Thursday, September 30, 2021
Monday, September 27, 2021
First Lines: "It was a long way home. Blaine Grayson stood on the bow of the Never Late Ferry to fully appreciate this moment of coming home, breathing deeply of the salty ocean air, listening to the screech of seagulls, the hum of the lobster boat engines as they chugged toward the dock with the day's catch."
Summary: Two years ago Blaine Grayson left Three Sisters Island for Paris. She needed to put some space between herself and her family. Her dad and two sisters were all living on Three Sisters Island and had begun to build lives for themselves there. Her dad had realized his dream of reopening Camp Kicking Moose and her two sisters had recently married. Blaine needed to find her place in the world.
Now she is returning to Three Sisters Island. Blaine had always loved cooking and was often praised for her skill in the kitchen. While she was away, she had the opportunity to attend Le Cordon Bleu and become a chef. Now she is looking forward to redesigning the kitchen at Camp Kicking Moose and beginning full service dining for the campers. But when she arrives, things are not as she expected. Things have changed. People have changed. Her dad and her sister went ahead and had the kitchen redone as a surprise for her. The only problem is, they had no idea what needs to go into a commercial kitchen and didn't bother to find out. Blaine is disappointed, but doesn't want to express her disappointment to her family. Instead, she makes excuses for spending her time elsewhere. Will Blaine be able to make her family see that it will be impossible to use the kitchen to serve guests of the camp? Does she truly belong on Three Sisters Island?
My thoughts: The Three Sisters Island series is filled with great characters, lots of family drama and a setting that is memorable.
The focus of this story is Blaine. She is the youngest of three sisters. As the story opens, we know that she is returning after having been away for two years. She is excited to return and has brought a friend with her. The friend is a young French man whom everyone assumes is her boyfriend. It is only as the story unfolds that we learn her true relationship with him. I really like Blaine's character in this story. In the previous two books, I sometimes felt she was a bit immature. She has definitely grown and continues to grow throughout the story.
All of the regular characters from the previous novels return as well and each of them continues to grow. The family has some difficult circumstances to work through and I loved watching them interact. There are a couple of new characters this time as well. Jean-Paul, the young French man that came home with Blaine and Walter Grayson, Blaine's grandad, who has been estranged from the family for many years. Poor Jean-Paul seems to be very accident prone and becomes thoroughly unFrench while visiting. Walter Grayson is very secretive as to why he has come and how long he intends to stay. There is some romance in the story, but it is not the focus.
Some of the themes include managing our expectations, accepting circumstances that come into our lives, the power of prayer, recognizing our gifts, and finding the right balance between work and rest.
Suzanne Woods Fisher is an amazing writer who always leaves me pondering what I have read.
"She loved this moment! It made her feel terribly insignificant to face the power of the open sea, and yet also full of awe. So filled with the intense awareness that she was in the presence of something greater than herself."
"She hadn't seen Maeve since Christmas and was happy to see she looked just the same. Maeve never changed, and Maddie was so grateful for that. Grateful for everything about her mother-in-law. Her strength, her solidness, her faith. Calm and comforting."
Thursday, September 23, 2021
First Line: "'If you tell anyone about this, I'm gonna have to kill you,' I said, staring my best friend squarely in the eye."
Summary: Lana Lee has been managing her family's Chinese restaurant for several months. Her sister has been giving her a hard time due to her lack of Asian cuisine cooking skills. When Lana sees a notice for an adult course in Chinese cooking, she decides to sign up. It seems ridiculous, even to her, that a person managing a Chinese restaurant wouldn't have a clue how to cook the food. However, she is too proud to ask her friend and cook, Peter Huang, to show her how to cook a few dishes.
