Sunday, February 28, 2021

February Reading Wrap-Up


Image credit: Roland Jordahl
Birds & Blooms

The month of February gave us a variety of weather.  The month started out average with temperatures in the 20's, but they quickly began to drop.  By the end of the first week, temperatures hovered near the zero mark.  That was the beginning of about two weeks of temperatures ranging from -25 to just above zero.  During those very cold days we were blessed with clear, bright, sunny skies.  

The picture above is a Black-capped Chickadee.  Even during the very coldest days, these tiny birds could be seen in the crab apple tree in my backyard.  They were flitting around from branch to branch calling "phoe-bee" or as I was taught, "cu-tie".  It was amazing to watch them.  The cold didn't seem to bother them in the least.  

The weather has begun to warm up and we are enjoying temperatures in the 30's!  Spring is getting closer.  

This month I read 9 books in the following genres:

Historical Fiction: 2
Mystery: 1
Cozy Mystery: 3
Fiction: 2
Juvenile Fiction: 1

Historical Fiction:

The House Girl by Tara Conklin - Carolina Sparrow is a first-year lawyer who is part of a team of lawyers working on a case involving restitution for the descendants of slaves. Josephine Bell is a slave living on Bell Creek Plantation in Virginia.  Carolina and Josephine's stories intersect in a surprising way.

The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark - Another dual timeline novel also taking place in the South.  Harper loves to sew and design dresses.  She is attending college and has hopes of graduating and opening her own dress shop.  However, things don't go as planned and Harper is forced to make some life changing plans.  Millie is a young woman in 1946, who also dreams of one day owning a dress shop.  However, because she comes from a mixed race family, she doesn't expect that dream to ever become a reality.  As their lives intersect, they begin helping one another realize their dreams.


Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino - A man is found dead in his locked home.  His wife is out of town, but her apprentice has a key.  When the apprentice can't reach the man by phone, she goes to their home where she finds him dead.  He appears to have been poisoned, but was it suicide or was he murdered?  The mystery is well plotted and worked through step by step.

Cozy Mystery: 

Murder with Oolong Tea (Daisy's Tea Garden #6) by Karen Rose Smith - When an opinionated teacher from the local high school is found dead during the Spring Tea, Daisy does her best not to get involved.  But, since the prime suspect is someone Daisy is sure didn't commit the crime, she begins to ask some questions to try and discover who would have wanted the teacher dead.  Meanwhile, her oldest daughter and husband are learning what it's like to be parents, her youngest daughter invites a friend to stay for a few weeks and her relationship with Jonas is a bit rocky.  

A Fatal Winter (Max Tudor #2) by G. M. Malliet - It's Christmastime in Nether Monkslip and Father Max is looking forward to all the traditions associated with the holiday.  Just outside of town, something sinister is brewing at Chedrow Castle.  Lord Footrustle has invited his relations to the castle for a visit.  He and his sister Lady Baynard are lonely.  Unfortunately, most of their relations can't stand to be in the room with one another.  It is not long before there is a death at the castle.

Egg Drop Dead (Noodle Shop Mystery #5) by Vivien Chien - Lana Lee has added a catering business to her parents' Chinese restaurant.  Her first client is a friend of the family, Donna Feng.  She is throwing a birthday party for herself at her lavish home.  Since her husband's death a few months ago, Donna has not been herself.  In fact, she loses her temper with her nanny in front of all the guests.  When the nanny is found dead in the pool a few hours later, Donna is the prime suspect.  Donna begs Lana to help her find out who killed the nanny.


Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson - Tina Hopgood has always wanted to visit the Silkeborg Museum to see the Tollund Man.  Years ago she read about him in a book and made a pact with her best friend to visit.  Tina is realizing she may never get there and decides to write a letter to the man who wrote the book.  She doesn't really expect a reply, assuming he is either very old or dead.  When the museum curator writes back explaining that the professor is dead, Tina feels she must send another letter.  So begins correspondence between the two.

Affliction by Russell Banks - After Wade Whitehouse disappears, his brother tries to piece together what happened. (Review coming soon)

Juvenile Fiction:

Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner - Grandfather has a surprise for the Alden children.  He has an island!  And they get to spend the summer there.  The children set up their "home" in a barn and get busy exploring.  Captain Dan lives on the island and has a young friend staying with him.  The children spend their days exploring the island, cooking food, swimming and creating books of flowers and shells they have spotted on the island.  

Around the blog:

My journal - I shared what I include in my journals.  Back in October I had written about how I use my journals as a commonplace book.  This article shows what else I include in my journals.

I am still working my way through One Hundred and One Famous Poems.  I have failed miserably at reading a poem a day.  I did read a few throughout the month though.

