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Christmas Wishes–love crosses the Channel

Christmas Wishes

by Sue Moorcroft

Good personal character is something that is often taken for granted, but in moments of crisis it can rise to the forefront to shine. That is what happens to Nico Pettersson when he takes his eight-year old daughter Josie to her mother Lauren’s home for a planned visit only to discover an alcohol and drug mess. Lauren is in no condition for a visit or to take care of her two-year old Maria. This precious little one is not Nico’s child. In fact, her conception had resulted in divorce. As a single parent, Nico has his own set of problems, but can he leave his daughter’s sister in a filthy, hungry, and thirsty state?

Throughout Sue Moorcroft’s Christmas Wishes, Nico has many decisive moments of conscience. Meanwhile, he reconnects with Hannah, a childhood friend who is his former hockey teammate’s little sister. She is confronted with a break in her relationship with Albin, a cold, wealthy, supercilious boyfriend who controls her shop and her residence in Sweden. The setting bounces back and forth between Stockholm, Sweden, and Middledip, England, with Hannah and Nico having ties in both countries.

The setting is beautiful and Moorcroft has a talent for descriptions. Christmas is not just a backdrop, but an integral part of the story. The plot and relationships are complex. The ups and downs of romance weave through the story and provide a few surprises. A well-behaved Josie and cute-as-a-button Maria are a wonderful pair of children, and my heart went out to them in their respective situations. Hannah’s grandmother, Nan Heather, is a wise and delightful ninety year old who rounds out the cast beautifully. Christmas Wishes is a Christmas gift to readers who want a good storyline coupled with romance in a Christmas setting.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (Avon Books) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. This book is part of the Middledip Series which seems to be loosely connected by a Middledip, England, setting and by an emphasis on seasons. My impression is that the books in this series do not need to be read in any particular order and that they make excellent standalones.
2. There is one place in the book where the description of a sexual encounter borders on too much detail for my taste, but it is not enough to make me wish I hadn’t read the book. Skim and move on!

Publication: October 29, 2020—HarperCollins (Avon)

Memorable Lines:

The butterflies that journeyed home with her fluttered wings of ice…

Anders rocked a mixed retro look with a Seventies mustache but a Sixties short-back-and-sides. His wide-lapelled suits teamed with busy floral ties were a fashion mystery.

Autumn seemed to have decided not to bother this year and winter had swept in as if from Narnia. Iron-hard frosts stripped the color from the landscape, bleak but beautiful…

Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character

Love Your Life

by Sophie Kinsella

Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.

Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.

The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is liking the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Some foul language

Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)

Memorable Lines:

Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.

Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”

For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.

Broadcast 4 Murder–mystery with lots of humor

Broadcast 4 Murder

by J.C. Eaton

Get ready to solve several mysteries, laughing your way through the pages of J.C. Eaton’s Broadcast 4 Murder. Sophie (aka “Kiddo” to her boss, “Phee” to her mother, and “Hon” to her boyfriend Marshall) gets pulled into a murder investigation when her mother discovers a dead body at the Sun City West radio station as she prepares to broadcast a show about cozy mysteries. As soon as Sophie’s mother enters the scene, the reader can expect demands on Sophie to nose around, daily phone calls, and wacky shenanigans as the residents of this Arizona senior community interact. Streetman, her mom’s chiweenie, gets a delightful starring role.

The first murder is not the last, and other crimes are discovered in the process of the investigation. Lots of characters are implicated as possible suspects, but they don’t appear to fit all the requirements—motive, means, and opportunity. These crimes are a puzzle to local detectives as well as the private investigators Sophie works with. She is not a private investigator; she is an accountant. In this book, however, she is able to do some informal forensic accounting along with on the ground sleuthing to catch some crooks. Broadcast 4 Murder is funny, has a complicated plot, and will keep you turning pages while you just don’t want it to end.

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: #7 in the Sophie Kimball Mystery Series, but you can enjoy this cozy mystery as a standalone. This husband/wife writing team does an excellent job of beginning the action simultaneously with providing pertinent details of the backstory. They never miss a beat.

Publication: October 27, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Someone misplaced an apostrophe on some boxes? That’s the trouble these days. Schools no longer teach the important things. They’re too busy with social skills and self-esteem building. How can anyone build self-esteem if they can’t write a decent sentence?”

“You don’t have to worry about social media. She doesn’t use it. She prefers yenta media. It’s faster and commands a larger audience.”

It played out during the entire week with more and more salient details every night. It was as if we had our own version of Telemundo, only instead of seasoned actors, we had greedy retirees.

