Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Book Review: The Kalahari Typing School For Men by Alexander McCall Smith

The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #4)

The Kalahari Typing School For Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #4)
Author:  Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher:  Pantheon Books (2002)
186 pages
Genre:  Mystery

"I must remember, thought Mma Ramotswe, how fortunate I am in this life; at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the verandah of my house in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white."

The fourth book in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series begins with Precious Ramotswe counting her blessings.  While she is still engaged to Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, they have not yet set a date for their wedding.  The offices of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency have moved and now share a building with Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, whose proprietor is Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni.  While he was ill, Mma Makutsi kept the garage running.  In fact, she did such a great job, that Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni would like to keep her on as assistant manager.  So, she will have two jobs, assistant manager at the garage, and assistant detective to Mma Ramotswe.  Will she be content with this?  Wouldn't she be happier if she had a man in her life?  Even with two jobs, money is scarce and Mma Makutsi cares for her brother.  She must find another way to make money.  Perhaps a driving school?  Or maybe a typing school for men?

For many years, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been the only detective agency in Botswana.  So when the ladies hear of another agency that has come to town, they must check it out.  Mma Ramotswe continues to care for the orphans and has some trouble with the boy, Puso, so she seeks out the advice of Mma Silvia Potokwani, the matron of the orphan farm.  In addition to all of this, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has two clients.  One thinks her husband is having an affair and the other wants to right some wrongs from his past.

This was a delightful read.  I always enjoy Precious Ramotswe's unassuming, no-nonsense attitude.  Each book continues to be fresh and enjoyable.


"That was the trouble with people in general:  they were surprisingly unrealistic in their expectations."

"And for those large glasses which Mma Makutsi wore, there might be some who would find them a little bit intimidating, but many other men simply would fail to notice them, in much the same way as they failed to notice what women were wearing in general, no matter what efforts women made with their clothing."

"The trouble with men, of course, was that they went about with their eyes half closed for much of the time.  Sometimes Mma Ramotswe wondered whether men actually wanted to see anything, or whether they decided that they would notice only the things that interested them.  That was why women were so good at tasks which required attention to the way people felt.  Being a private detective, for example, was exactly the sort of job at which a woman could be expected to excel (and look at the success of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)."

"The shoes themselves were light green, with lowish heels (which were very important for comfort and walking; high heels were always a temptation, but, like all temptations, one paid for them later)."

"He felt weary.  Life was a battle against wear; the wear of machinery and the wear of the soul.  Oil. Grease. Wear."

"She had a great respect for books herself, and she wished that she had read more.  One could never read enough.  Never."

Monday, April 27, 2020

Book Review: Barbara & Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest by Barbara Rainey & Susan Yates

Barbara & Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest: Discovering New Purpose, Passion & Your Next Great Adventure

Barbara & Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest:  Discovering New Purpose, Passion & Your Next Great Adventure
Authors:  Barbara Rainey & Susan Yates
Publisher:  Family Life (2008)
244 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction/Christian Living

"Feeling unsure?  Scared?  Expectant?  Maybe even giddy?  Is your nest empty - except for a bundle of mixed emotions?"

Barbara & Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest is written by two women who have 11 children between them.  After their youngest children left home, both women found themselves feeling sad, empty and unsure of what to do next.  As they began to talk to one another and meet with other women, they realized they were not alone in how they were feeling.  They wrote this book to help women navigate this new phase of life that isn't talked about much.  

One of the things I liked most about this book was the acknowledgment that many of us have put everything we have into raising our children and when they grow up and leave home, we are not quite sure who we are anymore.  The authors share their own stories as well as the stories of other women who have walked this path.  

The book is divided into four parts.  Part 1 is called, "We're In This Together", and is divided into two chapters.

Chapter 1:  Who in the world are Barbara and Susan?
Chapter 2:  Am I the only one who feels this way?

Part 2 is called, "Let's Get Honest", and contains six chapters answering questions that many women have at this stage of their lives.

Chapter 3:  What do I do with my loneliness?
Chapter 4:  What do I do with my disappointments?
Chapter 5:  How do I relate to my husband now?
Chapter 6:  How do I relate to my adult kids now?
Chapter 7:  How do I care for my extended family?
Chapter 8:  What do I do with me?

