Thursday, February 20, 2020

Book Review: The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea by Eileen Beha

The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea: The Story of Annaliese Easterling  Throckmorton, Her Simply Remarkable Sock Monkey

The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea 
Author:  Eileen Beha
Publisher:  Beach Lane Books (2014)
288 pages

First Line:
"Once, in a fine house on a high cliff above a frozen sea, Throckmorton S. Monkey heard the frenzied barks of the family dogs announcing the approach of a stranger."

This book caught my eye as I was wandering through the children's section of my local library.  When I was a girl I owned and loved a sock monkey.  I also liked to read books told from the perspective of dolls or stuffed toys, so I thought I would give this one a try.

Throckmorton is the hand-sewn sock monkey belonging to Annaliese Easterling.  She is nine years old and has moved on from playing with dolls.  One day a letter comes to the house addressed to Throckmorton S. Monkey, so Annaliese, with the help of a maid, searches frantically for him.  Once they locate him, the letter is opened.  It is an invitation from Annaliese's Great-Grandmama requesting the presence of Throckmorton and his keeper at a party in honor of her ninetieth birthday.  Great-Grandmama made Throckmorton, in fact she made a sock monkey for each baby born in the family and has sent invitations to them all.  

The story is told from the perspective of Throckmorton mostly.  Sometimes it shifts to a narrator voice.  The story seemed delightful at the beginning, but became less so as it went on.  Many of the adults in the story are portrayed as unloving or even cruel.  Annaliese doesn't remember her mother.  She left when Annaliese was a baby, but no one will tell her why she left.  In fact, her father has forbade her from speaking about her.  Her father is portrayed as cold and even cruel.  One of the maids is referred to as "that wicked Madge" and is often cruel to Annaliese and her brothers.  Even Great-Grandmama is rather cold and uncaring, even though she orders Annaliese to her quarters to have tea.  This is a common trope in children's literature, but in stories where it works, the reader has grown to love the hero or heroine of the story.  They have been shown to be moral or selfless or loving or interesting or relatable.  Unfortunately, I didn't feel that way about Annaliese.  

This is not a bad story and I think a young middle school child would probably enjoy reading it.  However, because of the negative portrayal of adults in the story and the lack of a strong heroine, I don't know that I would recommend it.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Book Review: Safe Passage by Ida Cook

Safe Passage

Safe Passage
Author:  Ida Cook
Publisher:  Harlequin (2008, first published 1950)
287 pages

"An autobiography should, I suppose, begin at the beginning of one's life.  So - I was born in Sunderland, Durham, the second daughter in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys.  My father was an officer and later a surveyor of Customs and Excise.  As this work entailed a good deal of moving, we four children were all born in different parts of England.  In spite of this, there was always a tremendous sense of stability in our family life."

Safe Passage is, as the subtitle suggests, "The remarkable true story of two sisters who rescued Jews from the Nazis".  When Ida and her sister, Louise, were young women, they developed a love for opera.  At that time they were both working and still living at home.  They began saving money so that they could attend performances at Covent Garden.   Ida boldly sent letters to their favorite stars and was surprised to hear back from some of them.  The sisters became friends with some of the stars and began attending performances outside of England, in other parts of Europe and even the United States.  It was this travel that put them in the perfect position to be able to help refugees get out of dangerous places and into places were they could start a new life.  They never set out to do this, but just fell into it as one of their opera star friends asked them to accompany a friend of theirs to England.  Only later did they really understand what they were doing.  

The Cook family was living in London when the war broke out.  They had finally convinced their mother to stay with relatives in a safer location.  Mr. Cook volunteered with the Home Defense Service as an air-raid warden, both of the brothers were enlisted in the army.  Louise's office had been evacuated to Wales for the first year of the war.  So, Ida and her father were the only family members left in London during the war.  Ida volunteered for night duty at an East End shelter.  Her descriptions of the bombings and of the people she met are fascinating.  

After the war was over, Ida and Louise continued to help displaced people by working with refugees in camps.  I found this interesting as this was an aspect of the war that I didn't know much about.  

"Most of our work consisted of fund-raising for daily fresh milk provision for children under six, or helping to provide treatment and rehabilitation for the many tuberculosis cases.  But we did sometimes go out to visit our camp, and so we came to know some of our cases personally, as well as the wonderful personnel who worked on the spot."