I hope you had a great February full of good reads!

~ Gretchen

I am linking up with The Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Book Review: Egg Drop Dead by Vivien Chien

Egg Drop Dead (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #5)Egg Drop Dead (Noodle Shop Mystery #5). Vivien Chien. St. Martin's Press (2020). 320 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "'I am not going to wear a qi-pao to Donna Feng's party, Mother!'"

Summary:  Lana Lee, manager of her parents' Chinese restaurant, has recently added a catering service to the business.  The summer months can be slow and catering would bring in some extra money.  Donna Feng, owner of the shopping plaza where the restaurant is located, is their first catering customer.  She is planning a fancy dinner party for her birthday and has hired Lana and her crew to provide the food. 

Since her husband was murdered a few months ago, Donna hasn't been her usual, bold self.  The night of the party she seems anxious and flustered.  Lana notices that Donna has been drinking quite a bit.  It all comes to a head when Donna's young teenage twins decide to perform cannonballs into the pool, soaking many of the guests.  Donna is embarrassed and angry.  She screams at the girls to get out of the pool.  Then she begins looking for the nanny, Alice.  The girls say they don't know where she is.  When Donna locates Alice, she begins yelling at her in front of all the guests.  After Alice apologizes, she flees to the safety of the house.  Lana has never seen Donna act this way. 

After most of the guests have gone, just a few of the people Donna hired are cleaning up.  Suddenly there is a scream from the backyard.  Alice has been found floating in the pool.  Donna is the most likely suspect as her outburst was witnessed by most of the guests at the party.  But Lana can't believe Donna would do such a thing.  Who else would have a motive to kill Alice?  Donna begs Lana to help her figure out who killed Alice.

My thoughts:  In the previous book in this series, Donna Feng's husband was killed.  Lana helped Donna find the killer, so Donna wants Lana to help her again.  The two of them had bonded during this time, so it was nice to see the relationship continue.  Most people, including Donna's friends, believe she is the murderer.  Lana doesn't believe Donna is capable of murder.  Donna has some secrets from her past that she thinks may be catching up with her now.  Nobody seems to know much about Alice or her past, so this is an interesting place for Lana to begin investigating.  The mystery is good with plenty of suspects and secrets to uncover.

This series is unique in that Lana's family owns a Chinese restaurant located in a shopping plaza called Asia Village.  Most of the businesses in this plaza are run by Asian families.  I always enjoy the role Asian American culture plays in the books.  Lana's family only plays a minor role in this installment, but they meet for dim sum every Sunday which usually leads to laughs.  Lana's relationship with Adam continues to develop.  I like the way their relationship is slowly developing over the course of the books.  

One of the interesting new characters added this time is a Private Investigator named Lydia Shephard.  Donna's husband had hired her in the past, so Lana needs to visit her and ask some questions.  Because of some of the things in Donna's past, Lana thinks she may be in way over her head and encourages Donna to hire Lydia.  I hope we see more of her in future books. 

One of the things I appreciate about this series is that the author has found a nice balance between Lana's personal life and the mystery that needs to be solved.  The main characters' stories advance, we meet some new characters and solve a good mystery.  This was another enjoyable read in the Noodle Shop Mystery series.  If you are new to this series, I would recommend starting with the first book, Death By Dumpling.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Book Review: A Fatal Winter by G. M. Malliet

A Fatal Winter (Max Tudor #2)A Fatal Winter (Max Tudor #2). G. M. Malliet. Minotaur Books (2012). 364 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "Oscar, Lord Footrustle, was in his castle, spying from the squint in his private chamber overlooking the Great Hall."

Summary:  Father Max Tudor is looking forward to returning to his home in the quaint village of Nether Monkslip and carrying on all the traditions that come with the advent season.  He has been in London speaking at a symposium on the preservation of British churches.  The train ride will be several hours, which gives him time to decompress.  However, it was not to be.  As he walked into his train compartment he was followed by an elderly lady whose accent reveals her upper-class status.  Lady Baynard has a quick mind, full of thoughts about herself that she takes pleasure in sharing with anyone who will listen.

Lady Baynard, Leticia, lives at Chedrow Castle with her twin brother, Oscar, Lord Footrustle.  Oscar has decided to extend invitations to his family to come to the castle for a visit.  He and Leticia are getting older and are often lonely.  However, his children and nieces and nephews can hardly stand to be in the same room with one another.  But, each one wants to remain in the good graces of Oscar, so they begin arriving at the castle.  The air is thick with animosity and it is not long before death arrives at the doorstep.  Lord Footrustle has been stabbed to death in his bed.  Upon hearing the news of the death of her brother, Lady Baynard succumbs as well.  