Autumn Skies–sweet romance with action included

Autumn Skies

by Denise Hunter

Survivor’s guilt is a difficult subject, but it is a theme in Denise Hunter’s Autumn Skies, a touching romance. When Molly finds a buyer for the family business and home, it turns everyone’s world upside down at the Bluebell Inn, but that is nothing compared to the effect of her sister Gracie’s attraction to the mysterious guest, Wyatt. Both have secrets and neither wants to let the other get close.

Gracie and Wyatt are likable characters. Gracie is young, independent, and determined to show her brother and sister that she is an adult. Wyatt, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the line of duty. If he wants to prove he has psychologically recovered from the event, he has to reach back into his past and recover from an even worse childhood trauma. He comes to Bluebell Inn for that sole purpose. I recommend this excellent read. It’s a clean page-turner with some adventure and action. The characters are trying so hard that you will want things to work out for them despite what seems like insurmountable problems.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Christian

Notes: This is the final book in the Bluebell Inn Novels, a trilogy. It is perfect as a standalone, but you will find yourself wanting to read the other novels in the series.

Publication: October 20, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Molly loved this about her man. While her first thought was worry, his was prayer. He offered a quiet, fervent prayer that hit all the points she was fretting over.

For a man with a poker face, he was wearing regret this morning like a neon suit.

Whereas Grace was like a balmy summer evening, her sister was like a whirlwind. And her brother a sudden storm front.

Christmas Card Murder–three novellas

Christmas Card Murder

by Leslie Meier, Lee Hollis, and Peggy Ehrhart

The book Christmas Card Murder is a compilation of three novellas. The first one is also called Christmas Card Murder, and it’s written by Leslie Meier. It is an acceptable cozy mystery about a writer for a small town Maine newspaper who discovers a Christmas card with a hateful, mysterious message during a remodeling project. When a snowstorm brings more than snow, the main character Lucy finds herself in danger. With themes regarding the effectiveness of our criminal justice system, DNA evidence, and reasonable doubt, this mystery’s last few chapters have a very serious tone and the conclusion provides mixed outcomes for the characters. This story is more thought provoking than fun.

Death of a Christmas Carol
As I began the second novella, I sensed a theme. Also set in Maine, Death of a Christmas Carol’s plot is centered around a Christmas card. This card is addressed to three friends and includes a threat. The sender of the card is a flirtatious woman who has had conflicts with all the ladies. Is the card a joke or is someone’s husband unfaithful? Lee Hollis’ tale is about female bonding, marital happiness, and murder. Embedded are some short stories by the main character who is a writer for the local newspaper and some of her favorite seasonal recipes.

Death of a Christmas Card Crafter
Karma Karling was Penny’s favorite teacher in high school. A talented artist, she created a new card each Christmas season based on the “12 Days of Christmas.” Clearly the last in the series, this year’s card features 12 drummer boys—but there are thirteen depicted. Could that be a clue to Karma’s untimely death? Bettina and Pamela, both knitters, make it their business to discover the murderer while absolving a fellow knitter.

All of the novellas in this trio appear to be part of each author’s series. I enjoyed this novella the most—partly because, of the three, this is the only series that I have been following. I credit this one as having the best descriptive passages, the most interesting plot, and a surprise ending that was truly unexpected.

All of these novellas work as a stand-alone, but the author of Death of a Christmas Card Crafter excels in pulling the reader into the story while giving back information that makes the characters more appealing. Peggy Ehrhart’s book includes directions for knitting doll clothes using only the knit stitch and recipes for an intensely chocolate cake and a quick bread featuring dried fruits.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Publication: October 27, 2020—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Christmas Card Murder—She knew that kids frequently didn’t realize that their actions had consequences; this was something most people learned the hard way.

Death of a Christmas Carol—“I got him to talk by threatening not to make him dinner. He’d make a terrible spy. He’d give up the nation’s secrets for a box of Hamburger Helper.”

Death of a Christmas Card Crafter—The spicy pine scent carried all the way to the sidewalk, and its evocation of a season that should be happy seemed an incongruous contradiction to the crime-scene tape and the uniformed officer.

Candy Cane Crime–sweet cozy mystery

Candy Cane Crime

by Amanda Flower

I just love that Amanda Flower has contributed Candy Cane Crime to the growing list of Christmas themed cozy mysteries. Why? Because it has a real Christmas flavor to it, not just a background setting. More importantly, because there is no murder! The mystery revolves around the Candy Cane Exchange, a fundraiser for new costumes for the town’s Christmas parade and pageant. Even without a murder, there is a villain to be rooted out in the little town of Harvest.

