Friday, July 31, 2020

Book Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Beartown (Beartown, #1)
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster (2016)
432 pages
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction

First Lines:  "Late one evening toward the end of March, a teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the gun to someone else's forehead, and pulled the trigger.

This is the story of how we got there."

Summary:  Beartown is a small town in a land that has nine months of cold weather.  For years hockey has been what unites the people of the town.  But it has been many years since they were the best.  The current A-team has made it to the semi-final game where they will play the best team in the division.  The hopes of people young and old are pressing on the team.  

The star of the team is Kevin.  Kevin's parents haven't been to one of his games in years and they won't be at the semi-final game because they will be out of town.  Kevin plans to host a party for the team afterward.  Unfortunately, a violent act is committed at the party that will change the course of many lives.  Can the town survive?  Is hockey really the most important thing?

My thoughts:  This book was definitely out of my comfort zone.  I chose to read it because I saw the movie A Man Called Ove and loved the quirky characters created by Fredrik Backman.  My son read Ove and liked it.  I heard about Beartown from a few different sources and thought I might like to read it.  So I put it on my list of books to read in 2020.  That is why I chose to finish the book.  The amount of profanity and vulgarity in the book would have caused me to put it down unfinished.  However, because I committed to reading it I persisted.

It is definitely a difficult read in regards to the circumstances.  The characters are memorable and diverse.  One of the main themes I saw in the book is that of parenting.  Several of the characters are young people and their parents are part of their story.  Some have two parents, some one.  Most of the parents find it difficult to communicate with their teenage child.  Most of the parents are permissive and allow their teenage child to lie to them or others without restraint.  The author did a good job of portraying how parents suffer when a child has been harmed.

"They wanted an enemy.  Now they've got one.  And now they don't know if they ought to sit next to their daughter or hunt down the person who harmed her, if they ought to help her live or see to it that he dies.  Unless they're the same thing.  Hate is so much easier than its opposite.

Parents don't heal.  Nor do children."

This is definitely a heavy story dealing with difficult subject matter, but there are glimmers of hope.  I probably would not have finished the book if that had not been the case.  There are kind words spoken amidst the hate.  There are kind actions amidst fighting.  Truth is told even though no one believes it.  Even though amends are not made by the end, situations are accepted and lives move on.  As bleak as the story was, there was hope at the end.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Hummingbird & Bee Balm

Photo by James Wainscoat

One bird I see often in our yard in the late summer is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  

Stan Tekiela, in his Birds of Wisconsin Field Guide says this of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird:

"The smallest bird in Wisconsin.  Able to hover, fly up and down, and is the only bird to fly backward.  Does not sing, but will chatter or buzz to communicate.  The wings create a humming noise, flapping 50-60 times each second or faster during chasing flights.  The heart pumps an incredible 1,260 beats per minute, and it breathes 250 times per minute.  Weighing just 2-3 grams, it takes about five average-sized hummingbirds to equal the weight of one chickadee.  Constructs its nest with plant material and spider webs, gluing pieces of lichen on the outside for camouflage.  Attracted to tubular red flowers."

This morning we had a brief rain shower and then the sun came out again.  I can see these Bee Balm flowers from my kitchen window.  I was washing dishes when I spied a hummingbird at the flowers.

I watched for several minutes while the bird stuck its beak into every single one of these flowers.  I had never seen one do that before.  Maybe it was because of the rain on them, I am not sure.  It was enthralling to watch and I was thankful I had been looking out just then.  While these are not red tubular flowers, I often see hummingbirds at these flowers and the tubular lavender flowers of our Hosta plants.

Wishing you a joyful day,

Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Click on image for higher resolution copy. Description from I searched for this on

Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Review: Dead End (Kaely Quinn Profiler #3)

Dead End (Kaely Quinn Profiler, #3)
Dead End (Kaely Quinn Profiler #3)
Author:  Nancy Mehl
Publisher:  Bethany House (2020)
320 pages
Genre:  Romantic Suspense

First Lines:  "Chief of Police Everett Sawyer stood over the body they'd just dug up in the old rail yard north of the city.  The medical examiner, Jim Arndt, knelt next to the dead woman, his gloved hands carefully inspecting the evidence."

