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Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Road to Paradise–climbing new heights

The Road to Paradise

The Road to Paradise

Karen Barnett’s The Road to Paradise is a delightful visit through time to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Set in 1927, the story tells of young Margie Lane, the socialite daughter of Senator Thomas Lane. A naturalist at heart, Margie is hired for the summer, as a political favor, into the male dominated environment with the expectation that she will only last a few days. Margie, lacking practical experience, brings with her determination, enthusiasm, a sense of wonder at God’s creation, and an academic background in botany and zoology.

This book has a villain, Phillip Carmichael, who has been manipulating Margie since childhood, and it has a hero, Chief Ranger Ford Brayden, Margie’s new boss. By the end of the story the reader has learned the motivations of each character and how their backgrounds and experiences set the stage for their actions.

Maggie is attracted to Ford, but realizes they have no future together because he does not share her faith in God. Calling God “the greatest Artist ever known,” Margie sees Him all around her in His amazing creation in Mount Rainier National Park and asks God to use her to share His love with others.

As Margie struggles in her new job and relationships with co-workers at the Park,  Phillip is always a force as he tries to convert the Park from wilderness to super tourist entertainment center—by any means necessary. Margie’s parents also play a role with their expectations for their daughter’s social and media status.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Waterbrook (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: a Vintage National Parks novel

Publication:   June 6, 2017—Waterbrook (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

Ridgeline after ridgeline of deep green rose to meet the jagged edges of the enormous peak, tucked into its rumpled blanket of white.

Her smile added to the graceful beauty of her face. “I love seeing God’s creation laid out in front of us. ‘The earth is full of thy riches.’ How anyone can look at this natural order and not see the Maker’s hand, I’ll never comprehend.”

“God wants me broken and miserable?” She shook her head. “I don’t think I’d go that far, Ford, but when we’re weak He is strong. It’s in His strength that we find victory.”

Auschwitz Lullaby–a mother’s amazing love

Auschwitz Lullaby

by Mario Escobar

Auschwitz LullabyAuschwitz Lullaby is a sad book based on the life of Helene Hannemann, a German woman married to a talented Gypsy violinist. As an Aryan she could have saved her own life, but she chooses instead to accompany her five mixed-blood Gypsy children to Auschwitz. There she is chosen by the infamous Doctor Mengele to establish and run a nursery school at the concentration camp. Knowing that Mengele would only perform this “kindness” to the children for his own ends, she agrees anyway to provide the starving children with more nutritious food, several hours a day in a cleaner, healthier environment, and some mental respite from the stressful deprivations and horrors of the camp.

Without graphic descriptions, the author Mario Escobar uses a first person format, having Helene tell her own story through a journal which she supposedly left behind in the camp. Her writing is encased in a Prologue and Epilogue in Mengele’s voice. As I read this work of historical fiction, I wondered how much was true. I was gratified to discover a section called “Historical Clarifications” at the conclusion of the tale that explains clearly the aspects of the book that are nonfiction. The author is a historian so he also adds a “Chronology of the Gypsy Camp at Auschwitz” and acknowledgements of his sources of research.

Although the publisher categorizes the book as “historical fiction” and “Christian,” there are not a lot of overt references to Christianity, but there is an underlying thread of faith, hope,and love available through the power of God. The school holds a meager Christmas celebration which attempts to “give these children back a little bit of their faith.” Helene notes “that night we were celebrating life, the birth of the Christ child” and she ponders the message of the manger: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” There are other Christian themes throughout of love, forgiving one’s enemies, God’s plan for Helene’s life, and the existence of evil.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Christian

Publication:  August 7, 2018 — Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“From the first time I saw you, I knew God had brought you here to ease our pain somehow. You were so lost, confused, and scared, but I could see a fierce determination in the back of your eyes.”

Death seemed like a gift from heaven, but I knew that it was not yet for me. I was an old ship in the middle of a storm, and my children anchored me to life. I had to keep fighting for them, trying to hold on to hope, looking each day in the face, praying for this nightmare to finally be over.

“God sent you here to guide us. We needed a breath of hope, and you showed up with your beautiful family. I’ve never known anyone as brave and determined as you.”

I tried to fill my heart with love. I did not want hatred to eat away my insides. I had to love even my enemies. It was the only way to keep from becoming a monster myself.

A Bridge for Christmas–rescuing with love

A Bridge for Christmas

by William Schwenn

A Bridge for ChristmasThe first part of A Bridge for Christmas is fairly easy going, setting the stage for a novel about a widower who shuffles through life a day at a time, apparently without purpose or direction. Dave finds himself adopting two dogs, and that one action changes his life. The plot progresses to include a low water bridge destroyed by flood, almost isolating Dave and a small group of his neighbors. There is also an introduction to several people with various approaches to animal rescue work.

