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Yearly Archives: 2021
by Tziporah Cohen
Life is not always easy as Miriam, an eleven year old, discovers. As her family faces financial distress, she is uprooted and transplanted to a motel in upstate New York. She leaves behind her close friends and spends her summer days helping her family revive the failing motel. Success for the motel would also mean better times for the Whitleys, a generous and kindly couple next door whose granddaughter Kate becomes Miriam’s best friend. When Miriam’s Uncle Mordy suggests it might take a miracle to keep the businesses afloat, Kate and Miriam decide to provide one!
As she is dealing with challenges at the motel, Miriam is trying to understand what it means to be Jewish and why she is different from others in her new community. She also wrestles with a fear of swimming.
Tziporah Cohen’s No Vacancy is a gentle, but thoughtful look at religion, ethics, and community. This work of fiction is aimed at middle schoolers, but I enjoyed reading it. I like Miriam and find that her interactions with other characters as she struggles with being open about being a Jew and about her aquaphobia gives the book more depth. Uncle Mordy shares differences that exist among Jews in practicing their faith. The Catholic priest acts as a counselor without being intrusive or preachy. The interactions between Miriam and Kate demonstrate that differences in faith don’t preclude a happy and healthy friendship.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Groundwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades
Notes: As an adult, I enjoyed this book, so just use this information as the publisher’s intended audience:
Publication: August 4, 2020—Groundwood Books
Miriam starts to ask herself some prickly questions. Is a lie always a bad thing, even if what comes out of it is good? Does our faith make us so different from one another? And when bad things happen, do we really all have a shared responsibility for the hate in the world?
“It’s not that we can’t get along. We just believe in different things. And while I can be friends with someone who believes in different things than I do, it’s a lot harder to be married to, and raise a family with, someone who is different in these big ways. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s okay. but I do.”
“When someone is different from us,” he says, “sometimes we jump to conclusions instead of taking the time to understand.”
A Walk in the Woods
by Bill Bryson
The Appalachian Trail, a little over 2,000 miles of challenging terrain, is a test that hikers of all ages, genders, and experience levels attack in various ways. There are parking lot visitors; they drive in, look around a bit and perhaps picnic, but do not actually hike the trail. Section hikers traverse parts of the trail at various times with a few completing the whole trail over the course of a lifetime. Then there are a few hardy souls who are full thru-hikers; they keep at it from south to north until they complete the trail.
As you might imagine, hiking the Appalachian Trail is an endeavor that requires a lot of planning and the purchase of expensive equipment to get the lightest weight gear possible. Carrying a forty pound backpack all day over rough terrain with formidable ascents and descents is a difficult task indeed. Author Bill Bryson who has written a number of travel books relates in A Walk in the Woods his experiences on the Appalachian Trail with Stephen Katz, a former school chum he had traveled around Europe with twenty-years prior. Much of the book describes the harsh realities of the hike and the delightful relief of their occasional forays into civilization to replenish supplies and sleep in a real bed. Some of the book relates their changing relationship as they confront the trials of the trail together as well as anecdotes about the interesting people they meet along the way.
Bryson’s writing style is comfortable. The descriptions are detailed without being overblown, and there is just enough history of the trail to give the reader an understanding of why it is the way it is. Often humorous, it provides an interesting read taking the reader into a once in a lifetime experience on the Appalachian Trail.
Notes: Some profanity
Publication: December 26, 2006 (first published May 5, 1998)—Anchor Books
But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror.” When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.
I was beginning to appreciate that the central feature of life on the Appalachian Trail is deprivation, that the whole point of the experience is to remove yourself so thoroughly from the conveniences of everyday life that the most ordinary things—processed cheese, a can of pop gorgeously beaded with condensation—fill you with wonder and gratitude.
And all the time, as we crept along on this absurdly narrow, dangerous perch, we were half-blinded by flying snow and jostled by gusts of wind, which roared through the dancing trees and shook us by our packs. This wasn’t a blizzard; it was a tempest.