Summary:  Kaely Quinn and her partner, Noah Hunter, are called in to work a copycat killer case.  Kaely is called in because the killer is copying her father, Ed Oliphant, a serial killer known as Raggedy Man.  
Because of some of the things the copycat killer is doing that weren't made known to the public, the police believe he must be working with Ed.  The police and FBI have tried everything to get Ed to talk and he is not saying anything.  The only thing they haven't tried is sending Kaely to talk to him.  

Kaely doesn't want to see or talk to her father.  But she realizes that she might be the only hope of stopping this new killer.  Noah doesn't think Kaely should do it.  He is afraid it will be too much for her.  Kaely decides she will do it and Noah is sent along to assist her.  Will her father talk to her?  Does he have information that will help the police catch the copycat killer?

My thoughts:  This was a great finish to the Kaely Quinn series.  I really enjoyed the psychological aspects and how they were presented.  Kaely is an expert on psychopaths and she shares some of her expertise with us.

"I told you, he's a psychopath.  They have no remorse, and they don't have the ability to learn from experience.  It's impossible for this man to feel guilt or ever accept responsibility for the vile deeds he committed."

"'Sociopaths are similar to psychopaths, but they're volatile and disorganized,' Kaely said. 'Psychopaths can mimic feelings even though they don't have them.  They can be charming.  And they're organized.  Calculating.'"

Kaely still has a lot to work through in regards to her relationship with her father.  It was fascinating to walk through the process with her.  Her faith plays a major role in her healing process and the author helps us to understand how she could easily go down the wrong path and become angry and bitter and how evil could hijack her healing.  She also helps us understand more about where evil comes from and how it can affect people's lives.  Honestly, without the faith component, this series would have been very creepy.  

Kaely and Noah continue to work through their feelings toward one another, unfortunately most of the time each is doing it in their own mind.  Their relationship is not the major focus of the story and that was fine with me.  They continue to work well together and help one another in their personal struggles.  The mystery kept me guessing until the culprit was revealed.  There were several suspects and some red herrings that threw me off the track.  But everything is wrapped up nicely by the end. 

I have enjoyed all three books in this series and I look forward to what Nancy Mehl will write in the future.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Reading Lately ~

Eau Galle Recreation Area

Last week my husband had some days off and we took a day trip to Eau Galle Recreation Area.  

"The Eau Galle Flood Control Project, with its dam, lake, recreation areas and channel improvements, was authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1958 as a result of repeated flooding in the Spring Valley area. The 630- acre project was built from 1965-1968 and is located just north of Spring Valley."

The recreation area contains hiking trails, campgrounds, playgrounds, picnic shelters, a beach and a boat launch area.  We intended to do some hiking and have a picnic lunch.  We weren't sure where the best hiking trails were, so my husband asked a man who was carrying a fishing pole if he could tell us where to find the hiking trails.  He told us his favorite trail goes over the top of the dam.  He pointed us in the right direction and we set off.  The trail was a gravel path across the top of the dam.  The picture above is the view on one side.  The picture below is the view of the other side and is the town of Spring Valley.

It was an absolutely beautiful day and a gorgeous view!  After our hike we found a spot under a picnic shelter and had our lunch.

What have I been reading lately?

Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother

Feminine Appeal by Carolyn Mahaney (Non-fiction)
The subtitle is "Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother".  I really liked this one.  It was succinct and practical and Biblically based.


Soar by Joan Bauer (Middle Grade)
I have liked every book I have read by Joan Bauer.  This one is no exception.  The main character in the story is a boy who was left in a office building near a water cooler when he was a baby.  The man who discovered him, adopts him.  They share a love of baseball.  When they must move to a new town for the man's job, it is baseball that brings new friends into his life and ultimately causes major change in the town.  A very uplifting story!

