Wednesday, December 30, 2020

My Favorite Reads of 2020

I read some really good books in 2020.  In fact, I had starred around 20 books in my reading journal as being favorites.  However, looking back, I think I can narrow the list further.


The Saturday Night Supper Club (The Saturday Night Supper Club, #1)

Rachel is part owner and head chef of an upscale restaurant in Denver.  When a food critic writes a negative review and Rachel responds, in a weak moment, to a reporter, the restaurant is in danger of losing business.  What a great book!  It is full of deep characters, delicious food and an irresistible location.  See my full review here.






Pollyanna (Pollyanna, #1)


I had never read Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter.  It turned out to be one of my favorite reads of the year.  See my full review here.










The Fifth Avenue Story Society

Five people receive an invitation to come to a meeting of the Fifth Avenue Story Society.  They all choose to attend, but no one knows who has invited them or why.  Read my full review here.






On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


I enjoyed this book on writing and tend to agree with King when he says, "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot.  There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut."  My full review is here.





84, Charing Cross Road


I loved this book of letters written from Helene Hanff to a bookshop and the shop employee's return letters.  It had been on my TBR for a long time.  I think I was avoiding it because I wasn't sure I would like to read a book written in letters.  Read my full review here. 





Fidelity: Five stories


This was my introduction to Wendell Berry.  I wasn't sure I would like his writing style.  I was wrong!  I really liked it and want to read more fiction by him.  Read my full review here.






Death on the Nile (Hercule Poirot, #17)


I always enjoy Agatha Christie, but I particularly like this one.  I enjoy the exotic setting and the clever mystery.  My full review is here






No Good Tea Goes Unpunished (Seaside Café Mystery, #2)


I always enjoy spending time with Everly Swan in Charm, NC.  This time she is hosting a wedding reception on the beach outside of her tea shop.  Unfortunately, the groom is murdered.  My full review is here. 





Murder with Clotted Cream (Daisy's Tea Garden Mystery, #5)


Daisy and her crew are giving a tea for a wealthy former actress and the cast of an upcoming play.  The host is found murdered.  The characters and their relationships with one another are what keep me coming back to this series.  My full review is here







Wicked Autumn (Max Tudor #1)


This was a new author and series to me.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to read more of the series in 2021. Wanda Batton-Smythe, the leader of the Women's Institute and bane to many in town, is found murder in the village hall during the Harvest Fayre.  Max assists in the investigation.  My full review is here





Collision of Lies


I enjoyed this slowly unfolding, page-turning, police procedural by a new to me author.  My full review is here.






God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine


I am still talking about this memoir written by a doctor during her time at the last alms house in the country.  My review is here






Have you read any of these books?  Are any your favorites?









Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Used Books Monthly #usedbooksmonthly

One of my sons gave me a gift subscription to Used Books Monthly for Christmas.  This is a unique subscription service that allows you to receive used books each month.  You choose the number of books you want in your monthly shipment and a genre.  Then each month you receive a shipment of books.  Here is their mission:

We believe books should be circulated and that an author's work should endure. Your selections are carefully curated every month based on your selected genres. We strive to select the best quality used books for our readers. Used Books Monthly is the most inexpensive and environmentally sustainable way to read. Every shipment is unique for you.  Discover new authors as you open a surprise every month.  Only used books meeting our quality standards are sent.  We keep books in circulation by finding new readers for used books.

I received my first shipment the day after Christmas.  He chose the mystery genre for me.  Here is the first book I received:


The book is in really good shape.  I am reading it now and will have a review soon!  


Monday, December 28, 2020

Book Review: The Watch on the Fencepost by Kay DiBianca

The Watch on the FencepostThe Watch on the Fencepost. Kay DiBianca. Crosslink Publishing (2019). 267 pages. Genre:  Mystery.

First Line:  "It was almost graceful, the way it dropped over the side of the mountain and glided down toward the valley below."

Summary:  Kathryn Fraiser recently lost both of her parents in a car accident.  As an only child, she has had to deal with the loss on her own.  However, she does have support from her pastor and his wife.  In fact, her pastor suggested that Kate consider training for a marathon as a way to take her mind off of her grief.  

While stretching at a bench in a local park, Kate notices a woman's watch on a fencepost near the bench.  She takes it to the lost and found at the park office.  But even after leaving the park, she can't stop thinking about that watch.  It was an expensive watch with a safety clasp.  How would someone lose it?  The watch seemed somehow familiar to her.  It suddenly comes to her that she had seen her mother wearing a watch like that.  It wasn't a watch her mother wore regularly, but she located a picture of her mother wearing a very similar watch.  How strange.  

The watch had stopped at 3:00, so Kate decides to return to the spot she found it at 3:00.  She really doesn't expect to find anything.  But what she discovers leads to secrets from her family's past as well as questions about her parents' deaths.

My thoughts:  This was a unique story involving a mystery, puzzles to solve, some romance, some suspense and great characters.  

I liked Kathryn Fraiser immediately.  She is sensible, caring and determined.  She had a close relationship with her parents and misses them dearly.  She and her dad spent time solving puzzles together.  He often said, 

"Puzzles are our friends.  Solve a puzzle and you are one step closer to ultimate truth.  Solve a puzzle and you are one step closer to God."

Each year on her birthday, Kate's dad created a scavenger hunt full of clues that led to her gift.  So, when she discovers a message taped to the inside of her car door, she wonders if her dad left it as a clue for her.  It was fun trying to solve the puzzle with Kate and her friends. 

There was just a touch of romance that fit seamlessly into the story and never overpowered the mystery.  

