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Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris–charming

Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris

by Paul Gallico

A delightful work of fiction set in London and in Paris tells the tale of Ada Harris, a hard working char woman who sets her sights on owning a Christian Dior dress. She doesn’t want to wear it, just to own and look at something so beautiful as one would admire a work of art. How indeed would an honest widow, who is already living with few indulgences, manage to accumulate enough money for a designer dress?

Paul Gallico in Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris takes us on the journey with Mrs. ‘Arris as she struggles with the money issues that crop up all through the book as there are many aspects of a trip to Paris that the poor lady who is clearly not a seasoned traveller could not anticipate. You will quickly come to love Mrs. ‘Arris as everyone does who meets her. She is so genuine and determined and never wishes anyone ill.

Paul Gallico makes his character come to life from her wrinkled face and the twinkle in her eye to her accent (e.g. “lydy” for “lady”), dropping her “h’s,” and her word choices like “lumme” and “blime.”  Her interactions with other characters are key to the story. They have aspirations of their own, and Mrs. ‘Arris is not shy about helping others including Natasha, Dior’s top model, and M. Fauvel, a quiet accountant at the fashion house. She breaks down English/French and class barriers with her inviting charm and practical approach to problems.

This little book brought smiles to my face, and I got teary eyed a few times as I found Mrs. ‘Arris had stolen my heart. The author’s writing style is perfect for this book, moving along quickly with descriptions that can put the reader in a messy bachelor’s flat or on the thick gray carpets of Dior’s. It is a charming novel that has held up well across the years, and that I will no doubt reread just for pleasure in the near future.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Blogger friend Christopher recommended this book in a “throw back” post. His review was so convincing that I bought it immediately. It’s over a year later, but I finally read it and am so happy I did. Thanks, Christopher! You can find his review here: https://pluckedfromthestacks.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/mrs-arris-goes-to-paris/.

Publication:   1958—Doubleday & Co.

Memorable Lines:

And yet with some chars there was more to it than just that, and particularly with Mrs. Harris—a kind of perpetual house-proudness. And it was a creative effort as well, something in which a person might take pride and satisfaction. She came to these rooms to find them pigsties, she left them neat, clean, sparkling and sweet-smelling.

She had an exquisite figure and clever tiny feet that never once had tripped upon the corpses she had climbed over on her way up the ladder of success.

Mrs. Harris simply felt that if one owned a dress so beautiful that it cost four hundred fifty pounds there was then nothing left upon earth to be desired.

Of Literature and Lattes–reconciliation

Of Literature and Lattes

by Katherine Reay

I enjoyed Katherine Reay’s The Printed Letter Bookshop and was excited at the opportunity to read another book by this author—Of Literature and Lattes. This book is also a clean read dealing with real problems and is, in fact, a follow-up to the first book. I liked both novels, but I didn’t feel the second was as well organized or flowed as well as the first. In The Printed Letter Bookshop, the bookstore is almost another character as is Maddie, its former owner whose funeral initiates the action in the book. We depart from a focus on Maddie and her bookstore in Of Literature and Lattes where some characters continue with the focus on Janet who works at the bookshop and is rediscovering her artistic talent as well as trying to reconnect with her ex-husband, her daughter Alyssa, and her mother. That is a lot of reconciliation to accomplish! 

Alyssa struggles when she discovers the success of her employer and his company are based on fraud, and she finds her only alternative is to return home. There she meets Jeremy, a new character who is also trying to start over both with a coffee shop he purchased and in his relationship with his seven-year-old daughter.

There are a lot of twists and turns as Alyssa tries to find employment. To her credit, she will take any job offered when she discovers no one in her field will hire her because she is under investigation by the FBI. Alyssa and Janet want to repair the long-term fracture in their mother-daughter relationship, but it is not simple. Meanwhile, Jeremy has difficulties with his ex-wife and his employees.

The storyline jumps around among the various characters and themes. The characters have to deal with ethical, moral, and legal issues and rely on the help of kind neighbors, family, and friends.