DCI Cotton has been assigned to the case and wastes no time in contacting Father Max.  He dispatches Max to the castle to support the family, plan the funerals and snoop around while he is at it.  Suspects abound, but can Max pinpoint who had enough malice to kill Oscar?

My thoughts: A murder at a family gathering in the English countryside inside an ancient castle?  What fun!  

Max Tudor, former MI5 agent, entered the priesthood to get away from the lies and violence that surrounded his former life.  However, he doesn't mind using his skills to help local law enforcement on occasion.  His profession as a priest often causes others to open up to him.  In this way he is able to learn information that law enforcement would not be privy to.  This is exactly what DCI Cotton is hoping when he sends Max to Chedrow Castle.  

As Max begins meeting the Footrusle family he realizes there is not much love between any of the members.  The family consists of Jocasta Jones, daughter of Lord Footrustle by his first wife, and her husband Simon.  Jocasta and Simon live in Hollywood, CA where Jocasta is an actress and Simon is her support.  Next, we have Gwynyth, the second, much younger wife of Lord Footrustle.  They are also divorced, but have two children, twins Alec and Amanda.  The twins are fourteen and barely know their father.  He has never taken much interest in them.  However, Alec is the heir to the title being Oscar's only son.  Gwynyth doesn't have much time for her children either, as she is so busy spending the money Oscar gave her. 

Lady Baynard, a widow,  had three children and an adopted grandchild.  Her oldest son is Randolph.  He is a photographer, which his mother sees as no kind of job for a Viscount.  Her next child was Lea.  Lea and her husband were killed years before leaving behind Lamorna, their adopted child.  Lady Baynard has grudgingly taken in Lamorna.  She tried her hand at mission work, but when that was finished she had no where to go.  In order to save herself from embarrassment, Leticia gives her a place to stay and keeps her busy with servant's duties.   Lester is the youngest son and he is married to Felberta.  The pair is known as Lester and Fester behind their backs.  There is not one person in all of these relations that has anything nice to say about another.  This is handled well by the author.  Many of these characters seem almost cartoonish.  Just when the degradation of one another was getting to be too much, the author would move us to something else.  

The mystery was complex.  On the surface the motivation seemed to be greed for Oscar's money.  But they were all greedy.  I enjoyed the way DCI Cotton and Max worked methodically through the case.  They would interview someone and then discuss what they learned, what that told them and who to interview next.  When Max finally figured out who the culprit was, he gathered all the family members and staff together and confronted them, just like Hercule Poirot.  

There are lots of literary references in this novel, which was a lot of fun.  There is also plenty of humor, which lightens things up.  Most of the story takes place at the castle, so it was a nice change when Max was back in Nether Monkslip and we got a glimpse of life in the village.  

There is some language in the book.  It is mostly by one character and only a couple of instances.

I really enjoyed this second book in the Max Tudor series. It contained a great mystery, interesting characters, a fantastic setting and a little bit of romance.  I look forward to another visit to Nether Monkslip. 


"Robert Louis Stevenson had written something about the heart being full of the stillness of the country, and that was what Max felt on a train.  Even short delays en route didn't bother him.  So long as he had something to read or something to gaze at out the window, he was renewed in spirit by the enforced stillness, even though his mind might be racing."

"The weather cooperated, but grudgingly.  The South West of England boasted a temperate climate that since time immemorial had drawn visitors to its shores, and this record for scenic hospitality was only now being threatened by the caprices of global warming.  The area still enjoyed what the locals called 'rainfall on tap' - rain when needed, sun when not - and the deep soil of the region meant not only good planting but good grazing for much of the year."

Calendar of Crime - January, winter scene on cover

Friday, February 19, 2021

Book Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Meet Me at the MuseumMeet Me at the Museum.  Anne Youngson.  Flatiron Books (2018). 272 pages.  Genre: Fiction, Epistolary Fiction. 

First Line:  "Bury St. Edmunds, November 22, Dear Professor Glob, Although we have never met, you dedicated a book to me once; to me, thirteen of my schoolmates, and your daughter."

Summary:  Tina Hopgood has always meant to visit the Tollund Man at Silkeborg Museum in Denmark.  She decides to send a letter to Professor Glob, who wrote a book about the Tollund Man that inspired her interest.  She really doesn't expect to receive a response, figuring that Professor Glob is probably quite old or dead by now.  

Anders Larsen, curator at the Silkeborg Museum, receives and reads the letter.  He responds to Mrs. Hopgood, explaining to her that Professor Glob is indeed dead and gives her some further information about the Tollund Man.  He doesn't expect a response to this letter, but thought it would be kind to let her know her letter was received and that the professor had died.