The mystery kept me guessing until the end.  There were several people that I suspected including the culprit, but I didn't know for sure until right before Kate did.  

This was a unique story with short chapters and a writing style that kept me turning pages.  I really enjoyed the puzzle aspect of the story.  I look forward to meeting these characters again in the second book in the series.


Saturday, December 26, 2020

Book Review: The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry

The Way of Ignorance and Other EssaysThe Way of Ignorance and Other Essays.  Wendell Berry.  Counterpoint (2005). 192 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction.

First Lines from the Preface:  "I think The Way of Ignorance is the right title for this book, but I recognize that it also is risky.  Some readers, I am afraid, will conclude from the title that I intend to recommend ignorance or praise it.  I intend to do neither."

Summary:  This is a collection of essays Wendell Berry wrote mostly in 2004. Most of them are agricultural based.  Some involve politics.  All deal in some way with how to be a good human being.  

The following essays are included:

*Secrecy vs. Rights

*Contempt for Small Places

                                                        *Rugged Individualism

                                                        *We Have Begun

                                                        *Some Notes for the Kerry Campaign, If Wanted

                                                        *Compromise, Hell!

                                                        *Charlie Fisher

                                                        *Imagination in Place

                                                        *The Way of Ignorance

                                                        *The Purpose of a Coherent Community

                                                        *Quantity vs. Form

                                                        *Renewing Husbandry

                                                        *Agriculture from the Roots Up

                                                        *Local Knowledge in the Age of Information

                                                        *The Burden of the Gospels

Also included is a letter to Daniel Kemmis, his reply and an essay by Courtney White.

My thoughts:  I choose this book to fulfill the "book of essays" category in The Literary Life Podcast 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge.  Earlier in the year I read Fidelity by Wendell Berry and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would try some of his non-fiction.  

Although I am not a farmer and don't know much about agriculture, I found most of the essays interesting and expanding.  He has a way of thinking about ordinary things that is unique and a way of writing that makes things understandable to the average person.

My two favorite essays were Charlie Fisher and Renewing Husbandry.  

Charlie Fisher is about a man who has spent many years logging with horses.  It was interesting to learn about this hardworking man's life.  About the work he does and why he has chosen to do it the way he does.  

"Charlie Fisher is a man of long experience in the woods and extensive knowledge of the timber business and of logging technology.  He has no prejudice against mechanical equipment as such, but uses it readily according to need; for a time, during his thirties, he used mechanical skidders.  That this man greatly prefers horses for use in the woods is therefore of considerable interest."

Charlie's reasons for using horses are that he likes horses, he likes the woods and horses leave the woods in better condition, he both earns and spends his money in the local community rather than with large corporate suppliers with the use of skidders, and horses cost less than skidders.  Oh, and did I mention that Charlie is sixty-six years old?

In Renewing Husbandry, Berry recalls how when he was a boy his father and grandfather farmed the land using mules.  When he was a teenager, the tractor started to become more common.  At the time he longed to be able to plow the fields with a tractor because it seemed to him that would be a more efficient way to accomplish the job.  Mules were slow and stubborn.  However, when he returned to his home in Kentucky as an adult and took up farming for himself, he saw things differently.

He defines husbandry like this:

"The word husbandry is the name of a connection.  In its original sense, it is the name of the work of a domestic man, a man who has accepted a bondage to the household.  We have no cause here, I think, to raise the issue of 'sexual roles'. We need only to say that our earthly life requires both husbandry and housewifery, and that nobody, certainly no household, is excused from a proper attendance to both.  Husbandry pertains first to the household; it connects the farm to the household.  It is an art wedded to the art of housewifery.  To husband is to use with care, to keep, to save, to make last, to conserve.  Old usage tells us that there is husbandry also of the land, of the soil, of the domestic plants and animals - obviously because of the importance of these things to the household."

This really expanded my understanding of husbandry.  I always assumed it referred to the care of animals on a farm.

I am glad to have discovered this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to understand things from farmer's perspective.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Merry Christmas!

 


"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6


I will be spending Christmas at home with my husband and two sons.  It will be a small gathering, unlike most years.  But it will be lovely.  

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

~ Gretchen


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Book Review: A Christmas Wish by Betty Neels