Part 3 is called, "Let's Move Forward".  These chapters help us look to the future and suggest ways to begin moving forward in our lives.

Chapter 9:  Take a break!
Chapter 10:  Celebrate!
Chapter 11:  Discovering your new purpose
Chapter 12:  Changing your world
Epilogue:  Barbara and Susan today

Part 4 contains the appendixes, including some helpful hints for caring for our parents and in-laws as they grow older.

Each chapter ends with a Bible verse and a section called "Take the Next Step" and includes questions to answer, recommended resources and endnotes.  Following each chapter is a specific woman's story of how she felt when her nest emptied and what she did next.

Reading this book helped me to realize that I am not alone in feeling sad and out of sorts now that my children have left home.  The authors suggest some great steps to move forward while also acknowledging that it may take some time.  They continually remind the reader to seek God for his plan and help through this time.  

If you are experiencing an empty nest or are anticipating the time when you will, I recommend this book.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce
Author:  C. S. Lewis
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (1996) (first published 1946)
125 pages
Genre:  Classic, Fiction, Theology

"Blake wrote of the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  If I have written of their Divorce, this is not because I think myself a fit antagonist for so great a genius, nor even because I feel at all sure that I know what he meant.  But in some sense or other the attempt to make that marriage is perennial.  The attempt is based on the belief that reality never presents us with an absolutely unavoidable 'either-or'; that, granted skill and patience and (above all) time enough, some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development or adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain." (from the Preface, pg. 9)

The Great Divorce is Lewis' attempt to help us better understand Heaven and Hell.  It is allegorical fiction, which C.S. Lewis does best.  The story begins with the narrator standing in line waiting for a bus.  He finally gets on the bus, but doesn't seem sure where he is going.  When he arrives, he and the others on the bus get off and begin to wander around.  The people he is with seem ghost-like.  But those who are already in this place are more solid and shining.  Along the way the narrator witnesses several conversations between ghosts and solid people.  He finally is able to engage in conversation with one of the solid people, who happens to be George MacDonald, and is able to have a conversation.  He doesn't always understand, but finally feels free to ask questions.  

I am not a big fan of fantasy and so don't always like this type of story.  But, it did help me understand better that in order to get to heaven, there are things in our lives that must die.  We can't have both.  Sometimes things that are good can become too important in our lives and leave no room for God.  Even things that seem like they can't be bad, such as love for a child.

This was a quick read, but has left me thinking about it for days afterward.  If C.S. Lewis seems intimidating, The Great Divorce might be a good place to start.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Book Review: The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

The Great Fire

The Great Fire
Author:  Jim Murphy
Publisher:  Blackstone Audio (2003)
Narrated by Taylor Mali
3 hours (approx.)
Genre:  Juvenile Nonfiction

The Great Fire is the story of the 1871 fire that destroyed a large portion of Chicago.  Author Jim Murphy combines first hand accounts and careful research to create a narrative that is hard to forget.  We are able to follow several individuals through the course of the fire based on their first hand accounts.  The author fills in the missing details based on his research and what was learned about the fire after the fact.  

It was interesting to learn how human carelessness combined with the right conditions led to the fire being much worse than it needed to be.  But equally interesting was how people helped one another in the midst of the fire and how quickly things were rebuilt once the fire was extinguished.  

While this is considered a children's book, I found that it had just the right amount of information for me.  I think that anyone, middle school age and up would find this compelling.  I listened to the audio book version narrated by Taylor Mali.  I enjoyed his reading and use of different voices for the individuals in the story.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Book Review: Live and Let Chai (Seaside Cafe Mystery #1) by Bree Baker

Live and Let Chai (Seaside Cafe Mystery #1)

Live and Let Chai (Seaside Cafe Mystery #1)
Author:  Bree Baker
Publisher:  Sourcebooks Landmark (2018)
346 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

"'Welcome to Sun, Sand, and Tea.'  I perked up at the precious sound of seashell wind chimes bouncing and tinkling against the front door of my new cafe.  'I'll be right with you.'"