Although I found the first of the book to be a little disjointed, it came together as the story progressed. My favorite character is Becca, Jeremy’s young daughter. I enjoyed the novel, but did not make an emotional attachment to any of the characters. I assume there will be more books making it a series. Reay has written a number of fiction books based on her love of literature and especially the works of Jane Austin.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: 1. This book could be read as a standalone, but some of the characters’ relationships would be clearer if you read The Printed Letter Bookshop first.

  2. I included this in the Christian Fiction category because the characters’ relationship to Christ is a background theme providing moral and relationship structure.

Publication:   May 12, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

What before she had regarded as instances of Alyssa’s ingratitude, obstinance, and petulance were recast in light of her own issues of control, manipulation, and anger.

Father Luke had been telling her for months that her problem was no longer asking others for forgiveness, but accepting it herself. “It’s an odd form of pride, you know,” he had said over coffee one day. “You decide you know better than God and make your own ruling.”

Yes, the “bad” in life bumped down the generations with discord and pain, causing breaks and tumult as well, but it could be healed. It could be made new and, perhaps, made stronger.

Divide and Concord–filming at the winery

Divide and Concord

by J.C. Eaton

Norrie Ellington is a screenwriter who finds herself in charge of the family winery in the absence of her sister. Norrie’s producer decides that Norrie’s Two Witches Winery in New York is the perfect site for the filming of a small part of her current project. It will be for just a “few” days and “only” involves two crowd attracting stars, a camera crew, a diva director and her perfectionist assistant. Unfortunately this filming is scheduled to take place during the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s Wine and Cheese Festival and occurs  in the middle of a massive spring snow storm. Norrie has had run-ins before with the local sheriff, thought of by her as Grizzly Gary, so she is not happy to be the first on the scene of what could only be a murder. Norrie has a lot of balls to keep in the air while she tries to discover the identity of a murderer who seems intent on framing Norrie for the crime.

As usual with a J.C. Eaton book, in Divide and Concord I felt like I was in the middle of the dilemma and had to look outside a few times to make sure it wasn’t snowing. This writing duo is that good. Meanwhile, despite the seriousness of the subject, there are humorous moments and the plot moves quickly with the spotlight on various characters who might have wanted to kill the director. Actually, the woman was so unpleasant it was hard to find anyone who didn’t have a motive. Norrie and willing friends work together to trap the criminal in an Agatha Christie type of setup with a surprise ending.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Beyond the Page Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  1. #5 in the Wine Trail Mysteries, but is excellent as a standalone.

  2. The name Two Witches Winery should not put off those who do not like to read works that include the occult. The name is purported to have historical significance. There are two minor characters with mystical practices but our heroine rolls her eyes at them and manages to use them in the setup to discover the murderer.

Publication:   April 30, 2020—Beyond the Page Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“It’s not an impending disaster,” I replied. “An inconvenience perhaps. Or maybe even a nuisance, but it’s not going to be a disaster.” Who the heck am I kidding?

Then, the unspeakable happened. Debora Dabrowski made her entrance into the Two Witches tasting room like Cruella de Vil. The only thing missing was a cigarette holder. She was tall with an angular face and layered black hair with one white streak that framed the left side of her face. Her tortoiseshell wingtip glasses, complete with jeweled rims, completed the look. 

Priscilla’s kind of high strung and one Kleenex away from a full-blown sobfest.

Murder in the Wine Country–plant smuggling mystery

Murder in the Wine Country

by Janet Finsilver

Redwood Cove is an isolated community in northern California. The wealthy Michael Corrigan, owner of Resorts International, is not the stereotypical rich businessman with cutthroat motives and actions. He is boss to Scott, manager of Redwood Cove Community Center, and to Kelly, manager of Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast. Always looking for ways to help others, especially veterans, Michael is hosting an exclusive event for other wealthy philanthropists with the goal of providing a model of community support that he hopes will inspire them to implement similar programs in their own communities. 

Problems have arisen in the little town with the presence of plant poachers who are digging up a certain plant that is popular in China and smuggling them out of the country. In the midst of this event, wardens warn visiting chefs, who are encouraged to forage for edible plants in the area to showcase in their culinary creations, of potential danger from these smugglers. When there is a death, a robbery, and three missing people, Kelly and the Silver Sentinels, a group of seniors who use their skills to help solve crimes, gather at Kelly’s B&B and get to work.

