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Monthly Archives: October 2019

A House Divided–historical tale by a Lincoln scholar

A House Divided

by Jonathan F. Putnam

A House DividedI was surprised to find myself trudging through A House Divided by Jonathan F. Putnam, an author with an outstanding legal and historical background. This is the fourth book in this series, but I did not feel that my not having read the previous books was a hindrance. There just seemed to be a disjoint between the history and fiction of the tale. None of the characters were fleshed out with emotion for me, and so I did not identify with any of them. I really wanted to like this book, but it was difficult when  the characters’ motives were rarely disclosed. Lincoln and his friend Speed are competitors for the affections of Mary Todd, but even Mary’s character holds no depth.

The mystery was interesting and based somewhat on history, although the narrator Speed, a major actor in the story, was actually not a part of the real events of the crime and trial. Perhaps that alteration of the facts added to the difficulty of creating an interesting work of historical fiction. Perhaps the problem lies in timidity in assigning thoughts and feelings to major historical figures. Authors may find that easier to do when the main character is either a minor figure on the historical stage or the creation by the author of a composite character based on what a person in that role at that time of history would be like. 

I did appreciate the author’s efforts to include the plight of Irish workers and their families. They were caught in the middle of a web of corruption and greed on the part of politicians and bankers. Another positive of the book is the writer’s style which is appropriate to the period.

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: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series 

Publication:   July 9, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

The Globe…As a feeding station for hungry village residents or residence for travelers, it was inferior in every respect to the sparkling new American House. Its only advantage at this point was familiarity, like a pair of shoes that slipped on easily despite worn-away soles.

Springfield…But citizens hoping to find entertainment that did not arrive in a bottle or cask were destined to be disappointed. Except when the circuit court was in session to adjudicate the county’s legal disputes. Then, the entire human condition, comedy and tragedy alike, was on display and free for all to watch.

Every turn in the road, every little rise of the prairie, might reveal a clutch of deadly and determined men, ready to hazard their own lives and reckless to mine.

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar–romance in Highland, Georgia

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar

by Laura Trentham

A Highlander Walks Into a BarWhen your mom goes to Scotland and brings home a surprise, you don’t expect it to be a handsome Highlander…or that a younger version will follow. These two men, Gareth and Alasdair, along with Rose and Izzy (Isabel) are the main characters in A Highlander Walks Into a Bar by Laura Trentham. The setting is not Cairndow, home of the Blackmoor family, but Highland, Georgia, where Rose and Izzy try to keep their beloved Stonehaven, as well as the entire town of Highland, solvent through a Scottish festival every summer. The secrets the characters keep to themselves, even as their intimacy as couples grows, make for some uncomfortable and humorous situations. They all wonder, as does the reader, how there can ever be a positive outcome for the two couples given their respective responsibilities an ocean away from each other. There is resolution, of course, but the book ends with an epilogue that can obviously segue into another tale involving the same characters and a new one. Lots of potential fun lies in store for readers of this new series. 

I would like to extend my thanks to Carla (https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com) and to St. Martin’s Paperbacks for gifting me with this book. I won this book in an online raffle after reading Carla’s review which you can enjoy yourself on her blog.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: A Highlander Walks Into a Bar is a good, fun romance. If you don’t want the details of a hot and heavy passionate union, skip chapter 11. Omitting these details will not in any way hinder your enjoyment or understanding of this book.

Publication:   July 30, 2019—St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Memorable Lines:

More bagpipes joined in, and the march they played made her heart ache with an emotion she couldn’t categorize. Sometimes it was better to feel than to understand.

“Are you and Gareth in love?” The question popped out, and not for the first time Izzy wished she had a speedbump between her brain and her mouth.

“It is easier to tally who is right and wrong and hang onto your resentment and turn your back, because forgiveness and understanding are difficult. What you should tally are laughs and kisses and how many times you are made a better person because of your connection.”

A Plain Vanilla Murder–not so plain after all

A Plain Vanilla Murder

by Susan Wittig Albert

A Plain Vanilla MurderIt is not like me to jump into a cozy mystery series on the twenty-seventh book. Who engages in that kind of craziness anyway? Amazingly, I didn’t find the lapse in character background knowledge to be a problem. While A Plain Vanilla Murder is not the best cozy I’ve ever read, it was very good. I particularly liked all the information provided on vanilla. I had no idea vanilla is part of an orchid plant or that there is such an active trade in exotic orchid plants.

