Monday, January 24, 2022

Book Review: Woman in Shadow by Carrie Stuart Parks

Woman in ShadowWoman in Shadow. Carrie Stuart Parks. Thomas Nelson (2021). 336 pages. Genre: Mystery. 

First Lines: "Targhee Falls, Idaho. 'Why are those dogs barking?' I pointed across the wooden picnic table toward two obviously upset canines yelping nearby."

Summary:  Darby Graham is a forensic linguist.  She has recently completed a program for law enforcement experiencing PTSD.  Her first assignment on leaving the program sends her to a ranch in Idaho.  She is given instructions to keep a low profile and see if she can learn something about the strange things going on there.  And there are strange things going on - accidents, thefts, attempted poisoning, horse stampedes and eventually murder.  Everyone at the ranch is a suspect and Darby will need to work with local law enforcement to discover what is going on before it is too late. 

My thoughts:  Carrie Stuart Parks is trained as a forensic artist and she always incorporates her expertise in her novels.  This time the character is not a forensic artist, but a forensic linguist. Here is how Darby explains her job:

"'I examine words people use.  What they write. What they say.'"

"'Okay, the easiest part of what I do is related to lying and deception.' 'Aren't those the same thing?' 'No.  Most people don't lie, but they do deceive.  A lie is false information.  The reason most people don't lie is they can't remember what they said.  People commonly do deceive.  They'll stick to the truth as much as possible, just concealing one thing.  So if you have, say, a case where an employee took some money from the boss's desk, the employee will keep to the real events and just leave out the theft.'"

"The truth will be full of detail - where they were, how they were feeling, what was going on around them.  When they get to the deception, the story will be lean, little detail, and full of certain phrases like 'the next thing I knew,' or 'later on'.  You want to listen to exactly what people say.  You don't add to it or subtract from it.'"

Darby is an interesting, deep character with quite a past.  She also has a sense of humor that lends a bit of levity to the story.  She is an animal lover who takes in two abandoned dogs.  The reader gets to know the dogs and watch them begin to trust Darby.  I really liked that part of the storyline. In addition to Darby, the staff and guests at the ranch are equally interesting.  In order to discover what is going on, Darby has to get to know each of them.  

There are many pieces to this mysterious puzzle.  Just when Darby thinks she might be on to the culprit, something else happens that doesn't fit.  Fortunately, she is able to work with sheriff's deputy Bram White.  The two of them have their work cut out for them as one murder follows another.  I was glad they were on the case, because I couldn't figure out whodunit.  

I also appreciated getting to experience a little of the rugged Idaho countryside, just a few miles from Yellowstone.  The difficult terrain and the wildlife played a part in solving the mystery as well.  

I can always count on Carrie Stuart Parks to give me a story with interesting characters and a good mystery.  If that sounds up your alley, give Woman in Shadow a try.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Book Review: Simplicity at Home by Yumiko Sekine

Simplicity at Home: Japanese Rituals, Recipes, and Arrangements for Thoughtful LivingSimplicity at Home: Japanese Rituals, Recipes, and Arrangements for Thoughtful Living. Yumiko Sekine with Jenny Wapner.  Photography by Nao Shimizu. Chronicle Books (2021). 224 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction.

First Lines: "Several years ago, my friend Stephanie came to Tokyo from New York and stayed at our house for a few days.  After her visit, she told me how different my life was from what she expected."

Summary:  Yumiko Sekine is the founder of Fog Linen Work, a home goods brand that focuses on linen housewares and clothing.  She wrote this book to give readers a glimpse into the way Japanese people really live.  It is common in Japan to have a lifestyle and aesthetic of simplicity along with a mixture of Japanese and Western influences.  

The book is organized by season.  Each section includes thoughts on decorating, organizing, rituals, food preparation, simplifying and other things.  

My thoughts:  I first heard about Yumiko Sekine in an online article.  She and her partner had recently built a home in Tokyo.  The article contained pictures of the home and mentioned that she had written a book that was to be released soon.  I was intrigued and requested the book from the library.  I am so glad I did!

The book contains many beautiful pictures of Yumiko's home, her shop and Tokyo.  The book begins with a section called "My Life with Linen" where Yumiko tells some of her history and how she became interested in linen.  The book is then separated into seasons.  Each section begins with the author's reflections on that particular season followed by recipes or instructions for completing a project. Some of the projects include: what to do with old linen sheets, repairing ceramic dishes, creating a wreath, or making bath salts.  Also included are photos of things around the author's home to give the reader examples of the what the author is describing.  