Background set, the author William Schwenn picks up the pace, and Dave finds himself in the midst of a mysterious, secretive transport network for rescue dogs. Is the traditional North Carolina mountain community of Calvert County attracting a criminal element focused on dangerous drugs and horrible animal abuse? Will the Bear Creek Bridge be finished in time for Christmas relieving the residents of a one hour dangerous ride to get supplies and conduct business? Can Dave open up his heart to love again?

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Literary Fiction

Notes: This book contains a number of instances of swearing.

Publication:   August 6, 2018—Brighton Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Dave knew and loved the nature of dogs—they’d forget all about this in a day or two, and move on. Life for them was a fresh adventure every day. Win some, lose some, get confused by some, but no worries—tomorrow will be another day.

Tough mountain boys, Dave thought, and smiled gently. They’ll go through women and wives with the wind, reluctantly trade in trucks, but give up their dogs?

He always found it necessary to remind rookies in his department after their first encounter with particularly nasty elements of the human race, “Don’t think about it too much. Let the Almighty take care of His job, and let’s concentrate on doing ours. We’ll be busy enough with just that.”

Midnight Snacks are Murder–humor shares the spotlight with mystery

Midnight Snacks are Murder

by Libby Klein

Midnight Snacks are MurderAs Poppy McAllister struggles to renovate a Queen Anne Victorian into a B & B to support herself and her aunt who raised her, she finds herself in the thick of a lot of situations. Personally, she is torn between her old flame Tim, a local chef, and Gia who owns a coffee shop and has commissioned Poppy to make gluten-free treats for his shop. Poppy is also juggling some pretty quirky characters on the home front: Smitty, a handyman reminiscent of the Three Stooges; Aunt Ginny, an eightyish aunt determined to live life to the fullest; Georgina, her domineering mother-in-law; and Figaro, her cat who is always in the middle of things. Unfortunately, Poppy, recently returned to Cape May, finds herself embroiled in the second murder in less than a year. This time, however, she is not a suspect, but has to clear her rather kooky aunt of charges.

Libby Kein’s Midnight Snacks are Murder is a very funny cozy mystery with lots of amusing zingers sometimes addressed to others, but more often what Poppy is thinking. The plot moves along quickly as blame passes to a number of characters and the victim is shown in various lights ranging from evil to saint. Poppy has to find out the complex truth about him in order to vindicate her aunt. The first book in the series was lots of fun and so is this one. 

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Poppy McAllister Mystery Series but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   July 31, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

I had a better chance of teaching a badger to ride a bike than winning an argument with Aunt Ginny.

Her supermodel good looks made me feel more schlubby the moment she floated into the kitchen. But then I was too tired to grouse this morning about what God had given me and Betty Crocker had perfected, so I moved on to acceptance faster than usual.

Those kids could text the Constitution in thirty seconds using just emojis.

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir

Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir

by Jean Guerrero

CruxCrux: A Cross-Border Memoir attracted my attention because I live part of each year in Mexico and part in New Mexico, U.S.A.  After five years of cross-border experiences, I have such mixed feelings because I love the U.S. with its fairly balanced mixture of freedom and order, but I also have enjoyed the kindness and diverse cultures of the Mexican people.

Crux, however, addresses cross-border experiences on a whole different level. The author Jean Guerrero is the daughter of a Puerto Rican mother and a Mexican father. Guerrero survives a dysfunctional childhood to become a journalist. This book is an effort to understand herself through an attempt to understand her father, a brilliant man who at various times is addicted to drugs, and alcohol, believes the C.I.A. is performing experiments on him, and is schizophrenic according to her mother, a medical doctor.

Guerrero longs for her father’s affection. She received it when she was very little, but most of her memories are of an unpredictable and often hateful man who occasionally dropped in and out of her life. Guerrero tries to win her mother’s affection and approval through scholastic achievement. In the process of becoming an adult, she is always introspective but she experiments in dangerous arenas—drugs at raves, trips to dangerous areas of Mexico, bad boys and sexual exploration, and the occult. The occult is tied in with her heritage as she had a great-great grandmother in Mexico who was a healer and diviner and other Mexican relatives who were involved in similar activities.

Crux contains a lot of family stories: Guerrero’s own memories, interviews with her father and his mother, and trips to Mexico to discover the truth of her roots. It also includes some of her philosophical thinking at various times in her life as well as information from her neurological studies in college. She minored in neurology as a part of her efforts to understand her father’s schizophrenia and her genetic predilection to become schizophrenic herself.

As a cross-border tale, Crux is sprinkled with Spanish, some of it translated, some not. I am not fluent in Spanish, but I appreciated the authenticity added to Crux by including Spanish. I do wonder, however, if understanding the book would be affected by a reader’s not being able to translate as they read. One could, of course, use an online Spanish dictionary to help, but that would definitely interrupt the flow.

