Saturday, May 28, 2022

May Reading Wrap-Up


May always means crabapple blossoms.  Unfortunately, their show wasn't very spectacular this year.  Our weather has been so cool that they took their time opening up and then only lasted a couple of days.  Our forecast for the last days of May is hot, so I think we will finally have some summer-like weather.  As is often the case, May has been a busy month.  I did manage to read seven books though.  Here's the breakdown:

Non-fiction: 1
Mystery: 2
Classic: 2
Christian Fiction: 2

The links will take you to my reviews.


The Summer of the great-grandmother (The Crosswicks Journal - book 2)


The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot, #6)

Murder on Washington Square (Gaslight Mystery, #4)


I Capture the Castle


Christian Fiction:

The Sweet Life

The Bookseller's Promise

The Bookseller's Promise (The Amish Bookstore #1) by Beth Wiseman (review coming soon)

I hope May has been a good reading month for you!

~ 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. 

I'm also linking up with The Sunday Salon hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Book Review: Emma by Jane Austen

EmmaEmma. Jane Austen. Penguin (2003) (First published 1815). 474 pages. Genre: Classic.

First Line: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her."

Summary:  Emma Woodhouse lives with her indulgent father where she is mistress of the house due to the death of her mother many years ago.  Until recently, Emma had the constant companionship of her governess, Miss Taylor.  However, Miss Taylor has recently wed and ceased the office of governess.  Emma's older sister, Isabella, is also happily married and the mother of several young children.  Mr. Woodhouse especially laments the marriage of Miss Taylor and the loneliness it has left them with.  

Emma endeavors to make the best of the situation and sets about amusing herself by making matches amongst her friends.  After all, it was she who made the match between Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor.  Before long however, she feels the sting of having led someone toward a match that was not the right one.  Will Emma amend her ways and become the thoughtful woman she was raised to be or has she gone too far? 

My thoughts:  This was my first time reading Emma and I admit, I did not like her very much at first.  Emma Woodhouse seemed to be a silly young woman who thought she knew best.  I guess at first she was.  Even so, she seemed to be well liked by those who knew her.  She is feeling a little low after the wedding of her beloved Miss Taylor, but she does her best to encourage her father in his loneliness.  

She soon attaches herself to Harriet Smith, a young girl who attends the boarding school run by Mrs. Goddard.  As Emma has determined to never marry, she finds entertainment in making matches of others.  Harriet's manners are not so refined as Emma's, so Emma takes her under her wing.  When Harriet receives a proposal from a local man, Emma sets out to convince Harriet it is not a proper match for her.  It was at this point that I was really irritated with Emma.  But, that was the whole point.  Jane Austen shows so plainly the type of person Emma is.  Things don't go well and Harriet is hurt.  Emma sees the error of her ways and resolves to change them.  However, change doesn't happen overnight and Emma will make more mistakes before she is truly changed.  Her willingness to change and her ability to see the error of her ways made me begin to like her a bit more.

This is a novel about love, friendship, family and manners.  Jane Austen creates characters with such depth.  Each of the supporting characters are interesting and deep.  I also really enjoyed her nature descriptions.  She makes you feel like you are there in the sunshine or in the dullness and dreariness of a rainy day in spring. 

 By the end of the novel, I really liked Emma Woodhouse am glad I took the time to get to know her. 


"Men of sense, whatever you may chuse (choose) to say, do not want silly wives."

"The ground covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise, every morning beginning in rain or snow, and every evening setting in to freeze, she was for many days a most honourable prisoner."

"Human nature is so well disposed towards those who are in interesting situations, that a young person, who either marries or dies, is sure of being kindly spoken of."

"The ladies here probably exchanged looks which meant, 'Men never know when things are dirty or not;' and the gentlemen perhaps thought each to himself, 'Women will have their little nonsenses and needless cares.'"

"'Ah! There is nothing like staying home for real comfort.'"

Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: The Sweet Life by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Sweet LifeThe Sweet Life (Cape Cod Creamery #1). Suzanne Woods Fisher. Fleming H. Revell Company (2022). 308 pages. Genre: Contemporary Christian Fiction. 