The photographs were gorgeous and would have made a beautiful book by themselves.  However, I enjoyed getting to know the author through the stories she told.  She briefly tells about her family and life growing up in a city in northern Japan.  She has some interesting ancestors who contributed to the person she has become. I also have a better understanding of what Tokyo is like in each season.  

I recommend this book to anyone interested in home decor, organization, Japanese traditions, homekeeping or just looking at beautiful pictures.   

*Link to the article I originally read:

Fog Linen founder Yumiko Sekine at home

The Japanese Literature Challenge can be found at Dolce Bellezza

Monday, January 17, 2022

Book Review: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll The Light We Cannot See.  Anthony Doerr. Scribner (2014). 531 pages. Genre: Historical Fiction.  

First Lines: "At dusk they pour from the sky.  They blow across the ramparts, turn cartwheels over rooftops, flutter into the ravines between houses."

Summary: The story begins in the days leading up to World War II and follows three characters.  

One is Marie-Laure, a young girl who has recently lost her sight.  Her father is teaching her how to get along in the world without her sight.  He teaches her to use her cane and count storm drains or other markers that help her know where she is.  Each day he takes her with him to his job at the National Museum of Natural History where he is the principal locksmith.  When the Nazis occupy Paris they flee to the house of Marie-Laure's great uncle in Saint Malo.

The second character is Werner, who is a young orphan living in a mining town in Germany.  He and his sister are raised at an orphanage.  When Werner finds a radio, he becomes fascinated with listening to the broadcasts and figuring out how it works.  When he turns fifteen, he will be sent to the mines.  This terrifies him because their father was killed in the mines.  When he is given the opportunity to attend the General's school, Werner accepts. Soon his skills are in demand helping the war effort.

The third character is the Sea of Flames, a rare gemstone kept at the Paris Museum.  There are several rumors and legends surrounding the gemstone.  When Paris is evacuated, the stone is removed from the museum.  No one knows exactly where it has been moved to.  It becomes the object of a search by the German army.

My thoughts:  This is a complex, multi-layered story with complex, multi-layered characters.  It is a beautifully written, easy to read story that I won't soon forget. 

One thing I loved about Marie-Laure and Werner was that they were both curious people who pursued their interests and taught themselves what they wanted to learn.  For Marie-Laure that was learning to get around Paris without the use of her eyes, reading Braille and learning about snails.  For Werner it was radio technology, science and mathematics.  Marie-Laure's father spends his free time making wooden models of the buildings and streets near their home.  He is creating a three-dimensional map for Marie-Laure so that she can learn where things are located.  

The realities of war are vividly described.  It is bleak and heartbreaking.  I could feel the hunger and thirst and fear of the characters.  However, even in the midst of this the author shows the beauty of music, of literature, of nature and science, of mathematics and the love of family.  

There was a lot to like about this story, however, there were some things near the end that seemed uncharacteristic to me and I was left feeling unsatisfied.  Even so, I would still highly recommend this book if you haven't read it.


"The girl climbs into the swing and pendulums back and forth, pumping her legs, and watching her opens some valve in Werner's soul.  This is life, he thinks, this is why we live, to play like this on a day when winter is finally releasing its grip."

"What wonders in this house! She shows him the transmitter in the attic: its old-fashioned electrophone, the hand-machined antenna that can be raised and lowered along the chimney by an ingenious system of levers.  Even a phonograph record that she says contains her grandfather's voice, lessons in science for children.  And the books!"

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Book Review: Sunrise by Susan May Warren

SunriseSunrise (Sky King Ranch #1). Susan May Warren. Fleming H. Revell (2022). 368 pages. Genre:  Christian Fiction, Adventure, Romance.

First Line: "By the time Dodge got to the hospital, he'd already broken his first promise."

Summary:  When Dodge left Copper Mountain ten years ago, he made himself some promises.  One was that he would never return.  After receiving a phone call from his sister telling him their father had been in a accident, Dodge had no choice but to return to Copper Mountain.  Fortunately, his father was only injured, but he will need some help at the ranch for a while.  Dodge agrees to stay for a few weeks, but then he is leaving.

Echo Yazzie dreamed of leaving Copper Mountain for Anchorage or maybe even the lower 48.  She loves the Alaska wilderness and thought she might want to get a degree in Biology.  But if she left, her father would be alone.  To be honest, she wasn't sure she was ready to leave him.  She has made a life for herself raising and training sled dogs, gardening and guiding research expeditions in the wilds of Alaska.  

There was a time when Dodge and Echo thought they would spend their lives together.  Now it has been ten years since they have seen one another.  When a fellow researcher goes missing, Dodge and Echo have to work together to find her before it's too late.