Both of the sisters have such hearts for people of all kinds.  Neither of them ever married, but their family and friends played a large part in their lives.  Their love for others shines through in all of the events related in the book and makes this a heartwarming, enjoyable read.

If you like first-hand accounts of World War II or historical autobiographies, I would recommend this book.  If you are interested in the history of Opera, you will enjoy this book.  If you are just looking for a great story, I would recommend this book.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Book Review: Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson

Murder on Astor Place (Gaslight Mystery, #1)

Murder on Astor Place (Gaslight Mystery #1)
Author:  Victoria Thompson
Publisher:  Tantor Audio (2015)

Sarah Brandt, a widow who supports herself as a midwife, is called out to assist with births at all hours of the day or night.  While assisting the matron of a boarding house with the delivery of her baby, she notices a young woman who looks very much like an old friend of hers.  But it can't be her, as she is much too young.  The young woman returns to her room at the boarding house while Sarah finishes up the delivery.  She returns to the boarding house the next day to check on the mother and baby and finds a crowd of people, along with the police, at the boarding house.  The young woman Sarah noticed last night has been murdered.

Sergeant Frank Malloy has been assigned to the case.  When he learns that Sarah was at the boarding house shortly before the murder, he wants to question her.  She is a bit short with him, so he decides to ask her to search the victim's room to look for clues.  It turns out the young woman was the younger sister of her old friend.  Who would want to murder the young girl?  And why?

This is the first book in the Gaslight Mystery series and that makes me really excited because I can't wait to read more!  The story takes place in the 1890's in New York.  The author's description of New York at that time makes you feel like you are there.  This was a time when class meant a lot.  There were very wealthy, powerful families that lived in large homes with butlers and maids and other servants.  Yet there were also very poor families who lived in squalor and often turned to crime just to get by.  The rich stayed in one area and the poor in another and they didn't mingle.  Teddy Roosevelt was the police commissioner during this time.  Unfortunately, the police force didn't have a good reputation and corruption was rampant.  

I really liked both Sarah Brandt and Frank Malloy and hope that their relationship grows in future books. The murder investigation is definitely what drives the story, but we learn a lot about the personal lives of both Sarah and Frank.  I enjoy stories that involve midwives, so Sarah's occupation interested me. She is a hardworking woman who really cares about others.   Frank is also a hardworking, moral person who likes to see justice served.  There are homey scenes where Sarah bakes cookies or fixes stew contrasted with scenes inside the basement of the police precinct or at a "flop house".  

I found the circumstances of the murder and the murderer difficult to hear.  However, I was glad the case was solved.  I look forward to reading more in this series.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Book Review: Malice by Keigo Higashino

Malice (Detective Kaga, #1)

Author:  Keigo Higashino
Publisher:  Minotaur Books (1996)
288 pages

A category in one of the challenges I am participating in is "a foreign (non-western) book", so when  I came across this book while at the library it caught my attention.  After reading the summary on the back cover, I thought I would give it a try.  What an interesting mystery it was!

The story begins from the viewpoint of Osamu Nonoguchi.  We know this because each chapter has a title and subtitle that tells the reader whose viewpoint it is from and what it will be about.  Mr. Nonoguchi is visiting his friend, bestselling author Kunihiko Hidaka.  The two have known one another since middle school.  Mr. Hidaka and his wife are moving to Canada in a few days, so Mr. Nonguchi has come to pay a visit and discuss some things.  Later in the day, when Mr. Nonoguchi has returned home, he receives a phone call from his friend stating that they need to talk about some things and could he come back to his house.  Mr. Nonoguchi agrees and they establish a time to meet.  When Mr. Nonoguchi arrives at the specified time, he finds all the lights off in the house and the car in the driveway.  He knocks on the door and gets no answer.  He knows Mr. Hidaka's wife is staying in a nearby hotel to be joined by Mr. Hidaka after he finishes up at the house.  Mr. Nonoguchi calls the hotel to see if Mr. Hidaka is there.  When his wife learns that he is not answering, she is concerned and returns to the house.  Mr. Nonguchi and Mrs. Hidaka enter the locked house.  The door to Mr. Hidaka's office is also locked.  Once they unlock the door and enter, they find Mr. Hidaka dead on the floor, having been strangled with the telephone cord.

Detective Kaga is assigned to the case.  He discovers who the killer is and receives a written confession.  But there doesn't appear to be a motive.  In order to prosecute a case, a motive is needed.  Just when you think you know what happened, the story changes.  This keeps you turning pages!  Detective Kaga works alone and eventually solves the case after many twists and turns.  