You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power
by Max Lucado
The focus is on Jesus. The focus is always on Jesus in Max Lucado’s writing—on how much God loves YOU, enough to send His Son Jesus to cover your sins with His shed blood. The God of the universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. That is the message of You Are Never Alone.
Max Lucado’s style of writing is so appealing; it’s like sitting down with an old friend who loves you and has great anecdotes and wisdom to share. He has a way with words. Even his acknowledgements section, often the boring part of a book, is a masterpiece of prose. Lucado can paint word pictures that make you feel you are right there in that hospital waiting room with a hurting mom or having a fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, risen from the dead, and Peter who denied him. The writing can grip your heart as you see yourself as Jesus does, make you smile as you respond to the humor in a situation, and bring you to your knees as you realize the enormity of God’s love for you.
You Are Never Alone weaves anecdotes Lucado has collected along the way with Scriptural lessons from the book of John in the New Testament. He writes in everyday language with inspiration that will keep you turning pages. Look for theological soundness that never seems pompous and scenarios that depict life as we know it in vivid language we understand. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek that you are not meant to take literally but which elucidate the heart meaning of the passages. He jumps from Jesus cooking “fish tacos” for His disciples to earlier references of art restoration as Jesus wipes away “layers of guilt and shame” in Peter’s heart with a “cotton swab of grace.” Lucado makes these complex connections seamlessly, and the reader emerges with a new understanding of the old story of God’s redemption of man.
This inspirational book can be devoured as a whole, read chapter by chapter over several days, or studied in depth using the “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. This section occupies one quarter of the text and takes the reader through thought provoking questions that encourage you to invest yourself, including your imagination and feelings, in the study which never strays from the Scripture. This book is an examination of the themes and miracles found in the Gospel of John. It is inspirational, humorous, and insightful. You Are Never Alone is yet another of Max Lucado’s books that will encourage you to trust in God during life’s storms.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Publication: September 15, 2020—Thomas Nelson
If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter. But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him then even the smallest incidents take on significance.
John did the math: the stone rolled away, the now-tenantless tomb, the linens in their original state. Only one explanation made sense. Jesus himself did this! He passed through the burial wrap as if it were a sunrise mist.
Call me simple, but I think God is a good Father. I think he knows something about life. And I think he invites us to take the step, to take the plunge, to jump—not into a pool but into a relationship with him that is vibrant, joyous, and, yes, fun!
This is a fun cozy mystery series with a male protagonist and lots of quirky characters. It is a good series to start at the beginning as there is a lot of character background that develops through the series. It is amazing the author is giving readers the opportunity to read this first book for free! I hope you enjoy it!
The Thursday Murder Club
by Richard Osman
Richard Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, is a stellar mystery. Definitely not a thriller, the solving of a cold case or two gets mixed in with several current murders as four residents of a retirement community band together to solve crimes that have stumped law enforcement in the past.
The main characters stand out as individuals—Ron, a former trade union leader; Joyce, a retired nurse; Ibrahim, a psychiatrist occasionally still consulted by former patients; and the quite competent Elizabeth who has contacts all over the world from her secretive profession. All play into the sleuthing with their personal strengths and break down stereotypes of senior citizens who have given up on life. Elizabeth is the leader as the one with the best skills at recognizing motives and relationships, understanding how a crime might have been committed, and devising plans to reveal criminals. Everyone recognizes that if Elizabeth wants something to happen, a meeting perhaps, she can indeed make it happen.
Even the law enforcement, PC Donna De Freitas and her boss DCI Chris Hudson, find themselves manipulated into cooperating in the investigations by Elizabeth and the other seniors. Since the plot is complicated, there are many characters including a priest, some gangsters, real estate developers, a sheep herder, and a famous boxer. There are even more, and some careful reading is involved as minor characters can have a bigger role than you might anticipate. For example, one important character never says a word: look for Penny in the story. It is fascinating to watch the Thursday Murder Club pick at the threads of the various crimes until they unravel. There are some crimes that you don’t even realize occurred until they were solved. Now, that’s magical writing because there is nothing artificial about the way author Richard Osman makes it all come together.
