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Monthly Archives: January 2017

A Palette for Murder–mysteries abound in this hot beach town

A Palette for Murder

by Sybil Johnson

a-palette-for-murderI had my introduction to the Aurora Anderson Mystery Series with the third book of the series, A Palette for Murder. This well-crafted book begins comfortably with a chapter that sets the scene in an unseasonably hot beach town and introduces the main characters: Rory (Aurora), a computer programmer, and her friend Liz, a real estate agent. Before the chapter is over they discover Kit, a homeless man Rory has befriended, injured through an apparent attack at the beach.

The plot rapidly becomes more complicated as Rory is often present when disaster strikes.  Even more trouble finds her in this tale as she is motivated by a drive to help others and find solutions.

I had a great time following the clues as Rory tries to unravel various mysteries.  There are two romantic interests, but they do not dominate the story–the mystery does.  The ending was satisfying, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more books by Sybil Johnson.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: This cozy mystery works fine as a standalone.

Publication:  January 31, 2017–Henery Press

Corazón de Durazno–Heart of the Peach

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We live in an area called Corazón de Durazno because the houses are built where there used to be a peach orchard. It is January with highs around 68 degrees F and lows averaging around 40 degrees–although last night we did have a light frost. The trees are in full bloom and have various stages of fruit simultaneously. Some fruits remain from last year and the poor trees are generally confused, but beautiful.

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Tell Me No Lies–an excellent mystery

Tell Me No Lies

by Lynn Chandler Willis


tell-me-no-liesTell Me No Lies
is an outstanding mystery. While marketed as the first book in the Ava Logan Mystery Series, it reads as a standalone. If the author Lynn Chandler Willis has more adventures in mind for the main character Ava, I am excited at the prospect.

A woman is brutally murdered as Ava Logan, a widowed mother of two, babysits her adorable toddler, Ivy. Who would murder this beautiful, young artist and why? Representing law enforcement, handsome Sheriff Grayson Ridge, and Ava, small town newspaper publisher, pursue their independent and joint investigations into these questions.

With a very effective gossip machine, many in Jackson Creek, North Carolina, wonder why the small town even needs a newspaper. The mystery plays out with continuing danger, various potential suspects, a heated sheriff election, Ginseng poaching, speculation of abuse, and romantic intrigue.

Tell Me No Lies is a hard book to put down.  It will keep you engaged until the very end–an ending you won’t expect.  Willis has won several awards for previous books. I anticipate this one will add to her accolades.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Thriller

Notes:  Can I give this one a 6/5? It’s just a really splendid mystery!

Publication:  February 7, 2017 — Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Rain splattered against the windshield then, like magic, disappeared with the hypnotizing swipe of the wipers. I wished life was that simple. Whenever you felt the sting of a broken heart, the crush of a disappointment, or the torment of a bad decision, you could just flip a lever and a giant mechanical arm would wipe it all away.  It was a nice thought but, like the rain, there would always be more to come.

[Describing Ava’s office manager]  Ever the social butterfly with a manicured nail on the pulse of the town…

For so many years, we had walked around carrying words we wanted to say but never did. We raised silent questions, hoping to never really know the answers.

The Angels’ Share–Is this homeless man Jesus?

The Angels’ Share

by James Markert

the-angels-shareIt is hard to pigeonhole The Angels’ Share in the sense of literary category, theme, or purpose. The author, James Markert, has a history degree and categorizes The Angels’ Share as “commercial fiction set during historical times.” The publisher classifies it as both General Fiction (Adult) and Christian. Four major threads compete for attention–the Depression, Prohibition, the bourbon industry, and a confusing Christlike figure.

Times are particularly hard in the fictional town of Twisted Tree where Prohibition has raised unemployment levels due to the closing of the distillery.  The family that owned the distillery mysteriously seems to fare well financially, but there are dark tones to their story.

Homeless people play a major role in this novel, as in almost any tale of this era. One, in particular, stands out: Asher Keating, who has already passed away when the story begins.  A much decorated war hero who saved the lives of hundreds of fellow soldiers, he quietly accumulates a following as he roams around healing, feeding the hungry, and providing clothing. Is he Jesus fulfilling the second coming? Is he a guardian angel? Is he a lunatic?

The title The Angels’ Share emphasizes both the process of making bourbon and the religious and philosophical questions posed. According to the author,  angels’s share is “the quantity of whisky lost to evaporation during the aging process.” Tradition says that distillers share their bourbon with the angels as an offering so they will protect the distillery from fire.

The Angels’ Share is a very different book and a worthy read. The characters and their struggles are interesting.  The setting, both locale and time, are essential to the plot. I don’t consider it to be a “Christian” book because it doesn’t follow Biblical tenants and prophecies. It does have religion and relationship to God as thematic elements, and it does provoke thought about God, the homeless, and gifted individuals. The Angels’ Share is well-written with its complex threads telling a story with depth. The dialogue is appropriate to the era with lots of slang that has fallen out of popular usage, giving a realistic touch to conversations. The relationships of the various characters result in an interesting web as they move in and out of each others’ lives. There is even a romance that is integral to the plot, but does not dominate it.  As The Angels’ Share concludes, many questions are answered about the characters, but others are appropriately left to the reader to ponder.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult)

Publication:  January 17, 2017 — Thomas Nelson

Notes: I was intrigued, but not surprised, that the passages I highlighted as I read this book mostly deal with Asher Keating, the Christlike figure. There are many selections that made comparisons with or echoed Biblical text; they lead the reader to pose questions about Keating and his purpose on Earth.