As far as content, there is a little language.  Language content can cause me to stop reading a book, that is not the case here.  There is a rape incident mentioned, however it is not graphic.

This was first Japanese author I have read and it was a positive experience.  This is definitely not an atmospheric novel, there is some description of the surroundings, but very little unless it is directly related to the mystery.  It is a unique mystery, well told.  If you enjoy mysteries, you will enjoy this book. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Book Review: Two Steps Forward by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Two Steps Forward

Two Steps Forward (The Deacon's Family #3)
Author:  Suzanne Woods Fisher
Publisher:  Fleming H. Revell Company (2020)
320 pages

"Growing up is hard on a man.  If he'd done well for himself, coming home again should be one of his finest days.  The kind of day that kept him buoyed up with hopeful visions to survive his lowest moments:  A mother peering out the kitchen window, eager for the first sign of her returning son.  A sweet aromatic cinnamon cake baking in the oven.  A loyal dog, muzzle now gray, sitting by the mailbox.  Unfortunately for Jimmy Fisher, he hadn't done terribly well for himself since he'd left Stoney Ridge."

Two Steps Forward is the third book in The Deacon's Family Series.  I have loved them all, but this one is my favorite!  Suzanne Woods Fisher is a great storyteller and this book is no exception.

The main characters in this installment are Jimmy Fisher and Sylvie Schrock King.  Jimmy is the son of Edith Fisher Lapp.  Edith and her husband Hank are fixtures in Stoney Ridge.  Jimmy is just returning to Stoney Ridge after being away for several years chasing a dream of working with horses in Colorado.  Sylvie Schrock King is cousin to Luke Schrock, deacon of the church in Stoney Ridge.  She is the widow of Jake King and has a little boy named Joey.  Jimmy meets Sylvie almost immediately after stepping into the town of Stoney Ridge.  Her horse and buggy are parked in town and Jimmy notices her horse, an Arabian, which is unusual for an Amish buggy horse.  Sylvie is surprised that he knows it is an Arabian.  He tells her that he has been working on a ranch in Colorado and has worked with Arabians.  Sylvie asks him if he is looking for work.  Before Jimmy can answer, Hank Lapp walks up and in a loud voice lets Sylvie know that Jimmy is not available.  Hank is convinced that Sylvie is on the hunt for a new husband.  Since Jimmy really doesn't have a plan and he could use some work, he decides to pay Sylvie a visit the next day.  She lives on the property adjacent to Edith and Hank's property, which belonged to her husband.  Her husband was quite a pack rat and managed to fill two barns full of junk.  Sylvie has cleared enough room in the newer barn for her horses, but there is still much work to do.  She decides to give Jimmy the work.  When Sylvie learns that Jimmy is the second son of Edith Fisher Lapp, she wonders if she has made a mistake.  Edith has never approved of Sylvie or her son.  How will Jimmy feel about her?  Will he treat her with disdain, like his mother does?  

The secondary story involves Luke Schrock and his wife, Izzy Miller Schrock.  They were the main characters in Mending Fences.  After getting to know and love them in that story, I enjoyed catching up with them here.

Hank Lapp is one of my favorite characters in this series.  He was first introduced in the Stoney Ridge Seasons series.  Hank is not afraid to say what is on his mind and often does so in a very loud voice.  Jimmy often asks him if he has to yell.

"Last evening, he said he wanted to remind Sylvie that Jimmy was an eligible bachelor, available for courting.  'FREE AND CLEAR,' Hank had bellowed, loud enough to scare a flock of black crows right out of their roost."

One of the things I enjoyed about Sylvie's character was her love of animals.  She knows a lot about animals, whether they are her horses, her pets or wild animals, and she naturally shares this with her son.

"'Does your mom take in every stray that gets dropped off? ' 
'How come?'
'She says God cares about each one, whether they got a family or not.  She says that maybe God cares even more about the ones who don't have someone to love them.  She says we should do just what God does and give them a home.  Even cats.'"

Some of the themes in this story are family, found family, adoption, the importance of fathers, a mother's influence, hard work, promises, forgiveness and faith.  There are some difficult issues dealt with in this story, but it comes to a satisfying conclusion.

This book could be read on its own, but you would lose some of the connection with the characters from previous books.  If you like stories where family and faith play a central role, but also don't shy away from difficult topics, I would recommend this series.  If you are interested in the Amish lifestyle, Suzanne Woods Fisher is one of the best authors in this genre.  