First Line: "Dawn parked in front of her childhood home in Needham but couldn't make herself get out of the car."

Summary:  Dawn Dixon never expected to spend her honeymoon without her groom and with her mother.  But that is exactly what she finds herself doing.  After breaking their engagement just two months before the wedding, Kevin offered their hotel reservations to Dawn saying they were already paid for and no refund was possible.  So, Dawn took him up on the offer and decided to invite her mom, Marnie Dixon, to come along.  Dawn's father passed away less than a year ago, so she figures her mom could use some time away.  

The two of them are doing their best to rest and heal.  But when Marnie buys an old, run-down ice cream shop, Dawn thinks her mom is crazy.  Or maybe in denial.  After the initial shock and frustration wear off, Dawn agrees to stay just for the summer and help her mom get the shop cleaned up. In order to do that though, Dawn will need to take a leave of absence from her job in Boston.  Dawn has been working her way up the ladder of an accounting firm and is poised to make partner.  Staying in Cape Cod will most likely mean giving up the partnership.  Will spending the summer helping her mom be worth the loss of the partnership?  Dawn can't imagine it will, but it feels like the right thing to do.  As the two of them begin working on the overwhelming clean up and restoration, Dawn learns that there is more to life than climbing ladders. 

My thoughts: The Sweet Life was such a great read!  I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end.  The book jacket lists it as Contemporary Romance.  I'm not sure that I would classify it that way.  There is some romance, but it is actually pretty minor.   It is mostly about a mother and daughter who have very different personalities learning to work together and appreciate one another.  

Dawn Dixon is the type of woman who plans everything and follows the plan.  She has a hard time working off of her plan because that might mean she will not reach her goals. She is known as a hard worker and has earned the name Teflon Dawn.  

Marnie Dixon, on the other hand, likes to be spontaneous and decide what strikes her fancy in the moment.  She is very creative and can sometimes be impulsive.  Dawn has a hard time trusting her to do what she says she will do.

There are some great supporting characters as well.  Lincoln Hayes, a local who volunteers on a daily basis to various charitable causes.  He gives his afternoons to helping Dawn and Marnie get the creamery ready for opening day.  Leo the Cowboy, a five-year-old who loves ice cream and is always a willing taster.  Nanette, owner of the t-shirt shop across the street.  If there is anything you need to know about anyone, Nanette is your gal.  Mrs. Nickerson-Eldredge, descendent of the original founders of the town.  It is her job to reinforce the historical standards of the town.  

Dawn and Marnie develop a rhythm to their days.  Basically they stay out of one another's way.  But, as they are working independently, they are also growing and changing and healing.  Some of the themes in the book are grief, fear, disappointment, determining what is really important in life, patience, friendship, the role of faith and stepping out of your comfort zone. Even though Dawn and Marnie have been through some very difficult situations, there is a thread of hope that runs through the entire story.  

Thankfully, this is the first book of a planned series because I was not quite ready to leave Dawn, Marnie and the rest of the cast quite yet.  I will be eagerly awaiting the next book.


"Chatham was a walkable town.  Quaint, tree-lined, utterly charming."

"It was the only way to really know a place - to walk it."

"'Living one day at a time brings a wonderful freedom.  Most people live in the past or the future."

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Book Review: Murder on Washington Square by Victoria Thompson

Murder on Washington Square (Gaslight Mystery, #4)Murder on Washington Square (Gaslight Mystery #4). Victoria Thompson. Berkley Prime Crime (2002). 336 pages. Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction.

First Line: "Sarah opened the door to find a ragged little boy on her front stoop."

Summary:  Midwife Sarah Brandt is used to people knocking on her door, so when she opens the door to find a little boy there, she assumes someone is about to have a baby.  However, the boy has been sent with a message from Nelson Ellsworth, the son of her nosy neighbor.  He is requesting that Sarah meet him.  

It turns out Nelson wants Sarah to examine a lady friend of his who is claiming to be carrying his child.  Nelson offered to marry the woman, Anna Blake, but she refused and only wants money so she can support herself.  When Sarah arrives at the boarding house where Anna lives, she refuses to see her.  The next morning Anna is found dead in Washington Square. 

