Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction

Book and Cover Review of "Nothing to Hide" by J. Mark Bertrand

Book Review

In book three of his Roland March Mystery series, author J. Mark Bertrand continues to develop a believable character that struggles to find answers – not just as a detective solving crimes – but as a human being seeking answers to wrongs he has seen in his own lifetime. As he has done with the first two books of this series, Bertrand manages to seek this answers in a manner that does not come across as ‘preachy’ – as is the danger in writing soul-searching Christian fiction. Roland March is a likable character, full of flaws, but ultimately struggling to make sense out of his job and his life.  He’s a bit past his prime, but still always manages to come out on top … sometimes barely.
Another interesting fact about this mystery is that even the author admits that it’s inspiration was a true story about a man who was pulled over claiming to be a CIA agent, but the additional storyline regarding the selling of illegal arms to Mexican drug cartels was written prior to factual news about operation ‘Fast and Furious’. Any similarities are a coincidence … but as a reader I also felt that it was testament that the writer did his homework. The story was fiction, but the scenario was something that could be all too true.
I believe this book, and the earlier two in this series, will appeal to both men and women who enjoy murder mysteries, cop shows and similar. It would also not be offensive to non-Christian readers.
Cover Review
As with the two earlier books in this series, the cover is well-suited to the personality of its main character. Its look is gritty, raw and to-the-point (much like detective Roland March). I will say that the black and white photo at the top may be my favorite yet. It pulls you in. You are left wondering if the person behind the hand is desiring to get in or out from his side of the fence? From even before page one there is a mystery afoot!
This cover will appeal to mystery readers, both male and female. It also doesn’t scream that this is a Christian novel, therefore I believe it will appeal to the readers its writing was meant for. Another great job performed by cover designer Faceout Studio.
* This book was received for review from the publisher. Further information about the author and the book has been furnished below by the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance.

This week, theChristian Fiction Blog Allianceis introducingNothing to HideBethany House Publishers (July 1, 2012)byJ. Mark Bertrand


J. Mark Bertrand lived in Houston, where the series is set, for fifteen years,
earning an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Houston. But after
one hurricane too many he left for South Dakota. Mark has been arrested
for a crime he didn’t commit, was the foreman of one hung jury and served
on another that acquitted Vinnie Jones of assault. In 1972, he won an
honorable mention in a child modeling contest, but pursued writing instead.


A grisly homicide. An international threat.
The stakes have never been higher for
Detective Roland March.

The victim’s head is missing, but what intrigues Detective Roland March
is the hand. The pointing finger must be a clue–but to what? According
to the FBI, the dead man was an undercover asset tracking the flow of
illegal arms to the Mexican cartels. To protect the operation, they want
March to play along with the cover story. With a little digging, though, he
discovers the Feds are lying. And they’re not the only ones.

In an upside-down world of paranoia and conspiracy, March finds himself
dogged by injury and haunted by a tragic failure. Forced to take justice into
his own hands, his twisting investigation leads him into the very heart of
darkness, leaving March with nothing to lose–and nothing to hide.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Nothing to Hide, go HERE.

Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction

Book and Cover Review of "A Sweethaven Summer" by Courtney Walsh

Book Review

A Sweethaven Summer‘ by Courtney Walsh was a delightfully refreshing story, full of mystery … and eventually forgiveness. I have to admit that I was drawn to this story initially because one of the main characters is named Suzanne and it mentioned scrapbooking in the promo text. While reading the story I found out the character and I shared a love for art, scrapbooking, and middle names too! But that’s about where the direct similarities ended.

However, one of the overarching themes in the book is one I think most adults can relate to – the regret of not staying in touch with someone we were once close to. In the case of this story the main characters mother (Suzanne) has died suddenly and the three other young women pictured with her mother in numerous old scrapbook pages she finds in her mother’s house are her only hope to finding out who her father is. What she discovers along the way to discovering her father will change her life for the better – in more ways than one!

This debut novel was an enjoyable discovery. I look forward to seeing what this new author writes next.

Book Cover Review

The photos and colors chosen for this cover are perfect. The story is closely tied to a beach town and the connection between 4 teenage girls who scrapbook. So a beach photo and usage of a rich blue and sandy beige are very appropriate. However … I do wish that the cover artist had added a few more elements to the cover to simulate actual scrapbooking which is a major part of the story. It could easily have been done, and just seems like a lost opportunity to draw in scrapbooking fans to this story. As it is right now, the cover just appears to be a beach read about one summer captured in time on a single photo.

I do like the font choices though. They have a modern flair to them that helps to ground the cover as a contemporary novel, allowing it not to be mistaken by potential readers as a historical.

* This book was received by the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance for review. More information about the book and it’s author are below.

This week, the  Christian Fiction Blog Alliance  is introducing  A Sweethaven Summer  Guidepost Books (February 7, 2012)  by  Courtney Walsh   


Courtney Walsh is a published author, scrapbooker, theater director, and playwright. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, will be followed by two additional novels in the series. She’s also written two papercrafting books, Scrapbooking Your Faith and The Busy Scrapper. Courtney has been a contributing editor for Memory Makers Magazine and Children’s Ministry Magazine and is a frequent contributor to Group Publishing curriculum. She works as the PR Manager for Webster’s Pages from her home in Colorado, where she lives with her husband and three kids, who range in age from 4 to 10. Courtney drinks entirely too much coffee.  