The Cat Who Saw Red (Cat Who... #4)

The Cat Who Saw Red (Cat Who...#4) (Cozy Mystery)
Qwilleran is given a new assignment at the newspaper.  While on assignment he is introduced to Maus Haus, a large old house that is home to a collection of interesting individuals.  It just so happens that there is one apartment available and Qwilleran decides to move in.  But, something isn't quite right here.  Qwilleran, along with his Siamese cats, Koko and Yum Yum, try to discover what is going on...

The most recent book I was reading I abandoned after about 150 pages.  It was just not for me.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Review: Clammed Up (Maine Clambake Mystery #1) by Barbara Ross

Clammed Up (A Maine Clambake Mystery, #1)
Clammed Up (Maine Clambake Mystery #1)
Author:  Barbara Ross
Publisher:  Kensington (2013)
378 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

First Lines:  "She hadn't seemed like a Bridezilla.  Not in the least.  Most brides who would celebrate their wedding with a clambake on an island in Maine were pretty relaxed."

Summary:  Julia Snowden has returned to her home in Maine.  Her family owns and operates the Snowden Family Clambake business.  Earlier this spring Julia's sister Livvie called Julia in a panic asking her to please come back and help the family business stay afloat.  Julia, along with her brother-in-law Sonny, have been attempting to get it up and running for the season.  Julia has been working as a venture capitalist in New York, while Sonny has been running the business.  Along with restructuring the loan, Julia came up with some ways to increase business, one of which is holding wedding clambakes on the island.  This is the first clambake of the season and the first wedding to be held on the island.  

The first load to go over is the wedding party so that they can get ready for the ceremony.  But, the best man is late.  After waiting for some time, it is decided that the groom will stay back and wait for the best man and the rest of the party should head over to the island.  Once on the island, Julia is escorting the ladies to the old mansion on the property that will serve as dressing rooms for them.  However, when the front door is opened, Julia and the bride are faced with the terrifying sight of the best man hanging from the banister.  Unfortunately, there will be no wedding today.  And the police tell Julia she will be unable to run her clambake until further notice.  The problem is if they are closed for too long they won't be able to make the payments on the bank loan and the bank will pull the loan.  Was Ray's death a murder?  Who would want to kill him and why?  Will Julia be able to solve the mystery in time to save the business?

My thoughts:  This was a complicated mystery with many suspects.  I appreciated the way Julia worked with the police and let them do their job.  That didn't stop her from investigating on her own or asking the police questions, however.  But she did expect that they would do their job and solve the mystery.

It took me a while to warm up to Julia and the other characters.  It seemed that there was a lot of yelling between Julia and her brother-in-law.  However, as the story progresses this is worked out and overcome and I was glad to see that.  Julia feels out of her element because she has been away in New York City for several years.  Sonny has some resentment toward her because of this and that she hasn't been around to help the family with the business.  And he doesn't particularly like that she is stepping back in now.  Julia feels strange living in her mother's home again at the age of 30, but she expects this to be temporary, so getting her own place doesn't make sense.  Julia longs for a friend outside of her family.  She has taken to having lunch at Gus' s restaurant several times a week when she knows Chris Durand will be there.  Julia has had a crush on Chris since junior high school.  They both enjoy their lunches together now.  

I found it interesting to learn about clambakes and the life of a local on the coast of Maine.  After several twists and turns, things are all wrapped up neatly by the end.  I enjoyed this visit to Maine and look forward to the next book in the series.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Book Review: The Way of the Brave (Global Search and Rescue #1) by Susan May Warren

The Way of the Brave (Global Search and Rescue, #1)
The Way of the Brave (Global Search and Rescue #1)
Author:  Susan May Warren
Publisher:  Fleming H. Revell (2020)
347 pages
Genre:  Romantic Suspense

First Lines"He should have never left Alaska.  Sure, in Alaska Orion woke to his breath in a hover of mist over his face, his fireplace having simmered to a low flame, the room lit in gray, the sun denting the eternal night."