The number one suspect is Nelson Ellsworth.  Sarah does not think Nelson is capable of murder and she feels an obligation to her neighbor, Mrs. Ellsworth, to prove his innocence.  Sarah seeks the help of Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy.  Unfortunately he is not assigned to the case, but because he is a friend of Sarah's and will be forever grateful to Mrs. Ellsworth for saving Sarah's life, he agrees to look into the case. 

My thoughts:  This series takes place in New York City just before the turn of the century.  It was a time when streets and homes were lit with gas powered lights, there was rampant corruption in the police department and Teddy Roosevelt was police commissioner. Every time I read a book in this series, I feel like I have been transported to a different time. 

Sarah Brandt is a widow who supports herself by acting as a midwife.  She was raised by wealthy parents and taught the proper ways to act in society.  So, when she married Tom Brandt, a physician, and moved to the poorer side of town, her parents were not happy.  In fact, they still can't understand why she doesn't allow them to support her rather than spending her time amongst the dregs of society. Sarah and her parents have reconciled by this point in the series and she has a good relationship with them both that is healing and growing.  I admire Sarah's tenacity and her desire to help whoever needs her help regardless of class.  

Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy is an unusual breed in the police department.  He refuses to take bribes and does his best to investigate crimes to find the culprit.  Unfortunately, at this time in history, that was not the norm. Frank is also a widower.  He lives with his young son and his mother who cares for his son while he works.  The more Frank and Sarah work together, the more they like one another.  However, neither of them is willing to admit they are beginning to care for the other. The blossoming romance is definitely not in the forefront, which I appreciate.  I enjoy their relationship, how they are able to work so well together.  As a detective who is good at his job, Frank knows how to handle criminals and sees deception a mile away.  Sarah lends a woman's intuition as well as a eye for details Frank might miss.  She also lends her medical expertise.  

The mystery involves a woman who convinced more than one man that she loved him, was carrying his child and needed money.  It also involves the theatre world, which added an interesting twist. It also involves the press and how they could sensationalize a story and convince the public it was true, regardless of whether there was any truth to it or not. There is a lot to uncover before the mystery is solved, but there are plenty of clues along the way.

Fortunately, everything is wrapped up at the end.  However, a storyline that is carried through the series leaves us with a cliffhanger at the end.  I am so glad I won't have to wait for the next book to be published to find out what happens.  


"'But they're newspapers! Don't they have an obligation to tell the truth? Mr. Pulitzer has devoted himself to covering scandal and corruption in society,' she said, naming the publisher of the World."

"Sarah dressed carefully for the evening.  She didn't care about trying to impress Mr. Dennis, but she didn't want to embarrass her mother. Elizabeth Decker placed great importance on appearances, and for all Sarah knew, so did Richard Dennis.  The suit she'd bought this past summer at Lord and Taylor wasn't the height of fashion, but at least it was presentable."

"'A father wants his children to have confidence in his abilities to handle difficult situations.'"

"Women usually had a dress, usually one past its prime, they kept for doing housework and such."

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Book Review: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I Capture the CastleI Capture the Castle. Dodie Smith. St. Martin's Griffin (2003) (First published 1948). 343 pages. Genre: Classic.

First Line:  "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."

Summary:  Cassandra Mortmain's family inhabits the remains of a castle.  They live a lifestyle of extreme poverty mostly due to the fact that Mr. Mortmain hasn't worked for years. He is a writer suffering from writer's block, who encloses himself in the tower most days. No one is sure what he does in there, but hope that he is working on his next great book.  The rest of the family decide they must figure out a way to bring in money or they will starve.  

The story is written as pages from Cassandra's diary. She describes the daily details of their lives, the beauty of the seasons, the eccentricities of her family, her hopes and dreams and when they are dashed.  

My thoughts: I read One Hundred and One Dalmatians and The Starlight Barking to my children when they were young.  I will often recall scenes from one of those books.  Dodie Smith's writing, especially her descriptions of London and the night time, captivated me.  I Capture the Castle contains similar types of writing along with a great story filled with interesting characters. 