Everly Swan has returned to her hometown of Charm, North Carolina and realized her dream of opening an iced tea shop on the beach.  In a few short months, she has managed to purchase a beautiful, historic home on the beach, remodel the lower level to hold her shop and open her doors to serve iced tea to the locals and visitors of Charm.  One of the main obstacles to opening her shop had been the opposition of a member of the town council named Benedict Paine.  Mr. Paine believes that adding a business to a residential property will bring down the neighborhood.  Despite his opposition, Everly opened the restaurant.  Mr. Paine has made a habit of coming into her shop regularly and requesting an ingredient list.  Everly does her best to be civil and treat him like a paying customer, hoping to win him over with her delicious tea.  It is not surprising that Everly is at the top of the suspect list when Mr. Paine is found dead on the beach near the glass of peach tea he had been drinking.  

Detective Hays is new to Charm.  He shows up at the scene of the crime along with many of the townspeople.  It is thought that Mr. Paine was poisoned and when Detective Hays discovers the iced tea glass from Everly's shop, he tells Everly she is going to have to come to the station and make a statement.  Unfortunately, gossip runs wild in Charm and it is not long before Sun, Sand, and Tea is lacking in customers as people fear Everly will poison them too.   But Everly didn't poison Mr. Paine and she dearly needs customers if she wants to keep her shop.  If she could discover who poisoned Mr. Paine, could she clear her name?

The cast of characters in this book includes Everly's aunts, who own a shop in town, her friend Amelia, who runs a book store, Detective Hays and a few other people from the town.  Everly has not been warmly welcomed since returning to Charm, but her aunts are thrilled to have her back and so is her friend Amelia.  Of course, Detective Hays is the handsome stranger to town, who is thoroughly frustrated with Everly's attempts to locate the killer.  Honestly, at times her brazenness was annoying to me as well.  

I really enjoyed the setting of a beach town.  It sounds like a lovely place to take a vacation.  And all the flavors of iced tea intrigued me.  The mystery has us following along with Everly as she asks questions and often offends people.  All the while Detective Hays is conducting his investigation, which we know is occurring, but don't know what he is discovering.  There are plenty of wrong turns, as well as a second murder.  In the end it is all solved and justice is served.  

I enjoyed visiting Charm and look forward to getting to know these characters a little more in the next book.  

Monday, April 20, 2020

Book Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price

A Portrait of Emily Price
Author:  Katherine Reay
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson (2016)
368 pages
Genre:  Inspirational Contemporary Romance

"Piccolo.  The restaurant matched its name - a tiny and delicate white stucco building with a short, neat brick walk leading from its front door to the parking lot.  Its wilted green awning and window boxes filled with equally droopy flowers made it look worn and comfortable - completely at odds with the man flashing his eyes between his watch and me."

Emily Price works for an insurance company doing restoration work.  Since she was a young girl she has loved to fix things and became fascinated with the art of restoration.  Her father took her to the Art Institute of Chicago and rather than look at the paintings, she followed a tour group called "Maintaining the Masters".  Her company has sent her from Chicago to Atlanta to do some restoration work at a home that was damaged by fire.  The company has also rented a workstation for her at Atlanta Conservation, Inc., owned by an Italian man named Joseph.  As soon as she arrives in Atlanta, Joseph takes her to a restaurant owned by his aunt and uncle.  While at the restaurant, she is introduced to Joseph's brother, Ben.  Emily finds herself immediately drawn to Ben, but tells herself that is silly.  She has been sent here to do a job, not meet a man.  Besides, after her last relationship, meeting a man is the last things she wants to do.  But Ben is different.  He has depth, he is caring, he is handsome...

Ben Vassallo has only recently arrived in Atlanta from Italy.  Ben came to visit his brother, Joseph.  It was only after he arrived that he met his aunt and uncle.  Ben has worked as a chef in his family's restaurant in Italy.  When his aunt and uncle meet him, they pounce on him, begging him to help them revitalize their restaurant, Piccolo.  Ben agrees.  But Joseph is skeptical.  Ben has always been a dreamer, eager to jump in and help, but rarely bringing a project to completion.  But, it has been a long time since Joseph has seen his brother, maybe he has changed.  Something happened in Italy that caused Joseph to leave his family home more than ten years ago.  Ben insists that he wants to help.  Can Ben turn the restaurant around?  Will he lose interest and leave things worse than they were before?