A Christmas Wish A Christmas Wish. Betty Neels. Harlequin (1995). 192 pages. Genre:  Romance.
First Lines:  "The dim and dusty Records Office, tucked away in the depths of the hospital, was hardly a cheerful place in which to work, but the girl going back and forth between the long rows of shelves sounded cheerful enough, singing a medley of tunes as she sorted the folders into their right places with the ease of long practice."
Summary:  Olivia Harding feels fortunate to have her job in the Records Office of the hospital.  She has no training that qualifies her for any particular job.  But she is willing to work hard and learn new things.  She and her mother are living with her grandmother, who never lets them forget the favor she has done them.  Soon, she will marry Rodney and won't need to worry about a job or a place to live.  However, Olivia is beginning to wonder whether marrying Rodney is the right thing.  He keeps putting off their marriage until he gets the right job, or gets his flat just like he wants it, or gets a new car. 
Haso van der Eisler, a surgeon consulting at the hospital, visits the Records Office to pick up some notes on a patient.  He notices Olivia's politeness and cheery outlook on life.  When he learns a few weeks later that she has been made redundant, he contacts someone he knows who has connections at a school.  He doesn't want Olivia to know that he has made arrangements for her to get work.  
Olivia takes the job as a "jill-of-all-trades" at a boarding school.  Mr. van der Eisler's goddaughter, Nel, attends the school and when he arrives to pick her up Olivia is surprised to see him.  As the weeks go on, Olivia finds she looks forward to seeing Mr. van der Eisler, but believes he has no interest in her.   And why should he when the beautiful Rita, mother of Nel, would be happy to marry him.  Mr. van der Eisler however, has no interest in marrying Rita.  He finds himself offering to pick up his goddaughter in the hope that he will see Olivia.  With Rita standing in the way, will the two be able to get together?
My thoughts:  My sister gifted me this book, recommending this author as one of her favorites.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable story and I am so glad she recommended it.  The author, Betty Neels, began writing after retiring from nursing.  
"She had retired from nursing, but her inquiring mind still sought stimulation.  Her new career was born when she heard a lady in her local library bemoaning the lack of good romance novels."
I loved Olivia.  She was a humble, hard-working young woman.  The job she gets at the school has her doing all kinds of things, from washing the little girls' hair, to cleaning, to leading them in outdoor games. She does all of it without complaining and ends most days completely exhausted.  She cares deeply about her mother and her comfort and hopes to provide a place for her to live someday.
Olivia's grandmother is a severe, unlikeable woman.  She is disappointed that Olivia isn't small and meek like her mother, but rather took after her father.  She constantly picks at Olivia, 
"Really, Olivia, your hair is badly in need of a brush, and is that plastic bag you are carrying really necessary?"
Mr. van der Eisler is a perfect gentleman.  He is a skilled surgeon that comes from a wealthy family.  Originally from Holland, his family still has a home there.  He keeps a flat in England as well.  His goddaughter is the daughter of his best friend who was killed in an accident.  He loves her dearly and plays a large part in her life.  Rita, the wife of his best friend, figures he would be a good catch.  He is wealthy and he would let her do what she wants.  However, she cares more about her career than her daughter.  
This would be considered a "chaste" or "clean" romance as there is nothing more than kissing in this story, which I appreciated.
My favorite parts of this story were the descriptions of the landscape, homes and meals.  All those details that I love in a story.  The author's writing reminded me of Rosamunde Pilcher.  
This was a great story, full of interesting characters and charming descriptions.  
Quotes:
"The pleasure of sitting in one's own small home, drinking a last cup of tea before getting into bed, was by no means overrated."
"The dining-room was on the other side of the hall.  Not a large room, it held a circular mahogany table with ribbon-back chairs around it, a side-table holding some massive silver pieces, and a Regency fireplace with a carriage clock on the mantel above it.  The curtains were a rich plum velvet and the floor polished wood.  A lovely room in which to have a meal, reflected Olivia, sitting down and accepting the soup Becky set before her."
"It was cold but fine weather and they took advantage of the peace and quiet to go for long walks, finding a village pub for lunch and getting back to the annexe in time to cook their supper and spent the evening together catching up on gossip."
"It gave her a chance to inspect the house from the outside.  It had a solid front, crowned with a wide gable, with neat rows of windows on either side of a vast front door and smaller windows higher up across its face.  Round the back there were two narrow wings, almost enclosing what she thought might be a lawn once the snow cleared, and at one end a large conservatory.  There were outbuildings too, and a brick wall, the same faded colour as the house, running away into the distance.  The fields were hardly visible, for the snow was falling steadily and was already deep underfoot." 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Book Review: Twelve Slays of Christmas by Jacqueline Frost

Twelve Slays of Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #1)Twelve Slays of Christmas (Christmas Tree Farm #1). Jacqueline Frost. Crooked Lane Books (2017). 311 pages.  Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Lines:  "'I have two cups of Santa's cinnamon tea, one spicy apple cider, and a peppermint twist hot cocoa,' I said, setting the mugs on the table surrounded by rosy-cheeked women wearing matching holiday sweaters."

Summary:  Holly White is back home in Mistletoe, Maine.  Her parents own Reindeer Games Tree Farm.  She has come home after her fiancee left her for a yoga instructor.  She is just in time to help out with "Twelve Days of Reindeer Games".  Each day leading up to Christmas, the farm holds a special activity.  

While helping out in "The Hearth", the tree farm's cafe, Holly overhears a neighbor complaining about being fined by Margaret Fenwick of the Historical Society.  A member of the Fenwick family had been president of the Historical Society for a long time.  The shops in town were often at odds with the Historical Society over one thing or another.  Today she is even threatening to fine the tree farm for not having a livestock permit for their reindeer and inadequate fencing.  When she confronts Holly's dad in the cafe, he tells her his fencing is brand new and he won't just take it down.  An argument ensues and ends with Margaret threatening to take down the fencing herself if he won't.  After Margaret storms out the door, Holly's dad is remorseful and leaves to try to catch Margaret and apologize.  Holly's mom asks her to follow her dad and help him out with his apology.  Holly searches for her dad, but can't find him.  As she is wandering around outside, she hears a scream and someone calling for help.  When she reaches the woman she is pointing toward a sleigh, Margaret Fenwick's sleigh.  Margaret is slumped over on the seat of the sleigh, dead.  

The police are called.  They discover the murder weapon in a dumpster on the tree farm property.  The murder weapon was a tree marker used by the farm.  Holly's dad was carrying a bag full of them when he left the cafe.  He is the prime suspect.  But Holly knows her dad didn't do this.  But, if he didn't do it, who did?

My thoughts:  This book is definitely full of Christmas.  It took me a while to get past the Christmas reference saturated sentences.  But, when I did, I enjoyed the story.