Cassandra is a character you can't help but love.  She is seventeen and has been a bit sheltered.  She has a great relationship with her sister, brother and step-mother.  Also living in the castle is a young man who's mother was their maid until she died.  Stephen is very fond of Cassandra.  However, Cassandra is a bit oblivious to it.  It was fun to see her grow up in the pages of her diary. I will admit that some of the decisions she made in the second half of the book were puzzling to me.  I will just chalk it up to immaturity. 

I always enjoy novels with daily details of life in them.  The story takes place between the wars and I found it interesting to discover how people lived during this time period. The family who owns the castle is extremely wealthy and the contrast between their lifestyle and that of the Mortmains was striking. 

This was a pleasant read and one that I wouldn't mind rereading in the future. 


"I suppose the best kind of spring morning is the best weather God has to offer. It certainly helps one to believe in Him."

"Then my brain began to pick out the bits it wanted to think about and I realized how the day made a pattern of clothes - first our white dresses in the early morning, then the consciousness of what people were wearing in London, then Aunt Millicent's poor dead clothes, then all the exquisite things in the shop, then our furs. I thought how important clothes were to woman and always had been."

"It is a tallish window with an arched top.  On the sill inside stood a straggly late hyacinth with its white roots growing in water, a jam jar of tadpoles and a hedgehog."

"When I told him we had neither a gramophone nor a wireless he looked staggered - I suppose Americans find it hard to believe there is anyone in the world without such things."

"I suddenly knew that religion, God - something beyond everyday life - was there to be found, provided one is really willing."

"I only want to write. And there's no college for that except life."

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Book Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot, #6)The Mystery of the Blue Train (Hercule Poirot #6). Agatha Christie. Harper Collins (2001) (First Published 1928). 383 pages. Genre: Mystery.

First Line: "It was close to midnight when a man crossed the Place de la Concorde."

Summary:  An American millionaire acquires the three largest rubies in the world.  He has purchased them as a gift for his married daughter.  Ruth Van Aldin always gets her way and her father loves to spoil her.   She has begun to suspect her husband is seeing another woman.  Her father thinks he is a bad seed and advises her to divorce him.

In the meantime, Ruth has a trip to the Riviera planned.  As the divorce proceedings will take time, she decides to go ahead with her plans.  Her father advises her not to take the rubies on her trip, because, "We don't want to have you robbed and murdered for the sake of 'Heart of Fire'".  Unfortunately, Ruth doesn't listen to her father and takes the rubies with her.  She is riding the luxurious Blue Train to Nice.  When the train arrives at its destination, the conductor finds Ruth murdered in her cabin.  The rubies have also disappeared.  

Coincidentally, several people connected to Ruth are also riding the Blue Train, including her husband.  He is the primary suspect, but claims he didn't know his wife was on the train.  Hercule Poirot doubts Ruth's husband is the murderer.  He will have to use his little gray cells to sort through the greed and deception surrounding Ruth's murder and the robbery of the rubies.

My thoughts:  I will admit I had a hard time keeping people straight in the first part of the book.  There is a lot of set up before the crime is committed and Hercule Poirot comes on the scene.  After finishing the book and looking back at the chapter titles, it makes a lot more sense. 

It is fascinating how Agatha Christie can take so many characters and weave their stories together.  As always, it is so much fun to solve the mystery along with Poirot.  He sees things that I never see and I love to try to learn from him.

The mystery is complex as is often the case, especially when greed and love are involved. This time Poirot teams up with an unlikely assistant.  Katherine Grey has worked as a companion to an older woman.  When the woman dies, she leaves her savings to Katherine.  That is how she found herself on the Blue Train.  Poirot sees something in her and asks for her assistance with his thought processes.  

"I am not clever like you, Monsieur Poirot.  Half the things that you have been telling me don't seem to me to point anywhere at all. The ideas that came to me came from such an entirely different angle -"

And yet, in the end they both come to the same conclusion.  I really enjoyed this mystery.  I wish I could say I solved the mystery before Poirot, but that would not be true.  It was Poirot who had to explain it to me.  

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Book Review: The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L'Engle

The Summer of the great-grandmother (The Crosswicks Journal - book 2)The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (The Crosswicks Journal - Book 2). Madeleine L'Engle. Harper & Row (1974). 245 pages. Genre:  Non-fiction, Memoir.