The style of the writing is fantastic with lots of British humor to make you smile and a few absolutely laugh out loud scenes. Joyce records her views on the investigation and reflections on her personal life in a diary that we get to read; it is set off in bold print and interspersed with the other chapters which are written in the third person. None of the chapters are very long and some are less than a page making this many chaptered tome move quickly. The chapters change their focus from one crime and set of characters to another, and that also seems appropriate to the complexity of the plot. This is not a book with a lot of red herrings; it is replete with good solid clues. The reader is in for many surprises but discovers them as the characters do. With its intricate plot and characters with depth, The Thursday Murder Club gives you much to contemplate above and beyond the mystery itself. There are many ethical questions to ponder, but the author lays out the facts and leaves judgement up to the reader.
Category: Mystery, Humor
Notes: This award winning book has a sequel in the works: The Thursday Murder Club 2 is set for publication on September 16, 2021.
Publication: September 3, 2020—Viking
It looks out over the bowling green, and then farther down to the visitors’ car park, the permits for which are rationed to such an extent that the Parking Committee is the single most powerful cabal within Coopers Chase.
I think that if I have a special skill, it is that I am often overlooked. Is that the word? Underestimated, perhaps?…So everyone calms down through me. Quiet, sensible Joyce. There is no more shouting and the problem is fixed, more often than not in a way that benefits me—something no one ever seems to notice.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to use your mobile telephone in here, Elizabeth,” says John. She gives a kindly shrug. “Well, imagine if we only ever did what we were supposed to, John.” “You have a point there, Elizabeth,” agrees John, and goes back to his book.
Nacho Average Murder
by Maddie Day
Robbie Jordan leaves wintry Indiana for a week’s vacation in sunny Santa Barbara. The initial draw is her tenth high school reunion, but she is excited to catch up with two of her best friends from her high school years, Alana and Jason, who will also be attending. It is fun for Robbie to revisit locales from her childhood, but the trip is tinged with sadness as her mom passed away two years prior.
Robbie finds herself in the midst of several investigations that may be tied together. There is a murder, and Robbie wonders if it could be connected to her own mother’s death as both of the deceased were young to be afflicted with the diagnosed aneurysms. She becomes involved in an ongoing battle between concerned citizens and Walter Russom of Agrosafe, a company that manufactures a spray on fumigant that is making workers and animals in nearby fields very sick. Russom’s daughter Katherine was a dominating force back in their high school days and is still making her presence felt. There are other persons of interest that lead Robbie and Alana down new areas of investigation, and Robbie seems to have danger following her by car and on foot. She wonders if it is real or if she being paranoid.
Maddie Day’s Nacho Average Murder, besides its great title, is an all-round good cozy mystery. Don’t start reading this while you are hungry. Robbie, who runs a B&B/restaurant back home, is staying at a South of the Border styled B&B. It has Mexican flavor extending from Carmen, the charming hostess, and Mamá, her Spanish speaking mother, who are excellent cooks, to the colorful Southwestern decor. Robbie also tries out a lot of the local restaurants so we are treated to descriptions of yummy dishes beginning with king crab ceviche appetizer and delicious guacamole. With Carmen’s blessing, Robbie takes pictures to remind her of the food and stores away ideas for her own B&B. Mamá, who could win tortilla making speed records, even teaches Robbie how to flatten out tortillas by hand.
Start reading this book because it is part of an excellent series, keep reading to solve the murder, and revisit this cozy to try out some of its recipes. It’s almost like a mini vacation. Put on your shorts and sandals and enjoy the beach, the food, and the scenery. You’ll meet some great characters and maybe even a few of the local alpacas.
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.
Notes: 1. #7 in the Country Store Mystery Series, but it is perfect as a standalone because the main character is away from the usual setting and cast of characters.
2. Includes 6 delicious sounding recipes.
Publication: June 30, 2020—Kensington Books
“Remember when we came here on that double date our junior year?” She groaned. “With those twins, Whoosit and What’s His Name? That was a disaster and a half.” “No kidding.” I snorted.
“You came!” She walked up to us with a smile wider than the San Andreas Fault and a lot less dangerous.
