Friday, July 29, 2022

July Reading Wrap-Up


I hope you are all having a great summer.  Ours has been full of bridal showers, weddings, projects, visits with family and some gardening.  However, the gardening has not gone well.  It has been very dry and we are overrun with rabbits and deer, even though our garden is fenced.  It is looking like I will get some tomatoes, but not much else.  The hydrangeas above are from my yard.  I was so surprised to see the beautiful blossoms after the deer ate the plant almost to the ground over the winter.  Even with everything going on, I did read some good books in July.  Here's the breakdown:

Fiction: 3
Mystery: 3
Non-fiction: 1
Romantic Suspense: 1



The Summer Book

Ordinary Grace


The Key to Deceit (Electra McDonnell, #2)

Murder on the QE2 (Murder, She Wrote, #9)

Blue Shoes and Happiness (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #7)

Blue Shoes and Happiness (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #7) by Alexander McCall Smith


The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

Romantic Suspense:

Sunburst (Sky King Ranch #2)

I hope your July has been a good one and you have found lots of time to read!

~ 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Book Review: Sunburst by Susan May Warren

Sunburst (Sky King Ranch #2)Sunburst (Sky King Ranch #2). Susan May Warren. Fleming H. Revell (2022). 353 pages. Genre: Romantic Suspense. 

First Line of Prologue: "Four years ago... Ranger wasn't here to get into trouble, but wow, she was pretty."

Summary:  Ranger Kingston, former Navy SEAL, is part of a mission to rescue his brother and others from a terrorist in Nigeria.  Among the hostages rescued is Noemi Sutton, a woman Ranger met years ago and never thought he would see again.  

Noemi Sutton is working for an organization attempting to unite refugee orphans with their families.  They were captured after discovering a village where everyone had died of smallpox.  But, why were they taken?  As they attempt to find a safe place to hide, it seems they can't escape the terrorists.  When they finally find refuge at the home of Noemi's uncle, who happens to be a king, things get really complicated. 

My thoughts:  When I read a novel by Susan May Warren, I expect a story filled with danger, adventure and a little romance.  This story did have all of that, however I think the romance played a bigger role.  

There was plenty of danger, suspense and adventure though.  Escaping from terrorists, not making it to the rescue helicopter in time, getting lost in the jungle and discovering that Noemi's uncle is a king all made for a very adventurous story.  The highlight was a Nigerian wedding.  The author includes a note to the reader at the beginning of the book explaining that her daughter-in-law is Nigerian and that she had always dreamed of having a traditional Nigerian wedding.  Because of the pandemic, she and the author's son were not able to have that type of wedding.  Warren worked with her daughter-in-law to create the wedding she had always wanted in this book.  

Even without the usual amount of heart-pumping danger and suspense, this was still a page turner.  The terrorists are still following them even after they think they are safe.  Figuring out how they have been able to follow them is tricky, especially when they don't know why Noemi has been targeted.  On top of that, Ranger and Noemi are working through their feelings for one another. 

I really liked Ranger.  He is a man of duty and won't let anything get in the way of that.  However, that has caused him to put his job as a SEAL ahead of everything else in his life including his family and a possible relationship with Noemi.  He is struggling with a physical problem that has caused him to have to leave the Navy.  This has caused him to question who he is, since that was his identity.  

Noemi is more of a free spirit and doesn't think she needs anyone.  Her father was Master Chief Sutton, a trainer in the SEAL program.  When Noemi was growing up he trained her in how to protect herself.  She thinks she can take care of herself.  

Most of the story takes place in Nigeria, but there is some of the story that takes place at Sky King Ranch in Alaska.  Both are such beautiful locations and we do get a glimpse of each one.  

Sunburst was a great addition to the Sky King Ranch series.  If you haven't already read the first book in the series, Sunrise, I would encourage you to start there.  This is a great series and I am looking forward to the next story.


"Noemi had been in plenty of open markets around the world, and they all possessed the same sort of local energy - men shouting prices, bickering, the exhaust of trucks and the bustle of workers unloading potatoes, rice, tomatoes.  The odor of fresh fish mixed with the robust scent of grilling meat, the cluck of penned hens, the thump of music from a nearby cafe, and of course the push and shove of the crowd."

"Her aunties had spent four hours on her makeup - including false eyelashes - and then arranging an elaborate headwrap that looked like a golden fluff of whipped cream.  They'd even giver her false nails, painted coral.  And then came the dress.  Deep, emerald-green skirt that hugged her hips before flaring out in ruffles to the floor, with gold stars embroidered into the hem."