Tina sends another letter and so their correspondence continues.  In the course of the writing they leave off talking about the Tollund Man and move to sharing about their personal lives. 

My thoughts:  I have mixed feelings about this book.  I didn't love it, but there were things I liked about it. One of the things I liked about it was the epistolary nature of the novel.  After reading 84, Charing Cross Road last year, I have enjoyed this type of writing.  This story is somewhat reminiscent of 84, Charing Cross Road in that it consists of letters written between a man and a woman in different countries.  However, that is where the similarities end.  Of course, one is fiction, the other non-fiction.  One is about the books and the other isn't.  

I could relate to the characters' thoughts about reaching mid-life or slightly beyond and wondering if your life has meant anything and feeling a sense of loss because your life has turned out differently than you imagined.

"One of these thoughts is about plans never fulfilled.  You know what I mean - if you are still alive you must be a very old man by now and it must have occurred to you that what you thought would happen, when you were young, never did."

However, I found Tina to be someone who was void of joy and who had been putting on an act for most of her life, especially in her marriage.  She made comments about finding joy in things her grandchildren did, but otherwise she seemed to have a martyr attitude.

I spent most of the book feeling uncomfortable with the relationship forming between Tina and Anders, as well as some of the decisions made by family members.  Fortunately, some of these things resolved themselves or came to light before the conclusion of the book.  

Overall, this was just not the book for me.  Others have given the book high praise, so your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Mini Reviews: The Boxcar Children and Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children (The Boxcar Children, #1)The Boxcar Children series was one of my favorites when I was young.  I don't remember how many I read, but I know I read all of the books originally written by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  She wrote the first 19 books.  There are currently over 150 titles in the series. Clearly, readers were not ready for an end to their adventures.  

The Boxcar Children summary:  The parents of Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden have recently died.  They have a grandfather who is looking for them, but they believe he doesn't like children and are afraid to go live with him.  As they set out on their own, they discover an abandoned boxcar.  This seems like the perfect place to make a home.  However, as their grandfather is looking for them they need to stay out of sight.  So they sleep during the day and set up their home in the evening.  Will they be able to avoid their grandfather?

Surprise Island summary:  School is out for the summer and Grandfather has a surprise for them.  He has made arrangements for the children to spend the summer on a island near his home.  It will be like living in the boxcar again, only this time it is on an island in a barn.  There is lots of exploring to be done and a few mysteries to uncover.

My thoughts:  These stories are still delightful.  I had forgotten that they really are mysteries.  Some of the titles have the word "mystery" in them, but they all contain some sort of mystery.  The mystery in The Boxcar Children involves their grandfather.  Who is this man?  Why is he looking for them if he doesn't like children?  In Surprise Island, the mystery involves a young man staying on the island with Captain Dan.  He claims to be a handyman, but he seems to know a lot about shells, animals, birds and Indian artifacts.  Who is he really?

I had also forgotten how industrious the children were.  They are constantly working in some way.  They each have a job and do it, but when the work is done, they rest constructively.  Sometimes this means swimming, other times they build things or make crafts.  Occasionally, they invite someone to dinner or have a birthday party.  

There is always an adventure and sometimes danger.  But, in the end, the children are safe and the problems are solved.  This was comforting to me as a child and brought back that feeling as an adult. 

When I was young, my sister and I, along with our cousins, spent time  at our grandparents' home.  They lived in a house in the country surrounded by woods.  We spent hours playing in those woods, setting up our "house" and just wandering around.  I hadn't realized how much these books inspired what we did.  

I enjoyed these stories just as much as an adult as I did as a child.  As an adult I found them to be refreshing and a reminder that it is the simple things combined with hard work that make a fulfilling life.  I highly recommend this series for children or adults.  They also make great read-alouds.  

Monday, February 15, 2021

Book Review: Murder with Oolong Tea by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Oolong Tea (A Daisy's Tea Garden Mystery #6)Murder with Oolong Tea (Daisy's Tea Garden #6). Karen Rose Smith. Kensington (2020). 352 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "'Claudia never should have been hired,' Althea Higgins proclaimed loudly enough for everyone in the teachers' lounge to hear."

Summary:  Althea Higgins is an English teacher at Willow Creek High School.  She has been teaching for many years.  In fact, Daisy Swanson, co-owner of Daisy's Tea Garden, was taught by Ms. Higgins when she was in high school.  Althea has a lot of opinions and isn't afraid to spout them.  Daisy is consulting with the principal at Willow Creek High School on the menu for the upcoming spring tea when she overhears Althea ridicule a new teacher.  She is not the only one to hear her remarks.  There were plenty of people in the teachers' lounge including the teacher she was ridiculing. In addition to this, the school board will soon be voting on implementing uniforms at the school.  Althea has been very vocal in support of the policy.  While many others are opposed.