My thoughts:  This is the beginning of a new series by Susan May Warren.  She excels at creating characters who are true heroes.  That is not to say that these characters don't have flaws, they definitely do.  But what makes them heroes is that they are willing to sacrifice for others and often choose to do what is right, rather than what is convenient.  They are relatable because they are not perfect, they make mistakes along the way and often mess things up.  

Something happened ten years ago that caused Dodge to leave.  He was hurt in many ways and promised himself he would never come back.  His story is revealed layer by layer as we watch him interact with the people in his home town.  He is home because it's the right thing to do.  His dad has been injured and can't fly his delivery route.  Dodge will take over until he can fly again.  He really doesn't want to see anyone from his past, especially Echo Yazzie.

Echo also has hurts in her past.  She loves Alaska and she really does love her life there.  But there is a part of her that wonders "what if".  Her dad has been struggling.  He loves wildlife and has spent many years rehabilitating animals that were injured.  But recently he has been making some bad choices - drinking and getting into fights.  Echo has her hands full.

The Alaska wilderness plays a huge part in the story.  The beauty and rawness of the landscape really comes through.  As Echo's fellow researcher goes missing, the elements prove to be the biggest adversary.  In fact, this was one of those books that I got so absorbed in, that the intrusion of real life was jarring. I didn't want to put it down, but I also didn't want it to end. 

Themes of forgiveness, second chances, faith and love dominate the story.  There is a lot to love about it and I highly recommend it. 

Monday, January 10, 2022

Book Review: Reserved for Murder by Victoria Gilbert

Reserved for Murder (Booklover's B&B Mysteries, #2)Reserved for Murder (Booklover's B & B #2). Victoria Gilbert. Crooked Lane Books (2021). 336 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "When your neighbor is a retired spy, it's easy to imagine innumerable dangers haunting the house next door."

Summary:  Charlotte Reed, owner of Chapters Bed-and-Breakfast, is hosting a special event involving romance author Amanda Nobel.  Chapters will host Amanda and her publicist, along with three fans who have won the prize of spending several days with the author.  Immediately, Charlotte senses some tension between Amanda and her publicist.  Amanda complains about being worn out from book tours and really doesn't want to mingle with many fans.  However, she puts on a good act for the first event, which is a cocktail party hosted by Chapters including book group members, the guests at the B & B, and some friends invited by Charlotte.  

During the question and answer portion of the evening, a man accuses Amanda of not doing her research before writing historical portions of her book.  Another man joins in grilling her and the atmosphere becomes tense.  The next evening, the five guests of Chapters go to dinner together.  But, only four return.  Charlotte is annoyed because she will have to be awakened to let the fifth guest in.  She decides to stay up and read, but soon falls asleep.  When she wakes up, the sun is rising.  She assumes that her housekeeper let the fifth guest in.  However, she soon receives a call from Detective Amber Johnson with some bad news.  The body of a young woman, Lisette Bradford, has been found in the water.  Lisette was the guest who didn't return last night.

My thoughts:  There is a lot going on in this book. There is the author who is staying at Chapters, along with her publicist.  Their relationship seems a bit hostile and strange.  Then there are the three other guests, who are fans of Amanda Noel's books.  One of them is head of a large fan club.  All of them seem to be "super fans".  Then there is Charlotte's neighbor, Ellen, the retired spy.  She has a guest, which is strange because she doesn't like overnight guests.  So who is this man really?  

It took me about half of the book to really warm up to the story.  This happened in the first book in this series as well.  Once I warmed up, I really enjoyed the story.  With everything that is going on there is a lot of set up and somehow I just didn't warm up to Charlotte for much of the book in this one.  

There are plenty of suspects for the murder, which makes it interesting.  Right up to the reveal, I wasn't sure who the murderer was.  The secondary story line involving Ellen and Charlotte's great aunt adds an interesting element.  We learn about some of the ways Ellen and Charlotte's great aunt worked together and I enjoyed that.  There is also a possible romantic interest for Charlotte introduced in this book.  Charlotte is not sure she is ready for a relationship, but finds herself wanting to get to know Gavin better.  However, he is not someone who lives in the area, so that will complicate things.  In the first book, there was some hostility on the part of Alicia, the housekeeper at Chapters, toward Charlotte.  They seem to be getting to know one another better and that was good to see. 

Even though I was slow to warm up to this one, there was still plenty to like.  I will definitely be waiting for the third book in the series to see where that takes Charlotte. 

Saturday, January 8, 2022

The Sunday Salon & Reading Goals 2022

 The Sunday Salon is hosted by Deb at Readerbuzz.

