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Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Rancher’s Twins–romance in Montana

The Rancher’s Twins

by Carol Ross

The Rancher's TwinsA combination of the tangles that both city and country life can bring, a sweet romance, a heroine trying to do what is right, adorable twins, and a handsome cowboy—that’s a winning formula for a non-formulaic Harlequin Heartwarming novel by Carol Ross. In the first book of the series, Return of the Blackwell Brothers, Ross introduces a plethora of characters and the many connections inherent in a small town. Because I was not reading an ebook version, with its built in search function, I took some notes on the characters and their relationships. It seemed like a good idea because, I assume, many of these characters will be in the books which follow in the series. (My desire for notes surely doesn’t relate to the creep of age!)

I absolutely loved The Rancher’s Twins. As an educator, I found myself nodding approval as the main character, Lydia, applies practical techniques to teaching the almost kindergarten age twin girls, known to be a handful. She verbally prepares them for events, sets expectations, and makes learning fun and active.

Lydia is running away from a situation in Philadelphia that could cost her her life. Jon Blackwell is expecting a ranch-experienced nanny. When a city girl arrives on his doorstep, he can’t help seeing her through the distortion of pain left by his ex-wife. Lydia has no expectations of, or desire for, romance; she just wants safety and anonymity temporarily in Montana.

I kept turning pages in this book as fast as I could with some “oohs” and “ahs,” lots of nodding and smiles, a few chuckles, and, at the end, a few tears. Lydia is strong and nice and quite capable in many areas. What she doesn’t know, she is willing to learn. I never got bored watching Lydia grow into her position on the ranch and interact selflessly with her new acquaintances in town. Meanwhile, her boss, rancher Jon Blackwell, needs to come to grips with his own emotions as he decides whether or not to ask Lydia to stay on as nanny after a two-week trial period. As the storyline progresses we learn the backgrounds of Jon and Lydia that helped shape their characters.

I highly recommend The Rancher’s Twins and am looking forward to reading the next book in this series: The Rancher’s Rescue by Cari Lynn Webb. Just thinking about The Rancher’s Twins makes me smile. In this rough and tumble, stressful world, I think that is awesome!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Carol Ross, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Thanks to Laurie at Cozynookbks (https://cozynookbks.wordpress.com) for recommending Harlequin Heartwarming books and connecting me with the authors of this series.

  2. Clean in terms of language and sex; the romance is not syrupy. 

Publication:  August 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

He knew it was far from poetic, but he and the girls were like the parched ground after a long drought, eager and hungry to soak up every bit of life-giving water they could get. And this nanny… This nanny was the rain.

Wrangling a pair of out-of-control twins and sparring with their irritable father seemed like a cake-walk compared to what she was running from.

“…hurricane-force winds don’t blow as fast as gossip in this town.” 

Return of the Blackwell Brothers

 

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Join me as I fulfill a commitment to the five authors of the books in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series to read and review the series by the end of 2018. The deadline is close, there is no penalty if I don’t achieve success, and it is a fun task I look forward to.

I have questions as I go into this reading. Will five different authors be able to maintain continuity in the plot? How much will the characters overlap? Will the authors try to maintain the same style or will they branch out on their own? I don’t ask these questions with one right answer in mind. I am open to watching the series play out according to the authors’ designs.

This series is from a line of Harlequin books called Heartwarming and they are advertised as “wholesome, tender romances.” I don’t appreciate steamy, erotic writing or psychological thrillers. I like books that are engaging, well-written, and within my comfort zone in regards to content and language. I will be looking at these books from that perspective as well as the usual—plot, characters, setting, pace, etc.

As always, thanks for reading my blog and sharing your opinions as well.

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Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional

Our Gift-Giving God: A Devotional

 by Andrea Levin Kim

Our Gift-Giving GodIn Our Gift-Giving God, Andrea Levin Kim centers the devotional around eight gifts from God to us, each paired with a traditional Christmas symbol. The author suggests beginning on the first day of December and learning about and meditating on each gift for three days. Each gift and supporting Bible verses are followed by questions and a prayer. The book concludes with the gift of Christmas. Alternate schedules are provided for those who would like to associate the gifts with Hanukkah or with the use of particular Christmas symbols throughout the season. Regardless of how you choose to use Our Gift-Giving God, you will be blessed as you prepare for Christmas by studying Scriptures that focus your thoughts on the role of Jesus in your life, not only as a child in a manger or a humble miracle-working man, but as the Savior of the world who sacrificed his own life so that you can have eternal life.