The tea is being held after the spring concert in recognition of the teachers' hard work.  Daisy and her staff have things under control.  Daisy has created a new tea blend that she will be serving at the event.  It is Oolong tea with hints of lemon and vanilla.  Things are going smoothly, but the refrigeration unit in Daisy's van has been acting up.  She slips away to check on it and bring in some more food for the event.  As she is hurrying back inside, she is assaulted by an ear-splitting scream.  It sounds as though it is coming from the pool.  Daisy runs toward the scream and discovers Althea Higgins floating in the pool with a partition rope wrapped around her neck.  One of the school's counselors is entering the water to try to save her.  Daisy joins her, but they are too late.  There were plenty of people that Althea angered, but who was angry enough to strangle her?

My thoughts:  The characters in this series are like old friends.  I always enjoy catching up with them. The only downside was that Aunt Iris didn't make much of an appearance this time.

There is plenty going on in Daisy's world.  Vi and Foster are new parents and are figuring out how to manage their marriage along with a new baby.  Added to this are financial concerns.   Daisy is there to encourage them whenever she can.  Jazzi has a new friend that she would like to invite to stay with them during spring break.  Her parents will be out of the country and Brielle doesn't want to go with them.  Daisy has not met this friend or her parents which makes her hesitant to say yes.  However, Jazzi usually has good instincts in regards to friends. After a quick conversation with Brielle's parents, Daisy decides to allow her to stay.  We are introduced to Brielle's grandma, who is a likeable character that I hope to see more of.  Jonas is still working through some things in his life and when Daisy interferes, things get rocky.

The mystery kind of took a back seat to the other things going on in Daisy's life.  There weren't any solid suspects until the mystery was almost solved.  A few twists and red herrings kept things interesting. But, once it was evident who the killer was things wrapped up quickly.

This was a nice addition to the series.  There was growth in Daisy, Jonas and other characters which was good to see.  And as always, recipes are included for some of the things Daisy serves at the tea garden.  

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Book Review: The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark

Dress Shop on King StreetThe Dress Shop on King Street (Heirloom Secrets #1). Ashley Clark. Bethany House (2020). 352 pages. Genre: Historical Fiction, Christian Fiction.

First Lines: "Millicent Middleton.  That's the name Mama told her to give if anyone asked.  Half of it was honest, at least."

Summary:  Harper is attending Savannah College of Art and Design with dreams of one day owning a dress shop.  For as long as she can remember she has loved to sew.  When she was little she would make clothes for her dolls.  As she got older, she began repairing vintage clothing and designing her own dresses.  Soon she will graduate, but first she has to qualify for the Senior Show.  Harper spent many late nights getting the embroidery just right on her dress.  She is confident it deserves a spot at the Senior Show.

Millie loves to wander down King Street in Charleston, stopping to gaze into the windows of the dress shop.  The year is 1946.  It is difficult for the casual observer to identify her race.  She can often pass as a white woman.  Her mother is not so fortunate and cautions Millie to be careful.  She realizes she could never actually go inside the dress shop, but dreams of what it would be like.  Millie has become fascinated with dresses and the stories of the women who wore them.  Someday, she hopes to own a dress shop of her own.  

Harper and Millie's lives intersect in unexpected ways.   They find that the path to a dream is not always straight.  Sometimes there are roadblocks and difficulties that make the realization of a dream seem impossible.  Can they work together to make their dreams a reality?

My thoughts:   The Dress Shop on King Street is a dual timeline novel where the timelines intersect.  The 1946 timeline is really giving the background of Millie's life, however I found this to be the timeline I enjoyed the most.  I found both storylines to be compelling and I couldn't wait to find out how the stories intersected.  I will admit I did find the way they were connected to be a bit unlikely.  Not enough to take away my enjoyment of the book though.

Millie is brave, tenacious and someone I would like to get to know better.  She has been through much difficulty in her life.  Fear has been the impetus for many of the decisions she has had to make.  However, along the way she has found love, hope and kindness.  As she dreams of one day owning a dress shop, she realizes that people are more important than her dreams.  As I put myself in her shoes, I could see that her decisions were difficult.  

I learned quite a bit about the south in 1946 and beyond. I learned about attitudes and ideas.  Things were changing, but slowly.  I also learned that there were places and people who didn't hold the biases that others around them did.  These people offered solace amidst strife.  I have never been to Charleston, but I feel like I have a picture of it in my mind now.  With it's cobblestone streets, old buildings and pots of geraniums on every corner.  