This mystery has lots of threads. A professor is killed, and lots of enemies emerge as possible suspects. Could the motive be professional rivalry, dalliances or orchid laundering? All are sufficient to motivate an attacker, but what really happened? The main character, China Bayles, is a former criminal lawyer. This is one of the few crimes that land on her doorstep that leads her to become involved professionally.

Always interested in learning new things about a subject, I enjoyed the many quotes about vanilla that are included in the chapters as well as in the addendum. Susan Wittig Albert is a prolific writer as evidenced by this series that focuses on herbs and spices as well as the three other series she writes in addition to a number of independent books. I look forward to reading more by this author.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, Women’s Fiction

Notes: #27 in the China Bayles Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   June 4, 2019— Persevero Press

Memorable Lines:

Campus politics are labyrinthine. A dispute involving faculty can be vicious, even if it looks like nothing more than a petty turf war over a few inconsequential footnotes in an insignificant publication. It can also be something bigger, dirtier, and deeper.

My first thought was that he was the last person on earth to do such a thing. But of course you can never tell what devils live in somebody’s private hell.

Any time you have to sit down with a cop, you immediately remember the times you’ve jaywalked or parked where you shouldn’t or failed to return a library book and now have a humongous unpaid fine. It’s stupid, of course, but it’s a universal paranoia, and completely understandable.

The Medallion–for the love of a child

The Medallion

by Cathy Gohlke

The MedallionWhat is worse than being a Pole during World War II?  Being a Jew.  

And what is worse than either? Being a Polish Jew, a target for abuse, humiliation, torture and destruction.

The Medallion by Cathy Gohlke tells the story of two families whose lives and deaths become joined through the horrors and hardships of life in Poland in World War II. Janet is a Polish fighter pilot married to Sophia, an English citizen, alone in Poland, but with a heart for Jewish children. Rosa has to make the most difficult decision possible to save her beloved daughter’s life. Her husband Itzhak, an electrician, endures the most horrific task assigned to any person by the Nazis, digging up mass graves with his bare hands. Can anything good possibly emerge from the desperation of this story?

Many of the characters in The Medallion are fictional, but are inspired by interviews and textual research. Some are found in history, including Irena Sandler who rescued 2,500 children and Dr. Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage.

The tales of these two families are difficult to read but also inspiring. Towards the end of the book, when the war is over and all should be well, it isn’t. Sophia finds herself in a moral and personal crisis of faith that intimately affects the lives and futures of herself and those she loves most.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: The end of this book also includes discussion questions, notes to the reader about the writing of this book, and historical notes.

Publication:   June 4, 2019—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

“Adonai makes a way when there appears no way. It is His specialty. Remember the Red Sea.”  The words of her old friend came back to her, just as they did so often when Sophie felt at her wits’ end.

The Germans wanted to make certain that Poles were equipped only to follow orders, mostly for menial labor. They espoused the belief that a thinking Pole was a dangerous Pole. Hence, Polish schools were closed and thousands upon thousands of children did not learn to read or write—unless they were taught in secret.

“We’re not meant to handle life alone, Sophie. It’s too hard, too unpredictable, too messy and big. There is One who is willing and ready to help, to travel with us, if we let Him.”

Telephone Line–mystery set in the 70’s

Telephone Line

by Julie Mulhern

Telephone LineIf asked to recommend only one cozy mystery series to be read in its entirety, I would select The Country Club Murders. It (like Ellison’s beloved Mr. Coffee machine) never lets me down. Telephone Line has characters you can care about. The main character, Ellison, really doesn’t want to live up to her reputation and find yet another dead body. Her interactions with her mother, a country club matriarch known as a force to be reckoned with if crossed, play out with great humor. The setting is Kansas City’s upper crust in the 70’s. It’s hard to believe the etiquette-following country club set can be involved in such shenanigans, but crime knows no boundaries. Ellison is aided by her kaftan wearing housekeeper with an investigative background, her boyfriend Detective Anarchy Jones, and her former boyfriend Taft, a lawyer.

With several murders upsetting the city, Ellison has to work hard to stay alive and take care of those she loves. Her dead husband’s blackmailing schemes give her some insider knowledge, but will she be forced to reveal information to Anarchy that will embarrass her family and cause her to  relive past traumas?