As I hurried between the wooden tables, my footsteps resounded louder on the gravel than a hundred monks crunching popcorn.
Murder in Waiting
by Lynn Cahoon
If you’re looking for a good cozy mystery, you can’t go wrong with one written by Lynn Cahoon. Her Murder in Waiting fulfilled my expectations. Jill Gardner, former attorney, owns South Cove’s combination coffee house and bookshop. She has several employees and loves taking the first shift as it gives her time to read. She lives with Greg King, the lead detective for the local police. With each having a prior marriage, neither is anxious to make the big commitment again.
Jill’s friend Amy, however, is ready to tie the knot and manipulates Jill into planning her bachelorette party. The book devotes some time to the upcoming nuptials, but the author might have a surprise tie-in to the mystery itself. Jill witnesses a hit and run fatality, and it is up to the local police to determine if it was an accident or murder.
Meanwhile, Jill is being bombarded with two personal issues. A developer wants the land her cottage is built on, and various individuals keep approaching her to try to convince her to sell. Some are rather threatening. Jill provides space and refreshments for a local business group’s monthly meetings. In the absence of the leader of the group, a member starts an unfounded smear campaign on Jill claiming their membership dues are rising because of Jill.
Besides the nitty gritty of the suspicious and murderous happenings, there are fun things going on in South Cove too. Deek, a “super dude” barista, not only has great marketing ideas, but is also trying to write his first book. Jill and Greg’s comfortable relationship takes them further along without high pressure expectations. Jill’s Aunt Jackie and her boyfriend Harrold are important characters in the story. Emma is Jill’s dog who loves nothing better than a run along the beach or handouts and pats from her human friends. There is a lot of food talk, but it is not over the top.
With its sunny California setting and the small tourist town vibes, South Cove opens its heart and Diamond Lille’s diner to welcome you to stay and visit. As Greg and Jill work through the many plot threads, you’ll be glad you dropped in.
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.
Notes: 1. #11 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.
2. Recipe included for Easy Low-Carb Egg Muffins
Publication: June 30, 2020—Kensington Books
Relationships. They were as bumpy as a road filled with land mines.
If my employees weren’t emotional eaters before they joined the staff, I tended to train them to become one by modeling the behavior.
Family. You had to accept them as they were because you weren’t going to change them.
A Daughter for the Mountain Firefighter
by Melinda Curtis
If you’ve been following the tales of the Silver Bend Hot Shot crew from Idaho, you know what a difficult and dangerous job mountain firefighters have. A Daughter for the Mountain Firefighter is the fourth book in this series written by Melinda Curtis. Itfocuses on Cole, also known as Chainsaw because his responsibility is to cut paths through the forest for fire barriers and roadways.
As this fire season draws to a close, Cole is preparing to attend medical school in the Bahamas. To his surprise, his path crosses with an old friend, Rachel, whose sister Cole dated. Rachel has become a mechanic and pilot employed to fly her tanker in support of the firefighters.
Cole and Rachel have complications and issues that go back to their birth families. Cole carries guilt and sorrow. Rachel suffers from PTSD and feels responsible for the well-being of her dad, her niece, Jenna, who has had to grow up too quickly, and her nephew, Matt, who never really knew his mother.
The discovery of the identity of Jenna’s biological dad causes tremors in family relationships. A nearly fatal airplane crash sends Rachel to the hospital and jeopardizes the family’s financial stability. Meanwhile, romance is brewing as Cole begins to wonder if he ever really loved Rachel’s sister, Missy. Rachel, on the other hand, has only ever loved one man. As they stumble through their current, seemingly insurmountable problems, will Cole and Rachel manage to overcome their pasts to find happiness?
I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #4 in the Mountain Firefighter Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: June 26, 2020—Purple Papaya
She understood that the callouses on hearts were’t reliable, that they sometimes softened and let the ache of loss back in.
“Every pilot knows they’re defying the laws of nature by taking to the skies. We weren’t born with wings. But every pilot loves to fly more than they fear the risk of falling.”
Rachel had boarded the denial train.