I liked Harper as well.  She is young and sure of herself until she meets a roadblock.  As she tries to figure out what the roadblock means and what direction she should go, she spends time visiting those who are important to her.  She listens to their advice and learns something along the way.  She loves to sew and design dresses and is drawn to vintage clothing.  

Some of the themes in the book are history and the importance of it, race relations, family, dreams, secrets and finding purpose.  

This was a great story that kept me rapidly turning the pages.  If you enjoy historical fiction, are interested in learning more about race relations in the 1940's or are just looking for a really good story, give this book a try.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Book Review: The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl.  Tara Conklin.  William Morrow (2013). 416 pages.  Genre: Historical Fiction, Fiction.

First Line:  "Mister hit Josephine with the palm of his hand across her left cheek and it was then she knew she would run." 

Summary:  Carolina Sparrow is in her first year working for a law firm in New York City.  She works hard, always going above and beyond what is asked of her.  Like many associates, she has dreams of one day becoming a partner.  So, when her boss comes to her with  a new case, a big case, she can't say no.  The case is unusual.  A large oil and gas company is making a historical reparations claim against twenty private companies that benefited from slave labor.  The claim is on behalf of the ancestors of the slaves.  Carolina's boss readily admits it is mostly for publicity.  However, this is a big client and they pay well, so the firm will do their best for them.  Carolina is assigned to find an ancestor of a slave to be the face of this case.  Not just any face, but one that is photogenic and has a compelling story.

Josephine Bell is a slave living on the Bell Creek Plantation in Virginia.  She was not born there, but she remembers no other place.  Missus Lu keeps Josephine close.  She sends others on errands, but relies on Josephine to do the work in the house.  Missus Lu is good to her, but Master treats her and the other slaves poorly.  Josephine tried to run once, but was forced to come back.  She is determined to try again.  It is all she can think about.  

When Carolina learns about Josephine, she is sure that one of her descendants would be the perfect face for their case.  But, did Josephine have descendants?  The two women's stories intersect in ways Carolina didn't imagine.

My thoughts:  This story is told in a way that flows peacefully through your mind.  The author's writing style fits the time period and characters.  Her use of different characters to tell different parts of the tale is unique.  Most of the story is told in prose, but parts of it are told through letters.  This makes the people and their stories come alive. 

Carolina, who is called Lina by most people, still lives with her dad in the same house she grew up in.  Her mother died when she was young and she and her dad never spoke of it again. Lina always assumed this was because it was too difficult for her father.  However, he has begun to paint pictures again and he is painting her mother.  Lina is not sure how she feels about this.  

"The difference between how Lina saw the world and how it truly was seemed suddenly vast and breathtaking, and Lina felt again as if she were four years old, mystified by a loss she could not control and events she did not understand."

During the course of the novel her world is expanded by people and circumstances in her life and by people she meets through words on a page.  She grows and matures in positive ways. 

Josephine Bell is a deep character who has endured much in her short life.  We are transported to Bell Creek Plantation and can feel the heat and dust along with the characters.  Josephine is fortunate because she has been chosen as the house girl.  This means that rather than spending her days in the field, she spends them in the house.  She looks after Missus and cooks and cleans.  But she is still a slave and longs for freedom.  

Part of her story is told by the daughter of a man who assists the Underground Railroad.  It was really interesting to get this perspective.  

Many of the characters struggle with faith.  They are all trying to reconcile a good God with the loss and pain and affliction experienced in their lives and the lives of those around them.  

The book contains some language and hints at abuse.  Nothing is graphic or excessive.

I enjoyed walking along with Lina as she navigates her relationship with her father and as she conducts research for her job.  I learned a lot about what life was like in the south leading up to the civil war.  If you like historical fiction woven with a modern timeline, give this book a try.


"It seems an impossibility - that a woman is so beloved by a man, who together bore & raised a child, & yet that same man would deliver upon that same woman such cruelty & pain.  Perhaps you think me naive.  But what God could allow such a thing to transpire? The weight of the things I do not understand would crush an ox."

"Our small chapel still echoes with the tones of Pastor Shaw's sermon delivered this Sunday last.  It was a deeply affecting lecture, Kate, one that I continue to ponder even now three days gone.  He spoke on the universal sanctity of life, how the taking of life regardless of the station of the person will always be viewed as sin before God, that all men yearn for life & its natural corollary, freedom."

"'The world will do as it pleases,' he said to me.  'I ride along best I can.'"

"The studio was at the front of the house, four long steps from the door of Missus' room, with windows that looked west to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the low mounds sloping soft as though drawn with a crumbling crayon."

Friday, February 5, 2021

Book Review: Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino

Salvation of a Saint (Detective Galileo, #2)Salvation of a Saint. Keigo Higashino. Minotaur Books (2012). 330 pages. Genre: Mystery.