Holly is doing her best to remain positive after her engagement broke up.  I love the relationship she has with her parents.  They are really glad to have her back home, but give her some space and remain aware that she is grieving.  Over the course of the book she comes to realize how important it is to be part of a family and community.  It is fun to watch her come out of her cocoon and grow.

Sheriff Gray is new to Mistletoe.  After working homicide in Boston, he wanted to work somewhere that had few murders.  Unfortunately, he has arrived in Mistletoe just in time for the first murder in forty years.  But, fortunately for the community, he has plenty of experience working these types of cases.  However, Holly can't stop herself from trying to figure out who murdered Margaret.  This causes Sheriff Gray no end of frustration as the killer keeps threatening Holly.

The mystery is fairly straightforward and not a lot of time is spent on it until the last third of the book.  When things pick up, there is plenty of suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat.  

There is a lot of time spent on the festivities at Reindeer Games.  The author's description of the Snowball Roll had me laughing out loud.  Expect to be hungry after reading about all the delicious cookies, desserts and drinks mentioned in the book.  

This was an enjoyable read, full of all things Christmas along with a little mystery.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Book Review: 12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep

12 Days at Bleakly Manor (Once Upon a Dickens Christmas, #1)12 Days at Bleakly Manor. Michelle Griep. Oasis Audio (2017). Genre: Historical Fiction, Christmas, Mystery.

Summary:  Nine months ago, Clara Chapman lost everything.  She was left standing at the altar by the man she loved.  He also stole her family's fortune.  As Christmas is approaching, Clara receives an invitation to spend the holiday at an English Manor.  She does not know who sent the letter, but it promises that if she stays for the twelve-day celebration she will receive 500 pounds.  She is hesitant as it is all so mysterious, but 500 pounds would go a long way toward helping her get back on her feet.

Benjamin Lane has been in prison for nine months.  On the way to his wedding, he was arrested for stealing the Chapman fortune and has been in prison since.  He didn't steal the fortune and doesn't understand why Clara hasn't been to see him or try to get him out of prison.  When he receives an invitation to spend the Christmas holiday at an English Manor he can't refuse.  The invitation promises that if he remains for the twelve-day celebration he will receive his freedom.  If he tries to leave the property he will be shot.

An invitation was sent to several other people as well.  Each promised something in return if they stay for the twelve-day celebration.  As they arrive at the manor, each thinks the other might be the host. Once they have all arrived, they discover that their host is not among them.  Clara and Ben are surprised to see one another and each is angry at the other.  Will they be able to reconcile?  Strange things begin happening at the manor that cause everyone to be on edge. Will they be able to discover who the host is and why he invited them?  

My thoughts: This was quite an intriguing story.  I listened to the audio book version and I found myself inventing more chores so that I could keep listening.

Clara was told that Ben stole her family's fortune.  It was hard for her to believe at first, but since she hadn't heard from him she was forced to believe it was true.  She has spent the time since losing her family's home living with and caring for her aunt.  She has been quite unhappy, but trying to go on the best that she can.  Ben is angry that Clara didn't believe in him and thought the worst.  It takes a day or two for them to warm up to one another after arriving at the manor.

The other guests that have been invited add interest to the story.  Each one is eccentric and had me laughing out loud at times.  

It is the mystery of who owns the manor, along with the mysterious occurrences that bring Ben and Clara together.  In the end, the reader learns the answer, but not all the characters do. 

This was an enjoyable Christmas read full of mystery and romance.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Book Review: A Christmas to Remember by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

A Christmas To Remember (Cape Light #7)A Christmas to Remember (Cape Light #7).  Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer.  Berkley (2006).  256 pages.  Genre: Christian Fiction, Christmas.

First Lines:  "Newburyport Yacht Club, August 1955.  'Just this one dance, Lily.  I'll be right back.' Charlotte hesitated.  'Feeling guilty', Lilian suspected."

Summary:  Lillian Warwick is a difficult person to get along with.  Some might call her curmudgeonly.  But, she wasn't always that way.  Once upon a time she was young and in love.  

Lillian has been thinking about her past and remembering what it was like to be young and in love.  All these thoughts lead her to climb the attic stairs to retrieve a box of photos and memorabilia.  On her way back down, she slips and falls.  She is unable to get up and must wait for someone to come.  Luckily, her granddaughter, Sara, is bringing some groceries over so she doesn't have long to wait.  Once Sara arrives she calls the ambulance.  Lillian has two broken bones, one in her arm and one in her leg.  The doctor will only release her from the hospital if she has around the clock care.  Lillian doesn't like the idea of someone being in her home all day and night.  But, if she wants to go home, she will have to put up with it.  Her two daughters and her granddaughter will take turns caring for her.  While she is bed ridden and recovering, she has plenty of time to think about the past.  Will Lillian have the courage to share her mistakes with her family?

My thoughts:  Lillian often has me shaking my head.  How can she be so difficult all the time?  I really enjoyed this story because it gave us a glimpse of Lillian before she was old and curmudgeonly.  The story alternates between present time and 1955.  It was during that time that she fell in love with Oliver Warwick.  Unfortunately, Oliver has a bad reputation.  He has been married before and rumor has it that he spends his time on unsavory exploits.  Lillian's father has heard it all and refuses to allow Lillian to see him.  Well, I won't give it all away, but since her last name is Warwick you can see that Lillian found a way through.  

There are two other minor storylines in this book.  One involves Lucy Bates.  She is married to Charlie Bates and together they own the Clam Box.  Lucy has been helping Charlie out in the diner for years.  However, she recently went back to school to become a nurse.  She is currently doing her training at the hospital.  She has really been looking forward to practicing what she has been learning, but she finds dealing with patients much harder than she imagined.  Also, juggling the needs of her husband and two boys is very difficult.  