Charlotte, a young Amish woman who works in the candy shop, volunteers to be coordinator for the project. At age twenty-two, Charlotte is considered “old” to have not yet decided on whether to join the Amish church or to become Englisch. She becomes obsessed with who her secret admirer might be with several candidates under consideration and observation. The story is told from Charlotte’s point of view since, for most of the story, the usual main character of the series, Bailey, is in New York. This change in POV works perfectly for Candy Cane Crime.

The word “sweetest” is used many times and has a special significance in this story. It is a fast read, and I was sorry to come to the end. This is the sweetest cozy mystery! If you are searching for something gentle, Christmasy, and guaranteed to make you smile, seek out Candy Cane Crime.

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: 1. #6 in the Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series, but is perfect as a standalone.
2. A recipe for Peppermint Popcorn is included that sounds delicious.

Publication: October 6, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Other than the bishop’s wife, Ruth Yoder, Margot is the most determined woman I’ve ever known. If the two of them joined together, none of us would have any peace. It’s for the best the pair of them are rarely in agreement.”

Since I had left my conservative home district, I had heard little from my siblings and parents. I knew that I had made the right decision, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I missed them and wished they would at least speak to me from time to time.

But that wasn’t how I was. It was why I had never fit well in my old conservative district. I had this need to know and ask why and how.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader–magical sea voyage

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C.S. Lewis

I absolutely love C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is full of fantastically magical creatures and exciting adventures for Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace. Although this is not the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, the reader, whether returning or new to the series, is immediately drawn into the story by the first three paragraphs which describe Eustace, a new and quite unlikable character. As I read, I gradually realized the strong influence of classical literature in this book. The sailing from one unforgettable place to another, sometimes with an escape necessary, is reminiscent of Homer’s The Odyssey, although these interesting characters are clearly Lewis’ own ingenious creations. Royal mermaids and mermen hold a hunt for fish like one might hunt small game in England, but with a trained hawk. The Dawn Treader, belonging to King Caspian and carrying the children and a full crew, is attacked by a sea serpent capable of crushing the ship. There are invisible creatures, the Dufflepuds, who move by jumping wildly from one place to another. With another nod to classical literature, there is a Chief Voice among the Invisibles; his followers echo and affirm him just like a Greek chorus. C.S. Lewis’ literary background and expertise shine brightly in this book.

Woven into the recounting of their escapades, the book has serious themes that are addressed in a distinctly unpreachy way. A major one is greed as Eustace becomes like a dragon hoarding his treasure. Later the group finds pond with water that turns everything it contacts into gold. It also brings out bad character traits, and in the end they all disassociate themselves from the location which they name Deathwater Island. Not surprisingly, greed is also an important theme in The Odyssey.

Although there is not one to one symbolism comparisons between people and ideas found in Christianity and characters and concepts in The Chronicles of Narnia, there are certainly important similar themes. When the travelers need to make important choices, they often find that Aslan has appeared and is staring at them just as Jesus gives his followers wisdom when needed. Chapter 12, “The Dark Island,” is a metaphor for God rescuing us when we are going through dark times. In the last chapter, there is a depiction of going to Aslan’s country (i.e. heaven) and references to the Lion and the Lamb, important symbols in Christianity. These passages are so beautiful; I don’t want to spoil the experience with my own words. You need to read it for yourself as only C.S. Lewis, the inimitable storyteller, can convey the meaning and the feeling with his exquisite word pictures.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fantasy

Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.

Publication: 1952—Harper Trophy (Harper Collins)

Memorable Lines:

Up went the ring, flashing in the sunlight, and caught, and hung, as neatly as a well-thrown quoit, on a little projection on the rock. No one could climb up to get it from below and no one could climb down to get it from above. And there, for all I know, it is hanging still and may hang till that world ends.

“Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

“I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger.”

Death, Dismay and Rosé–opportune timing

Death, Dismay and Rosé

by J. C. Eaton

Norrie is a screenwriter and part owner of Two Witches Winery on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail. She is counting the days until her sister returns from Costa Rica to take over the winery again and she can return to her lawyer boyfriend Bradley and her urban life.

Unfortunately, Norrie finds herself, yet again, in the middle of a murder she needs to solve to get a friend released from jail. The situation is not simple, however. Although Norrie is not superstitious, one of her staff members and lots of tourists are. Now Norrie has to deal with a local, two hundred year old curse that supposedly takes effect when a full moon and the summer solstice occur on the same night. The results could be deadly.