Although Telephone Line is a great mystery with a surprise ending and lots of humor, it contains a serious side. It deals with rape and the inability of the justice system to adequately support the victim.

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: #9 in The Country Club Murders series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Publication:   June 18, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“Mother—“ maybe I could reason with her (and maybe Gloria Steinem and Hugh Hefner would run away together) “—this is ridiculous.”

“It can’t be Mother.” Mother only called early when things were dire—when she’d heard I’d found a body or when someone with newly acquired wealth was put up for membership at the club.

“Painting centers me. Does that sound too woo-woo?”

“I’m from San Francisco. There’s nothing you could say that would sound too woo-woo.”

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

by Jennifer Chase

Little Girls SleepingMy general philosophy is “I don’t read thrillers, especially psychological thrillers.” They just hold too much impact for me. I read an online review, however, that led me to believe that perhaps I should make an exception for Little Girls Sleeping, the first in a new series by Jennifer Chase. As I started reading this thriller, I wondered if I had made a mistake as the story involves the disappearance of young girls and gives some insight into the twisted mind of the perpetrator. Soon, however, the tale expands into the story of returning veteran Katie Scott and Cisco, her K9 military companion.

A former police officer, Katie is taking some time to decide her next career move when she comes across a cold case file on her uncle’s desk. For Katie, the case is personal because it brings up memories of a childhood friend at camp who was murdered. The rest of the book tracks Katie’s pursuit of the truth and is part thriller, part mystery, and part police procedural. If you are drawn to K9 stories you will certainly enjoy this one as Cisco plays a major role.

Katie, who suffers from PTSD, is a strong and determined young woman. Her character is likable, and readers will look forward to watching her develop in future books in this series. She has support from a childhood friend, Chad, and from her uncle, Sheriff Scott. The plot line is engaging. At about 60% through the book, I had figured out who the evil “Toymaker” is—but I was wrong, and at about 80%, the true murderer is revealed. At that point, however, the action just gets more intense. I’m glad I read this page turner, and I am happy to report no nightmares as a result.

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: Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. If you are interested in the review that inspired my choosing this book, visit blogger/reviewer Shalini.  

          2. #1 in the Detective Katie Scott Series

Publication:   May 31, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The detective didn’t scare her. She had encountered some real tyrants in the army, from sergeants to training officers, so Templeton was like a yapping little dog to her—fierce, but only annoying at best.

Anxiety was a stealthy and unpredictable enemy.

She rubbed her hands together and let the happy memories flood her mind—at least for a short period. Sometimes it was difficult for her to let the positive things into her life. Her experiences had skewed her perception so that everything seemed on the verge of catastrophe. It was as if she had blocked out anything good in her life.

Toxic Toffee–Jethro and Puff add humor

Toxic Toffee

by Amanda Flower

Toxic ToffeeAs I read Amanda Flower’s latest cozy mystery, Toxic Toffee, I was delighted to see familiar characters, like Jethro the polka dotted pig. I was amused by the introduction of a huge fluffy pet bunny named Puff and intrigued by the mysterious death of a rabbit farmer whom everyone loves. Reading about the construction of a ten foot toffee rabbit and other Easter treats was appealing to this chocoholic as well.

All of this sweetness is wrapped up in an intriguing mystery that starts in New York City where Bailey, chocolatier extraordinaire, and her naive Amish relative Charlotte have been filming candy making for a TV show. They soon leave the fascinating Big Apple where Charlotte’s Amish is frequently “showing” as she encounters a very unfamiliar world. They return to Holmes County, Ohio, where they help Bailey’s grandmother in their Amish candy shop. Bailey is approached by the son of a murdered man with a request that she help solve the mystery of his death. She agrees because of her community ties. Although “Englisch,” her ancestry is Amish and her grandmother is very respected in the community.

Threatening notes and a late night attack ramp up the danger level for Bailey and the concern level for her boyfriend, Deputy Aiden Brody. There are plot twists, turns, and surprises all the way to the end. Suspense, humor, and interesting characters make Toxic Toffee a must read for cozy mystery lovers.

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 Amish Candy Shop Mystery series. 

             2. I believe this could be read without reading the previous books in the series, but I think this is one of the best so far in the series.

Publication:   June 25, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Not lucky. Blessed. Luck is an Englisch idea, not an Amish one.”