The other minor storyline involves Lillian's granddaughter, Sara.  She is engaged to Luke and they are in the process of planning their wedding.  Lillian does not approve of Luke.  However, Luke is not afraid of her and does his best to ignore her remarks.  The wedding plans are complicated because Sara was adopted by parents who live in another part of the state.  Her birth mother is Lillian's daughter Emily.  Sara wants to please everyone, but she just feels overwhelmed.

In his Christmas sermon, Reverend Ben encouraged his congregation to prepare for Christmas, the coming of the Christ Child, like you would prepare for a new baby in your home.  I had never thought of Christmas this way before and it caused me to consider what this season would be like if I did that.  With a new baby, especially a first child, there is a lot of excitement and also some fear.  But, you also realize that there is no rushing a baby.  He will come when he is ready and so you must wait patiently.  This gave me something to think about.

So, another enjoyable story in this series.  However, we are always left hanging on many issues which leads us to want to read the next story as soon as possible.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Book Review: Collision of Lies by Tom Threadgill

Collision of LiesCollision of Lies.  Tom Threadgill.  Fleming H. Revell (2020). 400 pages.  Genre: Suspense.

First Lines:  "Thirty seconds.  If they were still arguing, she'd call the cops then.  Let the professionals deal with them."

Summary:  Amara Alvarez, a detective with the San Antonio Police Department, has been given information that may relate to a case that has been closed for three years.  The case involved the collision of a school bus and a freight train.  This new information seems to indicate that one of the children that was on the bus is still alive.  This is contrary to the investigation that was originally conducted, as that indicated that all passengers were killed.  So, she tries to dismiss the information and get on with her life.  But, she keeps thinking about it.  As she begins to look into the investigation of the accident, she comes up with more questions than answers.  If one child is still alive, are they all still alive?  Why were they taken?  How were they taken?  Who would do such a thing?  

My thoughts:  I was a little hesitant to read this book just because of the premise.  An accident involving the death of several children was not something I wanted to dwell on.  However, after reading other reviews I decided to give it a try and I am so glad I did.

This story is really more of a police procedural, which is something I like.  Yes, there was an accident that involved the deaths of several children, but we are not given graphic details of the accident or the aftermath.  Amara does wonder how a parent could go on after such a thing.  One of the mothers is involved in the story and we do see the grief she is suffering, but these things are not dwelled on.  

I really liked Amara.  She is hardworking and determined.  Currently, she is a detective in the Property Crimes Unit, but would like to be in Homicide.  She is compassionate, but is also a realist.  Her pet iguana, is not something I would like to have, but it works for her.  

There are several supporting characters that I would like to get to know better.  Amara's mother hosts a family dinner on Saturday nights.  She makes delicious,  Mexican food that Amara's co-workers would like to sample.  There is Wylie, her co-worker and a father-figure to her.  There might be an interest between her mother and Wylie.  Another co-worker, Starsky, is an entertaining character.  He works in Homicide, but is willing to help Amara occasionally.  We are still not sure why he is called Starsky.  He is always hungry, but eats horribly.  The Medical Examiner talks in riddles and when anyone uses a saying, he likes to explain where it came from.

"'Cut to the chase," the ME said.  'Comes from the days of silent films.  Some directors and screenwriters would include too much dialogue, and the studio executives insisted they cut to the chase scene.  Didn't want audiences to get bored.'"

This added a little levity to the situation, but I imagine in real life it would get old fast.  

What I liked most about this story was the pace.  It unfolded slowly, piece by piece.  The pace was such that it was hard to put the book down because you wanted to see what happened next.  There were a few edge of your seat situations, but mostly it was a steady peeling back of the layers to reveal the truth.

I enjoyed this one and would like to read more from this author.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Book Review: Secrets of the Amish Diary by Rachael Phillips

Secrets of the Amish Diary (Amish Inn Mysteries, #1)Secrets of the Amish Diary (Amish Inn #1). Rachael Phillips. Annie's (2016). 221 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line:  "A new life as an innkeeper...what was I thinking?"

Summary:  Liz Eckardt has recently left her job as a patent attorney at a prestigious law firm in Boston.  Liz received her recently deceased mother's diary at the reading of her will.  In it she learned that her mother was raised Amish.  This was news to her.  Abigail, Liz's mother, left Pleasant Creek, Indiana as a teenager.  Now, Liz has purchased Olde Mansion Inn in the quaint town of Pleasant Creek.  She is hoping that by becoming part of the community she can learn more about her mother's family.

Liz is immediately welcomed, or you might say "bowled over", by a group of ladies that call themselves the Material Girls.  Two of them have run a fabric shop in Olde Mansion Inn for decades.  They were forced to close the shop when the former owner moved out and put the Inn up for sale.  Now that Liz has purchased the Inn they are ready to move back in and pay her rent.  At first Liz is hesitant to let them in.  But they seem friendly enough and are planning to pay rent.  That income sure would be helpful while Liz is building the Inn's reputation.  

Among the first guests at the Inn is a man named Clarence Peabody. Mr. Peabody seems to be angry at the world.  He is extremely grumpy and very particular about many things.  At breakfast the first morning, one of the female guests tries to engage him in conversation by telling him a joke.  It was a joke about the Amish.  Rather than laughing, he mutters some angry words about "if you knew the Amish like I do" and storms out of the Inn.  That is the last any of them see of Clarence Peabody.  Later that evening two police officers arrive at the Inn asking questions about Mr. Peabody.  They inform Liz that he has been found dead in the lake near the Inn.  Mr. Peabody was not a pleasant man, but did he anger someone enough that they would murder him?  