After class, she approaches the teacher, Margo Han, and asks if she would be willing to give her individual lessons. Margo agrees and takes Lana's business card. As Lana begins heading home, she realizes she forgot to pick up the grocery list needed for next week's class. She quickly turns her car around and goes back to the school hoping the teacher hasn't left yet. When she returns to the classroom, she finds Margo Han face down on the floor with a knife sticking out of her back. Her scream brings the janitor who calls the police. Unfortunately, Lana and the janitor are at the top of the detective's suspect list. Since the detective is dead set on Lana as a suspect, she starts asking questions to see if she can figure out who would want to stab Margo in the back.
My thoughts: I always enjoy catching up with Lana and all that is going on at Ho-Lee Noodle House.
This series has some really great characters. There is Lana, who is a spunky, capable young woman. Her roommate, Megan, who is a good friend and partner in solving crime. There is Lana's other good friend, Kimmy Tran, who is loud, obnoxious and does not get along with Megan. There is Lana's family - her mom, dad, sister and grandmother. They didn't play as much of a role in this book, but still made a few appearances. The relationship Lana has with all of them is very realistic. She loves them dearly and tries to please them, but sometimes they annoy her. Then there is Detective Adam Trudeau, Lana's boyfriend. It was a nice change to have a different detective handling the actual murder case in this book. And we can't forget Kikko, Lana's black pug, who is forever needing a little exercise and is never too busy for a snuggle on the couch.
Unlike some of the other mysteries Lana has worked on, this one involved someone she didn't previously know. She had very little to go on and had to do some extra digging. Kimmy ended up being her side-kick for much of the sleuthing, which added an element of tension, because you never know what Kimmy will say. As Lana discovered information, she would often try to pass it on to the detective in charge of the case, but he usually wasn't very interested. This caused her to take a few added risks, but usually she let Adam know ahead of time. While he would prefer that she stay out of it, he often sees that her plans might actually work. There were a few twists and turns that threw me off, but it was all unraveled in the end.
This was a fun installment in the Noodle Shop Mysteries and I look forward to another visit soon.
Monday, September 20, 2021
First Line: "The body floated face down in the murky water of the canal."
Summary: Commissario Guido Brunetti is called out of bed early one morning to inspect a body that has been found in the canal. The man has no identification on him, but several things point to him being an American. It appears he was the victim of a robbery gone bad. However, once the medical examiner has finished, things are looking a little different. The knife wound that killed him was done in such a precise way that it would have killed him instantly. There are only a few people who would know how to perform such a cut or else, someone got very lucky. As Brunetti begins his investigation he is met by several roadblocks. It seems there are things going on that someone wants kept secret. Will Brunetti be able to unravel the tangled web before more lives are lost?
My thoughts: Opening a Commissario Brunetti novel is like stepping into Venice. This one was no exception.
As the case unfolds the reader learns more about the type of man that Brunetti is. He is a man who needs time and space to think things through. At times when he is especially stumped, he will stand in his office and look out the window for an hour or more. Other times he will take a walk. He is also a man who values his family - his wife and two teenaged children. He loves to come home in the evening and be greeted by the smell of dinner cooking. He is also a man who is struggling with his children growing up and how to deal with the new situations that present themselves.
This case was particularly difficult. It involved members of two countries. It involved very influential and dangerous people. There were lots of things that were hidden and Brunetti was unsure who to trust. If you are looking for a mystery that follows a logical procedure and gets completely wrapped up, this one will disappoint you. And this is not because the author lacks talent, but because the nature of the mystery and the climate of politics at the time made it so.
I enjoyed getting to know Commissario Brunetti and his family a little better. I loved feeling like I was in Venice being taken by boat through the canals. I will admit, the ending left me feeling a little unsettled. But, it won't be long until I pick up the next book in this series.
"Still not fully awake, she spooned sugar into a small cup, flipped off the gas with a practised motion of her wrist, and poured a thick stream of coffee into her cup. Cradling it in her hands, she walked back to the open window and, as she had every morning for decades, looked across at the giant equestrian statue of Colleoni, once the most fearsome of all Venetian military leaders, now her nearest neighbor."
"He loved Paola for many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he knew this to be her real motive for getting off the phone. There was no secret message, no hidden agenda in what she said; she merely wanted to free the line so that his work would be easier and he would be home sooner."