"'You've always spent your life looking forward, the destination in mind.  But faith is stepping forward without knowing the destination. Your job, as a warrior of the Lord, is to listen.  To walk in faith.'"

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Book Review: Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace. William Kent Krueger. Atria Books (2013). 307 pages. Genre: Fiction, Mystery. 

First Line of the Prologue: "All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced to pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota."

Summary:  The summer of 1961 Frank Drum is thirteen years old.  It should be a summer like most other summers, hot, dry and full of time.  Instead, it is a summer of tragedy.  Five deaths will occur in the small town of New Bremen, Minnesota before the summer comes to an end.  

My thoughts:  I must admit that the first line of the prologue almost caused me to reconsider reading the book.  I can be a sensitive reader when it comes to sadness and violence.  I had heard so many good things about William Kent Krueger that I persisted.  I am not sorry that I did.  

It was immediately evident that the book would be atmospheric.  From the first pages the reader gets a sense of the mood of the book.  The story takes place over the summer during a time when air conditioning in the Midwest was very rare.  It is hot and you get a sense that people are feeling unsettled.  A young boy has died rather violently and it is hard to understand why he wouldn't have moved when the train was coming. 

The story is told by Frank Drum as he remembers it forty years after it occurred.  He is a believable narrator and I liked the way he would occasionally insert his thoughts about a situation from his perspective as an older man.  Mostly though, his thoughts and perceptions seemed very much like a thirteen-year-old boy's would. Frank's family includes his father, who is a minister, his mother and his younger brother.  I really liked the way his relationship with his brother grows over the course of the summer. 

This is definitely a coming-of-age novel as Frank and his brother both experience situations that most parents would hope their children wouldn't experience until they are much older, if at all.  The book explores tragedy, grief, anger, prejudice, family and expectations while maintaining a thread of hope. It shows the messiness of life, but it also shows the grace of God. 

There is a part of me that wants to say I didn't like the book.  It is a story of grief and that is not always easy to read.  But it is beautifully written and ultimately it is a beautiful story.  If this sounds interesting to you I would definitely encourage you to read it.  

Content note:  There is some language that is appropriate for the situation and is not excessive. 


"Bobby had a gift and the gift was his simplicity.  The world for Bobby Cole was a place he accepted without needing to understand it.  Me, I was growing up scrambling for meaning and I was full of confusion and fear."

"All three men stared at us and in their faces I could see my own fear reflected and magnified. Magnified to a degree I had not anticipated. Magnified perhaps by all the sick possibility that grown men knew and I did not.  Magnified probably by the alcohol they'd consumed.  Magnified certainly by the responsibility they felt as men to protect the children of their community."

"My father was well liked in the rural churches.  The sermons he preached, which were marked less by evangelical fervor than by a calm exhortation of God's unbounded grace, were well received by congregations composed primarily of sensible farm families who in most aspects of their public lives were as emotionally demonstrative as a mound of hay."

Monday, July 18, 2022

Book Review: The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper LeeThe Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee. Marja Mills. Penguin Press (2014). 278 pages. Genre: Non-fiction, Memoir, Biography.

First Line of the Prologue: "In the summer of 2005, I was having coffee at Burger King with Harper Lee."

Summary: Journalist Marja Mills was given an assignment to visit Monroeville, Alabama, hometown of Harper Lee.  Mills worked for the Chicago Tribune.  The Chicago Public Library had recently launched a program called One Book, One Chicago and they had chosen To Kill a Mockingbird as the first book.  The idea was to get people from all parts of Chicago reading and discussing the same book.  The Chicago Tribune wanted to run a story on the famous author of To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee had said very little on record since the publishing of the book.  It was expected that she would refuse an interview.  So, Marja Mills headed to Monroeville with the goal of gaining as much information as she could about the author's life from other sources.  Before leaving town to return to Chicago, she and her photographer stopped by the home that Harper shared with her sister Alice.  Mills wanted to be able to tell her boss that she attempted to contact the author.  She was surprised when the door was opened by Alice Lee.  She was even more surprised when she was invited in for a conversation. 