This story is beautifully written, filled with deep characters, interesting work and delicious food.  Families are complicated and that is definitely a theme in this story.  Joseph and Ben's Italian family are very loyal to one another.  However, there are secrets from the past that have caused division and hurt within the family.  Emily and Ben's relationship is magical and I kept expecting that something would come between them.  Something does come between them, but their deep devotion to one another is what gets them through. Emily is a fixer and Ben is a helper.  Emily is unsure of herself, she doesn't think she is good at what she does and doesn't have the confidence to get better.  Ben has confidence in his ability, but just wants to be trusted.  

Emily and Joseph's jobs as restorers are fascinating and a world I knew nothing about.  Being able to take something that has been damaged and make it whole again must be very satisfying.  

The descriptions of the Italian countryside make you feel like you are there.

"It was filled with light and color and a texture completely foreign to me.  The landscape rose and fell in gentle hills.  And every now and then the highway cut through a mountain, rather than rising over it as they do in the US, and we emerged from the tunnel into sunlight on the edge of a valley dipping below us, bathed in green - often with a beautiful medieval walled village perched above.  Cypress trees, pine trees, olive trees, vineyards, and pastures sloped all around us."

The food descriptions were equally amazing.

"Bread is life in Italy.  Papa makes it.  All kinds.  And Mama makes pasta so light it rises to your mouth.  Pizza is the form of bread left for me - a way to make the restaurant different, mine, prove my hands are good."

"The waiter laid four broad white plates before us.  Each was topped with a different pizza.  The bit of crust I could see on the edges was light and airy, and the toppings stunning:  one with arugula and prosciutto;  another, figs and mascarpone;  a third, sausage, duck eggs, and pecorino?  And the last, all green with who knows what.  And the smell?  We were enveloped in Italy."

It took me a couple of chapters to get into the story, but once I did I would often find myself completely unaware of what was going on around me and felt very jarred when I had to come back to reality.  

If you are looking for a book that takes you away from it all, is full of deep characters, beautiful scenery, delicious food and the love of family, I recommend this book.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Book Review: Death by Dumpling (A Noodle Shop Mystery #1) by Vivien Chien

Death by Dumpling (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #1)

Death By Dumpling (A Noodle Shop Mystery #1)
Author:  Vivien Chien
Publisher:  St. Martin's (2018)
328 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

"You know in the movies where someone says, 'You can't fire me, I quit!' . . . maybe don't do that in real life.  Unless you don't mind working as a server in your parents' Chinese restaurant for the rest of your life."

After that little incident, finding a job to pay the rent wasn't as easy as Lana Lee thought it would be.  Working as a server in her parents' Chinese restaurant does pay the rent, but she would rather be doing something that uses her college education.  On the particular day that we meet Lana, she is asked by the cook to take a lunch order down to Mr. Feng's office.  Mr. Feng is owner of the charming plaza, Asia Village, where her parents' restaurant is located.  On most days, Peter, the cook, takes Mr. Feng's order to him.  But today, Peter was too busy.  As she approaches Mr. Feng's office, Lana hears yelling coming from inside.  She hesitates to open the door and then finally decides she can't stand out here all day waiting for the argument to stop.  When she opens the door, she sees that it is Kimmy Tran, a woman her age, who is arguing with Mr. Feng.  The Tran family runs another shop in the plaza and Lana and Kimmy grew up together.  Kimmy proceeds to tell Lana that Mr. Feng is going to raise the rent.  Kimmy is clearly upset about this, but storms out as Lana comes in.  Lana makes small talk with Mr. Feng and delivers his lunch order and then returns to the restaurant.  

Just after the lunch rush that day, Lana notices her mother's friend, Esther, running toward the restaurant.  When she arrives she asks for Lana's mother and hurries past Lana screaming for her mother.  It turns out Mr. Feng has been found dead in his office.  It is discovered that Mr. Feng died from a reaction to shellfish.  But everyone at the plaza knows that Mr. Feng is highly allergic to shellfish.  Peter always makes his lunch order and takes the utmost care to prepare it in a non-contaminated pan.  The top two suspects are Peter and Lana.  Lana knows she didn't give Mr. Feng the wrong order, in fact, she doesn't even know what was in the bag.  But Peter would never, could never do something like that.  Could he?  