Other mainstay characters are involved in Janet Finsilver’s Murder in the Wine Country. My favorites are Tommy, a sweet boy with Asperger’s, and his Basset hound Fred. Deputy Stanton enjoys spending time with Tommy working on projects and with Tommy’s mom Helen, a widow who works at the inn. There is certainly potential for romance between them in future books. Scott and Kelly also have romantic inclinations, but the author doesn’t rush the characters into relationships. Another interesting character is Julie, a visiting chef who has a service dog Rex, who is not only a faithful companion, but can warn her of an impending epileptic seizure. He plays an important role in the story.

The plot moves along at a nice pace. Kelly’s investigations are successful to the point of putting her in danger of losing her life. The Silver Sentinels are ready to help at a moment’s notice as are other community members who aren’t even involved. The setting is great, but it’s the people who make Redwood Cove the kind of place you might want to live.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in the Kelly Jackson Mystery Series, but as the author provides good support for readers who are just beginning the series, I have no hesitation in recommending it as a standalone.

Publication:   April 28, 2020— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

I had my own rescue bag of sorts. Years ago, I had vowed I would always stop to help a loose animal that was in danger, even if it meant missing an important appointment or an airplane flight. This was after watching car after car whiz by a shaking dog stranded on an island of a busy street, no one stopping to help.

Mary handed me a plate with a chocolate brownie studded with chunks of chocolate. Coffee and chocolate, my two favorites. I might recover after all.

For a split second, I considered not saying anything regarding the incident but immediately rejected the thought. He’d asked about the rest of the afternoon. Omitting was a form of lying, and I wouldn’t go there.

Botched Butterscotch–discord in Harvest, Ohio

Botched Butterscotch

by Amanda Flower

If you’re looking for a novella that also…

  • is a cozy mystery
  • doesn’t involve murder
  • combines Amish and Englisch
  • focuses on women who need a stepping stone in addiction recovery
  • throws in some red herrings despite its brevity
  • affords an excellent distraction from current problems
  • and is all-round good fun,

then read Botched Butterscotch where you find some of your favorite characters from Amanda Flower’s Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. There’s Bailey King, a chocolatier known locally as a crime solver, Juliet, Bailey’s probable future mother-in-law, Juliet’s potbellied pig Jethro, and Margot, the local super community organizer. You will meet Bailey’s parents visiting from New England and attend a fund-raising Mother’s Day tea. Mostly, you will have fun solving the mystery and enjoying the humor in this great little novella. 

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley 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: Almost too short to be a standalone because so much of the pleasure is derived from character interaction

Publication:   April 28, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Busy hands keep worries at bay—that’s something I tell the women at my farm. I believe that’s why the farm’s rehabilitation model works so well. When you are busy caring for something else, you are able to hold back self-defeating thoughts. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.”

Sundays had become my days to rest and recharge, and I was surprised to find that I was getting the same amount of work done every week regardless. Maybe there was something to this whole resting thing. I wished that I had known about it sooner—I might have been happier in New York if I had.

Of course, as a chocolatier, I couldn’t understand anyone not liking chocolate. Chocolate was one of the five major food groups—or at least it would have been if I had been in charge of making the chart.

Death Comes for the Archbishop–New Mexico frontier

Death Comes for the Archbishop

by Willa Cather

Every well-read person should have read at least one book by Willa Cather, an American Pulitzer Prize winning author famous for her novels set in the frontier. When my book club decided recently to read Death Comes for the Archbishop, I had not read any of Cather’s books. I was delighted that the choice was one that focused on the history of the Catholic church in New Mexico where I currently live. The novel provides as a backdrop a tour of cities, towns, pueblos, and open deserts inhabited by foreign priests, Mexicans, and Indians. Cather paints beautiful word pictures of the landscapes while depicting the difficulties of life, and especially travel, as two French priests attempt to revive the Catholic religion in the region. Churches had been planted over three hundred years earlier but did not receive much attention from Rome. With the annexation of new territories by the U.S., things begin to change in a land viewed as “wild” for many reasons. It is ruled over by the Bishop of Durango located in Mexico, fifteen hundred  miles away from Santa Fe where the missionaries headquartered. 