Neighboring winery owners Don and Theo and entomologist Godfrey are Norrie’s friends and are dragged reluctantly into her investigations which are not always legal and are sometimes dangerous. The clock is ticking as time draws near for the solstice to occur and for the local police to give up on their murder investigation. Will Norrie be able to solve the crime before another death occurs, Alex is convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, some thieves get away with a stolen Porsche engine, or Norrie and Godfrey are arrested? So much is riding on her investigation. Fortunately, Norrie is both spunky and determined.

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: #6 in the Wine Trail Mystery Series, but OK as a standalone

Publication: September 29, 2020—Beyond the Page Publishing

Memorable Lines:

It’s never good when someone says they hope something doesn’t upset you, because inevitably, it will upset you. I held my breath and waited for her to continue.

“Do you have any idea what kind of danger you’re putting yourself in? And I don’t mean the skunk. The mess you’re getting into won’t be solved by a can of tomato juice and a hose!”

Funny how food can make people forget whatever else is on their minds, because for a brief respite, I found myself immersed in a whole other world…

Out, Mouse!–cute Irish tale

Out, Mouse!

written by Valerie L. Egar

audio narration by Paul Collins

Finn, an elderly Irish man, has unwelcome visitors as a mice family makes themselves at home in his cottage. Finn takes advice from Professor Dunderbutt’s book and writes a series of kind letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mouse making suggestions of places they would probably prefer to live. Unfortunately for Finn, they always find something unsuitable about the places he suggests. I won’t spoil the ending, but I’ll say that it did make me smile.

I was referred to this book by blogging book reviewer Carla at Carla Loves to Read. She mentions in her review that she listened to the audio version while reading the printed text. I have been wanting to dip into the many audio versions of books currently offered. With an actor reading this with an Irish accent, this book seemed like the perfect one to begin my listening adventure. Although I will probably continue to prefer the written word, I did enjoy listening to this narration which was very well performed.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Humor, Multicultural

Notes: 1. Publisher Recommended Ages: 6-9 years
2. Includes a section that encourages students to create pictures of what they imagined as they read the story.

Publication: April 6, 2021—Whistle Oak

Memorable Lines:

Finn knew something was wrong as soon as he opened the door to his cottage. Something or someone, had made a mess of the breakfast he’d placed on the table before taking his morning walk.

If the mice don’t like your first idea, keep writing letters. Sooner or later, one of your letters will work and they will move. This method NEVER fails.

He found a scrap of red cloth and tied it around his neck. A tiny brass nail became a make-believe sword. He held it tightly in his hand, waving it back and forth.

The Last Agent–suspenseful spy novel

The Last Agent

by Robert Dugoni

Oddly, I have watched many more spy movies than I have read spy books. Robert Dugoni’s The Last Agent is a great pathway for me into the world of spy novels. It is part of a series in that Charles Jenkins is the main character in the series that bears his name. Although the characters are important to the story, appreciating the book is not predicated on having read others in the series. This book is a fine example of a story that is so engaging, so complex, that the plot stands on its own merits.

Charlie Jenkins is a retired spy, forced out by his own organization. He tries to enjoy rural life with his much younger wife and two young children. When opportunity knocks at his door, however, Charlie answers with minimal hesitation. This assignment is especially appealing because it gives him the chance to help Paulina who sacrificed herself so that he could return to his family. An extremely strong double agent mentally, she is questioned relentlessly with physical and psychological torture by Russians who want to know the identity of certain assets.

Charlie is supposed to engineer her escape from an impenetrable prison and see her to the U.S. and freedom. She is in an extremely compromised physical condition and is heavily guarded. Getting her out would take a lot of skill and planning along with a dose of good luck. The Russians want her information badly and have the advantage of Putin’s extensive “Big Brother” network of cameras. Fortunately, Charlie has support from his handlers with assets all over Europe and a huge bank account that gives him leverage with a former Russian agent.

There are so many intricate steps in achieving the various goals along the way. Not everything goes smoothly so a lot of improvisation is required. Hideous weather both hinders and helps. Disguises and unusual means of transportation are called into play. I guarantee this book is a page turner that will keep you reading way past “lights out.”

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller (Spy)

Notes: #2 in The Charles Jenkins Series, but I read it as a standalone with no problems understanding or enjoying it.

Publication: September 22, 2020—Thomas & Mercer

Memorable Lines:

His anger spiked; he couldn’t believe the agency that had allowed him to be tried for espionage now had the audacity to seek his help.

You Americans are too impatient. It is your consumerism. You want everything now. This minute. You must learn Russian patience. We must take the first step before we take the second.”

Viktor Federov knew well that Big Brother had returned to Russia, though the method of spying—once Russians reporting on fellow Russians—now employed computer technology cameras, and cell phones.

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