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Monthly Archives: November 2017

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Much Ado About Murder–Shakespeare in a Civil War era setting

Much Ado About Murder

by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Much Ado about MurderEngland comes to the U.S. in Much Ado About Murder. Charlotte Fairfax is a costume designer formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Audrey Ashley is an actress from a famous English dramatic family; she insists on a particular English director. Set in the Catskills, a production of Much Ado About Nothing is anticipated to draw crowds of tourists to help sustain the town and local hotel. Add in a few Corgis and a lot of tea to round out the British ambiance.

Unfortunately, trouble plagues the production with conflicts, injuries, a murder, and lots of suspects. Charlotte and her wealthy friend Paula, chairperson of the theater board, bear major responsibilities for ironing out difficulties and investigating the murder. Charlotte has support from her boyfriend Ray, the chief of police.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery with its interesting characters and setting. As a drama fan, I particularly appreciated that focus and found that it was integral to the plot rather than contrived. Reading about the difficulties of staging a professional production on a restricted budget in a more remote location got my attention and added an element of fun to the mystery.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series, but worked well as a standalone for me

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

Audrey shook her head as the server placed a generous slice of apple pie, its latticed crust golden and flaky, warm, cinnamon-laced chunky apple filling oozing onto the plate, in front of each diner. It was accompanied by scoops of homemade French vanilla ice cream and slices of mature cheddar cheese.

Theater rehearsal rooms are almost always closed to outsiders. They’re meant to be safe places where actors can try on a role and wear it for an hour or a day, experiment,  do anything and everything to find the heart and voice of a role, make mistakes, indulge in whimsy and nonsense, until they understand where their character has come from and what he seeks and why he wants it. They do this by playing off other actors, and gradually, as they work out the mechanics of the play and the technical aspects, it comes together as the words are lifted off their pages and take on a life of their own.

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The Boyfriend Swap–great beach, plane, or cozy afternoon

The Boyfriend Swap

by Meredith Schorr

The Boyfriend SwapI like to vary my reading occasionally by throwing in a Chick Lit book. Meredith Schorr’s The Boyfriend Swap was a good change of pace at the the right time. The first half established characters, varying the viewpoint in clearly marked divisions between elementary school music teacher Robyn and hard driven lawyer Sidney. It is quite funny as they both have family situations coming up at Christmas where they don’t want their families to meet their respective boyfriends for various reasons.

When the boyfriend swap occurs, the book still has humorous moments, but things don’t always turn out as expected so there are some anxious times as well. Is swapping boyfriends a good idea in anyone’s mind? Will it all work out in the end for Robyn, Sidney, and their boyfriends? Come along for a fun read, but don’t model your romantic life on theirs!

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: Women’s Fiction, Romance

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

How were children supposed to nurture their creative sides if schools focused entirely on academics?

Giving him a quick once-over as he absently pulled his finders through his longish hair, I was taken aback by his blatant beauty. The gods of looks certainly didn’t hold back the day Perry was born. Too bad they were so stingy with his humility.

Usually, the scent of garlic from my mom’s roasted chicken made my mouth water, but the guilt-and-anxiety cocktail I was drinking rid me of an appetite.

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection

by John E. Sarno, M.D.

Healing Back PainDr. Sarno, through many years of treating patients with back pain, has discovered what he considers an epidemic of back pain in the U.S. and states that usually the cause is not an accident or a degenerative disease. He attributes it to repressed emotions, usually anger or anxiety, and says that the stressful situation that causes the Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) does not always have to be resolved for the pain to go away. The patient just needs to recognize the mind-body connection that he is experiencing.

I have not tried to apply Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection’s seemingly simple techniques; I have only read the book. Dr. Sarno’s detailed discussion of the failure of traditional medicine’s handling of back pain does make sense. He advises someone with back pain to consult with a doctor to get that perspective, but then evaluate their symptoms in the light of his thesis. He also says many other conditions such as eczema, headaches, and irritable bowl syndrome may be attributable to repressed emotions also.

Dr. Sarno cites a lot of anecdotal evidence as well as data gained from surveys of patients to support his theory. He does not claim to understand how the brain can exert such powerful control over the body, but reminds the reader that there are many things about the way the brain works that are not completely understood yet. Dr. Sarno is a medical doctor, not a salesman, not a slick businessman ready to perform on morning TV. His background is displayed in his writing style, and my 4 star rating reflects that. His bold stance against the traditional and unsuccessful medical view of back pain and his obvious enthusiasm for helping those with back pain rates 5 stars.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Health

Notes:

  1. Much of the book is technical. The chapter about his technique is vague, maybe because it is so simple and we expect more bells and whistles from modern medicine. Because of these factors, I found the Appendix particularly valuable. It is comprised of “Letters from Patients” and shows concretely how various patients have applied his theory and their results.
  2. Having finished this book on the mind/body connection, which deals primarily with the power of repressed emotions, I was amazed as I started a fictional book to discover at least four prominent references in the first chapter to how the characters realistically reacted viscerally in various ways to stress inducing moments. I reflected that if people instantaneously respond physically (tightening muscles, a sinking feeling in the gut) to anxiety, then Dr. Sarno’s connection of repressed emotions and body pain seems rational even if ignored by the medical community.