Jean Marie Latour, a parish priest based in the Lake Ontario region is elevated to bishop arriving in New Mexico in 1851 after a difficult and dangerous year long journey. He is accompanied by his childhood friend Father Joseph Valliant.  Despite its title, Death Comes for the Archbishop is not a murder mystery nor does it focus on the death of the Archbishop. Instead, it is a triumphant tale of strong, wise, and intelligent men who against all odds form friendships with peoples of various tribes, cultures, and languages in a harsh but beautiful land. The descriptive language is exquisite and serves to enhance and further the plot. This book celebrates the usually successful struggles for survival and the somewhat successful attempts to share the Catholic religion. In the Archbishop’s passing, it becomes evident that he was much loved and respected by the peoples of the many cultures in his diocese.

Death Comes for the Archbishop is a tale I would enjoy rereading for the breadth of its descriptions and the depth of its topics. The two Fathers were men I would enjoy meeting. Quite unalike physically and in disposition, they were fast and loyal friends with different means of evangelism, but suitable to their characters. Although this book has a specific setting in terms of time period and location and has characters with a religious profession, its themes of devotion, strength, and friendship transcend the New Mexico frontier of the 1850’s and the Catholic priesthood. Although the specifics were interesting and an effective vessel for the themes, the novel proves Cather to be, above all, an able storyteller. I had no regrets in reading this work of historical fiction based on the lives of two missionaries, and I highly recommend it.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Publication: June 15, 1927—Reading Essentials

Memorable Lines:

Everything showed him to be a man of gentle birth—brave, sensitive, courteous. His manners, even when he was alone in the desert, were distinguished. He had a kind of courtesy toward himself, toward his beasts, toward the juniper tree, before which he knelt, and the God whom he was addressing.

There was a reassuring solidity and depth about those walls, rounded at doorsills and windowsills, rounded in wide wings about the corner fireplace. The interior had been newly whitewashed in the Bishop’s absence, and the flicker of the fire threw a rosy glow over the wavy surfaces, never quite evenly flat, never a dead white, for the ruddy colour of the clay underneath gave a warm tone to the lime-wash.

This mesa plain had an appearance of great antiquity, of incompleteness; as if, with all the materials for world-making assembled, the Creator had desisted, gone away and left everything on the point of being brought together, on the eve of being arranged into mountain, plain, plateau.

Life Without My Digital Tools

I recently underwent a medical procedure that was followed up with 48 hours of no sunshine and no light from electronics. No laptop. No tablet. No smartphone. I am not addicted to social media, but all of these “no’s” translated into no email, no Internet searches, no Facebook or Instagram, no translator, no digital books, no blogging, and no Bible app with multiple versions. Those 48 hours were an eye opener into how dependent I am on my devices, and how much of my day can be spent using them. Fortunately, although I was encased in a bedroom with darkening window coverings, I was able to use incandescent lighting. I could read print books and compose blog posts in my trusty spiral notebook. For those old school tools, I am very thankful!

The Engineer’s Wife–P.T. Barnum’s inclusion disappoints

The Engineer’s Wife

by Tracey Enerson Wood

Historical fiction is a difficult genre for both writer and reviewer. The writer has to juggle how much history should be included with the amount of  fictitious information needed to establish the setting and especially to flesh out the characters. The reviewer then must judge the book based less on plot, which is to some degree predetermined, than on the author’s ability to combine history and fiction into a package that is both believable and pleasing.

In many ways I appreciated Tracey Enerson Wood’s The Engineer’s Wife. The subject is interesting. Emily Warren Roebling, a woman restricted by the social conventions governing the women of the mid to late nineteenth century, marries a Union officer. After he resigns his commission, he dedicates his life to his father’s project, the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. This is a controversial project that proves dangerous to many,  including her husband Wash who is an engineer. Rather than choosing to devote herself to the project after Wash is injured, Emily is subtly and progressively sucked into supervising the construction to completion.