First Line: "This is the summer of the great-grandmother, more her summer than any other summer. This is the summer after her ninetieth birthday, the summer of the swift descent."

Summary:  Madeleine L'Engle tells about the summer she noticed drastic changes in her mother due to senility.  

My thoughts:  The author's mother always spends the summer with her family at Crosswicks, the country home owned by Madeleine and her husband Hugh.  She spends her winters in warmth of Florida.  It has been four summers since the Great-Grandmother earned her title.  She loves being a Great-Grandmother and enjoys spending time with her grandchildren.  However, this summer she is not herself.  She is fearful and hesitant.  She has difficulty carrying on a conversation, let alone enjoying time with her family.  It seems to have happened suddenly, but looking back, Madeleine can see that changes began to happen a couple of years ago after a major surgery.  

The author describes the things she is seeing in her mother as well as her thoughts and feelings about them.  The book is divided into four sections.  The first section, Summer's Beginning, tells what Madeleine is seeing and feeling.  The next two sections, The Mother I Knew and The Mother I Did Not Know, tell about her mother's past.  The final section, The Summer's End, comes back to the present.  When I first read the description of this book, I thought it would be terribly sad.  While there is some sadness, there is also quite a bit of beauty and joy.  The reader is immersed in the family life of the author with all of its ups and downs.  There are long walks, family dinners and weddings.  This is what I love most about The Crosswicks Journals - the immersion into the daily details of the author's life. 

I highly recommend this book and the first book in the Crosswicks Journals - A Circle of Quiet.  You could read this one as a stand alone, but reading the first book will give you a glimpse into the author's years as a newlywed and young mother.  


"The times I have been most fully me are when I have been wholly involved in someone or something else; when I am listening, rather than talking; cooking a special, festive dinner; struggling with a fugue at the piano; putting a baby to bed; writing."

"School was mostly something to be endured; I don't think I learned nearly as much from my formal education as from the books I read instead of doing homework, the daydreams which took me on exciting adventures in which I was intrepid and fearless, and graceful, the stories Mother told me, and the stories I wrote."

"I have her battered Bible, which Mother had rebound for me. It was much read, much marked, and there are stains which came, I think, through private tears.  Perhaps through it she will teach me an alphabet of grace."

"I have occasional binges of reading English murder mysteries or science fiction, not so much as an escape but as a reminder that there is still honor and fidelity in the world, despite murder and crime; and that the sky above me is full of billions of solar systems and island galaxies, and that nobody has yet been able to put the creation of a galaxy into the language of provable fact."

Monday, May 2, 2022

Book Review: The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #4)The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia #4). C. S. Lewis. Harpercollins (2008) (First published 1953). 243 pages. Genre: Classic.

First Line: "It was a dull autumn day and Jill Pole was crying behind the gym."

Summary:  Jill Pole and Eustace Scrubb are called to Narnia to find the lost prince. 

My thoughts:  I find myself liking Eustace more and more.  He really has become a much better person.  This story starts with him coming alongside Jill after she has been bullied.  He treats her with respect and kindness.  

Jill is also a very likeable person.  She notices that Eustace is different than he used to be.  When she asks him about it, he tells her about Narnia.  Rather than making fun of him she is interested.  After the two of them are called into Narnia, Jill makes a mistake.  This mistake causes possible harm to Eustace.  She immediately sees her mistake for what it was and is sorry.  She eventually does get the chance to apologize, but not for a while.  I respected her for admitting her mistake plainly without trying to make excuses.  And accepting the consequences. 

Aslan gives Jill four signs to guide their quest to find the lost prince.  I really liked how this played out in their journey.  The most important thing she had to do was remember them.  This turned out to be much harder than it seemed. 

Some of the memorable characters from this story are Glimfeather, the owl, Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle, The Lady of the Green Kirtle and Prince Rilian.  

Puddleglum is a Narnian Marshwiggle who accompanies Jill and Eustace on their journey.  He is an Eeyore-like character, always expecting the worst to happen.  But, underneath all that, he is a wise follower of Aslan.  

I really enjoyed The Silver Chair.  I think aside from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, this is my favorite in the series.