My thoughts:  First of all, the physical copy of this book is lovely.  It is hardcover with a dust jacket and has a ribbon marker sewn into the spine of the book to mark your place.  The art on the front cover makes me want to find out what's inside.

At first, the Material Girls seemed a bit over the top as they barged in on Liz.  But, before long, I saw that there was really substance to them and they were truly welcoming Liz to town.

"But the colorful group of women in the other room had extended eager hands across the empty space in her heart.  Back in Boston, her intimate friendships had taken years to establish.  She'd never been truly close to Matt, her ex-boyfriend, despite their extended history.  Yet within a few hours, these wacky but wonderful Indiana quilters had made her feel like a valued part of their group.  They had made her feel at home."

There are really two mysteries in the story.  One is the story of Liz's mother and why she left her family and the Amish way of life.  The other is the mystery of who killed Mr. Peabody.  

Liz spends time doing research to find out about her mother's family.  That is more difficult than she expected it to be because it appears that her mom changed her name.  

The police arrest a young Amish boy for the murder of Mr. Peabody.  He happens to be engaged to a young lady that is working for Liz at the Inn.  Liz doesn't believe he is capable of murder, but all the evidence is pointing to him.  Liz begins to ask questions, which is also difficult because she is new to town and not Amish.  However, one of the women that sews with the Material Girls is the mother of the boy arrested for the murder.  Liz can only imagine what it must be like to have your son arrested.  She decides to visit Miriam to let her know she doesn't believe her son committed the murder and offer her help.  Miriam truly appreciates her visit and the two become friends.  

I really enjoyed the inside look at Amish life in the story.  Liz attends a barn raising and an Amish wedding.  We get a real feel for what that would be like.  

In the end the mysteries are solved and friendships are deepened.  I look forward to reading the next book in this series.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge 2021

 

The Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge is hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block.  The goal is to read twelve books, one for each month, in the mystery genre that fit the categories provided.  For all the details, click on the link.  I will be tracking my reading here.

1. January - A Fatal Winter by G.M. Malliet - Month related item on cover

2.  February - The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair - Couple/Romance/Love Triangle

3.  March - Muzzled by Eileen Brady  - Money/Inheritance has major role

4.  April

5.  May

6.  June - Wed, Read & Dead by V.M. Burns - Month related item on cover - wedding cake

7.  July

8.  August - A Call for Kelp by Bree Baker - Month related item on cover - beach

9.  September

10.  October

11.  November

12.  December




Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Book Review: The Christmas Angel by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

The Christmas Angel: A Cape Light NovelThe Christmas Angel (Cape Light #6). Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer.  Berkley (2005). 256 pages. Genre: Christian Fiction.

First Lines: "Emily found the baby purely by accident.  Later, looking back, she decided it hadn't been an accident at all.  It was one of those things that was simply meant to be."

Summary:  Emily Warwick, mayor of Cape Light, was out for her morning run when she noticed something moving in the cradle that was part of the large creche in front of the church.  As she slowed down, she thought it must have been her imagination.  But, just to make sure, she approached the cradle and there was definitely something moving there.  It was a baby who had begun to cry.  Emily picked the baby up and tried to comfort it.  She walked toward the church with the baby on her shoulder and went inside to get the child warm and try to figure out what to do.  Once inside, she discovered a note tucked inside the baby's blankets.  The note was written by the baby's mother asking whoever found the baby to "Please help my baby, Jane."  

As Emily tries to imagine what it would take for a mother to give up her sweet baby, she is reminded that she once made the very same decision.  However, in her case, she gave her child up for adoption.  She had run off and eloped with her boyfriend when she was just nineteen.  Soon after they were married, she became pregnant.  Before the baby was born, she and her husband were involved in a car accident that took her husband's life.  Her mother convinced her that she was too young and couldn't support herself and a baby.  So, she gave her baby up for adoption.  Now, after finding this baby, she realizes that she feels as though she was robbed of raising a child.  She deeply regrets giving her baby up for adoption.  However, Emily has recently remarried.  She is in her late forties and her husband is in his early fifties.  He has already raised two children.  Before they were married, they agreed that children were not in their plan for the future.  Emily feels an instant connection to baby Jane.  But, it's not as simple and just taking the baby home with her.  The police have been notified and a social worker assigned.  Emily wants to apply to be her temporary guardian.  Her husband reminds her of their agreement before they got married.  He also reminds her that she is mayor of Cape Light and has duties she must perform.  How would she manage caring for a baby while performing these duties?  

My thoughts:  This is the second book in the Cape Light series that I have read.  I read the first book and so was familiar with the characters.  This book is number six, but I had no problem following the story.  The authors do a good job of giving brief background information when needed without bogging the story down.  I immediately liked the characters in the first book and found myself immediately drawn into this book as well.

Emily and her husband Dan have been married less than a year.  They have a great relationship and enjoy their lives.  Dan is in the process of writing a book and spends most of his days in various libraries doing research.  When Emily approaches him about becoming the baby's temporary guardian, he is completely against it.  He looks at the situation logically.  They are both busy adults.  It would be difficult to fit a baby into their lives.  He is also concerned about her.  The guardianship would be temporary and then the baby would go to another family.  He fears this would devastate Emily.  Emily realizes this is the case, but secretly hopes that they would decide to adopt the baby.  It's complicated.  The characters are very real and so are their arguments.  I am not saying that there was too much arguing, just that the disagreements were so realistic they made me squirm.  There were times when I thought Emily was being completely unreasonable.  But, through the circumstances in the story, she learns what she needs to learn.  