My thoughts: I really enjoyed the author's narrative style.  The book reads like a novel. While the book is very much about Harper Lee and Alice Lee, it is really a memoir about the author's time spent with them.  So it is told from her perspective.  Along the way, the reader learns a lot about Monroeville - both past and present, and the Lee family.  You get to know Alice, Harper and their friends.  I also listened to some of the audiobook read by Amy Lynn Stewart.  She used different voices for the characters which really gave a southern flavor to the story.  

Marja Mills met Alice Lee first and made an impression on her.  It was because of this meeting that Harper Lee was willing to meet with her.  Known to her family and friends as Nelle, Harper Lee was ready to set the record straight.  For years, reporters had been trying to get an interview with her.  From their very first meeting, Nelle made it clear that, "This would not be an interview." "'Just a visit.'"  Because Marja was agreeable to that, their relationship began to grow.  When the article finally came out in the Chicago Tribune, Nelle gave her approval.  

A few months after the article was printed, Marja Mills was struggling with her health.  She has Lupus and was having a flare.  Usually flares passed in a few days, but this one was worse.  She was told by the newspaper that she needed to take a leave of absence.  She decided that would be a good time to go back to Monroeville and visit Alice and Harper.  It was during this time that it was decided that Marja would write a book about their lives.  She eventually rented a house next door to the Lees.  

If you are curious about the life of Harper Lee or just like a good memoir, I highly recommend this book. 


"When she moved to New York, she had little money and lived frugally.  Even after the unexpected success of her book, she still lived frugally when it came to spending on herself."

"Once home, they would get to clucking over each other, Alice telling Nelle to drive carefully and Nelle telling Alice not to work herself to death.  The two women had this in common:  Sisterly admonition aside, they did as they saw fit."

"She lamented the passing of an era she said I was too young to remember, one in which a reporter's first and only job was to get the facts right, not to inject personal opinion."

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Book Review: Murder on the QE2 by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

Murder on the QE2 (Murder, She Wrote, #9)Murder on the QE2 (Murder, She Wrote #9). Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain. Signet (1997). 304 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "The older I get, the harder it is to surprise me."

Summary:  Mystery writer Jessica Fletcher is invited to sail on the Queen Elizabeth II as one of seven guest lecturers.  She's also been asked to write a mystery play to be conducted one act per day during the crossing.  She has sailed on the QE2 before.  She and her husband took the crossing just months before he died.  While she is looking forward to making the crossing again, she misses her husband.  

Once aboard the ship she is introduced to the other lecturers and the cast of the play she wrote.  She is also introduced to Mary Ward, a woman who solved a murder mystery to win a trip on the QE2.  Jessica and Mary become fast friends.  One morning the two of them are taking a walk on the deck when Mary spots a bare foot sticking out of a life boat.  They soon discover the body of Marla Tralaine, famous actress and lecturer on the crossing.  Working with head of security, Jessica and Mary attempt to uncover secrets and discover the murderer. 

My thoughts:  A murder aboard a ship is always interesting as the murderer has to be someone on board.  The other passengers often feel afraid for their own safety and this can often take the fun out of the experience.  In this case, the captain and crew wanted to avoid letting passengers on the ship know that a murder had been committed.  They were able to keep it under wraps for several hours, but it wasn't long before rumors started circulating.

Jessica was really looking forward to taking this crossing.  She envisioned herself relaxing for hours with a good book, sitting on the deck wrapped in blankets and enjoying some of the entertainment provided by the ship.  Unfortunately, once the body of actress Marla Tralaine is found, Jessica's time is not her own.  Head of security on the ship asks for Jessica's help.  I enjoyed the addition of Mary Ward as a companion for Jessica in this story.  She is a woman who loves to read mysteries and do crossword puzzles.  She adds a new angle to Jessica's thoughts.  The two of them often dine together and sometimes take walks on the deck.  They are able to bounce ideas off one another and it is ultimately Mary who identifies the killer.

The list of suspects is long and many of them are actors, which complicates matters further.  Actors are often good at pretending to be someone they are not.  There are lots of secrets to uncover, some helpful and some not.  The killer was identified in a very unique way that was a lot of fun.

I enjoyed taking this crossing with Jessica and look forward to her next adventure. 


"My cabin was especially inviting at the moment. Two lamps cast a warm glow over the room, and the gentle rocking of the ship almost make it feel as though I were in a cradle. The thought of climbing into bed and reading a good book until falling asleep was compelling."

"'But isn't that what's enjoyable about being alive? Something new every day.'"

"She seemed always to see the good in people, to find a reasonable explanation for bad behavior."