"It would have been easy for Brunetti to grow indifferent to the beauty of the city, to walk in the midst of it, looking and not really seeing. But then it always happened: a window he had never noticed before would swim into his ken, or the sun would gleam in an archway, and he would actually feel his heart tighten in response to something infinitely more complex than beauty."
Saturday, September 18, 2021
Fatal Fried Rice by Vivien Chien
We are watching the fourth season of NYPD Blue.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
First Line: "On a certain afternoon, in the late springtime, the bell upon Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour."
Summary: Young Dick Shelton has been in the care of Sir Daniel since the death of his father. When Dick learns that Sir Daniel is a murderer and he might be next, he takes to the forest in an attempt to save his life. There he is captured by a band of outlaws, but soon becomes their leader. Sir Daniel's reputation precedes him and Dick has no trouble gaining followers for his cause. He realizes that he must go to battle against Sir Daniel in order to regain his fortune. Along the way he must discern between friend and foe, survive a shipwreck and fight for his life.
My thoughts: If you are in the mood for adventure, chivalry, mystery and a little romance, then The Black Arrow is for you.
Dick Shelton knows that his father was murdered, but when he overhears talk that the murderer was Sir Daniel, the man who has been his guardian for several years, he feels betrayed. He also realizes that Sir Daniel is plotting to kill him next. So, he takes to the forest in an attempt to get as far away as he can. But, there are outlaws in the forest and he is quickly captured. Dick is brave and not afraid to fight. But he is also a good judge of character. He is willing to listen to what the outlaws have to say. Along the way he has to steal and later feels remorse. In fact, he tries to make amends for what he has done.
There are lots of secrets, both in the castles and in the forest. As soon as Dick thinks he has made a friend, he often just as soon finds himself fleeing once again.
Robert Louis Stevenson has a great understanding of human nature and that definitely comes across in this story. I especially noticed this in the character of Dick. He is brave and willing to fight and lead others into battle, but he makes mistakes due to his lack of age and experience. Throughout the story he grows and becomes more mature.
This story was originally published as a serial in a magazine for boys. Two years previously, Treasure Island was published in the same way. Sometimes that can make the story drag a little. However, The Black Arrow doesn't seem to have as much repetition as Treasure Island and that made the story move along well.
I thoroughly enjoyed this engaging work of historical fiction.
"Nay, I was not born yesterday. I can see a church when it hath a steeple on it; and for my part, gossip Arblaster, methinks there is some sense in this young man."
"Well, Dick was not much of an inventor, and what he told was pretty much the tale of Ali Baba, with Shoreby and Tunstall Forest substituted for the East, and the treasures of the cavern rather exaggerated than diminished. As the reader is aware, it is an excellent story, and has but one drawback - that it it not true; and so, as these three simple shipmen now heard it for the first time, their eyes stood out of their faces, and their mouths gaped like codfish at a fishmonger's. "
Monday, September 13, 2021
First Line from Prologue: "The dining table shimmered with candlelight reflected in antique glassware; silver clinked gently while people ate their prime rib and chatted quietly in the enormous room."
Summary: Nora Blake has been offered a position with an acting troupe that performs at an actual castle in the middle of Illinois. Part of her is very excited, the other part wonders if it is too good to be true. Along with the position comes room and board in the castle. As these are things that often take a large portion of an actresses' salary, Nora has decided to give the position a try.
Things are going smoothly until one of the actors is found dead in the chapel during one of the performances. Every member of the cast is a suspect, along with the guests attending the performance. Suddenly, Nora's decision to accept the position doesn't seem so wonderful after all. She feels unsafe in her own home. So, she sets out to discover who might have wanted the actor dead.
My thoughts: This was a lot of fun! The setting in a castle along with a dinner and mystery show was hard to resist.
