Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock – a review

Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock - a review by Cathe Swanson

Smoke Screen ~ A New Story from a Favorite Author!

I heard a writing teacher say once that it’s much harder to write a truly good character than to write a flawed one. She said that readers would dislike the “perfect” people. I thought I’d feel that way about the hero of Smoke Screen. After Nate nobly saved an entire family (and their dog) from their burning home, then worried more about his team than about his own injuries, he was looking a little too good to be true. Ho hum. But then the the author did her trademark thing: she made his life messy. She gave him a very complicated family. She gave him a bad reputation.  Now, he was a genuinely good and likeable guy, but he was interesting, too.  Terri Blackstock is really good at that!

The heroine was easier to dislike – a weak woman with a drinking problem, when she should have been stronger and stayed sober, if she really wanted to keep her kids. Instead, she wallowed in self-pity and hopelessness. So irritating. But… just as she has in so many other books, Terri Blackstock took that character and made her real. She was still doing all the wrong things, but now I cared about her. I wanted her to succeed. I could identify with the attitude of her sister,,, I wanted to shake Brenna and then dump out all her hidden bottles of alcohol.

The other characters are solid, too. I like where she went with Brenna’s ex-husband at the end of the book. I have a feeling we’ll see more of the siblings in future books.

This book reminded me of Ms. Blackstock’s earlier series, Moonlighters and Intervention, with their complex family relationships and “real life” problems. The plot is creative, and the relationships feel natural. The Christian content is good. with the characters asking hard and honest questions about God and their lives. I was glad to see a return to the author’s previous style, too – It’s written in alternating first-person past tense, which I greatly prefer to her more recent present-tense stories.  

Readers who are looking for her usual suspenseful stories might be disappointed. This one is good, but it’s more of a romance and mystery, with hints of women’s fiction in the family relationships, which are a major element of the book.

I recommend it!

About the Book

Smoke Screen by Terri Blackstock - review by Cathe SwansonBook: Smoke Screen

Author: Terri Blackstock

Genre:  Christian Suspense

Release Date: November 5, 2019

One father was murdered, and another convicted of his death. All because their children fell in love.

Nate Beckett has spent his life fighting wildfires instead of the lies and rumors that drove him from his Colorado home town. His mother begs him to come to Carlisle now that his father has been released from prison, but it isn’t until he’s sidelined by an injury that he’s forced to return and face his past. But that means facing Brenna too.

Fourteen years ago, Nate was in love with the preacher’s daughter. When Pastor Strickland discovered Brenna had defied him to sneak out with Nate, the fight between Strickland and Nate’s drunken dad was loud—and very public. Strickland was found murdered later that night, and everyone accused Roy Beckett. When the church burned down, people assumed it was Nate getting even for his father’s conviction. He let the rumors fly and left Carlisle without looking back.

Now, Brenna is stunned to learn that the man convicted of murdering her father has been pardoned. The events of that night set her life on a bad course, and she’s dealing with a brutal custody battle with her ex and his new wife where he’s using lies and his family’s money to sway the judge. She’s barely hanging on, and she’s turned to alcohol to cope. Shame and fear consume her.

As they deal with the present—including new information about that fateful night and a wildfire that’s threatening their town—their past keeps igniting. Nate is the steady force Brenna has so desperately needed. But she’ll have to learn to trust him again first.

Click here to get your copy.


About the Author

Terri BlackstockTerri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of InterventionVicious Cycle, and Downfall, as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series. Visit her website at; Facebook: tblackstock; Twitter: @terriblackstock



Excerpt from Smoke Screen

I woke up in a blinding bright room, my clothes off and something clamped to my face. I tried to reach it, but I couldn’t bend my right arm, and my hand stung. An IV was taped to my other hand, but I moved carefully and touched the thing over my face.

An oxygen mask. I tried to sit up. “What happened?”

T-bird came to my bedside, a sheen of smoky sweat still soiling his face. “Nate, lie back, man.”

“The fire,” I said. “Need to get back. My men.”

“They’re still there. Making progress. But you’re not going anywhere near a fire for a month or so.”

I took the mask off and coughed a little, but managed to catch my breath. “A month?”