Summary:  Orion Starr has been angry and growing angrier for three years.  He can't forget the rescue gone wrong when he was working as a Pararescue Jumper.  Or the investigative reporter he met during that time, Jacie.  All he wants is some answers.  Who in the CIA is responsible for the rescue gone wrong?  Why did Jacie leave?  His friend and former Navy SEAL, Hamilton Jones, has been bugging him to join his private international SAR team.  There is no way Orion is going to agree to that, especially after he barely survived the last rescue mission he was on.  But, Ham is his friend and so when he comes to Alaska and asks Orion to climb Denali with him, he can't refuse.

Jenny Calhoun has been trying to forget for three years.  How can she ever forgive herself for what happened when she was working undercover for the CIA in Afghanistan?  Why did she let herself fall for Orion Starr?  Each year since that time, Jenny has convinced her friends to climb a mountain with her.  This year it's Denali.  They have been training for months.  Are they strong enough?  

My thoughts:  Wow!  What a thrill ride this book is!  Most of the story takes place on Denali as different groups of climbers are attempting to make it up the mountain.  Conditions are unpredictable and can change suddenly which makes for some very suspenseful moments.  Warren's descriptions of the perils some of the climbers were in must be good because I am not fond of heights and there were times while reading that my hands were clammy.  

I didn't love these characters as much as I have liked those in some of her other series.  I'm not sure why, but I didn't feel like there was as much character development early on in the story.  But, by the end I was rooting for each of them and can't wait to read the next book to see what happens.  As Susan May Warren has done in some of her other recent books, she wraps up the main plot near the end of the book, but just before the end introduces another cliff hanger that leaves you anxious for the next book.  That is definitely the case in this one.

These are "romantic suspense" so there is definitely a romance (or two) story line and it does get a little steamy at times.  It never goes beyond kissing, but just steamy in my opinion.  

My favorite part of novels by Susan May Warren is the way the characters grow in their faith and the obstacles they deal with.  In this story, the only character who is in a good place with God is Hamilton.  The others are working through doubts and struggles and it is interesting to join them on their journeys.  

The setting is beautiful and frightening and unpredictable.  

If you enjoy adventure stories set in amazing places with a little romance thrown in, this series is for you.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Book Review: Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice
Author:  Rosamunde Pilcher
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press (2000)
504 pages
Genre:  Fiction

First Lines:  "Before Elfrida Phipps left London for good and moved to the country, she made a trip to the Battersea Dogs' Home, and returned with a canine companion.  It took a good -- and heart-rending -- half-hour of searching, but as soon as she saw him, sitting very close to the bars of his kennel and gazing up at her with dark and melting eyes, she knew that he was the one."

Summary:  Elfrida Phipps, a retired actress, has left London and moved into a cottage in the village of Dibton, Hampshire.  At first she is rather lonely, but Gloria Blundell welcomes her into her family and invites her for dinner regularly.  Elfrida begins to enjoy the rhythm of her life and her little cottage.  When tragedy strikes, Oscar Blundell asks for Elfrida's companionship as he must decide on a new course for his life.  She accompanies him to a home that he is part owner of in Scotland.  They have decided there will be no Christmas this year as it would be too painful.  Over the course of the next few weeks, the house becomes a home to three other people who have recently suffered personal tragedy.

My thoughts:  Years ago I read The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher and loved it.  I may have read another of her books, but somehow never got to reading anything more by her.  Recently I saw Winter Solstice recommended and thought I really must pick it up.  I am so glad I did.

Ms. Pilcher writes in a way that draws you into the story.  Each of the characters are imperfect people who have made their share of mistakes.  Each has been through personal tragedy.  The story illustrates the power of love and kindness in healing hearts.  Elfrida is a free-spirit, but she also knows the power of having a place to call home.  She is loving and kind, even if her homemaking skills are a little lacking.  She loves people and is quick to welcome someone into her home.