Monday, July 11, 2022

Book Review: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Summer BookThe Summer Book. Tove Jansson. NYRB Classics (2008) (First published 1972). 170 pages. Genre: Fiction.

First Line: "It was an early, very warm morning in July, and it had rained during the night."

Summary:  The Summer Book is a series of vignettes told about six-year-old Sophia and her grandmother.  Each summer, Sophia, her father and her grandmother live on an island in the Gulf of Finland. Father mostly sits at his desk and works, while Sophia and grandmother explore the island.  They swim, take the dory out, make friends with a cat or two, visit with friends, snoop around a neighbor's property, talk about God and sleep in a tent.  Before long summer is coming to an end and it is time to return to the main land.

My thoughts:  The format of this book is a bit unusual.  It is told in vignettes.  Each chapter is a complete story, but they all take place on the island over the summer.  There is no explaining or catching you up on the background of the characters, except for an occasional sentence that explains why a character may be acting a certain way now.  Once I got used to the format, I fell in love with Sophia and Grandmother. 

Sophia is only six, but wise for her age.  She is Grandmother's constant companion, except when she is upset with her. She is curious, asks a lot of questions and is not afraid to tell Grandmother when she is wrong.  She has a quick temper, but is also quick to cool off. 

Grandmother is old and can't move very fast.  She likes to lie in bed and read mysteries.  She is often frustrated with herself and Sophia.  However, with Sophia she is quick to change her attitude and her story if it means Sophia will not be upset. Grandmother is adventuresome and a bit naughty.  Sometimes she smokes cigarettes or swears even though she knows she shouldn't. 

The author writes in a beautifully descriptive way.  The reader is left with an image of what an island in the Gulf of Finland is like.  Sometimes it is hot, sometimes foggy.  Spring can be rainy and windy until suddenly, one day, summer has arrived.  There are storms that can cause things not tied down to be lost in the sea. Not only is the writing beautiful, it is also hilarious and had me laughing out loud at times.  

This was the perfect book to enjoy in the height of summer and be reminded of the joys of the season.


"'You can believe what you like, but you must learn to be tolerant.' 'What does that mean?' asked the child sullenly.  'That means respecting other people's convictions.' 'What are convictions?' Sophia screamed and stamped her foot. 'Letting others believe what they want to believe!' her grandmother shouted back."

"Sophia carried the cat back to the cottage and tried as hard as she could to ingratiate herself, but the more love she gave it, the quicker it fled back to the dish box."

"He was often unlucky and was plagued by bad weather and engine trouble. His herring nets would rip or get caught in his propeller, and fish and fowl would fail to turn up where he had expected them. And if he did have a good catch, the price would go down, so it was always six of one or half a dozen of the other."

"The bare granite steamed, the moss and crevices were drenched with moisture, and the colors everywhere had deepened.  Below the veranda, the vegetation in the morning shade was like a rain forest of lush, evil leaves and flowers, which she had to be careful not to break as she searched."

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Book Review: The Key to Deceit by Ashley Weaver

The Key to Deceit (Electra McDonnell, #2)The Key to Deceit (Electra McDonnell #2). Ashley Weaver. Minotaur Books (2022). 272 pages. Genre: Historical Mystery.

First Line:  "London. 31 August 1940. It's often a man's mouth that breaks his nose, my uncle Mick was fond of saying."

Summary:  Electra McDonnell has been getting used to her new life on the right side of the law.  She has been spending her time working as a locksmith and knitting socks for soldiers.  Frankly, she is getting restless.  Her uncle Mick is out of town on a job leaving her and their  longtime housekeeper, Nacy, to keep the home fires burning.  When returning home from a job one day, she finds Major Ramsey waiting for her. 

He has a job for her.  A woman was found floating in the Thames with an unusual bracelet on her arm.  It is locked in two places and the Major would like Electra to use her skills to remove it.  Its clear that the woman was involved in espionage. In order to break the spy ring, the Major will need Electra and Uncle Mick's skills.  It becomes a race against the clock as they attempt to thwart the enemy's plans. 

My thoughts:  This second book in the Electra McDonnell series drew me in immediately.  The writing is crisp and witty.  Electra continues to be a strong character.  She was raised by her uncle along with his two boys and their housekeeper, Nacy Dean.   She is an expert locksmith, knows her way around a garage and won't shy away from a fight.  But, she is also feminine, tender-hearted and knows how to knit socks.  She is fiercely loyal to her family and country and is willing to do what she can to help the war effort.  

