Fiction review: No Filter

No Filter is Book 1 in the The Barks and Beans Café Mystery Series, by Heather Day Gilbert.

Macy is a recently divorced young woman who goes back home to Lewisburg, WV to undertake a new business venture with her brother, Bo. It’s a novel idea—pun totally intended—mixing dog petting with a coffee shop. Bo’s former career had made him perfect for the coffee part, and the brother and sister think, if people get attached to the shelter dogs, some of them will get adopted into good homes. The Barks and Beans Café is a brand new start for two young adults who need it. Macy says yes.

She soon moves into her deceased aunt’s house, and she and Bo go into business. The Barks and Beans appeals to the up and comings as well as the established people in town, and the mysteries begin.

The golf instructor is dead, “whacked in the head with a golf club and found face down in a shallow pond.”

Macy soon adopts a gorgeous black Great Dane, and he happens to have belonged to the murdered man.

The more Macy gets involved, the more danger she’s in. The suspect list gets longer and longer. Something just doesn’t add up.

Soon, Macy’s dog is missing.

Despite her brother’s protective warnings, Macy goes out on her own. Not only is she looking for the dog, she’s looking for the killer.

Poor Alice never gets to taste the eclairs.

This book is a page-turner, for sure. Twists, turns, and as many suspects as an Agatha Christie novel. There are lots of quirky people from all walks of life. You won’t be disappointed.

I was thoroughly entertained, on the edge of my seat, and loving every minute of this novel. The end partially wraps things up, leaving plenty of room for a sequel—which is already written. (Iced Over is Book 2. Fair Trade is Book 3.)

Mrs. Gilbert’s writing is excellent. This book is squeaky clean in every way—except for murder, of course. She doesn’t even leave out tea drinkers and cat people. Do you enjoy art? There’s some of that, too.

You will love it. Easily five stars.

Fiction Review: The Edge of Mercy

The Edge of Mercy by Heidi Chiavaroli begins when Sarah is on a huge rock and accidentally drops and loses her wedding rings. Her husband has asked her for a summer separation, and worse, he’s invited their teenage son to spend it with him.

Sarah is mad, perplexed, and doesn’t understand at all. Why would Matt need a break from her? Sarah thought everything was going well. No way is she going to talk to Matt about it either. He needed to come to her.

They live in a very nice house with a beautifully manicured lawn. Their son, Kyle, is terrific, and Sarah had thought everything was fine.

Sarah’s neighbor lady dies, and in her will are several surprises. In order not to spoil, I don’t want to tell you more. You simply need to read this.

The parallel stories–one historical, the other Sarah’s–are incredible. The way Ms. Chiavaroli weaves the historical story with the present is masterful.

I loved the stories. The writing is superb, and there’s a wonderful, satisfying ending. I definitely look forward to reading more from this author.

Five stars.

Advisory: While this is a clean story with good moral tone, it is only for mature adults. There is some sensuality in both married and extra-marital contexts. Nothing is graphic, but I personally wouldn’t want a young teenager to read this one.

Fiction Review: Grace Like A River Flows

Grace Like A River Flows is the first book I’ve read by R. Marshall Wright. I look forward to reading more.

Billy Maddox is the proverbial “meaner than a junkyard dog” kind of person. He beats his girlfriend, abuses liquor, and leaves his trash around his badly kept home.

Glencoe is a nice little town, but the Oaks—where Billy lives—is across the tracks and another story entirely. Not even the police like going there.

Brad and his dog Beasley find out Billy is beating Heather, and Brad decides to do something about it. His methods may not be acceptable to the law but they’re effective, and the sheriff doesn’t mind a little bit of help. Brad becomes the conscience of those who act like Billy, and there are several in this town who need his special voice to their consciences.

Reagan Lamb is the pastor at Glencoe Community Church. He has a big heart and an excellent grasp of the gospel. He knows Jesus can transform lives and wants his congregation to get a taste of revival. Reagan’s one vice—if you can call it that—is driving his 1991 Miata sportscar … fast. He has a good marriage and a solid home. If only his church could get a vision for its community.

He answers the call to go and see Heather in the hospital. He can hardly recognize her, since her face is bruised and swollen.

Brad goes to work with his unique brand of “angelic” persuasion, and Pastor Reagan gets busy, too. The Oaks might never be the same.

I absolutely loved this book. For one thing, it has heart—a gospel-centered heart. It is also fast-paced and story-driven.