Our Gift-Giving God is sweetly illustrated by Carissa Robertson with simple line with watercolor pictures. The symbols are traditional for Christmas but may be associated with a gift you might not have anticipated. For example, a decked out fireplace is paired with new beginnings and angels with the concept of mercy. Andrea Levin Kim makes her points quite well, and you will come away with a deeper understanding of God’s love, provision, and sacrifice. I recommend this book for a scripturally based devotional with a fresh approach to the Advent season.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religious

Notes: 1. The purpose of this book is not to address the historical origins of various Christmas symbols, but to help prepare the reader’s heart for a celebration of the birth of Christ.

  2. The suggested timelines for reading the book are truly only suggestions. I worked my reading of it into my schedule and was blessed by it.

Publication:  November 19, 2018—Lucid Books

Memorable Lines:

Accepting this gospel gift of approval humbles us and fills us with a deeper desire to love and serve the Giver with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love others out of that secure place of the covering of His approval. He will never love you less and He cannot love you more because His love and approval are perfect…

God’s words about real joy are like notes that together sing of the truth of a gospel gift that cannot be drowned out, that never lies, that is never upstaged or outshined by an emotion or circumstance, a song that never gets old or outdated but invites us to dance in step with Him. His word reveals a joy that is not only catchy, but catching, not only memorable, but lasting; not only uplifting, but a reminder that the Savior raises us up and seats us with Him.

The secret ingredient of the Lord’s gift of joy is the Lord Himself—God with us, Immanuel. It’s not what He can do for us or the multitude of blessings He delivers, although they are certainly good.

A Midwinter’s Tale–love the dogs as characters!

A Midwinter’s Tail

by Bethany Blake

A Midwinter's TailDaphne Templeton, owner of Lucky Paws Pet Sitting Service and of Flour Power, a bakery specializing in pet treats, is surrounded by four-legged friends in A Midwinter’s Tail. Bethany Blake brings her readers quickly up to date on her series’ background as Daphne finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation. CeeCee French wants to return to her hometown, which caters to pets, bringing her flagship mega pet store with her. The potential for destroying the local pet-related businesses looms large. CeeCee was also involved in conflict going all the way back to high school. Are these threats related to current issues or metaphorical ghosts of the past? 

You will either love the way this story is told or you won’t. Each of the animals is truly a character in this tale. My favorite is the Basset hound Socrates. Rarely aroused, he is Daphne’s patient, laid-back sidekick. He expresses his emotions and opinions subtly, but Daphne can interpret them easily. Other characters include Snowdrop, a fashionable trained poodle; Tiny Tim, a mischievous pug; Tinkleston, a disdainful feline; and my least favorite, Sebastian, her friend Moxie’s white rat. Each one is truly a developed character and plays an important role in the story. The dogs accompany Daphne almost everywhere she goes and contribute in many ways to the story, including acting as a sounding board for Daphne. I think this way of telling the story works well in the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery Series. I have particular fondness for Basset hounds, and so I particularly enjoy the character of Sebastian. Although perhaps the effect is slightly exaggerated, Sebastian is portrayed fairly accurately for a Basset. It is almost impossible not to attribute feelings and thoughts to Basset hounds as they are so responsive to human emotions.

Clues abound and the spotlight shines on a variety of characters, some more likable than others. The plot has twists and turns but is never dull. Grab this cozy with a Christmas setting for an entertaining evening of mystery with a little romance thrown in.

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: 1. #4 in the Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery Series, but the author does a fantastic job with background so it works well as a standalone.

2. Pet treat recipes are included in the back of the book.

Publication:   November 27, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Piper looked like she wanted to thunk her head against something, while Socrates lay down, whined, and placed his paws over his muzzle. Snowdrop, who was unfamiliar with Fidelia—but who had barked with disapproval at the accountant’s droopy cardigan—appeared confused.

Her tone was so vitriolic that Snowdrop stood up and backed nervously away on her delicate white paws. Socrates rose, too, stepping gallantly between the poodle and the woman who continued to glower at her.

The heart of the storm had passed overnight, leaving Sylvan Creek glittering like a town in a softly swirling snow globe, and I went to the French doors to look down at Market Street, where icicles dripped like jewels from the storefronts and the Bijoux’s marquee was glowing.