Publication:   Original 1991, Kindle 2001—Hachette Book Group

Memorable Lines:

Though the low back is the most common location for an acute attack, it can occur anywhere in the neck, shoulders, or upper and lower back. Wherever it occurs, it is the most painful thing I know of in clinical medicine, which is ironic because it is completely harmless.

It is not the occasion itself but the degree of anxiety or anger that it generates that determines if there will be a physical reaction. The important thing is the emotion generated and repressed, for we have a built-in tendency to repress unpleasant, painful, or embarrassing emotions. These repressed feelings are the stimulus for TMS and other disorders like it. Anxiety and anger are two of those undesirable emotions that we would rather not be aware of, and so the mind keeps them in the subterranean precincts of the subconscious if it possibly can.

Traditional medical diagnoses focus on the machine, the body, while the real problem seems to relate to what makes the machine work—the mind. TMS is characterized by physical pain, but that acute discomfort is induced by the psychological phenomena rather than structural abnormalities or muscle deficiency.

Queen of Flowers–so many elements

Queen of Flowers

by Kerry Greenwood

Queen of FlowersQueen of Flowers opens with Phryne Fisher’s extensive fitting for a dress to be worn in a Melbourne parade as the chosen Queen of Flowers based on her charitable support. The whole household is turned on end for the fitting, an elephant makes an appearance in her yard, and that day turns out to be the most tranquil in the book.

Queen of Flowers is a masterpiece of complex plot. The carnival and circus are in town along with a violin player from Phryne’s past. Adopted daughter Ruth begins to wonder about her parents. Phryne takes her four flower girls (young ladies) in hand and discovers interesting aspects of their backgrounds. As usual, Phryne shows herself as a force to be reckoned with in dealing with some of St. Kilda’s shadiest characters. My one problem with the book was that when one of her daughters goes missing, Phryne is much calmer than one would expect.

All of Phryne’s “minions” are called in to help with the various mysteries that are amazingly connected. I felt like standing up and clapping with a loud “Well done!” as Greenwood tied up the plot threads successfully and delivered justice as deserved.

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: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #14 of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; could be a standalone but better if you have some background on the characters

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Phryne, the fiddler remembered, always existed as a still, self-possessed point in a maelstrom. Usually she had created the maelstrom herself.

Phryne…climbed the stairs in search of copious hot water to wash the Weston house off her skin. She had been in houses which ran black with fleas. She had been in rural cottages where the soot gloved the beams and the vulcanized grease on the kitchen walls had been classified by the National Trust. But she had never felt quite this grimy, and she didn’t like it.

He was a slick, hard-faced man with a chin on which one could break rocks, and thin red lips. His eyes were as compassionate and kind as chips of flint.

Your Dream. God’s Plan.–Are You Longing for Something More?

Your Dream. God’s Plan.

by Tiffany Smiling

with Margot Starbuck

Your Dream God's PlanWhat were you like in fourth grade? How about when you were sixteen? Those are the ages at which Tiffany Smiling had major, life-changing medical events. She shares those stories in her book Your Dream. God’s Plan. Although these were pivotal points in Tiffany’s life, she was rescued by God to later do amazing things for His kingdom.

Your Dream. God’s Plan. is really focused on an audience of young women, but others can derive inspiration and guidance as well. She challenges young women to devote themselves to drawing close to God and then listening to the call He has for them. Her fascinating story relates miracles of how God used her and many amazing people she met to give out of their abundance and find that God always supplies enough.

Tiffany will draw you into worlds of poverty of body and spirit as she describes orphans, women rescued from sexual trafficking, extreme poverty, disease, and demons. But she also shares the many ways God answers prayers when the people of God make themselves available to be used by Him.

The book includes a section appropriate for study by groups or individuals for each chapter. There is a summarizing sentence followed by questions to help the reader personalize the content to her own life. The questions are followed by a “Dream Challenge” which focuses on how you can implement the concepts to find a closer relationship to God and thus discover His plan for your life. She finishes with a sentence or two “tip,” an additional quick take-away to help you make changes in your life to align your dream with God’s plan.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Notes: I had so many “memorable lines” highlighted that I just pulled out the first 3/4 for use below. I am not a thirty-something or a new Christian, but there was still so much to ponder and so many possibilities for spiritual growth to attend to.