I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Lana Lee, her family and friends.  I love the author's writing style.  She includes plenty of interesting details, without being too long-winded or flowery.  And she is funny without being sarcastic or jaded.  Here is a description of Lana's dad from the book:

"He is extremely white.  There's no two ways around it.  Sometimes, he reminds me of those posters you see in a bank of some guy shaking hands with overly excited homeowners.  Which isn't too far from reality because he's a Realtor.  He even comes with his own million-dollar smile and crisp, well-fitted suit."

Lana has a great relationship with both of her parents and her sister.  The other shop owners seem like family as well.  Her roommate Megan always has her back and is often trying to encourage her to get out of the house and go on a date.  Detective Trudeau is handsome and seems to be constantly frustrated with Lana because she won't stay out of the investigation.

The mystery kept me guessing until almost the end.  There were plenty of secrets surrounding the people at Asia Village, which made for a lot of puzzle pieces to fit together.  I liked how Lana finally got a notebook and began recording what she learned each day.  It was fun to follow along with her.  In the end, the mystery is solved and everything is explained.  Very satisfying.  

I'm looking forward to reading the next installment, Dim Sum of All Fears.  If you are looking for a solid mystery with some great characters, a little humor and Asian flair, I recommend this book.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Book Review: Love Bears All Things by Beth Wiseman

Love Bears All Things (Amish Secrets, #2)

Love Bear All Things (Amish Secrets #2)
Author:  Beth Wiseman
Publisher:  Thomas Nelson (2016)
318 pages
Genre:  Christian Amish Fiction

Charlotte Dolinsky is trying to get her life back on track after a breakup with her boyfriend.  She is a freelance editor and work has been slow.  The very day she receives an eviction notice, Jacob shows up on her doorstep.  He is the son of her Amish friends in Pennsylvania.  They are worried sick about him because he left home without telling them where he was going.  He had been engaged to be married, but just couldn't bring himself to remain in the Amish community.  Charlotte does her best to convince him to return home, but he refuses.  Since she has no where else to go, she decides the only way to get Jacob home is to take him there herself.  

Daniel Byler is the older brother of Annie, who was engaged to Jacob.  As he recently was betrayed by his fiancee, he feels deeply for his sister.  How could Jacob abandon his sister when he had made a commitment to her?  When Charlotte returns to Pennsylvania without Jacob, he wonders why she is there.  He can't forget that not too long ago she deceived them all by pretending to be Amish in order to find out what happened to her brother.  Will he be able to trust again?  

This is the second book in the Amish Secrets series.  It has been a couple of years since I read the first book, but it wasn't long before I was able to remember what had happened.  I would recommend starting with the first book, Her Brother's Keeper.  This novel is somewhat unique in the Amish genre in that it deals with some really hard issues and not as much with daily life in an Amish community.  I missed that aspect in this book as those daily details are one of the things I love about this genre.  It did deal with Amish life and the difficulties and complications of modern conveniences, especially cell phones.  Most of the characters in this Amish community have cell phones, but they are supposed to be used only for emergencies.  When Jacob goes missing, many of them come to rely on their cell phones as they wait to hear some news.  It becomes difficult to break that habit once Jacob is safe. 

Some of the hard issues dealt with in the story are pregnancy outside of marriage, drug use, addiction, betrayal, and depression.  While this could be a really heavy story, the author does a good job of balancing the hard issues with the love of family and friends, hope in the future, and a growing faith in Charlotte and Daniel.  

This was a thought-provoking and interesting read.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Buttermilk Stroganoff

This recipe for Buttermilk Stroganoff comes from one of my favorite cookbooks:

This dish is a favorite of my husband and I usually make it once a month.  I serve it with a green vegetable or a salad.  One of my favorite things about this cookbook is that included with each recipe is a "Memo to Meal Planner"  which gives suggestions for completing the menu.  The suggestion for this recipe is, "Complete menu with broccoli, fruit salad and brownies or chocolate cake or cupcakes."  Sounds good to me!