Uncle Mick's part in this story is smaller than it was in the first book.  However, he returns from his travels in time to help out.  Felix and Major Ramsey have large parts this time around.  There is a bit of a love triangle forming.  Electra's feelings for Felix are growing, but she has known him since she was a girl.  Are her feelings something more?  As far as the Major goes, it could never work.  They are from different worlds.  But he does seem to be fiercely protective of her.  As I have mentioned before, I don't always like romance in my mysteries.  But, I didn't find this distracting.  Instead, it is just charming and helps the reader like both Felix and the Major and get to know them better.  

The story begins just before the Germans bombed London.  The bombing is part of the story and the author did a good job of giving the reader a feel for what this must have been like.  When Electra hears the planes she hears, "the whine of Heinkel and Dornier engines".  This was very appropriate for her.  I would have heard the engines of planes, but Electra is familiar with engines of all kinds.   The McDonnell family lives far from the East End which is where most of the damage occurred.  Their feelings of fear and uncertainty are very real. 

Unraveling a spy ring is no easy task.  As the Major follows the clues along with the help of Electra and Uncle Mick, it gets more complicated before it is sorted out.  

There is a secondary story line that started in the first book having to do with Electra's mother. She never knew her and the family doesn't talk about her.  Electra only knows what she has been told, which isn't much. She would love to know more about her.  With the help of Felix, Electra makes some progress on that front.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read.  All this is left to do now is wait for the next book in the series. 


"It had felt good, I realized, having virtue backing us up.  It had changed the way I looked at myself, whether I wanted to admit it or not.  I felt different, better, knowing I was working for the people of my country rather than against them."

"I ran a brush through my hair, realized it was going to be one of those days when it wasn't going to behave, and rolled it into a chignon, viciously shoving pins into it until it realized who was boss."

"The bank was one of those impressive buildings with pillared chambers and echoing vaulted ceilings.  People talked in whispers, as though it were a hospital.  Or maybe a church was more accurate; people do tend to worship money."

"One thing I had come to learn over the years was that you could never judge a book by its cover. People were seldom what they seemed on the outside."

Monday, July 4, 2022

Book Review: Passing by Nella Larsen

PassingPassing. Nella Larsen. Macmillan Collector's Library (2020) (First published 1929). 176 pages. Genre: Fiction, Classic.

First Line: "It was the last letter in Irene Redfield's little pile of morning mail."

Summary:  Irene Redfield receives a letter from Clare Kendry, an old classmate of hers.  They grew up in Chicago and attended school together for a while.  At some point Clare moved away and this is the first time she has heard from her in years. Irene is reluctant to meet with her and she is not exactly sure why.  However, the two do meet and rekindle their friendship.  Still, Irene finds herself avoiding Clare.  

Both Clare and Irene are women of color who are able to pass as white. However, Clare has hidden her lineage from her husband, while Irene married a black man and is living in Harlem.  Irene disapproves of the way Clare has kept this secret from her husband.  As their paths continue to cross the tension mounts until tragedy strikes.

My thoughts:  I can't say that I particularly liked this story or any of the characters.  However, I am glad to have read it after hearing so much about it.  

The story is very well written and complex.  As the title indicates, the overarching theme is women of color passing as white.  This often gave them advantages that they otherwise wouldn't have.  What I liked most about the story, however, was the way the author brought out prejudices that we all carry, not necessarily about race, but about the way other people live.  Irene is a strong woman with very specific ideas of how one should live life.  These ideas extend even to her husband and he has made concessions to accommodate her ideas.  While it does seem wrong that Clare hasn't told her husband that she is black, the author shows that Irene has plenty of issues in her own life that are inconsistent.  

The author does give the reader a very clear picture of what it was like to be a person of color during this time period.  There is also a real flavor of the city of Chicago and the Harlem area.  

If you have hesitated reading this book, I encourage you to give it a try.  It is a short read, but an important one.  


"An attractive-looking woman, was Irene's opinion, with those dark, almost black, eyes and that wide mouth like a scarlet flower against the ivory of her skin.  Nice clothes too, just right for the weather, thin and cool without being mussy, as summer things were so apt to be."

"For, though temporary, it would be important and perhaps disturbing.  Irene didn't like changes that affected her smooth routine of her household."

"She had no facts or proofs.  She was only making herself unutterably wretched by an unfounded suspicion.  It had been a case of looking for trouble and finding it in good measure.  Merely that."