Publication:  November 1, 2017 — Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

At the moment the “good life” was just within reach, I discovered that lasting satisfaction wasn’t found where I thought it might be. In fact, as God revealed to me that scrambling after the dream I’d bought into would never satisfy, I tasted something even more fulfilling.

As you release the barren pursuit of earthly pleasures, exchanging it for the surprising way of Jesus, you will experience lasting satisfaction as you embrace what matters most.

You were made for so much more. If you are a student or a single working woman or a missionary or a full-time mommy, there is a calling over your life that involves bringing light to the dark places—in university hallways, in work cubicles, in overseas villages, and in the rooms of your home. If you are willing to release your grip on the plans you’ve been holding for your life, God is waiting to show you His plan that is even better for you and for the people He loves.

Smoke and Mirrors–P.T. Barnum’s American Museum

Smoke and Mirrors

by Casey Daniels

Smoke and MirrorsP.T. Barnum’s American Museum, stocked with the odd, unusual, and exotic from around the world, is the setting for the mystery Smoke and Mirrors by Casey Daniels. It’s the fall of 1842 in New York City when we are introduced to the fictional heroine Evangeline Barnum, a sister of Phineas T. Barnum.

Although Evangeline lives in a time of severe restrictions on women in the United States, thanks to her forward thinking brother, she works at the museum with many responsibilities. She has more freedom to pursue her investigations than most women would have. Problems begin with the appearance of an old family friend, Andrew Emerson, soliciting her help. Evangeline turns him away because his presence could cause the discovery of secrets she has worked hard to hide. The plot becomes ever more complex as Evangeline becomes involved in a murder, attempts on her life, and the disappearance of young ladies in New York City.

This was a fascinating book of historical fiction. It is well researched, has interesting characters, and provides a different perspective on the lives of the “human oddities” in live exhibits. These are the kinds of people, like the bearded lady, that one used to commonly find in fair exhibits, but are hopefully not exhibited as freaks anymore.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Miss Barnum Mystery Series

Publication:   November 1, 2017—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Her words were not light and airy, more like a cloud that foretells a coming rain; not so threatening in and of itself—not at that moment—but simply a reminder that there is a chance there are darker things to come.

It was difficult to explain how such groups of people made me feel. In the museum, whether I was talking to one or one hundred, I was at ease. Yet in such social situations, when I was expected to talk of nothing more interesting than the weather or the latest fashions from Paris, I often felt awkward and tongue-tied.

The more mysterious a thing, the more likely it is that people will pay money for it.

 

Murder for Nothing–wicked webs abound

Murder for Nothing

by Veronica Heley

Murder for NothingThis is the second book for me to read in Veronica Heley’s Ellie Quicke Mysteries, and I am sold on the series. Perhaps it is a reflection of my own age, but I like that Ellie Quicke, the main character, is a grandmother and she solves crimes using her brain rather than a lot of running around. I like that she is unabashedly a woman of faith, but does not see herself as perfect, nor is she a prude. She displays courage and insight.

The other characters in the book are what I would call a mixed bag. Some are extremely evil, some are really nice, and a number are common folk just trying to do the best they can given their circumstances.

Ellie is caught in the middle of a number of conflicts, all of which seem to center on a spoiled young lady, Angelique, who has gotten herself in trouble with her ambitions to marry a rich man and live a lifestyle she can not currently afford. Running free and easy through the money of others, Angelique can turn on charming tears at the drop of a hat. She finds herself in over her head, however, when she hosts a rave party at her cousin’s flat while he is on his honeymoon.

I enjoyed Murder for Nothing from start to finish and found myself not wanting to put it down, not because it was so suspenseful but because I wanted to watch the mystery and its solution unfold. Although there are many differences, Heley’s choice of heroine and her focus on detection through conversation and thought calls to mind the unparalleled Agatha Christie.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #17 in the Ellie Quicke Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:   November 1, 2017—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

I try, however difficult it may be, to do the right thing and not to compromise. And I bet I sleep more soundly than you do.

She got it. He was feeling guilty. If he would talk about it, she could help him. If he remained mum, the guilt was going to work inwards and poison his whole system.

She had indeed gone for the safe bet in marrying her first husband, only to find out that he had a need to dominate everyone in sight. Yes, it had been a successful marriage in worldly terms, but only because she’d made herself into a doormat for him.

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