Buttermilk Stroganoff

1 lb. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
6 oz. noodles (I use 4 - 5 cups dry egg noodles)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 (4 oz.) can chopped mushrooms
1 cup shredded process cheese spread (Velveeta, 4 oz.) - (I use shredded cheddar cheese)

Cook ground beef and onion in skillet until beef is browned.
Meanwhile, cook noodles as package directs; drain.
Blend part of buttermilk into flour to make a smooth paste, then stir in remaining buttermilk.  Add salt, pepper, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and mushrooms.  
Combine beef mixture, noodles and sauce.  Spoon into 2-qt. casserole.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese.  Return to oven about 3 minutes, long enough to melt cheese.  Makes 6 servings.

Note:  I have never baked this in the oven.  I just combine the beef mixture, noodles, sauce and cheese in the skillet and heat through.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. 

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Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Review: Christmas Cow Bells (Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1) by Mollie Cox Bryan

Christmas Cow Bells (A Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1)

Christmas Cow Bells (Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1)
Author:  Mollie Cox Bryan
Publisher:  Kensington (2019)
336 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

"Sometimes a place reaches deep inside of you, flows through you with light and warmth, and fills you with a sense of belonging, a sense of home.  Brynn MacAlister's first view of Shenandoah Valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains - a blanket of green, yellow, and brown rolling fields and farms spread for miles into the mists - had grabbed her with certainty."

Brynn runs a micro dairy farm to support her cheesemaking.  This farm was a dream she shared with her fiance, Dan.  When their marriage plans fell apart, Brynn decided to go through with the purchase of the farm on her own.  She now owns three Red Devon milking cows and is learning to love her new home and beautiful surroundings.  Her closest neighbor, Nancy, is also new to the area.  She lives on the property of an old church and would like to turn the church into a farm shop where locals could sell their wares.  But many of the residents of Shenandoah Springs have deep roots, stretching back generations and don't like to see things change.  

One night Brynn is awakened by sirens approaching her home. Her first concern is her cows and how they will react to the noise.  She has one cow who lost a calf and has been bellowing in sadness so much that other residents have complained.  When Brynn goes outside to check the barn, she notices the sirens are at her neighbor's house.  When she arrives on the scene, the church is in flames.  She frantically searches for someone who can tell her whether Nancy is still inside.  Soon she is pulled from the burning building and transported to a hospital.  After checking her cows, Brynn heads to the hospital.  When she arrives she discovers that Nancy is being airlifted to another hospital.  Brynn is just able to see her for a minute during which Nancy says, "Paul the contractor" or was it "call the contractor".  Unfortunately, Nancy dies in flight.  Brynn is devastated.  When she learns that the fire might have been deliberate, she becomes concerned for her own safety.  Who would want to hurt Nancy?  Does this have anything to do with her plans for the church?  Why did she tell Brynn to call the contractor?  

The mystery kept me guessing until the end.  There were plenty of suspicious people in the town and since Brynn was new, she wasn't always sure what to make of them.  As she made some friends, their biases toward others also threw her off track at times.  One of the men in town was cantankerous and seemed to be opposed to Nancy and her ideas for the church.  However, when Brynn got to know him, he apologized for his owly ways and Brynn enjoyed visiting him and his wife.  The characters grew on me over the course of the book.  I didn't immediately take to Brynn or her friends, but by the end of the book I was learning to like them better and am looking forward to the next book in the series.  

It was interesting to learn something about cheese making and the work involved in running even a small dairy.  I enjoyed Nancy's college-aged grandsons.  They came for her funeral and when the Bed and Breakfast their family was staying at no longer had room for them, Brynn offered her guest rooms for the boys to stay in.  They helped her with the chores on the farm and often made her breakfast.  

This was a solid mystery, with some interesting characters.  I look forward to the next book in the series.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Book Review: Stillmeadow Daybook by Gladys Taber

Stillmeadow Daybook
Author:  Gladys Taber
Publisher:  J. P. Lippincott (1955)
274 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, memoir

"Early morning is like a pink pearl now that April's here.  The first lilacs are budding over the white picket fence in the Quiet Garden; crocus, daffodils, white and purple grape hyacinths repeat the magic of spring.  Surely never was spring so wonderful, such a miracle!"

Stillmeadow Daybook takes us month by month through a year of living at Stillmeadow.  Located on forty acres in the countryside of Connecticut, it served as an escape from the city for Mrs. Taber and her family as well as the family of her good friend Jill.  Now it is home to Gladys and Jill, as they are both widows with grown children.  They spend their days keeping their home, gardening, raising and showing Cocker Spaniels, cooking, visiting with friends and family and enjoying the beauty that surrounds them. 