First Lines: "The pansies in the planter had flowered - a few small, bright blooms.  The dry soil didn't seem to have dimmed the color of the petals."

Summary:  A man has been found dead in his locked home.  The woman who found him is an apprentice of the man's wife.  She was given a key to their home when the wife went to visit her parents in another town.  When she was unable to reach the man by phone, she became worried and went to the house. She found him on the floor in the living room near a spilled cup of coffee.

Detective Kusanagi has been assigned to the case.  When he arrives on the scene Junior Detectives Utsumi and Kishitani have already arrived.  The ambulance has already been there and a doctor has examined the victim.

"That's when they decided there was something suspicious about it and called the precinct...and here we are."

It looks like the man was poisoned.  But was is suicide or homicide?  As the team begins to investigate, they keep hitting dead ends.  If this isn't suicide, how was the man poisoned and who did it?  Eventually Utsumi contacts Professor Manabu Yukawa, referred to as Detective Galileo by the department.  His specialty is physics, but as a scientist his interest is sparked when the police department presents him with an impossible case.  The detectives need proof and Yukawa is just the man to help them find it.

My thoughts:  This is the second book I have read by Higashino.  I really like his straight-forward writing style.  His mysteries are puzzles that are worked through step by step without a lot of fluff.  That is not to say that there aren't secrets to be discovered or trails leading no where to be followed.  The main characters become known to us through their detective work and interaction with one another.  We don't spend a lot of time with them outside of work. 

This mystery is unique in that the reader is made aware of who the killer is at the end of the first chapter.  Or at least we think we know.  This is a locked-room mystery.  So the detectives really have to use their "little gray cells" to determine how the murder was committed and who had motive and means.

The victim was a despicable man whose only goal in life was to produce a child.  If a woman he was with didn't become pregnant, he ditched her and moved on to someone else.  He had clearly made many enemies.  

I really enjoyed working through the clues with the detectives.  Especially, the scientific processes gone through by Detective Galileo.  He is always willing to test things out and encourages the detectives to clear their minds of preconceived notions.  Sometimes we see what isn't really there because we believe it is there.

Reaching the end of this novel was thoroughly satisfying.  I felt like I had battled my way through the evidence, or lack thereof, with the detectives and reached a conclusion.  I didn't come up with the method before the detectives did, but it was enjoyable working alongside them. 


"Kusanagi had met plenty of good, admirable people who'd been turned into murderers by circumstance.  There was something about them he always seemed to sense, an aura that they shared.  Somehow, their transgression freed them from the confines of moral existence, allowing them to perceive the great truths of the universe.  At the same time, it meant they had one foot in forbidden territory.  They straddled the line between sanity and madness."

"The physicist reached out and retrieved the piece of paper off the table. 'It's a habit we scientists get into,' he said. 'Even if the solution to a problem is imaginary, we can't rest until we look into it. But, of course, you're a detective, not a scientist.  You can't be wasting your valuable time proving something's impossible.'"

I read this as part of Japanese Literature Challenge 14.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

My Journal


I have never been the type of journal-keeper that writes about how things make me feel or writes in my journal to work things out.  Rather, journals have been a way of recording my days and emptying my brain of so many details.  I have not always kept a journal, but I have for many years.  When my kids were small and I was learning about homeschooling, I read several books that were more or less records of the days of others.  The writers recorded what they did, what they saw, what people said, what the weather was like, books they read, etc. Somehow, this seeped into my brain and I began to record these things in the notebook I used to plan out our school days.  It was such fun to look back at what was going on in our lives on any given day.  My days are not quite as full of things as they were at that time, but I still find it enjoyable to read my journals and be reminded of what was going on at a certain time. 

The above picture is an example of what a page in my journal might look like. I start most days by recording the date and the forecasted weather.  I use my journal as a commonplace book as well as a place to record details about my day, lists and things I want to remember.  Some days I don't write anything.  Other days I use several pages.

Something that has made my journals much more useful is an index.  Each time I start a new journal, I number the pages.  Then, I designate the front cover pages and usually two more pages as my index.  Above is a picture of what this looks like.  I put the month at the top and then a title that will help me find what I am looking for, along with the page it is located on.  Sometimes I can recall what month I recorded something, so that is helpful in narrowing down where to look.  If I am writing quotes from a book I simply use the book's title.  Another part of my index system includes a monthly calendar.  I use a monthly/weekly planner to schedule my weeks, but the monthly calendar I include with my journal is a small pocket-sized monthly planner where I record important things that happened on the day they occurred.  For example, if someone in the family was sick, I would indicate that on monthly calendar and then record the specific details of the illness in my journal on that date. I have recorded things like vacation days, large purchases, parties, functions and visitors.  This is extremely helpful when trying to remember when someone visited or when a wedding occurred.  

