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.

Fiction review: Belinda Blake and the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Belinda Blake and the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing by Heather Day Gilbert is another fun and scary adventure with exotic pet sitter, Belinda. This time, she’s working in a wolf preserve.

She hasn’t been on the job long when a man is found dead, his face mauled, and a wolf standing guard above him.

Belinda has a hard time believing anyone would want to kill this person, and she becomes curious. Were the wolves to blame or not?

Before long, another man emerges from a wolf enclosure with an injured hand. After that, another man is dead. This time, there isn’t a mark on him—and he was the wolves’ feeder.

What is happening? Why these deaths?

As Belinda gets closer to her co-workers, she also gets closer to the truth.

I was surprised. Author Heather Day Gilbert made me guess that several different people might be guilty, and she fooled me about the real culprit.

These books are very well written, and I liked this one even more than Snake in the Grass, which was fun, as well. (My review of Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass can be accessed here.) I look forward to reading the next one in the Belinda Blake series: Birds of a Feather.

While Mrs. Gilbert is a Christian writer, there are no overt Christian themes in this series. They are, though, perfectly clean reading, delightful, and without any objectionable elements beyond the fact that some of the characters drink alcohol.

Fiction review: Secrets

Secrets is the first book in the Glenbrooke Series by Robin Jones Gunn. I was looking for a fun read that wasn’t sad or complicated, and someone in my reading group recommended this series. I’m glad she did.

Jessica Morgan is driving to her life-changing beginning as a schoolteacher in the little town of Glenbrooke, Oregon. Unfortunately, the hospital is her first taste of her new life. With her lip sewn up and almost no money, she gives the nurse a false last name that she sees on a box in the room: Fenton.

Her rescuer is a firefighter named Kyle, who seems to be the most popular man in Glenbrooke. Jessica isn’t surprised, since he’s friendly, good-looking, and kind.

When school starts, the interim principal seems to have it in for Jessica. When she finds out that Jessica’s using a false name, the treatment gets worse.

Add to that the fact that all Jessica has eaten in several days are Ramen noodles and what she can scrounge at work, and Jessica is desperate. Why didn’t she bring more money with her? With her false name and her desire to hide from her father, she is stuck.

Jessica’s friendly neighbors and Kyle offer to help, but Jessica’s pride won’t let her open up or accept charity.

I can’t go any further without spoiling the story, but there are a lot of sweet, mature elements. I have read Robin Jones Gunn before, but this book stands out with its layers of thoughtful plotting. I enjoyed it, and I think you will, too. I especially loved the ending. It’s well-written Christian fiction.

Fiction review: The Ticket

The Ticket, by Debra Coleman Jeter is a coming-of-age novel about a girl named Tray. She lives with her mother, dad, and grandmother. Sometimes her mother can be sweet, but more often than not, Tray takes care of her mother and suffers her criticism. Her mom is mentally ill and seems to be bi-polar in actions and words. Tray has no idea what will come next. Her father is gone a lot and doesn’t try to communicate when he’s home. Only the grandmother shows her consistent love.

Tray is tall and gangly and uncomfortable with her looks—not helped by having a gorgeous mother who criticizes her for not being pretty. She’s left out of the cool group at school and going through typical adolescent thoughts and mood swings. I get the impression she’s around twelve years old, the book says she’s fourteen. Tray tends to deal with people by making snide remarks. Tray loves clothes—though she can’t afford many new ones—and draws the clothes she wishes she had.

Near the beginning of the story, her father wins the lottery—thus the book’s title. All through the book this fact is handled masterfully. I absolutely loved this plot thread.

As the story develops, a man flashes Tray and almost kidnaps her, and following that trauma are several family disasters in rapid succession.

Debra Jeter is an excellent writer and weaves the story of Tray’s family and personal issues so well that you hardly perceive it. I read the Kindle version and found no errors. She writes wonderfully crafted sentences, and the plot is very good. The ending is satisfying and sweet.

But, I can’t recommend this book because of too much information about: personal bodily functions, adolescent development, and the way-too-graphic flasher scene. I would never recommend it for any teen. The Ticket is realistic, but I don’t think several of these details help anyone’s thoughts (Philippians 4:8).

Also, though this is a “Christian” book, there are few true Christians in it and no clarity at all with them. The grandmother reads her Bible and sometimes quotes a verse—as well as pithy, non-biblical sayings. I get the impression she is a true Christian. There’s another family that seems to be Christian, but there’s nothing more. The lack of any spirituality left me feeling disappointed.

Also, be aware of: immodest clothing, mild language (that alludes to but stops just short of a curse word), and gambling (not glorified).

My sincere hope is that the author will use her incredible talent to write a truly redemptive story in the future.

Fiction review: Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass

Belinda Blake and the Snake in the Grass, by Heather Day Gilbert captivated me first because I have read this author’s books before, and second because of its brilliant, whimsical cover. I couldn’t resist; I had to read it.

The opening scene has Belinda Blake, a cute little blond, meeting gorgeous Stone Carrington the 5th, her landlord’s son. She has a ball python wrapped around her neck, taking the snake for a walk, as its doting owner requested.

Exotic pet sitter, Belinda, is soon into mystery and intrigue after she finds a dead woman wearing Louboutin stilletos in her flowerbed.

Add to the dead woman a shedding python and the aqua-eyed, tennis playing rich boy next door, and you have all the ingredients for a great read.

Believe me, it doesn’t disappoint. More mysteries, possible culprits—Mrs. Gilbert had me suspecting almost everyone—and it’s a fun book for rainy afternoons.

The content is clean with nothing besides innocent friendship kisses. Some of the characters drink to excess (not viewed in a favorable light).

I enjoyed it and can hardly wait to read the sequel, which might be even better.

Stay tuned.