“Yep. Second degree burns on 20 percent of your body. Some of the burns are deep.”

It came back to me, the event that had gotten me here.

“The family. Were they injured?”

“Not a scratch or burn. Turns out it was a U.S. Senator from Kansas. He says you’re a hero.”

“You know I had no choice. They were in the path—”

“Take the praise where you can get it, man. We don’t get that much.”

I looked at my right side. My right arm was bandaged, and so was my side and down my right leg to the point where my boots had stopped the flames. Second degree wasn’t so bad, I told myself. Third degree would have been brutal. I’d be able to leave the hospital soon. I’d heal.

“I won’t need a month,” I said.

“Yes, you will. They can’t let you go back. Doctor’s orders. You’re grounded until he releases you.”

I managed to sit up, but it was a bad idea. The burns pulling on my skin reminded me why I shouldn’t. “I can’t be grounded during fire season. Are you crazy? I need to be there. You don’t have enough men as it is.”

“Sorry, Nate. It is what it is. Why don’t you go home to Carlisle for a while? Take it easy.”

Go home? Pop had just been pardoned, and he and my mom were trying to navigate the reunion. Though she would love to have me home, I didn’t know if I was up to it. My father could be challenging, and fourteen years of prison hadn’t done him any favors.


Taken from “Smoke Screen” by Terri Blackstock. Copyright © 2019 by Terri Blackstock. Used by permission of

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Bite-size Book Reviews

Do you like audiobooks? I get so much more work done, around the house and in my sewing room, if I have an audiobook to listen to! I could never just sit down and listen to one, but I like them when I’m working or driving or at the gym!



dawn of christmas1. Dawn of Christmas, audiobook, by Cindy Woodsmall

The main characters in this book are not your average Amish folks. The heroine is interesting, obedient and also willful. When she meets a like-minded man, they construct a false courtship scenario to escape the pressures of their family-oriented community. They like each other, but they have trouble trusting each other. In addition to being an entertaining novel, it’s a thought-provoking story about lies, relationships, and seeking God’s will. I liked this book.



the daughter of time2. Daughter of Time, paperback, by Josephine Tey

RETRO READ! Last week, I micro-reviewed Elizabeth Peters’s novel, The Murders of Richard III. It was a fun read, but it made me want to investigate further. As a homeschooling mother, I enjoyed teaching history to my sons, but none of us remember the War of the Roses in any detail (or with any enthusiasm.) So instead of going back to the textbooks, I turned to more fiction. Josephine Tey is one of my collected authors, so I already own this book, which always ranks high on the lists of “best mysteries ever written.” The main character, Inspector Grant, has been injured and is lying in the hospital for the entire book, waiting for a young American researcher to bring him bits and pieces of historical documents and reports. Their investigation gradually convinces them that contrary to every textbook and accepted belief, Richard the III was innocent of the crime of murdering the two princes. The reader is walked through the same deductions as the inspector. There are very few secondary characters, but each of them is vivid and contributes to the story. One of my favorites.


into the whirlwind3. Into the Whirlwind, audiobook, by Elizabeth Camden

Another Camden book with unusual settings and characters: A woman who owns a clock-making business and hires disabled vets, a driven lawyer for an upscale department store owned by a rich and powerful family, immigrants from Central Europe, and the Chicago fire of 1871. The best part of the story was the fire and what happened afterward. Her books are so creative!




silhouette in scarlet4. Silhouette in Scarlet, paperback, by Elizabeth Peters

The Vicky Bliss series is almost as entertaining as Amelia Peabody’s. This one is set in Sweden, and the local characters are perfect. There are a confusing lot of bad guys in this story. Vicky is a modern feminist woman (in 1983) and the hero, John, is consistent with his character through the series; I recommend you read these books in order, starting with “Borrower of the Night”, to understand the relationships. As always, I enjoyed the settings and information about art history. Fun!
Afterthought: Does a publication date of 1983 make this book a RETRO READ? Ouch… I hope not.


predator5. Predator, audiobook,  by Terri Blackstock

This book ought to make parents more aware of what their children are sharing online. I hope it does! Terry Blackstock creates strong plots that force the reader to face the crisis of the characters. The characters often behave foolishly, and they aren’t all likable, but as we continue reading, we realize that we might behave in exactly the same way! I think that’s great writing.




a bride in the bargain6. Bride in the Bargain, audiobook, by Deeanne Gist

There are a lot of fun things in this entertaining book. The best part of the story are the scenes and characters at the lumber camp; the descriptions of logging are fascinating. But… I am old-fashioned and a bit of a prude. There was too much sexual tension and stroking and kissing and yearning in this “Christian romance”. Even if they had been married, I certainly don’t need to know all that stuff. TMI!!!