Lessons from Lucy–LOL funny

Lessons from Lucy

by Dave Barry

Lessons from LucyLessons from Lucy has to be the funniest self-help book ever written. Dave Barry, the humor columnist, takes his lessons on aging from his also aging, happy, contented dog Lucy. There are indeed words of wisdom in these pages but in making his points Dave, in his typical fashion, goes off in side splitting fashion with outrageous opinions and funny anecdotes that combine to provide the reader with an outrageously funny good time. From the man who is famous for saying “I did not make this up” are totally fabricated footnotes for nautical terms and tales of marching with the World Famous Lawn Rangers of Arcola, Illinois, in the Broom Corn Festival. They are a “precision” drill team complete with lawn mowers, brooms, and silliness. Those members with a higher rank even have toilet plungers. No one takes themselves seriously, and they all have a blast. I had to do an Internet search to confirm the truth. Yes, the Lawn Rangers do exist and Dave Barry has more fun than a three year old when he can participate in their good-natured nonsense. 

Lessons from Lucy is a fast read, and you may hope it won’t end. I think it would probably be fun to read again and just as funny the second time around. Dave Barry is an unexpected introvert who never fails in the humor department. At age seventy he proves he still has what it takes to keep us laughing.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Humor, Self-Help

Notes: There are a few instances of profanity and more instances of bathroom words that three year old boys would find funny. Neither kept me from enjoying this book.

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Simon & Schuster

Memorable Lines: Please note that there is no way for me to truly share the humor of this book because so much is lost when it is taken out of context, but here are some comments that make me nod and smile.

That’s what Lucy does: she makes the best of things. She’s way better at this than I am. I know much more than she does, but she knows something I don’t: how to be happy.

Even if you can’t travel, you can still find ways to have genuine fun. The key, I think, is to stretch your boundaries, to escape the numbing routine that old age so easily decays into, to take a chance, get out of your comfort zone, maybe risk making a fool of yourself.

1. Lucy spends every second she can being as close as she can be to the people she loves. This makes her a happy dog. 2. Mike Peters, who is a busy guy facing constant deadlines, still makes a point of making time for, and jumping on the trampoline with, the people he loves. and he is the happiest person I know over the age of three.

The whole world is way too angry these days. If you want proof of that, don some eye protection and take a look at Facebook. In case you just woke up from a coma, I should explain that Facebook is a social-media website that literally billions of people visit regularly for the purpose of making some person named Mark Zuckerberg insanely rich.

Technology—a Bane or a Blessing?

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My parents used to describe someone who was perpetually late and low on cash as “a day late and a dollar short.” In the parlance of my day, it was “he needs to get his act together.”  Even though I am retired, have few deadlines, and more than adequate resources, I have felt more and more lately that these apply to me, and it is not for lack of trying. I even know the culprit, and I bet it is a problem for some of you too—technology, mainly in the form of social media.

We all know some good things about our digital abilities. We can keep in touch with family and friends easily and quickly. We can accomplish financial tasks with relative ease, and shopping is a breeze. The world is at our fingertips!

I wager you recognize the inherent problems in our use of technology as well. To begin with, the “world” doesn’t stop at our fingertips, it knocks on the door and then pushes on through in the form of unwanted emails, and Facebook requests. The negativity continues on social media where people say hurtful, thoughtless things that I hope they would never say to someone’s face and shouldn’t say online. Bullying happens all too often and is inexcusable.

My problem, however, is the overwhelming feeling of being incapable of keeping up: keeping up with posting on my blog, reading the blogs of those I follow, and then commenting on their posts. There are some truly significant posts going up every day. I want to read them and interact with other bloggers. Meanwhile, there is email and more email. Several times a year I unsubscribe from some email senders, but the dent is small. Ironically, the more active I try to be in communicating with bloggers, the bigger my inbox grows resulting in less time for blogging.

Facebook can be a huge time drain, and I have cut back on my use of it. It is, however, a wonderful way to keep in touch with family and friends. Instagram is a new part of my repertoire, but I only follow a few people and I personally don’t post. I have no plans for expansion.

On my phone there is text messaging and WhatsApp which is very popular in Mexico. Lest I forget, my computer is a ready tool for looking things up and for Spanish dictionaries, translators, and tutorials. Like the cute mouse in the children’s book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, when given a little, I always want more. Perhaps like me, when you get on the computer to accomplish one task, you get distracted and find yourself down Alice’s rabbit hole pursuing an entirely different line of thought.

The bottom line is that I am digitally overwhelmed on a good day. When I am in rural New Mexico, my Internet connection (as I have whined publicly so many times) is abysmal. Should there be interruptions such as illness or travel, to the normal flow of life, then the tides pull the sand out from under my feet and the waves cover me completely.

Certainly I could withdraw from all of this. Literally pull the plug. There are, however, so many benefits to the digital world. I love reading and sharing thoughts about books online, thus helping authors, publishers, and fellow readers. I used to doubt that one could make friends online, but I now see that it happens, and I value those friendships along with relationships with my other  friends. I enjoy watching the growth of my family and friends’ little ones over the quickly disappearing years. I can keep in touch with those I love even though I live in a different country. For me the benefits do outweigh the issues, and so I keep fighting the good fight.

This discussion does not even try to address the balancing act of virtual life with real life; that is a whole other topic. Does anyone else feel the pain and pleasure of the digital age? I would love to hear your thoughts and solutions.

In Peppermint Peril–tea and mysteries

In Peppermint Peril

by Joy Avon

In Peppermint PerilWe’ve got a new cozy mystery series for Christmas and to start out the new year. Joy Avon brings her heroine, Callie Aspen, back from a busy career as a tour guide traveling the world to her hometown of Heart’s Harbor where her Aunt Iphy runs the Book Tea Shop, a delightful place for a cup of something hot and an edible treat containing a book related clue.

Although there are lots of interesting characters, the plot’s the thing as this mystery evolves from a tea party hosted by ninety-three year old Dorothea Finster, mistress at Haywood Hall. Everyone who attends has different expectations and some result in criminal mayhem. There are romances and friendships old and new, a cake with several layers of mystery, a cute rescue dog, and political and financial shenanigans.

Usually I can take or leave recipes at the end of a cozy mystery. In Peppermint Peril doesn’t have any, but in this case I would have enjoyed a recipe for a creation that Aunt Iphy calls “The Duel” because it has “two pastries vying to be the tastiest” on the same plate. Both feature chocolate! One has a light brown base and a beige mousse that incorporates salted caramel. It is topped with a chocolate chip cookie and roasted nuts; is is soft and crispy at the same time. The other has a dark chocolate foundation and fresh raspberries topped with white chocolate. It sounds like a delicious masterpiece of culinary creativity just made for the person who wants a taste of more than one dessert on the menu.

Callie does a lot of talking to ferret out the criminal, and she works in conjunction with local Deputy Falk. He shares more about the case than he should to try to deter her from the dangerous investigation, but Callie just becomes more determined to solve the mystery and refuses to stay out of harm’s way.

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: #1 in the Book Tea Shop Mystery Series

Publication:  November 23, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

The world around her looked like it had come straight out of a fairy tale illustration; trees laced with frost; every stem of grass, every branch and bramble powdered with the snow that had fallen last night and had been scattered by the strong wind.

Still single herself and uncertain whether she’d ever have a family, Callie could relate to the feeling. At times she felt perfectly happy with her life, and then suddenly she felt something missing and wanted to change everything.

Tick-tock. The relentless rhythm of time. Reminding them of a lot of years that had slipped away and all the time that had not been spent with people it could have been spent with.

Death and Daisies–magic and murder in Scotland

Death and Daisies

by Amanda Flower

Death and DaisiesFiona, who has inherited a home in Scotland, a magic garden, and most importantly the position of Keeper of the Garden from her godfather, Ian, is joined in the book by her much younger, at-loose-ends sister Isla. Fiona is opening her flower shop named the Climbing Rose Flower Shop after the 300 year old rose growing in her magic garden in Duncreigan. Some townspeople are welcoming and friendly like Raj and Pasha, twins in their sixties with calming and wise ways. Others view the sisters with suspicion for their strange Tennessee accents and ways and their association with the magic garden. The local minister is so opposed to Fiona that he publicly bans her from the church.

Death and Daisies by Amanda Flower centers around a murder, threatening notes, an abusive spouse, and drugs. Fiona is compulsive about investigating despite a scary vision that might potentially foretell her death and the warnings of Chief Inspector Neil Craig who is afraid she will be hurt.

Death and Daisies is a fun and fascinating cozy mystery you will not want to put down. Filled with interesting characters and lots of twists and turns in the plot, this tale has room for character development and an interesting setting. The murderer and the reason for the murder surprised me. The author has another surprise for Fiona and the reader toward the end of the book on a very personal level. There is closure to this book, but also several issues that deserve further attention. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.

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: #2 in the Magic Garden Mystery Series but works well as a standalone

Publication:   November 23, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

St. Thomas Church, as it stands today, is much younger. It was built in the seventeenth century.” She said this like the seventeenth century was last week. If anything was over one hundred years old back in Nashville, they turned it into a museum and built a fence around it. In Scotland, “old” had quite a different definition than I was accustomed to.

I didn’t want to break it to her, but no one had their life figured out at twenty-two. I didn’t have it figured out at thirty, and I wasn’t expecting fifty to be much better.

“But no one should make an apology expecting one in return. That ruins it for both parties. It is better to say you are sorry and be at peace.”

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