The daughter that Emily gave up when she was nineteen is back in her life.  Sara is a very likeable character that was introduced in the first novel.  She has a serious boyfriend who is ready to get engaged, but Sara is not sure she is ready.  Their storyline added to the plot.  Another character that continues to add to the plot is Emily's mother, Lillian.  She is a difficult person and she and Emily don't always see eye-to-eye.  At times her curmudgeonly behavior is hilarious.  

Reverend Ben is feeling like his congregation isn't listening to him and doesn't need him.  He wonders if it is time to move on to something else, something more exciting.  The idea terrifies his wife.  Their grown children and grandchildren live nearby and she would hate to move far from them.  I could really relate to Reverend Ben's struggles.  They were portrayed realistically and with depth.

Of course, this is a Christmas novel and Christmas played a large part in the story, giving the reader fresh eyes to see the wonder of the Christmas season.  This was an enjoyable read that put me in the Christmas spirit.

Quotes:

"But it's the depth of experience that counts most, isn't it? He didn't need a big city to dazzle him.  He believed in microcosms: all levels of life and complex society could be found in a tidepool."

"I know it isn't any consolation, but from the moment they arrive, children are constantly in the process of leaving us, every minute, by infinitesimal but sure degrees."


Monday, December 7, 2020

Book Review: Under the Cajun Moon by Mindy Starns Clark

Under the Cajun MoonUnder the Cajun Moon.  Mindy Starns Clark.  Harvest House (2009). 352 pages.  Genre: Suspense.

First Lines:  "Ringing.  Something somewhere was ringing and just wouldn't stop.  Slowly.  I opened my eyes."

Summary:  Chloe Ledet, international business etiquette expert, receives a phone call from her mother indicating that her father has been shot.  Chloe catches the first flight from Chicago to New Orleans.  After arriving in New Orleans she receives a call from her mother telling her that while her father was conscious he indicated that he needed Chloe to handle an important business matter for him.  Her father is the famous Julian Ledet, chef and owner of Ledet's Restaurant in the French Quarter.  Chloe is anxious to get to the hospital, but agrees to handle the business transaction first.  She is to meet their lawyer at the restaurant and sign some paperwork regarding a property he is buying.

She wakes up in a hotel room with no memory of how she got there.  The phone ringing wakes her up, but not in time to answer it.  Soon, someone is knocking on the door.  It is the police who received a complaint about noise.  Disoriented, she lets the man in.  He soon discovers a dead man on the couch in her room.  Chloe realizes that the dead man is the lawyer she met at the restaurant last night.  Did Chloe kill him?  She doesn't think so.  If only she could remember how she got to this hotel...

My thoughts:  This was such an engaging read and hard to put down!  There are two parallel storylines in this book.  The first is the present day story involving Chloe.  The second takes place in the 1700's in France involving Jacques, the son of a goldsmith.  Jacques' storyline is secondary, but it relates to Chloe's story and is inserted at just the right time to add to the tension.

Chloe is a complex character.  She grew up as the only child of Julian and Lola Ledet.  Julian was the famous chef and Lola was the hostess at the restaurant.  Chloe always felt left out and overlooked by her parents.  When an old friend, Travis Naquin, shows up and begins helping Chloe, she is relieved, but suspicious.  Travis is the grandson of one of her father's friends and comes from a tightly knit, large Cajun family.  Through his character I learned so much about Cajun culture.  I enjoyed getting to know them both and watching their relationship grow.

The mystery is twofold.  One part is whether Julian Ledet was shot accidentally or on purpose.  The second part is who killed the lawyer and tried to frame Chloe.  Solving the mystery involves solving a riddle.  The riddle was written by Julian and hung on the wall of the restaurant.  It involves treasure, swamps, snakes, friends, family and enemies.  It involves learning who to trust and trusting even when you are not sure you should.  It is complicated, but fortunately it is all sorted out at the end.

The secondary storyline involves Jacques.  He is helping his dying father complete a goldsmithing job ordered from the palace itself.  Jacques must keep his presence undercover, because part of the agreement with the palace was that only his father would know about the work.  But, his father is growing weaker and found that he can't complete the job alone and so contacts Jacques for help.  As this story progresses we see how it relates to Chloe's story.  It was very interesting to learn about goldsmithing and the hard work and precision involved.

This was an engaging mystery, full of complex characters and interesting places.  

Quotes:

"Papa didn't like the man much, as he felt he was all show and no substance, a flatterer of kings who was always last to do the quiet, thankless jobs of the guild but first in line to hold up a corner of the royal robes during processionals."

"He went on to explain that coastal Louisiana was full of underground salt and that in many cases a single salt dome might extend two or three miles out - and up to eight or nine miles down, whether it was obvious at the surface or not."

"As an expert in etiquette, I didn't comment, but I couldn't help thinking that Travis' chivalry might fly here in the South, but if he insisted on holding doors and pulling out chairs in certain parts of this country, his actions might be misconstrued as condescending or even disrespectful."



Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Literary Life 19 for 2021 Reading Challenge

 192021squareI will be joining The Literary Life Reading Challenge again this year. I enjoy this challenge because it gets me to read things I wouldn't otherwise read.  Also, the hosts of the podcast, Cindy Rollins, Angelina Stanford and Thomas Banks, often discuss books that will fill a category from the challenge.  I will record my progress here.

