperately needed their help and didn’t have anyone else to advocate for them.

“Any big plans for the holiday?” “If dead-heading marigolds is big plans, I’ll be knee-deep in the fun,” she said.

The Blended Quilt–quilt with Amish and Hawaiian themes

The Blended Quilt

by Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter

The Plain people, or the Amish, are the focus of The Blended Quilt by Wanda E. Brunstetter and Jean Brunstetter. The premise is simple: Amish boy (Wyman) courts Amish girl (Sadie). The story does not roll out quite that simply however. Sadie is inspired to design a quilt that blends her Amish quilting knowledge and skills with her experiences on a cruise to Hawaii. Her success in making this unusual quilt leads her to write a book about her time in Hawaii and her work on the quilt. A frugal girl, she works hard and saves her money. Wyman spends money he doesn’t have and changes jobs frequently whenever he decides he is bored.

There are so many issues to be resolved. When Sadie inherits a sizable sum, it causes jealousy within the family. There is also resentment as her quilt and book projects take time away from chores at home and courting with Wyman. Is the problem that Sadie has changed or that others are not supportive?

Although I enjoyed the story, I didn’t find that the resolutions to the problems were explained thoroughly or realistically enough. It was all too easy; I still had many unanswered questions. It is an interesting story with a dramatic, unexpected event leading to the conclusion. There were yet many relationship issues to be worked through, however, before there could really be a “happily ever after.”

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: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Christian

Notes: At the end of the book there are questions for discussion and a recipe for Sadie’s Coconut Carrot Cake.

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

Memorable Lines:

Don’t let yourself become full of hochmut, Sadie told herself as she took one final look at the quilt before leaving her room. It was never a good thing to let pride set in over anything a person said or did.

“God’s ways are not our ways, and accidents can happen when least expected. When the Lord calls us home, Grace, we go to be with Him.”

“Would you like my advice?” “Of course.” “Pray about the matter—ask God what He wants you to do with the rest of your life.”

The Silver Chair–the rescue of a prince

The Silver Chair

by C. S. Lewis

Eustace, who became a changed person for the better in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is given another opportunity to visit Narnia. He and Jill, a school friend, escape bullies by slipping through an unlocked gate at the school. Aslan, the Lion, has orchestrated the adventure to send them on a mission to locate the missing Prince Rilian who has been under the spell of a witch for ten years.

They are accompanied by Puddleglum, a Marsh-Wiggle, a delightfully morose character who can always find the potential bad in any situation. Despite his melancholy disposition, he proves to be a loyal, trustworthy, and brave companion. He also provides some levity for the reader during the perilous adventures.

Aslan gives the children four signs to follow. Their intentions are good, but they are not entirely successful. They escape from deceptive, hungry giants and are captured by Earthmen who take them to the Deep Realm in the Underland. When they find Prince Rilian, they have to decide on following his instructions or relying on the signs Aslan has given them.

As in all of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair can be enjoyed as a fantasy or with little effort as a tome replete with symbolism. In this allegory, Aslan represents Jesus who is both the Lion and the sacrificial Lamb in the Bible, and the children are his followers. He provides direction and guidance, but his followers still have choices. One outstanding example of the Biblical parallel is when Prince Rilian declare to the children that “Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die.” This same sentiment is uttered by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament when they are threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar with being thrown into a furnace. They respond “our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 17 & 18 ESV).

The Silver Chair is the fourth book in The Chronicles of Narnia for me. I expected that I would not like any as much as the first, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. To my surprise, I have enjoyed all of them almost equally. Each one is fresh and engaging. The setting and characters overlap, but each adventure has the addition of new characters and stands on its own merits.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Publication: 1953—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“The bright side of it is,” said Puddleglum, “that if we break our necks getting down the cliff, then we’re safe from being drowned in the river.”

And though you might have expected that the idea of having a good time at Harfang would have made them more cheerful, it really made them more sorry for themselves and more grumpy and snappy with each other and with Puddleglum.

“And the lesson of it all is, your Highness,” said the oldest Dwarf, “that those Northern Witches always mean the same thing, but in every age they have a different plan for getting it.”

God Will Help You–overcoming the hard times

God Will Help You

by Max Lucado

Even in the best of times, we all have troubles, difficulties to face. In this pandemic, many are overwhelmed by the chaos, the darkness, the isolation of lockdowns. For some, the depths of despair have led to suicide, but Max Lucado has a better answer for this “winter of our discontent”….God. In God Will Help You, Lucado says “No matter the challenge or the question, by God’s grace you can face it. He is up to the task. And he will help you.”

Lucado is, by nature, a storyteller, and he uses stories, both from the Bible and from encounters he has had with others, to demonstrate some of the ways God can intervene in our stories. In each chapter, he addresses a different issue and then provides questions for reflection and Bible verses to remind you of God’s help. He closes each chapter with a prayer that you can pray in those circumstances, because sometimes we are so overwhelmed that we just don’t even know how to frame our petitions. Lucado has a way with words. In talking, for example, about God’s grace, he says we have been “doused” with it. What a perfect description!

So, if you’re feeling anxious, fearful, stuck in your circumstances, lonely, sick, or filled with grief, Max Lucado can’t fix those problems, but he can direct you to Jesus. You see, God already knows about your unsolved problems and your struggles to negotiate everyday life. He sees your heart and understands your needs. He is there to give you guidance. In his book God Will Help You, Lucado shows how God will come alongside you each and every day.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help, Inspirational

Notes: Having gone through a lot of changes in my life, especially in the last twelve years, I found this statement particularly meaningful: “So make friends with whatever’s next. Embrace it. Accept it. Don’t resist it. Change is not only a part of life; change is a necessary part of God’s strategy. To use us to change the world, he alters our assignments.”

Publication: December 29, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional. Anxiety is not a sin; it is an emotion. (So don’t be anxious about feeling anxious.)

…celebrate his goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness. These characteristics of God remain true no matter what you are going through.

But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him, then even the smallest incidents take on significance.

Had Jesus chosen to do so, he could have proclaimed a cloud of healing blessings to fall upon the crowd. But he is not a one size-fits-all Savior. He placed his hands on each one, individually, personally. Perceiving unique needs, he issued unique blessings.

Autumn Skies–sweet romance with action included

Autumn Skies

by Denise Hunter

Survivor’s guilt is a difficult subject, but it is a theme in Denise Hunter’s Autumn Skies, a touching romance. When Molly finds a buyer for the family business and home, it turns everyone’s world upside down at the Bluebell Inn, but that is nothing compared to the effect of her sister Gracie’s attraction to the mysterious guest, Wyatt. Both have secrets and neither wants to let the other get close.

Gracie and Wyatt are likable characters. Gracie is young, independent, and determined to show her brother and sister that she is an adult. Wyatt, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the line of duty. If he wants to prove he has psychologically recovered from the event, he has to reach back into his past and recover from an even worse childhood trauma. He comes to Bluebell Inn for that sole purpose. I recommend this excellent read. It’s a clean page-turner with some adventure and action. The characters are trying so hard that you will want things to work out for them despite what seems like insurmountable problems.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Christian

Notes: This is the final book in the Bluebell Inn Novels, a trilogy. It is perfect as a standalone, but you will find yourself wanting to read the other novels in the series.

Publication: October 20, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Molly loved this about her man. While her first thought was worry, his was prayer. He offered a quiet, fervent prayer that hit all the points she was fretting over.

For a man with a poker face, he was wearing regret this morning like a neon suit.

Whereas Grace was like a balmy summer evening, her sister was like a whirlwind. And her brother a sudden storm front.

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