"And when we lost our husbands, the farm was a refuge and a haven, something to hold fast to.  And something we had to work for, which was a blessing.  By then we were raising all our vegetables, and we had thirty-six cockers.  We were raising puppies, doing a little showing, and were really very busy.  After all, I reflected, Stillmeadow isn't a house and land, it is a way of living."

Each chapter is a month which reads like a letter from an old friend.  This book begins in April and ends in March.  I began the book in September and my intention was to read a chapter per month.  I didn't do it perfectly, but stayed pretty close to the month we were in.  As I have mentioned before, I love details of daily life included in stories.  Well, this is an entire book of the details of daily life!  So, you won't be surprised to find that the Stillmeadow books are some of my favorites.  I have learned much about running my own home, gleaned ideas for meals and laughed out loud as I read about life at Stillmeadow. 

Gladys Taber lived with her husband and daughter in an apartment in New York.  Her husband was a teacher and she was working at Columbia, hoping to get a degree.  Mrs. Taber wrote stories and articles for Redbook, The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal.  She wrote several books, many with Stillmeadow in the title.

If you enjoy the details of daily life in writing, are interested in country life or life in the 1950's in Connecticut, I recommend this book or any in the Stillmeadow series. 

Friday, April 3, 2020

March Reading Wrap-up

In the month of March I read 11 books and did not finish (DNF) 1.  Fortunately, I did not have many goals for March, since I would probably have had to throw them out the window because of the Coronavirus Safer-at-Home Order.  I have been working my way through this stack of books I got from the library before they closed:

I read from the following genres:

Inspirational Contemporary Fiction/Romance:  3
Classic:  2
Historical Fiction:  1
Non-fiction:  2
Suspense:  2
Cozy Mystery:  1

Books from the library:  8
Audiobooks:  0
Books from my shelves:  3

My favorites from this month were:

The Fifth Avenue Story Society

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

Brunch at Bittersweet Café (The Saturday Night Supper Club, #2)

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe by Carla Laureano

My only goal for April is to keep reading.  I still have a few books left in my library stack, after that I will read from my shelves. 

Hope you are staying well and reading much!

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Book Review: Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe (The Saturday Night Supper Club #2) by Carla Laureano

Brunch at Bittersweet Café (The Saturday Night Supper Club, #2)

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe (The Saturday Night Supper Club #2)
Author:  Carla Laureano
Publisher:  Tyndale House (2019)
432 pages
Inspirational Contemporary Romance

"Once upon a time, Melody Johansson had believed in happily ever afters."

Melody Johansson, a European trained pastry chef, has been working in an American commercial bakery.  Several months ago, as a token of solidarity, Melody quit her job at Denver's upscale Paisley when her boss and best friend Rachel was forced out because of bad press.  Melody longs to work as a pastry chef again.  In the meantime, she works 12 hours a day at a bakery to pay the bills and bakes amazing pastries in her free time.  Until a mysterious pilot turns up at the bakery at 4 am, his car stranded in the snow just outside.  

Justin Keller is a pilot who works for a fractional, flying light business jets for executives, politicians, athletes and celebrities.  He began flying at a young age as his dad is also a pilot.  After helping his dad build an airplane,  he clocked many hours flying in it.  He and his brother-in-law have tossed around the idea of purchasing a small charter company of their own.

After their meeting at the bakery at 4 am, neither thinks they will see the other again.  Both are attracted to the other, but push those feelings aside, because the chances of seeing one another again are slim.  But, when Melody suddenly becomes the owner of a classic car that needs to be restored so it can be sold, the first person she thinks to call is Justin.  As the car brings them together again, they find they are like old friends, able to pick up where they left off.  But the road to a relationship is littered with many obstacles.  They both have complicated family backgrounds, are dealing with the remnants of old relationships and have new opportunities to follow their dreams in the future.  Will they find a way around those obstacles to develop their relationship or is it just not possible?

These characters are so complex and have such depth, it was a joy to spend time with them.  This is a story about following your dreams, the difference between dreams and plans, the importance of family and friends, deception and faith in God.  The story takes many twists and turns and at times the tension had me growling at the book.  In the end, things work out.  Highly recommended.