Home and family are major themes in the story.  The idea that a house is special because of the home and family life that was created there is important. Also, the lack of home and family life is deeply felt and longed for in those who don't have it.

"He found himself remembering Radley Hill, because the atmosphere of this ordinary London house, where Neil and Janey were raising their children, brought back secure and comforting memories of the place where Sam had spent his boyhood.  Always the welcome, the lighted fire, the scent from the kitchen of delicious and robust food.  Boots on the porch, tennis rackets littering the hall, the voices of youngsters who were his friends, the sound of their footsteps clattering down the stairs.  He wondered if he would ever achieve such a haven of family life."

While this is not Christian fiction, there is a beautiful faith thread woven through the story.  It ends with each character's story coming to a satisfying place.  I enjoyed reading this so much and look forward to reading more Rosamunde Pilcher.

Other quotes:

"Lucy had kept up the diary since the day she had received it.  It wasn't so much a diary as a notebook, because there were no dates, just lovely clean pages, which meant that you wrote the date yourself, and then the day's doings underneath.  Sometimes, there was little to record, but other days, if she had been to the cinema or to a concert with the rest of her class, there was quite a lot to remember, and she could use up two or three pages."

"In a way, Elfrida found this lack of decoration and clutter quite therapeutic.  Without pictures, knick-knacks, small bits of silver, and sets of decorative porcelain to divert the eye, it was possible to appreciate the lovely proportions of the room, the ornate cornice and the plaster rose in the centre of the ceiling, from which depended a charming Victorian chandelier."

"I'm fourteen now, and sometimes I feel I've done nothing except go to school.  It wouldn't be so bad if I had a brother or a sister.  'Specially a brother.  Because just being with women all the time can be dreadfully lowering.  They talk about such unimportant things.  Like clothes, or restaurants, or other people..."

Friday, July 10, 2020

Book Review: The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #5)
The Full Cupboard of Life (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #5)
Author:  Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Anchor (2005)
198 pages
Genre:  Mystery

Mma. Ramotswe has been thinking about her engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.  She fears that she will forever be known as "that engaged woman".  However, she understands that a man cannot be pressured into marriage.  Especially when he has many things on his mind.  It seems this is the case with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

Mma. Potokwani has summoned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to the Orphan Farm once again.  She knows that he is always willing to help out the orphans.  This time, however, she has an outrageous request.  Even so, Mr. J.LB. Matekoni can't seem to say no.  Along with this, he has let his love of vehicles get him into a sticky situation.  

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been hired to choose a husband for a wealthy owner of hair-braiding salons.  The woman has narrowed the selection to four candidates.  But which of them is only after her money?  Mma. Ramotswe is on the case and will soon discover who is sincere.

I always enjoy time spent with Mma. Ramotswe and the other characters that make up her world.  Their lives continue to unfold in this story which focuses mostly on Mma. Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.  I love the simplicity of their lives and the beauty and richness of their surrounding land.  The virtues of men and woman are explored and traditional values are highlighted.  My favorite thing about Mma. Ramotswe is her common sense and her ability to point out bad behavior when she sees it.  

One of the themes in this story is accepting human nature and knowing when to keep your mouth shut.  But also understanding how to encourage someone else with your words.  As usual, everything is resolved by the end of the story, but this one ends with a surprise!  

Monday, July 6, 2020

Book Review: Murder Lo Mein (Noodle Shop Mystery #3) by Vivien Chien

Murder Lo Mein (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #3)
Murder Lo Mein ( Noodle Shop Mystery #3)
Author:  Vivien Chien
Publisher:  St. Martin's Press (2019)
304 pages
Genre:  Cozy Mystery

First Lines:  "There I was, staring at my doom ... surely; this was a fate worse than death.  'I am in so much trouble.  This is a complete and total nightmare!'"