Crux is a very personal memoir exploring the raw feelings of the author. The point of view changes in the latter part of the book as Guerrero addresses her father. There is also a maturity and cohesion in that part of the book not present in the first. Perhaps that is appropriate as she was initially relating experiences as remembered from a child’s point of view. Readers who enjoy history will receive historical background to provide context; it is interesting and succinct.  All in all, Crux is a good read. There are very few heart-warming moments, but that was her life.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Memoir

Notes: There are some sexually explicit portions and offensive language in Crux. The treatment of women is particularly disturbing.

Publication:  July 17, 2018—One World (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

Life was not turning out as we had hoped. Creativity was a crime. Innocent creatures were mortal. Fathers left their daughters and broke their mother’s heart.

I had grown accustomed to the idea of my father as dead. If he was dead, he wasn’t willfully ignoring us. This belief had become a sinister source of comfort.

He persisted without pausing for protest, the same anger he had directed at me when he was driving me to my riding lessons as a teenager. I stared at the table, steeling myself. The numbness came naturally—a habit of my adolescence.

Beaches in Paradise–suspenseful plot

Beaches in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Beaches in ParadiseWhen you read a book in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, you can count on  a solid cozy mystery with likable main characters, strong family ties, and a good plot. Beaches in Paradise is a no exception. Maggie’s Hideaway is a family owned resort on Paradise Lake where Maggie works part-time when she is not busy as the local P.E. teacher and soccer coach. Maggie is also raising her two half-sisters and slowly developing her relationship with Kyle. Both enjoy functioning as a team to help solve local mysteries. What Maggie doesn’t enjoy is her confrontational encounters with Paradise’s new deputy Kate who warns Maggie off of amateur sleuthing and displays subtle hints of interest in Kyle.

Maggie involves herself in a murder and disappearance when an unpopular businessman is found dead in a wrecked car and her friend Gina is nowhere to be found. I had to suspend belief a little in considering the lengths Maggie went to find Gina. The action would have been more convincing if more background on Gina and Maggie’s two year friendship had been provided. Gina teaches math and Maggie P.E. at the local high school.There are no further details to support the strong bond they are supposed to have.

Plot is one of the main strengths of Beaches in Paradise. Three-fourths of the way through the book, after many interviews and lots of twists and turns, a huge part of the mystery is solved and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. There is more suspense to come, however, and it extends quite engagingly all the way to the second surprise ending. This is a solid series and one you will enjoy.

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: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #9 in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, but is OK as a standalone.

Publication:  July 17, 2018 — Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Once we were ready, Kyle and I climbed into the van with our troupe of geriatric sleuths. I hated to put the men in danger, but I knew they were clearheaded adults able to make up their own minds.

“More than anyone I know, you always make sure the people you care for are all right.”

Disorderly Conduct–murder on the ridge top

Disorderly Conduct

by Mary Feliz

Disorderly ConductI am of two minds about Mary Feliz’s latest cozy mystery Disorderly Conduct. As a mystery, I think it is top notch. It has interesting, likable characters, from Maggie, a professional organizer, right down to three lovable dogs who play a big part in the story. The setting is compelling as the story plays out in the middle of fire threats in California and involves the tech world of highly paid engineers on software campuses. The plot has twists and turns. Even after the suspects are narrowed down to three, it is hard to guess which one is the murderer and certainly the motive remains a major puzzle.

Unfortunately, I have two problems with Disorderly Conduct. One is that each chapter begins with a tip from Maggie McDonald’s notebook compiled for her company, Simplicity Itself Organizing Services. At first I enjoyed the tips, most of which deal with emergency preparedness. As the book progresses and becomes increasingly more intense, however, the tips become longer and more of an interruption. 

 

The second problem is the large number of social issues Mary Feliz stuffs into this cozy mystery. Don’t get me wrong; I am fine with a themed cozy. I think social issues are important, but the time I spend reading is my pleasure time. I don’t want to feel like someone is either lecturing me or trying to forward an agenda through a cozy mystery. Gun control, gay marriage, discrimination against Muslims, domestic violence, bullying, Olympic competitions, drug cartels, the environment. Choose one, choose two, but not the whole package, please!

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   July 10, 2018—Kensington Press (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

If eye rolling was an aerobic activity, no high school on the planet would need to worry about physical education credits.

Rationally, I assumed he was here to update us with news of the investigation into Patrick’s death, and possibly to report on firefighting efforts. But my lizard brain was trying desperately to convince me to flee from a danger and tension in the air that I could feel but couldn’t see.

I glanced at my watch again, having already forgotten what it said when I’d checked the time just seconds earlier. My short-term memory had gotten lost somewhere in the swirl of dreadful events.

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