…I couldn’t live in fear. I would be afraid enough to be careful, but I would not allow myself to be stifled by fear.

“In my opinion, it’s better for a young person to leave the faith and be Englisch than force themselves to be Amish and make everyone around then miserable.”

Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!

Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!

written by Naomi Shulman

illustrated by Hsinping Pan

Be KindLooking for a good way to make children more aware of how to be kind and demonstrate it every day? Then Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place!  by Naomi Shulman is the perfect book for you. With over 100 ideas of kind things to do, Be Kind can be read at one sitting or broken up into a suggestion per day. I would suggest doing  both! Not all suggestions are appropriate for all children or settings. For example, setting up a neighborhood lost and found could be problematic in some neighborhoods or for a child who needs boundary guidelines. I really think this is a good book for an adult to share with a child so that discussion can occur about safety issues and materials, and assistance and supervision can be provided as needed. Most of the examples, however, are just uncomplicated, courteous actions such as smiling at people or sharing room on bleachers. Just thinking of kind things and implementing them can help you think of more kind things to do. Children could even write and illustrate a book of their own ideas or a log of their acts of kindness.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: The illustrations are simple, colorful shape drawings.

Publication:  June 25, 2019— Storey Publishing 

The Printed Letter Bookshop–books as a pathway to healing

The Printed Letter Bookshop

by Katherine Reay

The Printed Letter BookshopThis fictional work opens with the rather stark and extremely well attended funeral of Maddie and shares the perspectives of her estranged, but much loved, niece Madeline and of Janet and Claire, two ladies who are employees and friends of Maddie. What follows takes us into the lives and families of all of these ladies. They struggle with work and relationships, but Maddie leaves each an encouraging letter listing books that will help them in their life journeys. Maddie has a reputation for matching up readers with just the right book. Life is a battle for each of these ladies, and there is some characteristic in one or more of them that readers can identify with.

Part of The Printed Letter Bookshop draws attention to Proverbs 31 in the Bible which describes a wise woman and provides a model for the characters in forming their aspirations. I followed the ups and downs of the characters with hopes for successful resolutions to their problems. Will Madeline continue on her intended path to become a successful law partner? Will the town’s beloved bookshop survive during an online economy and after some bad business decisions? Can Janet find restoration with her husband and children? Is there a way for Claire to be a good mom while meeting her own needs? The story builds at an adequate pace as we are introduced to the characters and storyline, but accelerates towards the end as things come to a head for each of the characters in solving their personal dilemmas. Although there is closure for each of the ladies, it is not a puffy pink, cotton candy kind of resolution. There are surprises, heartbreaks, and difficult situations along the way as they learn what is important, how to forgive, and the need to avoid jumping to conclusions based on appearances.

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: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: I would LOVE to visit this bookstore!

Publication:  May 14 , 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

You can miss your family so much you have to look down to see your chest rise and fall, to confirm that it hasn’t been cut open and you’re not bleeding out and you’re still breathing. Friends can’t hurt you like that, nor can they fill that fissure.

“I remember Aunt Maddie saying you could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.”

I do remember that his resignation ignited my anger. Anger always comes first for me. Anger keeps embarrassment, humiliation, shame, all manner of painful emotions at bay—for a time. But it requires so much fuel. And while it burned hot that night, and for a couple weeks after, it soon flickered out. Shame replaced it, and shame doesn’t need much fuel to thrive. It can live on tiny nibbles for years, possibly a lifetime.

All This Homeless Veteran and His Dog Needed Was Human Kindness…

Being the hands and feet of Jesus…

Kindness Blog

homeless man in starbucksWhile seated at a Starbucks, a homeless man came in and sat nearby.

His scent was unpleasant and people looked at him and rolled their eyes. He was simply doing what we were all doing, drinking coffee and taking advantage of free WiFi.

He brought his dog, Legacy, who was well behaved. He proceeded to tell me he walked 60 miles from Seattle to Tumwater over a few days period. He spoke highly of Legacy who, in stride, journeyed along with his master every step of the way without complaint. As soon as Legacy was told to lay down, he fell asleep.

It was sad to see people distance themselves from this homeless veteran. Kids who inquired about the dog were quickly shielded by their parents and hurried away.

This Veteran explained most people have no concept of being Christ like because they simply place Christ on the shelf as…

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