The author has a wonderful way with words, and her research into the engineering aspects of the bridge is thorough. My only complaint of this work of historical fiction is the inclusion of Emily’s extended friendship and romance with the famous P.T. Barnum. Given that they lived and worked in the same city, their paths probably did cross, but in her notes at the end of the book the author freely admits that she had no basis for the creation of their relationship. It is such a major part of the story that I felt cheated as a reader. This is a work of fiction with a real setting rather than fictionalized history. Perhaps this work simply lies at the opposite end of a continuum from my preferred reading tastes in this genre.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: Contains two added sections: Reading Group Guide and A Conversation with the Author

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

Autumn had painted the trees with brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows. Soon, cold, clear nights would rob the forest, leaving the trees to face the winter stark and barren.

Her lips were drawn tight enough to sling the arrows her eyes aimed at us.

The panic I had successfully tamped down returned like a lion for the kill.

Deep Fried Revenge–crispy, fried corndogs

Deep Fried Revenge

by Lynn Cahoon

If you are one of the many people who like to watch cooking competitions or attend state fairs, you will want to read Deep Fried Revenge. Author Lynn Cahoon will take you on trips to Boise, Idaho, where Angie and her crew from the County Seat restaurant in River View vie in the Restaurant Wars held at the state fair giving them an opportunity to show off their culinary creativity. Unfortunately, the competition draws more than crowds. The chef most likely to win is murdered on the first day. Is this an effort to assure someone else of the winning spot or is there a different motive?

Just as interesting to me as the main plot is another part of the story: the mystery behind a young runaway’s appearance in River View. The unfortunate girl is named Bleak; she diligently tries to hide both her past in a cult and her current location. The sheriff and his wife provide her with a home and security while Angie supplies her with a job and the team at the County Seat teach Bleak, who is a hard worker, the basics of the restaurant business.

Another recurrent and fun character is the great big, teddy bear of a dog, Dom. He is a large part of Angie’s life as well as a major actor in the story. Restauranteurs and carnival workers fill out the rest of the tale which I highly recommend for its mystery and characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley 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: #4 in the Farm-to-Fork Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Just because you’re faster than me doesn’t mean you’re the boss of me.” She rubbed his head and realized, that yes, the dog had become her boss over the last few months. And she didn’t care one iota.

Dom glanced up from his bed, wondering if her words meant something to him, like “walk” or “eat this.” When he decided that no, his master was just talking to herself again, he laid his head back down for his morning nap.

Dom still sat right at the door. Waiting. He knew her moods. He knew her words. He listened when she griped about work. He was the perfect boyfriend, except for the fact they were of two different species.

Montana Match–overcoming family history

Montana Match

by Carol Ross

Fiona, the youngest of the Harrison sisters, is somewhat of a free spirit. She gets along with everyone, likes to move around, and excels at her jobs as a professional waitress. She also makes bad relationship choices due to her kind heartedness—a nice way of saying she dates losers. Fiona is convinced by Rudy Harrison, the man she always thought of as her dad, and Big E Blackwell, her biological grandfather, to come to Falcon Creek to change her ways by finding a “suitable” man and profession.

In the middle of online dating efforts, she meets Simon who is currently helping out his cousin Ned in his bar. Simon and Fiona both discover the advantages of being truthful to oneself and to others. A heartwarming book with a beautiful setting and characters you’ll want to meet, Montana Match has a plot with just the right amount of entanglements. Fiona wants so badly to do everything right from helping out at the ranch’s petting zoo to making Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that “pigs and eggnog,” even separately, can be problematic. Both Simon and Fiona love antiques and golf, but will that be enough to bring them together? Carol Ross has woven a wonderful tale that will leave you wanting more of The Blackwell Sisters.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Contemporary Romance

Notes: #4 in The Blackwell Sisters series. This is a clean and heartwarming romance. Plenty of background support is included by the author to make it enjoyable as a standalone, but I think you’ll find yourself wanting to read the others in the series of 5 books with the last to be published in December.

Publication:   November 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

But the good memories were tightly bound with the painful ones. Like trying to untangle fine silk that’s been woven with razor wire, it was impossible to separate the two and come out unscathed.

Uncertainty swept through her with the force of an ocean wave, knocking her off balance and leaving her head swimming.

“A bit of trouble?” Luke repeated the words while his mouth curled slowly at the corners. “You could call it that. Be sort of like calling a hurricane a bit of a storm, though.” He chuckled and shook his head.

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