****Possible spoiler alert****
Content/Trigger warning:
Abortion is talked about.
One of the characters has a miscarriage.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Book review: The Cat Who Turned On and Off by Lilian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Turned On and Off (Cat Who..., #3)

The Cat Who Turned On and Off (Cat Who #3)
Author:  Lilian Jackson Braun
Publisher:  Headline (1968)
265 pgs

"He turned up the collar of his tweed overcoat - awkwardly, with one hand - and tried to jam his porkpie hat closer to his ears.  His left hand was plunged deep in his coat pocket and held stiffly there.  Otherwise there was nothing remarkable about the man except the luxuriance of his moustache - and his sobriety."

Jim Qwilleran, a newspaper reporter, has been living at Medford Manor, a third-rate hotel, for several months.  Still employed by the Daily Fluxion, he is looking for a way to earn some extra cash.  When he receives a memo reminding him of the annual writing competition at the Fluxion, he sets out to write something prizeworthy.  He used to be a crime writer, but has recently been put on general assignment.  He remembers the cab driver mentioning something about a run down area of town called Junktown.  His crime writer brain gets to work imagining the great story he could write about drug dealers and drug addicts.  Before long he is set straight on why the area is called Junktown.  It is full of antique stores and junk shops.  Qwilleran hates antique stores.  But his boss thinks a story about Junktown would be fantastic.  So, Qwilleran has no choice but to start investigating for the story.

As he meets the proprietors of the antique shops, he discovers some interesting characters.  He also discovers that one of the proprietors recently died.  The death was ruled an accident, but it sounds suspicious to Qwilleran.  He automatically goes into investigation mode.  As he is asking questions, he discovers one of the shops has an apartment for rent.  He decides to take the apartment and moves in along with his two cats, Koko and Yum Yum.  Will he be able to discover what happened to the dead proprietor?  Is it just a waste of his time?  More importantly, will he be able to write a prizeworthy story?

This is the third book in the Cat Who series.  It can be read without reading the first two books.  I always enjoy spending time with Qwilleran and the cats.  

"There was something about the man's moustache that convinced people of his sincerity.  Other moustaches might be villainous or supercilious or pathetic, but the outcropping on Qwilleran's upper lip inspired trust."

He lives a pretty simple life, but always seems to meet interesting people.  The characters in this story are no exception.  There is the mysterious Mary Duckworth, who is the daughter of a millionaire, but doesn't want to make her real identity known.  There are the Copps, who own the shop that Qwilleran's apartment is above.  Mrs. Copp is overly kind to him, and Mr. Copp is cantankerous, but they seem to get along.  Then there is Bob, who lives next to Qwilleran, and speaks like an actor in a Shakespeare play.  Then there are Koko and Yum Yum, Qwilleran's beloved Siamese cats, who are often up to mischief.   Qwilleran has a gift for getting people to open up to him.  As they do, he is able to unravel the tangled threads of information and solve a few mysteries, leaving the book to end on a satisfying note.  

Thursday, January 30, 2020

January Reading Wrap-up

My reading year is off to a good start with 10 books read in January from a variety of genres.  I was able to cover some categories from my challenges as well as read on a whim.  Here are the genres I read from:

Mystery: 3
Historical fiction: 2
Romantic Comedy: 1
Classics: 1
Non-fiction: 1
Thriller/Suspense: 2

My favorites were:

Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot, #17)

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

 The House on Foster Hill

The House on Foster Hill by Jamie Jo Wright

Image result for The Dating Charade

The Dating Charade by Melissa Ferguson

The majority of my reading came from the library, which is typical for me.  Somehow, when I buy a book for my own shelves, that virtually guarantees I won't read it.  The allure of roaming a building full of books, pulling books off the shelf to look at and bringing home whatever I want for free wins out over selecting a book from my own shelves.  I have become very intentional with my book buying and would like to cultivate the habit of reading my new purchases before buying more.  Except for the ones that I have already read and would just like a copy of to reread at a future date or the ones that I am adding to a collection or the ones I just don't feel like reading right now...  So you see the problem I run into.  I purchased several new books in December and received some for Christmas.  I have not read any of them yet and would like to read at least one in the month of February.

Also in February I would like to read a biography or memoir and a children's book.  Other than that, I hope to cover some more categories from my challenges as well as read serendipitously.

How was your January reading?  What do you hope to read in February?