Memorable Lines:

Hope can change even the most stubborn of men.

In the author’s historical notes: …there are now more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky than people.

Desert Vengeance–is revenge really sweet?

Desert Vengeance

by Betty Webb

desert-vengeanceThe first chapter of Desert Vengeance is a half page long without a wasted word. It grabs you and twists you with a hold so tight that you know you will keep reading. This book is the latest in a series of mysteries by Betty Webb about PI Lena Jones. It could easily be a successful standalone. Nuances of relationships are effortlessly grasped even without the backstory.  Lena’s professional status is clear.  In the process of the mystery unfolding, the reader learns what happened to Lena as she made her way through a series of foster homes and emerged with emotional scars, but a strong character.

The subject matter, child molestation, is a very difficult one, but is handled in such a way that the reader understands the trauma the children went through without an account of  the details of the abuse.  The mystery centers around two murders and there are multiple suspects with strong motives.  Lena finds through expert interviewing skills that not everyone is telling the truth. Some people have things to hide, even if it is not involvement in the murder.  Others don’t really want the murderer caught.

The setting is a very hot Scottsdale, Arizona, with some reprieve in Black Canyon Creek. Both are accurately depicted without lengthy passages, leaving the reader sweaty, dusty, and thirsty. The other characters are interesting and developed appropriately according to their contribution to the plot.

I highly recommend this book either as a standalone or as part of the series. I am looking forward to reading more books by Betty Webb who has eight more books in her Lena Jones Mystery Series and three books in a humorous series about a California zoo-keeping sleuth.  A former journalist, Webb deals with controversial topics in many of her books, but she approaches these difficult subjects through the lens of a consummate storyteller.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Thriller

Notes: Difficult subject matter, but handled respectfully

Publication: Poisoned Pen Press–February 7, 2017

Memorable Lines:

The world looks so hopeful at sunrise. The air is clean, birds sing, frogs hush their complaints, and coyotes stop their slaughter of innocent bunnies and head home to bed. It’s all a lie, of course. The world is as vicious in daylight as it is at night.

Let’s Change those Stereotypes!

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The media in the U.S. often describes Mexicans with stereotypical terms–gangs, drugs, lazy. Let me shine a little light on the people who have shared their country with me for three years. I don’t know anyone in Mexico who fits into this stereotype, and why do we think we should throw people into a descriptive “basket” anyway? Are there people in Mexico who are unpleasant or criminal? Certainly, as there are the world over.

So, what kind of people have I encountered in Pátzcuaro, Mexico?  Kind, generous, and family oriented. If you need a stereotype, try that one. In our town, people are so patient when we try to communicate in our broken Spanish. We had a lady take us across town to find a repair shop when she was clearly headed in a different direction. She even stopped several times to ask directions for us. A young man spent the day climbing up and down a ladder to clean the exterior windows of our two story house and then would not charge us anything. He only took some money when we insisted it was for “Navidad.”

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A beautiful plant called Alcatraz

The flowers were given to me by our hairdresser. She has a clean, but worn, little one room, one chair beauty shop with no apparent source of water. Parking is one slot on the side of a busy, curvy hill. Hours are indeterminate. But she is pleasant and does a great job of cutting our hair. When I asked her for the name of the plant explaining that I had one in my yard at home but would like to buy more, she insisted I take the vase of flowers home–“un regalo” (a gift).

We look different, talk different, and dress differently, but we experience kindness and generosity. This is my stereotype for Mexicanos.

 

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education

by Raphaële Friermalala

illustrated by Aurélia Fronty

The youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize earned this award and world-wide acclaim through her activism in support of girls’ rights to education. Starting at age eleven, she began a courageous public battle against the Taliban and their destruction of girls’ schools in Pakistan. Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education, depicts Malala’s background and family support, her bravery in the face of Taliban violence, and her continuing efforts to bring light on rights’ issues for girls and women in particular, but  including all downtrodden people.

The artwork is an essential part of this book, providing colorful symbolic images.  At the end of the book there is a helpful timeline of events in Malala’s life as well as photographs of her.  There is an added useful feature for parents and teachers who want to extend the study with information on Pakistan, education in Pakistan and the world, and Malala’s religion and inspiration.  There are also brief discussions of other peacemakers: Gandhi, Mandela, and King.  This section includes quotes from Malala as well as a listing of other sources of information about Malala including links to various important speeches she has made.

Teachers will find Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education a valuable teaching resource. It empowers both children and women to stand up for what is right and summarizes the religious and historical context in a way that is understandable and appropriate for children.  This book could be used as an integral tool in many curricular units as well as to provoke thoughtful discussion by itself.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Charlesbridge Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Younger Readers, Biography

Notes:  recommended for ages 6-9

10 inches X 10 inches

48 pages

originally published in French

Publication:   Charlesbridge Publishing–February 7, 2017

Memorable Lines:

One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.

“Dear sisters and brothers, we realize the importance of light when we see darkness. We realize the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.”–Malala

“The extremists are afraid of books and pens. With guns you can kill terrorists; with education you can kill terrorism.”–Malala

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