Suzanne’s daughter, Campbell, journeys there in search of answers to her questions about her mother’s history.Suzanne’s three friends-Lila, Jane, and Meghan-were torn apart by long-buried secrets and heartbreak. Though they haven’t spoken in years, each has pieces of a scrapbook they made together in Sweethaven. Suzanne’s letters have lured them all back to the idyllic lakeside town, where they meet Campbell and begin to remember what was so special about their long Sweethaven summers. As the scrapbook reveals secrets one by one, old wounds are mended, lives are changed,

and friendships are restored-just as Suzanne intended.

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Sweethaven Summer, go HERE.

Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction

Book & Cover Review of "The Muir House" by Mary DeMuth

Book Review

In The Muir House Willa Muir is haunted by her memories … well, actually it’s more the lack of memory that she is haunted by. There is entire section of her childhood that seems to be wiped clean. Even Willa knows she is a little obsessed by this, but she can’t seem to move on until she unravels the truth.

What I really loved about this novel, was that it seemed more true to life about relationships and how messy they are than they are usually handled in fiction. The female protagonist is confused about just about every relationship she’s ever had, including her own parents. For this reason the author’s characters came across as being very authentic and believable.

This was a contemporary novel, largely set in a suburb of Texas. Full of wonderful southern detail. I feel this novel would appeal most to women, particularly those who don’t feel their lives would ever fit in the category of a fairy tale come true.

Book Cover Review

I have really liked several of the covers from Mary’s other books but must admit that this one doesn’t appeal to me. The only thing I get from the front is that due to the way the woman is dressed it is likely a contemporary novel. Neither the rusty background or the barely visible house really pull me in? I’m not sure on first glance if this is supposed to be about a haunted house, a dim memory, or what? It is only via the back cover text that I get pulled in as a reader. And the back cover design of rusted tin plating doesn’t really add anything attractive either … and after reading it I’m not sure why all the rust was used? It just doesn’t seem to quite fit the story, and I am a designer who normally LOVES my grungy textures. I unfortunately feel that this book would sell better with a different cover. Thankfully, this author has at least four books under her belt and many who know who wonderful writing will grab it up anyway!

* This book was received from the author for review.

Christian fiction, Contemporary fiction

Book & Cover Review of "It Had to Be You" by Janice Thompson

It Had to Be You (Weddings by Bella, Book 3)
Book Review

If the title of this novel has your inner singer sounding like an Italian crooner than you’ve already got a head start on the setting of this novel.  It Had to Be You, by Janice Thompson is book three in her series entitled Weddings by Bella.  It features Bella Rossi, a young woman surrounded by a very vivacious and loving Italian family who happens to run the family wedding planning business, and her husband-to-be, D.J. Neeley, a true Texan cowboy who found his way onto their family home of Galveston Island via the construction business and never left after Bella captured his heart.

If you love theme weddings and wedding chaos humor this book is full of it. I additionally found myself craving big band music and Italian cuisine after reading this. The entire Rossi clan is full of unique and wonderful characters.  Bella’s main character flaw is that she is too in love with her family to say ‘no’ to them.  Her own wedding is fast approaching and other family members keep encroaching on her big day with wedding plans of their own.  I found myself as a reader wanting to encourage Bella to say something to her loved ones about how much stress they were piling on her! Which is exactly what the author wanted.

Bella is the classic ‘giver’.  She can’t say no – even when her sister decides at Christmas to have her wedding only 3-4 weeks after Bella’s own – Bella doesn’t have the guts to tell her sister to delay her wedding a little so that Bella can get a grip on her own wedding plans and the major changes that will be happening in her life.  Bella seems tossed about by well meaning family members that assume she is super human and can handle untold amounts of wedding creativity and stress on short notice because she plans weddings all the time, right?  How many of us have had a hard time learning that lesson?  It feels so good to help others, but at some point you just don’t have the time or energy to do anything for yourself anymore if you don’t learn to say no, or to assert the time you need for yourself into the equation.

Amidst all the wedding chaos, themes of forgiveness, not judging people by first impressions, and the power of living by example and that of prayer are woven beautifully into this at times humorous, but always loving, story.  I think this book will mostly appeal to female readers, particularly those who have already lived through their own wedding chaos, or the chaos of planning weddings for other family members.  Those of Italian decent (or who hail from towns who celebrate Italian heritage like I am) will also be amused by the Rossi clan and the variety of Italian stereotypes that abound in this novel. 

Book Cover Review

Although I loved the book, I feel the cover design is not as strong as the writing.  I’d have to say that the posture of the young man on the cover is what set it off. He seems to be not just looking over his shoulder but to be leaning backwards against the young woman in such a way that if she moves an inch he’ll be falling over.  It just seems unnaturally awkward?  The dress of the couple does place them in a contemporary time period, and the river walkway in the background is rather romantic (though vague and I have no idea of its location), but after reading the story I’m left wondering where the chaotic wedding/Italian family theme fits into this cover?  Could they have captured those elements to draw in readers who love big family chaos and swing music … the current cover alone wouldn’t do it.  That being said, this cover is attractive will capture the attention of the contemporary romance reader – but I just feel it could also have tapped into so much more.

* Available May 2010 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via their blog tour program.