A Poetry Anthology

A book (or selection) of Letters - Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

A book from Your To-Be-Read Stack - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

An Ancient Greek or Roman Work

A Book on Education, Art or Literature - A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason

A Victorian Novel

A Lesser-Known Book by a Well-Known Author

A Shakespeare Play

A Book You have Avoided

Finish a Book You Started but Never Finished

A Literary Biography

Something Russian

A Regional or Local Book

A 14th, 15th or 16th Century Book

A Book in a Genre You Don't Normally Read - Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael D. O'Brien

An Obscure Book Mentioned by Thomas Banks (or any book mentioned on the podcast)

A Light Comedic Novel

An "Other World" Book

A Travel Book - My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Friday, December 4, 2020

Crusin' Thru the Cozies Reading Challenge

Yvonne at Socrates' Book Reviews hosts the Cruisin' thru the Cozies Reading Challenge.   I will be participating at Level 2 (Investigator) - reading 20 books of my choice.  There is also a Goodreads group you can join here.

I will be listing my books here:

1. A Call for Kelp by Bree Baker

2. Muzzled by Eileen Brady

3. Wed, Read & Dead by V. M. Burns

4. Murder with Oolong Tea by Karen Rose Smith

5. A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

6. Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien

7. Martinis and Mayhem by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

8. The Cat Who Played Brahms by Lilian Jackson Braun

9. Poetry in Motion (Secrets of Mary's Bookshop #8)

10. Killer Kung Pao (Noodle Shop #6) by Vivien Chien

11. The Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey #1) by Kylie Logan

12. Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall #1) by Maria DiRico

13. High End Finish (Fixer-Upper Myster #1) by Kate Carlisle

14.

15.

16.

17.

18.

19.

20.


Thursday, December 3, 2020

Phantastes by George MacDonald Chapters 10 - 25

PhantastesPhantastes: A Faerie Romance For Men and Women.  George MacDonald (1858). Genre: Fantasy, Classic.

In chapters 10 through 25, Anodos continues his journey in Fairy Land. After leaving the village where the people were distorted, he enters a desert region inhabited by goblin-fairies who constantly offer him gold and jewels.  

Along the way he releases a white lady, meets a knight that causes him to think less of himself and enters a cave and must journey through to the other side.  This is a dark and lonely time. His shadow becomes bigger and it is difficult to go on.  

After getting through the cave he finds refreshment in the home of an old woman, who is a mother figure.  He feels peace in her presence and could stay there forever.  He knows he can't and she tells him that if he ever needs refreshment to look for her symbol and enter there.  

The story illuminates what we all go through in life.  We meet good people and bad people, those who help and those who hurt.  We have hard times and good times, times of despair and times of refreshment.  All of these things shape who we are as people.  Anodos was shaped by his journey as well and came out a better person.

As I said before, fantasy is not a genre I read from very often.  I am glad I read Phantastes,  but I am still not a fantasy lover.  

As I mentioned in the post I did on chapters 1 - 9, The Literary Life Podcast is doing a series on this book.  I recommend listening to those episodes as it adds a lot to your reading.

Quotes:

"They who believe in the influences of the stars over the fates of men, are, in feeling at least, nearer the truth than they who regard the heavenly bodies as related to them merely by a common obedience to an external law."

"His mind had never yet been filled with an absorbing passion; but it lay like a still twilight open to any wind, whether the low breath that wafts but odours, or the storm that bows the great trees till they strain and creak.  He saw everything as through a rose-coloured glass."

"I learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and fancied innocence.  I learned that he that will be a hero, will barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his work, is sure of his manhood."

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

November Reading Wrap-Up

 


My Christmas decorating always starts with putting up the Christmas village.  So, the day after Thanksgiving, that is what I did.  The tree will be next.

As far as reading goes, it was a bit of a slow month.  I felt distracted and had a hard time concentrating.  I finished 6 books from the following genres:

Non-fiction: 1
Historical Fiction: 1
Cozy Mystery: 2
Mystery: 1
Suspense: 1

Non-fiction:

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet - A memoir about the author's time as a doctor at Laguna Honda, the last almshouse in the country.

Historical Fiction: 

A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner - A dual timeline story about a woman who survived 9/11 and one who worked in the same building as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and was there when the fire happened.  She went on to work on Ellis Island in the hospital for immigrants.

Cozy Mystery:

Wonton Terror (Noodle Shop Mystery #4) by Vivien Chien - A bomb is set off in a booth at the Asian Night Market.  A friend of Lana Lee's family is killed.  Ronnie seemed to have plenty of enemies, but are any of them capable of murder?

Brandy & Bullets (Murder, She Wrote #4) by Donald Bain & Jessica Fletcher - A retreat center for creative people has opened in Cabot Cove.  One guest commits suicide, one attempts suicide and another has gone missing.  Jessica attempts to discover how the retreat center is involved.

Mystery:

The Vanished Bride (Bronte Sisters Mystery #1) by Bella Ellis - The Bronte sisters and their brother attempt to solve a murder with no body.

Suspense:

Under the Cajun Moon by Mindy Starns Clark - Dual timeline story involving a present day woman framed for murder in New Orleans along with a storyline in France from the early 1700's involving a goldsmith. (Review coming soon)

Challenges:

With just one month left in the year, I thought I would take a look at the challenges I have been participating in.

My List of Books to Read in 2020 - completed
The Literary Life 20 for 2020 Reading Challenge - 19 out of 20
Visual Theology 2020 Christian Reading Challenge - completed
Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - 47 out of 52

Currently reading:

Phantastes by George MacDonald 
The Way of Ignorance by Wendell Berry
The Christmas Angel by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer

How was your reading in November?

This month I'm linking up with the Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight.