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Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Orphan Sisters–bonded forever

The Orphan Sisters

by Shirley Dickson

the orphan sistersIn between the Great War and World War II, two sisters are dropped off by their widowed mother at the austere orphanage Blakely. Etty, the younger girl, has no warning or understanding of what had started out to be a fun family adventure on the train. Dorothy, the older of the two, is able to deal with the circumstances somewhat better. The girls remain there until they reach their fifteenth year. At that time each undergoes an adjustment to a world so different from the institution that had become an uncomfortable and regimented “home.” 

In The Orphan Sisters, we trace the girls’ lives as they become adults, never willing to be far apart from each other. They have hopes and dreams and make choices that are life altering. As they move towards maturity, Great Britain is thrust into the war which affects every area of their lives with rationing, young men being called up for duty, relationships with the  awareness that each day may be their last, and women being encouraged to support the war effort by taking on jobs.

The most dramatic parts of the book depict the physical and emotional effects of the bombings. There was great fear as people huddled in shelters and bombs exploded around them.

Shirley Dickson is a great storyteller. She weaves a tale that grips your heart and puts you in Geordie land with the accent and dialect particular to Tyneside. You will want everything to go well for Etty and Dorothy in the midst of the pain and chaos that surrounds them and invades their lives. You will hope for them to finally find peace in their search for their mother’s love.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:  January 22, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The Mistress’s smile was more of a grimace—it didn’t look at all welcoming. Her eyes held no warmth in them, and dull and glazed, they reminded Esther of dead fish eyes.

Thankful for being saved, she breathed in the acrid air. But the world now seemed a more frightening place, and even the moon, soaring high in a clear sky, appeared to have a malevolent face.

The nation was at war; an aerial attack might happen any minute, but if your nappies weren’t blindingly white as they flapped on the line—then, according to the housewife law, you’d failed as a mother.

Not a Creature Was Stirring–A Christmas cozy for any time of year

Not a Creature Was Stirring

by Christina Freeburn

not a creature was stirringCozy mysteries are often thematic, and Not a Creature Was Stirring by Christina Freeburn is no exception. Freeburn’s first series was centered around scrapbooking, but her new series focuses on crafting in general. Look for an emphasis on Christmas in this book and possibly in other books in the series since the main character, Merry, is captivated by all things Christmas. 

There are many complications, but the basic plot is that Merry Winters discovers her ex-husband dead in the RV she purchased from her stepdaughter. This RV was supposed to be a wonderful bonus to her life to help her with her new handcrafting business as she travels to various craft fairs.

Merry is under suspicion for the murder, but she, in turn, wonders who would have killed her ex-husband and why. Her maiden voyage in the RV, when the discovery of the body is made, is of course, a disaster. It does draw in a host of characters who try to help Merry or are in pursuit for something they think Merry has.

My favorite characters are Ebenezer, a squeaky guinea pig, and Abraham, the young adult son of another crafter. Abraham will always mentally be a child and is easily frustrated by changes in his routines. He is a gentle giant who will always need help in life. Watching him interact with others is touching.

Bright is the other half of Merry’s crafting business, but we only meet her through texts. Perhaps her supportive role to Merry is the only one she will have in this series. She could also be cast as the main character in a future book in the series.

Not a Creature Was Stirring is a fast-paced mystery. There is a lot of action as well as investigative work. Numerous suspects come to light and there are lots of family relationships that play an important role. When the going gets tough, who will save the day—Merry’s Grinchy neighbor, the  curmudgeon Cornelius, or her adorable Ebenezer?

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in The Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series

Publication:   January 22, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

I swore the weather app on my iPhone worked like a Magic Eight Ball. If I didn’t like the forecast, check again in a few minutes and it changed.

Never take advice from a man who puts money in front of people.

I fled upstairs before any of the questions in her eyes came out her mouth.

Hedy, What a woman

Blogger friend Wendy has long been an admirer of Hedy Lamarr. When she read my review of The Only Woman in the Room, she took the information and ran with it. Thank you, Wendy, for adding to my appreciation of the remarkable Hedy Lamarr!

Broken Heart Attack–good series

Broken Heart Attack

by James J. Cudney

broken heart attackThe best way for me to describe the beginning of Broken Heart Attack is “hyperactive,” a label which is meant to be descriptive, not positive or negative. Author James J. Cudney packs a lot into the first several chapters as he brings readers up to speed on the events in the first book of the series and introduces a complex plot with a lot of characters.

The main mystery of Broken Heart Attack centers around the Paddington family, murder, and a missing will. Unfortunately, the Paddington family is quite dysfunctional, and there is not one member of the family that I could relate to or invest myself in. In other words, by the end of the book, I really didn’t care who the murderer was.

A side issue to the murder is a paternity case. Other stories that affect the main character, Kellan, continue from the first book but make little progress: the reappearance of a presumed dead wife, conflict with co-worker Myriam, a potential love triangle involving friends Connor and Maggie, and a possible softening in his relationship with Sheriff Montague.

I purchased this book; it was not an advance copy. Therefore, I was surprised to see a number of errors. Some were obviously a case of  autocorrect gone wrong, some were spelling, and some were, more egregiously, pronoun usage. This is particularly startling because the author rarely has errors in his posted book reviews.

On the positive side, Nana D continues to provide humor and Kellan is a likeable character. Would I read another book in this cozy mystery series? Absolutely! I would particularly like to see what happens as Kellan is pressured by his wife’s mob family, the Castiglianos. I would urge the author to write the next book at a less frenetic pace with more character development. He has the beginnings of a good series with interesting plots and a college setting that provides a background with multiple possibilities. The Braxton Campus Mystery Series definitely has a lot of potential.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be more fun in sequence.

Publication:   November 25, 2018—Creativia

Memorable Lines:

I loved my nana, but her friends were harder to handle than standing upside down catching a greasy pig in a mud slide.

Eustacia and Nana D had some sort of symbiotic relationship where they often couldn’t stand to be around one another but if ever two days went by without time for tea or gossip, the world might’ve come to an end.

I woke up Thursday morning with a hangover so painful my head had put out a foreclosure sign.

Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837

Woman of Courage

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

woman of courageAuthor Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.

Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?

Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.

Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.

Publication:  December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.

She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.

“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”

Fractured Truth–it’s complicated

Fractured Truth

by Susan Furlong

fractured truthBrynn Callahan suffers mental effects from being part of a Marine search team for the dead. She and her dog Wilco both received physical injuries from an encounter with an IED in Iraq. Retired from the military, they work as a team for the local sheriff.

In Fractured Truth, Brynn has been chosen for her job, despite a less than stellar work record due to PTS and associated addictions, to act as a liaison between law enforcement and the people group she was born into. She is half Traveller or Pavee, originally an Irish roaming group who settled in the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee. She is only partially successful in this role as the Pavees view her as an outsider and traitor for working with the police. She is helpful, however, in that she understands their customs and perspectives.

Brynn and Wilco are called upon to locate the body of a girl found by a cross-country skier. Wilco is successful and later, thanks to his sensitive nose, is able to locate another woman’s body who police suspect is in a river. The plot is very complex with many suspects. While investigating these crimes, Brynn is also dealing with PTS issues that she tries to overcome with alcohol and prescription drugs. In addition, she has past relationships that color her attempts to establish a new life in Bone Gap. She suffers discrimination from the Pavees and from some of her “settled” coworkers who look to blame the Pavees for problems. The Pavees, in turn, ostracize Brynn and her grandmother.

Fractured Truth has a good solid plot. It is a fascinating mystery, if somewhat gruesome at times. Author Susan Furlong, who has a talent with words, has created an interesting character in Brynn Callahan. I didn’t find her likeable or unlikeable, but I did find myself rooting for her in her struggle against her personal demons. Her battles are deep and painful, and unfortunately there are many returning soldiers who literally share the same torments. The book ends with the criminal cases solved but some loose ends that will carry the reader into the next book in the series.

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. #2 in the Bone Gap Travellers series, but works well as a standalone.

  2. Since I review a lot of cozy mysteries, I want to point out that this book is not a cozy mystery. It falls in the traditional mystery series category. Some might classify it as a Police Procedural or a K-9 mystery. It is quite successfully all of these things!

Publication:   December 18, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

A little smirk played along the corner of her lips. She enjoyed causing trouble. Gone was the withering flower, replaced by little Ms. Mean Girl. Who was the real Winnie? I had no idea. This interrogation was giving me mental whiplash.

“War is a series of relentless extremes. Boredom to certain death. No between. Anxiety becomes a part of who you are. You never turn it off. You do, and you’re not on your game, not able to save your own thankless hide, let alone your buddies.”

We kept our boundaries tight and adhered to a strict moral code, but somewhere along the line, we’d forgotten to allow for humanness. Rules and rigidness had replaced love and mercy.

The Only Woman in the Room–beauty, talent, and brains

The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

the only woman in the roomWe meet Hedy Kiesler as a young actress in Vienna, Austria, in 1933 just as munitions manufacturer Friedrich (Fritz) Mandl begins courting her. Europe is on the cusp of war, and Hitler has started his attack on Jews. Under other circumstances, Hedy’s parents might have refused permission for the courtship, but they could see the benefit of a marriage to the rich, powerful, and well connected man.

Unfortunately, Mandl’s character changes after their marriage, and he becomes abusive and controlling. Hedy’s father had encouraged her as a child in studying many subjects, especially the sciences. Hedy teams her interest in science with her position as an ornament at dinner parties to listen in on the conversations of dangerous and powerful guests in the Mandl home. Later, after escaping from Fritz, she tries to use that knowledge to save lives as Hitler continues his military advances.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part deals with Hedy, her marriage, and the entrance of the United States into the war. The second focuses on her two careers after her escape from Fritz: one as the famous Hedy Lamarr (her new, non-German sounding, stage name) and the other as an inventor. Her talents as an actress and her incredible beauty outweigh her potential contributions to the war effort in the eyes of the men in power at that time.

In The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict has created a historical novel about a very complex woman living in times that were difficult for everyone, but especially for women. It is important to remember that even though the book is well researched, Benedict is basically filling in the skeleton of a plot with details, some of which are true and others that only  might have occurred. In this book Hedy is overcome with guilt over hearing Hitler’s plans but not doing anything about them. She doesn’t believe in God, but she is dogged by a fear that she has not done enough to make up for her silence and inaction. Of course, as she finds out later, as a woman there was little she could contribute that would be valued. During the last part of the book, I couldn’t help but wonder whose scales she was concerned about—her own sense of morality, public opinion, or judgement by a higher being. That was never clarified and yet it appeared to be a driving force for her.

I liked this book but not as much as Benedict’s two prior books, The Other Einstein and Carnegie’s Maid. All three novels address the hidden contributions of women. All three ladies are women of talent and intellect operating under difficult circumstances. All deserve respect, but I think I can empathize more with Mileva, Einstein’s first wife, and with Clara, a lady’s maid in Andrew Carnegie’s household. Hedy was born into privilege and by virtue of her beauty moved in important social circles. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, that background erects a barrier for me.

The Only Woman in the Room is a well-written and well-researched historical novel. Benedict specializes in drawing out the stories of women whose intellectual abilities have been overlooked. It will be interesting to see whose story she will discover and share in her next historical novel.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 8, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

I’d become like one of the Rembrandts on the wall or the antique Meissen porcelain on the sideboard. Simply another priceless, inanimate decoration for Fritz to display, a symbol of his wealth and prowess.

It seemed that my best chance of undermining the Third Reich—and ensuring that a German submarine or ship never again harmed a ship full of refugee children—might be to somehow use the knowledge I’d gathered to capitalize on the weakness in the German torpedo systems.

“I must admit it would be hard for us to sell our soldiers and sailors on a weapons system created by a woman. And we’re not going to try.”

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