Nora is a likeable character. It was interesting to walk into this situation in her shoes. The other actors seem nice, but Nora questions whether she has missed something and so did I. The supporting characters are interesting and a bit quirky in their own way. Each has an interesting back story that we have only begun to learn. Nora's family is important to her and she connects with them regularly. I liked that. Her younger brothers help bring out how amazing the castle is through their exuberance.
The castle setting is unique and the author does a good job of helping you get a feel for what it is like. A map of the castle is included at the beginning of the book. I really liked this. I could flip back and look at the map and really "see" what was going on. There is definitely a gothic tone to the story and this helped enhance the setting and the mystery.
The mystery was good and everyone was a suspect. There were some creepy elements that kept the pages turning. Nora always reported anything she discovered to the authorities. I appreciated this. There were plenty of twists and turns that kept me guessing until the end.
This is a great start to a new series and I hope there will be more stories in Castle Dark.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
Thursday, September 9, 2021
First Lines of Prologue: "2017. The doors are new: Automatic open. Fancy. That has changed since Aidan was here last."
Summary: Mukesh, a widower with three daughters, is still struggling with grief over the loss of his wife. She always loved to read. Mukesh never understood this love, but maybe if he tries reading one of her books he will feel closer to her. When his daughters find one of her books under the bed, a library book, he decides to read it before returning it.
Aleisha works at the local library. It was a job her older brother recommended to her. The problem is Aleisha doesn't read. It is her brother who loves to read. So when Mukesh arrives at the library asking for recommendations for something to read, Aleisha doesn't know what to tell him. She feels guilty for treating him rudely and determines to remedy the situation by reading the first book from a handwritten list she found in a library book. The next time Mukesh comes into the library, Aleisha is able to recommend To Kill a Mockingbird to him. The reading list creates a bond between them and helps them both to overcome difficulties in their lives.
My thoughts: The storyline of this book is very unique. It revolves around a handwritten reading list found by one of the characters. This is the thread that weaves the story together. Also, the layout of the book is a bit unique. The book is separated into sections named after a book on the list and follows the characters as they are reading that particular book. Within each section, each chapter is labeled with a character's name and sometimes a date. This sounds like it could be confusing, but was very easy to follow.
The characters are wonderful. They are complicated, deep and full of life. Mukesh is still grieving the loss of his wife and feels adrift. His daughters treat him like he is old and feeble. He feels lonely and wishes he had a deeper relationship with his daughters and grandchildren. Aleisha has a difficult home life, but it is all she knows. Her father left several years ago and since then her mom has not been the same. She has good days and bad days. But more often, her days are bad. Aleisha and her older brother, Aidan, take care of her. They both have jobs to support the family and one of them must be home at all times. It is a lot for a seventeen year old to handle.
The importance of books to bring people together is the main theme in this story. The author did an outstanding job of showing this. Some of the other themes are grief, loneliness, family - both biological and found, friendship and stepping out of your comfort zone.
There is content that might be a concern to some - suicide, mental illness and some profanity.
Overall, this is a heartwarming, hopeful story full of deep, interesting characters.
"The city had been so large, so vast and lonely sometimes, finding lists was like finding tiny moments of human connection, where she could prove that the silent strangers who walked past her, avoiding eye contact, were people too. They wrote shopping lists, they planned their dinners, they added some treats in every so often - the lists grounded her."
"'Please try to remember that books aren't always an escape; sometimes books teach us things. They show us the world; they don't hide it."
Monday, September 6, 2021
First Line: "Charlotte could not conceive of a place more beautiful than Haworth and the surrounding countryside in the spring."
Summary: Top Withens Hall lies atop a hill above the moors. Clifton Bradshaw and his son Liston make their home there. After Mrs. Bradshaw passed away thirteen years ago, Clifton sealed off her upstairs bedroom and can't bear to go in there again. Until one night when he is awakened by a scream. Clifton has taken to drinking since his wife's death and sometimes seems out of his mind. On this particular night he is mad with rage, begging the screaming to stop. His son Liston follows him to the closed off room. They discover that a window has been broken. In an effort to get the screaming to stop, Clifton begins tearing apart the chimney. Hidden in the walls of the chimney, Clifton discovers the remains of a child.