The first part of January is typically the coldest part of the year.  This year is no exception.  We have had a stretch of weather with a couple of days of single digit highs followed by a couple of days of highs in the 20's, then back to the single digits again.  The days in the 20's have brought snow.  I try to get outside for a walk every day no matter the weather.  On single digit days, I bundle up and keep my walk short.  Just getting the outside air in my lungs and the sun on my face makes such a difference in my mood.  

Here's what I have been up to this week:

Seeing ~ 
*Snow glittering in the sunlight
*Animal tracks in the snow
*Beautiful sunsets

Smelling ~ 
*Coffee in the morning
*Apple Cinnamon muffins

In the kitchen ~  
Apple Cinnamon Muffins
Salisbury Steak, Mashed Potatoes, Cooked Carrots

What I've been reading ~

Reserved for Murder (Booklover's B&B Mysteries, #2)

The Real Anthony Fauci: Bill Gates, Big Pharma, and the Global War on Democracy and Public Health

Reading Goals for 2022

My main goal for 2022 is to read what I feel like reading when I feel like reading it.   I have participated in reading challenges for several years and really enjoyed them, but in 2021 they just started to feel like too much work and caused me to read something for the challenge, rather than what I wanted to read.  So, I have cut back on the challenges I am participating in.  I do keep TBR lists in the notes app on my phone, but I don't consider these lists of books I must read, rather lists of books I might want to read if I can't think of anything else I want to read.  

I did set a Goodreads goal of 100 books, down from my goal of 104 in 2021.  I will also continue to read books from series I enjoy.  

I hope you all have had a good week!

~ Gretchen

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Book Review: The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax, #2)The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax (Mrs. Pollifax #2). Dorothy Gilman. Fawcett Books (1985) (First Published 1970). 176 pages. Genre:  Mystery.

First Line: "Mrs. Pollifax had attended church that Sunday morning, and her hat - a garden of pale pink roses and green leaves - still sat on her head as she ate lunch in the sunny kitchen of her apartment."

Summary:  It has been several months since Mrs. Pollifax had returned from Mexico City and her stint as a spy.  Life had returned to normal.  So, when she received a call from Mr. Carstairs, she found herself overjoyed.  Mr. Carstairs wonders if she can be ready in thirty minutes.  Before receiving his call, she was not sure whether she wanted to help out again.  Her pulse quickens as she hears herself say, "Yes, I can be ready in thirty minutes."

This time Mrs. Pollifax is headed to Istanbul, Turkey to try to make contact with a spy being accused of being sympathetic to Communists.  The spy, Magda Ferenci-Sabo, is a woman near Mrs. Pollifax's age, whose whereabouts have been unknown for quite some time.  Mr. Carstairs is taking no chances and sends a bodyguard with her that she is not to speak to under any circumstances.  Well, things do not go smoothly once they arrive in Istanbul.  Mrs. Pollifax won't give up until she has rescued Magda and returned her to safety.

My thoughts:  Whether at home attending gardening club meetings and making grocery lists or in some exotic location rescuing people, time spent with Mrs. Pollifax is always enjoyable.

This time she is sent to Istanbul, Turkey.  Mrs. Pollifax makes friends wherever she goes and this time she connects with the brother of a young lady she met on the airplane.  After Mrs. Pollifax visits Colin, he becomes her almost constant companion.  Mrs. Pollifax often shocks Colin with the things she is willing to do or when he learns that someone is after her.  I enjoyed their relationship and the way they respected one another, but could also tease one another.

The plot involves trying to make contact with Magda Ferenci-Sabo without anyone noticing.  This is not easy and there are many people who are trying to locate Magda.  Mrs. Pollifax has not been given much information, only that she is to locate her.  She has been given strict orders not to talk to the man who is following her as protection.  Mrs. Pollifax often is just not sure what to do, which leads to some humorous and interesting situations. She winds up being aided by some gypsies who escort her through the desert.  It was interesting to see the inner workings of this group of people.  The wanderings through the desert were vividly described and left a clear picture in my mind.  

"It was incredible country: the moonlight picked out whole forests of needle-shaped rock, a valley of rock chimneys arising white under the moon, a cluster of cone-shaped hovels like beehives."

One evening Mrs. Pollifax takes some time to reflect:

"...I must remember this moment, and then, I shall have to come back and really see this country.  Yet she knew that if she did come back it would be entirely different.  It was the unexpected that brought to these moments this tender, unnameable rush of understanding, this joy of being alive."

Whether you are looking for edge-of-your-seat suspense, beautiful scenery or reflections on a life lived well, you will find it all in a Mrs. Pollifax novel.  I look forward to her next adventure.