Do you have different expectations when you read a book written by a Christian author? I do, especially when I am listening to audiobooks instead of words on paper or a kindle. When I come across inappropriate content in words, I can skim over it, but when I have earbuds in my ears and the TMI stuff (or obscenity!) is spoken directly into my brains, it’s pretty bad.  It makes me more careful about which authors I listen to.

Christian fiction doesn’t have to be sterilized to be clean. Some authors use words like realistic, edgy or spicy to describe a book with foul language and erotic content, but many authors are writing excellent suspense and even romance without resorting to such tactics.

Bite-Size Book Reviews

I haven’t published a “weekly” book review since the end of October. Oops. Excuses… NaNoWriMo, followed by Christmas. I read at least 15 books in that time, even if I didn’t get much writing done. The following, except for the Mary Stewart book, are all Christian fiction in a variety of genres.



1. Last Light, Paperback, by Terri Blackstock

Last Light is the first book in the Restoration series, about a Y2K-style event happening in the suburbs. That setting made it unusual. It wasn’t in the country, where it’s easier to improvise water, heat, and food, and it wasn’t exactly like Y2K, which was a predicted event. This was a devastating event that happened with no warning. The characters were interesting, with believable responses and relationships for that setting. The mystery seemed like a secondary event, but it was wrapped up neatly at the end. I am looking forward to the rest of the series.


grandmothersletters2. Grandmother’s Letters, Kindle, by Rebekah Jones

This is a sweet story with unexpected plot twists. Several story lines run separately for most of the story, gradually connecting near the end. Ms. Jones is good at writing about relationships. The characters are well-defined and interact naturally; the crotchety old man and the children are especially engaging. Although the plot is mostly about a treasure hunt, the resolution to that puzzle is almost anti-climactic after more interesting discoveries along the way.



withoutatrace3. Without a Trace, Audiobook, by Colleen Coble
This is the first book in the Rock Harbor series. Ms. Coble does a good job of portraying a terrifically-stressed heroine who is dealing with the recent deaths of her husband and son as well as demanding relatives and a career made more complex by her personal situation. There is a particularly effective plot thread in the story that makes the reader anticipate its discovery by the characters. It’s set in the far north, with canine search and rescue teams. What’s not to love about that?




4. Tarnished Silver, Kindle, by Chautona Havig
Chautona Havig is a writer who can cross genres and styles while still maintaining her own “voice.” Tarnished Silver is a story of two stubborn people who are forced to confront the 25 year old secret they thought they had buried. Their story reminded me of the urgent attitude of the young lovers in Romeo and Juliet. The story is enhanced by a sensitive portrayal of multicultural relationships.





5. Madam, Will You Talk? paperback, by Mary Stewart

Retro Read! This is an old favorite from Mary Stewart, who has the gift of being able to balance exotic locations, romance, young and old friends and family members in a complex mystery. Her books always have brave heroes, dashing heroines, bad bad guys and tension, usually with violence. This one has a surprising motive and resolution, with a heart-wrenching twist at the end. But don’t worry, they all live happily ever after.



thesurvivor6. The Survivor, audiobook, by DiAnn Mills

This book is a sequel to “The Chase”, which I loved. I have to admit, I started this book feeling annoyed that the relationship between the hero and heroine from “The Chase” had fallen apart. It is a well-plotted story, keeping me uncertain about the secondary characters. Almost any of them could have been guilty, including the damsel-in-distress. This book is on the edgy side of Christian fiction, with considerable violence and immorality (not in the main characters!) I liked the book very much, as I do all of Ms. Mills’s novels, but I hope the romance sticks this time.