Sometimes I add pictures from magazines to my journal.  I journaled in various types of notebooks in the past.  I have used inexpensive spiral notebooks, large spiral sketchbooks and different types of bound journals.  More recently, I have settled on a lined, bound journal measuring about 8 inches by 5 inches.  

Sometimes I add washi tape to separate entries.  I like to add parts of cards I receive.  Sometimes I add tickets stubs or programs from events I attend.  Most of the time I use black ink, but occasionally I will use a different color.  It all adds interest.  Most of the time my entries are logbook style, just a list of what I did or who I saw. 

My journal lives on my kitchen counter alongside my planner.  

Now it's your turn!  Do you keep a journal?  What kinds of things do you include?

Monday, February 1, 2021

Book Review: Wed, Read & Dead by V. M. Burns

Wed, Read & Dead (Mystery Bookshop, #4)Wed, Read & Dead (Mystery Bookshop #4). V. M. Burns. Kensington Publishing Corp. (2019). 263 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "If you don't get your fanny out of that dressing room in the next thirty seconds, I'll come in and drag you out."

Summary:  Samantha Washington's mother is getting married to the wealthy, Harold Robertson.  The wedding is just three weeks away, on Christmas Eve.  There are so many decisions to make and Sam's mother is struggling to make them.  So, when Harold's sister-in-law gives them the gift of a wedding planner, they are relieved.  However, their relief is short-lived.  Lydia Lighthouse is a tyrant.  She is pushy, rude and thinks she knows what a bride wants more than the bride herself.  She also is not afraid to spend someone else's money.  She has angered Harold, brought Sam's mother to tears and insulted Nana Jo, Sam's grandmother.  

When Lydia Lighthouse is found strangled with her own scarf, the family is shocked.  However, they are not surprised.  Lydia left a trail of anger, frustration and hate behind her.  Unfortunately, just before she was killed Harold was seen having a very heated argument with her.  Sam's mother fears Harold will be arrested.  Lydia Lighthouse was not known by many in town, or was she?  Sam, Nana Jo and the girls will use all their skills to discover who murdered Lydia Lighthouse.

My thoughts:  It had been quite some time since I read the third installment in the Mystery Bookshop series, but I had no problem jumping into this one.  If you have not read previous books in this series, I would recommend you start with the first book, The Plot is Murder.  This will give you the best feel for the characters and they are worth getting to know.

Samantha Washington runs a mystery bookshop in Michigan.  Her husband passed away eighteen months ago and she decided to pursue their dream of owning a bookshop.  She now lives close to her mom, her grandmother, and her sister.   Family is a big theme in this series.  I love the relationships between Sam and her family.  This story in particular also includes a strong theme of found family.  The idea that family includes those you are related to by blood, marriage, or that you include in your life because they are special to you. 

The mystery involving the murder of the wedding planner with the wedding just a few weeks away added a level of conflict that made it more interesting.  There is pressure to figure out who murdered Lydia, but also to pick up the slack and help get the wedding planned.  All of the characters step up to help including Sam's college aged nephews, Dawson, and their girlfriends.  I loved this.  It was great to see these younger characters acting in such selfless ways.  And they truly helped, doing things that made Sam's life easier and allowed her to work on the murder.

A unique aspect of this series is that Sam is writing a mystery novel.  It is historical and often parallels what is happening in the main storyline.  These characters are also consistent from book to book which makes it fun.  At various times throughout the story, Sam sits down to write and we get to read what she is writing. 

V. M. Burns is great at interjecting humor into the plots.  The banter between Nana Jo and anyone is usually hilarious.  As are "the girls", Nana Jo's friends.  There were a couple of scenes that had me laughing out loud.

Wed, Read & Dead is a great addition to this series and I will be reading the next book soon.


"Lexi was reading another book.  The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.  It was one of my favorite Agatha Christie books.  She'd finished her other book and I'd told her she was welcome to read anything that could be classified as a cozy mystery.  Agatha Christie was the queen of the cozy mystery, so she would be safe.  I wasn't an advocate of limiting what anyone read.  As a child, I read a great number of books that were above my reading level.  My parents didn't sensor what I read, so I started reading murder mysteries and romance novels at a young age.  However, after a while, I found the puzzle of the murder more appealing than the Happily Ever After of the romances and that was what stuck.  I enjoyed other genres, but my heart belonged to mysteries.  Reading books opened up an entire new world for me."

Calendar of Crime: June - Wedding cake on cover