When the Bronte sisters hear of the incident, they at once feel the need to visit Top Withens Hall. They have heard that Clifton Bradshaw intends to leave the remains out in the weather until spring comes. The sisters feel this is a disgraceful way to deal with remains and feel that they should be given a proper Christian burial at once. Clifton refuses to let them have the remains. However, Liston decides to help the sisters retrieve them. Once they have retrieved the remains, they make arrangements with their father to have them properly buried. However, there is one problem. No one seems to know who the remains belong to. There are rumors that Clifton sold his soul to the devil, perhaps he murdered the child. As they begin to investigate, the case becomes more complicated than they imagined.
My thoughts: This series is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The overall tone of the books is uplifting, even though they deal with difficult situations. There is a bit of humor here and there that helps alleviate the heaviness of the story.
I really enjoy getting to know each one of the Bronte sisters and their brother, Branwell. The author has done a great job of distinguishing each of their personalities. Before starting this series, I knew very little about the Brontes, but now I want to learn more. This book contains an author's note, which is something I always look forward to. Ms. Ellis has clearly done a lot of research.
Besides the characters, the other thing I enjoy is the gothic atmosphere of the novels. The author gives us a feel for the damp and cold of the moors, the fog settling over everything and the cold wind that blows in the winter. There is also the old Victorian homes with closed off rooms and strange sounds. Add to this the possibility of something supernatural, a witch or visionary and some ancient, cryptic writing and you have an atmosphere that gives you the chills. But right along with all the creepiness you have the sisters who have been raised in the Christian faith reminding themselves and the reader what they believe is true.
The mystery is a difficult one since the death occurred many years ago. The sisters use some interesting techniques to help them out in the days before the internet. They make drawings to compare with pictures in books and consult people who have studied the topic they are interested in. The thing that starts them on the investigation is that they want a name to put on the headstone of the remains. Along the way they uncover secrets and hit some dead ends. But eventually, things become clear. I didn't identify the killer until they were right in front of my face.
If this series is new to you, I would recommend you start with the first book in the series, The Vanished Bride. You could read this as a stand alone, but you would miss some of the character growth and the storyline continued from the first book. This is an enjoyable series with strong characters, a great atmosphere and interesting mysteries.
"Anne smiled; despite the grave circumstances, it was uplifting to see the simple pleasure the dog took in life. It gladdened her heart to remember that for every dark corner and unjust hurt in the world, there was a place of light, hope and goodness. Ensuring the latter outweighed the former was surely every person's greatest task on this earth."
"'Emily is quite correct: it is time, my son, to return to your life.' Patrick broke the moment, his tone kind but stern. 'You have suffered pain, but the pain you have suffered is of your own making. You may have peace, happiness and your own home, but not without accepting your responsibilities.'"
Friday, September 3, 2021
First Line: "Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, and it has been told in another book called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe how they had a remarkable adventure."
Summary: The Pevensie children are summoned back to Narnia by Susan's magic horn. Prince Caspian is the rightful heir to the throne, but his uncle Miraz has declared himself king. It is up to Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy with the help of Aslan, to bring the magic back to Narnia and put Caspian on the throne.
My thoughts: This one is such an adventure! As the Pevensies journey through the land, discovering talking beasts that are in hiding, they begin to change. They become braver and more noble. They more quickly recognize when they are being unreasonable and want to do better. I loved this aspect of the story.
The characters are wonderful. Trumpkin, the Red Dwarf or D.L.F (Dear Little Friend) with his silly exclamations - "Whistles and whirligigs!" or "Wraiths and wreckage". The Bulgy Bears who would rather just have a nap. Reepicheep, the valiant mouse. The Giant Wimbleweather who is large, but not very wise.
The four children play a much larger role in this one working together to put Caspian on the throne. This is a great follow up to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.