Month: September 2020

Book Review: The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

“The Edge of Belonging” by Amanda Cox is a wonderful, heartfelt story about the true meaning of love and family. It’s told in two timelines: present day, in which main character Ivy returns home to clear out her deceased grandmother’s house, and twenty+ years earlier, when Ivy was an infant. Both timelines were amazingly well-written, and I very much enjoyed reading both of them and trying to anticipate how they would eventually come together.

All of the major characters (Ivy, Harvey, Pearl, and Reese) are beautifully drawn and very detailed. Each seems very real and knowable, which unique strengths and weaknesses. I enjoyed seeing how each learned knew things and grew throughout the course of the story.

In addition to great storylines, this book packs quite an emotional punch. I freely admit to crying several times due to the situations and the beauty of the storytelling. The final effect was almost cathartic, as I felt like I had emerged on the other end of the situations right along with the characters.

There is a strong Christian message throughout the book. Most of the major characters are Christians at the start of the story, and it was nice to see how each lived their faith out in their lives. Pearl, in particular, was truly inspirational.

If you’re looking for a strong, interesting story, great characters who experience personal growth, and a strong Christian worldview, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this book.

Five out of five chunks of smooth medium Cheddar!

Book Review: Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength by Kelly A. Nix

“Kaji Warriors: Shifting Strength” by Kelly A. Nix is an impressive debut novel. The world-building was outstanding. The author was able to give me a pretty good sense of this world and how it works early on, with plenty of additional detail to follow throughout the rest of the story. By the end, the depth Ms. Nix had created was truly amazing!

Main character Atae was also excellent. She was well-drawn and very detailed, with lots of strengths as well as enough weaknesses to make her realistic and likeable. I enjoyed reading about her life and aspirations, and getting to know her as I read. I also appreciated other key characters, especially Solum and Jequi, who both added a great deal to the storyline.

The plot itself was a blend of political intrigue, personal relationships, and a Hunger-Games-esque tournament toward which everything is leading. There was always something interesting going on, with character development along the way. I’m very much looking forward to the next book in the series to see what will happen as these characters move on to their next big challenge: The Gridiron!

5 out of 5 cups of shredded mozzarella!

Book Review: Nine by Rachelle Decker

“Nine” by Rachelle Dekker is an impressive, fast-paced novel. The action starts with the opening scene, and it doesn’t ever seem to let up. Even when characters are taking a break and just talking to each other, that never-ending sense of tension is still there. Some thrillers seem to be “all action, no real substance”, but that definitely is NOT the case here. Rachelle Dekker is very skilled at keeping the plot moving along while never easing off on the important personal details that make this story so much more than a typical action/adventure.

The three main characters (Zoe, a small-town waitress with a mysterious past; Lucy, a teenager with no memory of her own past; and Seeley, an agent with a complicated past) are all incredibly well drawn and detailed. I enjoyed learning more about each of them as the story progressed, and felt like I truly “knew” all three by the book’s end.

Once you finish enjoying all the action and see what happens to the characters at the end, you can take a deep breath and realize…..all that excitement wasn’t REALLY what the book was about at all. The riveting storyline was the backdrop for an exploration of the theme of how much your past does or does not influence your present. As each character moves through this adventure, he or she contemplates the past and thinks about its effects on who they are in the present. Each also considers, in his/her own way, whether or not there’s anything they can do about the past, and whether it’s possible to write a new narrative for the future.

This is a work of Christian fiction. God is definitely present throughout the story, but more in His “still, small voice” form than in more overt ways. Personally, I liked seeing how the characters responded to God speaking to them, even if they didn’t really know Him. As a Christian, I walked away with some important things to think after reading this book.

One note: While this is definitely a Christian book, some hard-core things take place. People get shot, people die, people are tortured. Nothing overly graphic in the descriptions, but if violence is a trigger for you, please be aware that you’ll find some in this novel. I thought everything was appropriate and important to the plot, not just thrown in gratuitously, and did not detract from the message.

All in all, I loved the story. Five out of five slices of perfectly-aged Provolone.

Book Review: Three Treats Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

“Three Treats Too Many” is the third book in the Sarah Blair series by Debra H. Goldstein, and is a fabulous addition to the series! Goldstein has scored a home run with main character Sarah, who is practical, straight-forward, and genuinely kind. I’ve enjoyed watching Sarah’s growth through the first two books, and was pleased to see it continue in this one. I also appreciate that Sarah herself knows and admits she still has some self-improvement to do, and spends some time thinking about it. I can’t wait to see what comes next for her. Minor characters (including snippy rival Jane, up-and-coming politician Anne, Rah-Rah the Siamese cat, and Fluffy the puppy) are also well-drawn, with distinctive personalities. I’m particularly excited to see what Anne will tackle in upcoming books!

In this installment, Sarah gets involved when a young woman is murdered near her home/business, and one of her friends is the main suspect.

Once again, Ms. Goldstein manages to avoid the typical cozy mystery romance tropes. Three books into the series, and our heroine is still single, and just embarking on a new romantic relationship that definitely takes a back seat to the rest of the story. That is refreshing! Yes, cozy fans, a mystery can be fabulous and filled with important relationships without focusing on romance (or a love triangle).

I honestly didn’t know who to suspect until very near the end, when some new clues come to light. Everything made sense at that point, but I honestly had never thought of the killer as a suspect.

Everything about this book was great…the characters, the pets, the mystery, the descriptions and world-building….give this series a try! You won’t be disappointed!

Five out of five perfect chunks of ultra-sharp cheddar!

Book Review: Gone Daddy Blues by Jane Tesh

Every so often, I’ll pick up a book midway through a series, and enjoy it so much I can’t believe I hadn’t been reading it since book one. “Gone Daddy Blues” was one of those cases! It’s book 7 in the Grace Street Mysteries series, but the first one I’ve read. From the perspective of someone who missed books 1-6, I can say that this title definitely works as a standalone. I had no trouble jumping right in and figuring out who everyone was and their relationships with one another. Some brief mentions of earlier events had me curious to start from the beginning, and I’ve already acquired the first book in the series, “Stolen Hearts”. However, the references to the past weren’t overwhelming, and knowledge of those old cases isn’t necessary to completely understand and enjoy this story.

Main character David is a private investigator who (helpfully) has the ear and friendship of the main local detective. His best friend (and owner of the boardinghouse he lives in) Camden is a psychic, which also comes in handy during investigations. I enjoyed how all three men sometimes worked together in the name of solving the case and saving lives. Of note, David has a bit of paranormal skill himself, as he occasionally hears from spirits, including his deceased daughter.

This book centers on two inter-related cases: David is asked to track down a teenage girl’s deadbeat father, and a serial killer is targeting local blond women. Both are interesting cases and it was enjoyable to watch David working on them, both with and without the help of Jordan (detective) and Camden. I liked the birds-eye view into the inner workings of a PI agency, and the various tactics David employed to find resolution for his clients. While the deadbeat dad case was fairly straightforward, the serial killer issue involved plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, and people to interview. I give “Gone Daddy Blues” high marks for being an all-around quality mystery novel.

What made me really love the book, and made it stand out in the genre, was the relationship between David and Camden. It’s clear that the two men enjoy a real, genuine friendship, and it was a delight to observe their interactions. They almost seem like brothers, having fun together, helping each other, and bringing out the best in each other. I am eager to go back to the first book and see how it all began.

All in all, I happily give “Gone Daddy Blues” five out of five chunks of yummy Camembert.