The writing is not without a few grammar and spelling mistakes, and it uses some crude words (no cursing). Also, there’s some violence, and there are references to bodily functions. But, this is one of the few books I have read where those flaws and my personal preferences didn’t disturb my great enjoyment. Maybe it’s the substance over style thing, but maybe it’s just that it’s a great read, period.

I wish Mr. Wright would have gotten this book professionally edited, but truthfully, it’s charming as it is. His pastor’s heart and down-to-earth style, coupled with his military background, make this a good read for any Christian.

Mr. Wright has written at least two more books. I look forward to reading them.

Five stars for sure.

Fiction review: Sand Creek Serenade

Sand Creek Serenade, by Jennifer Uhlarik, is highly recommended, and I can certainly understand why. The writing and storyline flow beautifully, and the story is refreshingly different. It’s historical fiction set in 1864, just before, during, and after the Sand Creek Massacre. The story follows the unlikely romance between Dr. Sadie Hoppner and the Cheyenne warrior, Five Kills.

I loved Sadie immediately. She’s feisty, smart, caring, and independent, but she relies on the Lord for guidance. Her brother is an important part of her life—though he’s sometimes far from helpful. Romantic intentions from Gabriel only make the story sweeter.

The massacre itself is horrible, a blot on America’s history. I have a difficult time understanding this level of cruelty and disregard for human life. I believe the author feels this way, as well. She shows both sides of the story and handles this horrible subject with care and realism. Although she describes the horrors, she weaves the massacre into the story in such a way as to keep the story moving through this trauma.

The romance between Sadie and Five Kills develops slowly and is told in a sweet way. I don’t usually read romances at all, but this one seemed just about right to me.

For your information, there are several passionate kisses between Sadie and Five Kills before they marry. (Sorry for the spoiler.) Especially at the end of the book it’s rather frank about the physical attraction between them. The scenes from the massacre are horrible. In addition, there are a few descriptions of torture. I believe this book is for mature women only.

Sand Creek Serenade includes an appearance of the Lord Jesus as Healer and as an answer to prayer. He is presented as Savior. I read some of the reviews where this appearance of the Lord is criticized, and I value others’ opinions. However, I personally didn’t have any problem with this. This book is fiction. I also didn’t see anything theologically wrong with the way this was presented. Jesus does heal. Jesus could appear—should He choose—to anyone, anywhere. He might reveal Himself supernaturally from time to time, though we shouldn’t expect it.

I enjoyed Sand Creek Serenade, and I think you will, too. Five stars.

Fiction Review: Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar

Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar is the first book I’ve read by Carol Guthrie Heilman, but it won’t be the last. It’s quirky and fun, but there’s heart to it, too.

Agnes Hopper is a widow, who, after several years of living on the farm after her husband’s death, is consigned by her daughter to a retirement home. The first day is enough to tell Agnes something is desperately wrong—and it isn’t only the residents. Agnes resolves that day to leave that place as soon as possible.

The residence home’s rulebook must be never-ending, since Agnes, after only a couple of weeks, has racked up quite a rap sheet of offenses.

Agnes’s high school best friend and roommate, Pearl, doesn’t even remember her. But Pearl has enough presence of mind to hoard Nyquil so she can sleep at night.

Some of the residents are hilarious, while others are very fragile mentally and physically.

Agnes makes friends and tries to help. When a woman named Alice is on her deathbed, some of the problems begin to come to light.

You will love Agnes. She is a gutsy lady who “consults” with her late husband much as she did when he was alive. She pursues right and truth and allies with some unlikely characters to find out what is going on in Sweetbriar’s residence home. She even gets into trouble with the law.

Author Carol Guthrie Heilman paints delightful characters that are fresh and fun. The writing is very good, and I enjoyed the developments. This is Christian fiction, and it refers to the Lord, prayer, and church. Beyond that, the Christian factor stays in the background. The book is clean, fun, and poignant.

I would sincerely have enjoyed it more if I weren’t getting to the age that I understand too well how Agnes feels.

There are some references to bodily functions. (It is a home for the elderly, after all.) Also, one person appears naked—not described, and she is unwell. There’s some alcohol and drug abuse, and one character is a single mother. I personally would recommend it for adult readers only, though the book is clean. The subject matter and setting don’t seem appropriate for teens.

I look forward to reading more Agnes Hopper books. Delightful.