Summary:  Lana Lee has settled into managing her parents' Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House.  A new shop has moved in next door, Shanghai Donuts.  This could be a problem, because next to noodles, donuts are Lana's favorite thing to eat.

Asia Village is preparing to host the annual noodle contest.  Peter Huang, the head chef at Ho-Lee Noodle House, has been preparing for weeks.  He intends to win the contest.  

"In the five years that the contest had been in existence, we had always placed in the top five, but never made first.  This was going to be our year.  I could feel it."

Peter wins the first round.  During the break, the participants, judges and special guests gathered at Bamboo Lounge for some light refreshments.  One of the judges, Norman Pan, a local food critic with a bad reputation, has had far too much to drink.  He gestures to Lana to come talk to him.  When she does, he gives her unwanted advice regarding her hair.  Not wanting to be disrespectful, she says nothing and he dismisses her.  Lana goes into another room and finds her friends.  Within minutes a scream is heard.  Mr. Pan was found with his face in a plate of noodles, dead.  What happened?  Was it murder?

My thoughts:  I always enjoy time spent with Lana Lee and her friends and family.  Her parents and sister have minor roles in this story.  Her grandmother has now moved in with her parents and it was fun to see the dynamic she creates.  Once again, Megan and Lana set about gathering clues.  This time Lana was really going to stay out of it, but Megan assumes they will be investigating and talks Lana into asking questions.  Megan pulls out her trusty notebook to record her thoughts.  As is often the case, her snooping is not welcome.

Mr. Pan has more enemies than friends, so there are several suspects.  There are red herrings along the way, but based on one minor clue, I was able to guess the culprit.  That didn't take away my enjoyment of the story though, because it was more of a suspicion and there were plenty of twists and turns before the conclusion.  

Lana continues to date Detective Trudeau, but their relationship is on rocky ground for much of this story.  I continue to enjoy Lana's family and the regulars in this series.  A few new characters were added that I hope to see more of in future books.  

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

June Read Wrap-Up

Well, summer is finally here!  We are experiencing temperatures in the low 90's and it is not expected to change for the next week.  In Wisconsin, we don't usually have long stretches of weather in the 90's.  I'm going to enjoy it while it's here!  

In the month of June, I read 9 books.  The genre breakdown looks like this:

Cozy Mystery: 2
Inspirational Fiction:  1
Historical Fiction:  1
Amish Fiction:  1
Short Stories:  1
Classic:  1
Non-fiction:  2

Cozy Mystery:

Lana's parents go to visit her grandmother and leave her in charge of the restaurant.  Another murder is committed in Asia Village.  

Murder Lo Mein (A Noodle Shop Mystery #3) by Vivien Chien (review coming soon)
The annual noodle contest is being held at Asia Village.  Peter Huang, head chef of Ho-Lee Noodle House, has worked hard to prepare for the contest.  He is determined to win this year.  One of the judges is found dead, the contest must be put on hold.

I enjoyed both of these and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Inspirational Fiction: 

This was an interesting story with a diverse cast of characters.  It is about second chances and having a place to belong.  There is a bit of a mystery element as well.

Historical Fiction:

Depression era, small town in Pennsylvania.  Julie's father moves the family in order to take over a small newspaper.  There is an amazing account of a flood based on the Jonestown Flood of 1889.

Amish Fiction:

This is the third and final book in the Amish Secrets series.  Charlotte's mother has passed away.  She discovers a new family member and must decide whether or not to be baptized into the Amish church.

Short Stories:

Beautifully written stories about various members of a small Kentucky town.


Anne Elliot regrets breaking off her engagement to Captain Wentworth eight years ago.  Will she get a second chance?


Letters written between the author and a book seller in London.  Delightful read.

Taming your wardrobe by dressing with 33 items or less for 3 months.

My two favorites this month were Fidelity and 84, Charing Cross Road.