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Candy Slain Murder–lots of food and mystery

Candy Slain Murder

by Maddie Day

December arrives to provide a Christmassy backdrop to this cozy mystery set in the little town of South Lick, Indiana, where Robbie Jordan owns a breakfast and lunch restaurant that also features vintage cookware for sale. There is a cast of regulars making their appearance in Maddie Day’s Candy Slain Murder, but remain fearless, dear Reader, as the author’s talents include bringing the reader quickly on board with Robbie’s friends and family.

This mystery includes a cold case and a new murder case that appear to be connected. There are a number of characters with potential motives that Robbie has to sort through as she informally interviews various persons of interest as well as those whose knowledge might contribute to her investigations.

Another thread in the story is the surprise appearance of the mysterious half-brother of one of Robbie’s employees. Protective of those she loves, Robbie is concerned that this man’s claims might not be legitimate. Even his religious ties as a former Quaker turned Muslim are odd. They lead to a discussion of inclusiveness versus discrimination in South Lick with some B&B guests. This thread is interesting, but seems an afterthought as the couple appears only once besides meal times.

I enjoyed the book as I tried to discover the murderer or murderers along with Robbie. There were plenty of distractions to keep me guessing, although I had in mind a resolution that I wanted to see. Happily, I was correct, but it was fun to follow the characters to a satisfactory conclusion.

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. #8 in the Country Store Mysteries Series. I have read, out of order, a few of the books in this series. All, including Candy Slain Murder, have worked well as standalones.

  2. Six recipes are included in the book and several are holiday appropriate.

  3. I am puzzled by Robbie’s critical comment on the celebration of Christmas in the little town. They were having a Christmas tree lighting and a visit by Santa. Robbie said of the mayor, “Corrine could have slanted the celebration in a more secular direction.” As a Christian, I think the celebration was very secular. There was no nativity scene and no mention of the birth of Jesus, which is the origin of Christmas celebrations. 

Publication:   September 29, 2020—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“You’re more full of questions than one of them robots on the phone. At least you ain’t asking me to press one for this and two for that.”

Buck poured on the syrup and tore into his cranberry pancakes so fast I thought they would catch on fire.

“It’s one of them, you know, fifty percent of one and a dozen of the other.” My jaw dropped at his fractured metaphor.

Dash Away All–dangerous drama on the movie set

Dash Away All

by Christina Freeburn

I was close to frustration with Merry Winters, the main character in Dash Away All by Christina Freeman, when she became frustrated with herself. Finally! Merry has been contracted to create craft items for the backdrop of a Christmas movie featuring a crafter. The job becomes bigger than originally planned when a shed holding many Christmas decorations burns down and Merry is expected to create or round up from the tiny town of Carol Lake, Indiana, the necessary items to fill out the various scenes. For someone so overwhelmingly concerned about the quantity of crafts she is supposed to make, Merry spends a lot of time going down rabbit holes. Some of the trails she follows are legitimate ones to pursue a criminal, but others are self-indulgent like her visit to a toy store. Sometimes she is just plain nosy and involves herself in things that are truly none of her business.

This Christmas movie is being filmed in a hot and humid July, so if you are looking for a Christmassy read, this is not for you. If you want a cozy mystery with red herrings, a plot with twists and turns, some danger, and a tiny splash of romance, you would probably enjoy Dash Away All. An aging and domineering Christmas movie star is making a comeback at the same time she is trying to resolve some personal issues from her past. They happen to coincide with Merry’s current crisis in terms of family. Merry’s long distance business partner Bright is somewhat helpful, but it seems we will never meet her as she, for family reasons, is not able to join Merry in her time of need. I, unfortunately, felt little fondness for the characters in this mystery, and that hampered my enjoyment of the book. Even the role of Ebenezer the Guinea pig seemed contrived.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“Luna’s three loves in life are acting, trouble, and men, and which takes the top spot changes from day to day.”

A woman who loved to feel needed and felt lost when those who had needed her most—children and mom—either no longer did as they’re venturing out on their own, or because they couldn’t remember her.

It was a simple solution. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I knew exactly why I hadn’t; complicating matters was becoming a new hobby. I was turning back into a teenage girl and morphing everything into a drama of the century.

Murder with Cherry Tarts–tearoom delights throughout the mystery

Murder with Cherry Tarts

by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Cherry TartsWhat a delightful cozy mystery! I enjoyed Murder with Cherry Tarts by Karen Rose Smith from beginning to end. It has interesting characters including Daisy Swanson, a widow and co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. Daisy is at the center of the book’s many threads. There is, of course, a murder mystery which Daisy tries not to get involved in, but her kind nature won’t allow her to stand by while an innocent man is railroaded by a detective with a chip on his shoulder. That chip is connected to Daisy’s boyfriend Jonas, a former detective. Other tensions include a homeless man and his daughter and an elderly antique shop owner possibly being cheated by a family member. Also, Daisy has continuing relationship issues with her mother, preparations for the upcoming wedding of her pregnant daughter, and the struggles of her youngest daughter, who is adopted, to connect with her biological mother. It is a busy story!

The setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Although Daisy is not Amish, there are a sprinkling of references to horse and buggy transport and other Amish customs as Willow Creek is a seasonal tourist town.

Despite the various focuses on relationships, the mystery is still key. There are several suspects with plausible motives, but when the murderer is revealed in a scene replete with danger, the surprise ending is stunning.

The author follows up with an epilogue that provides a promisingly happy conclusion to the relationship threads as well as the murder investigation. There are, however, still developments to look forward to in the next cozy in this series.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #4 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works very well as a standalone. The characters’ backgrounds  are skillfully woven into the first chapter.

2. The book concludes with recipes, including one for Daisy’s famous cherry tarts that everyone raves about.

Publication:   November 26, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Sharing tea with a friend is a calming experience. I think it has to do with just taking time out of your day to talk and to share. It doesn’t matter the type of tea or if you use sugar or honey or milk. It’s just the experience of sipping it that counts.”

That was exactly what grief felt like, a hole that could never be filled up.

The photographs would never reveal the tension that always bubbled up within her family. But that was the point of happy photos, wasn’t it? To remember the good times and cherish them.

Lake Season–God’s plan for good

Lake Season

by Denise Hunter

Lake SeasonDo you believe in coincidence? The novel Lake Season written by Denise Hunter might convince you that God can work even the smallest details together to achieve His good plan.  At the time certain events happen, there may be no clear vision of how it could even begin to be used for good. Then comes to mind the phrase “but God,” as God turns what appears to be a series of coincidences into something amazing.

Molly and her siblings, Levi and Grace, are devastated by the death of their parents in a car wreck, but they make sacrifices to fulfill their parents’ dream of converting their house into an inn. Just as the inn is almost set to open, Adam, who writes romances under a pen name, arrives in small Bluebell, North Carolina, looking for inspiration for his new book. The discovery of a long lost letter unites Adam and Molly in a search to find the young couple separated by the Vietnam War and family disapproval.

Molly and Adam are not weak but are vulnerable main characters with deep-seated emotional pains left-over from their pasts. Both are very likable, but it would take a miracle for their hearts to heal enough to allow them to leave the hurts of the past behind them. As the tale progresses, they touch the lives of others through their kindness and research in ways that have to be more than a coincidence.

Can a publicity shy novelist and a young innkeeper with trust issues find happiness and a way forward together? As author Denise Hunter’s newest fan, I found tears filling my eyes as I approached the end of the book and hoped for the best.

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: Christian, Romance

Notes: I was delighted to discover that this is the first book of the Bluebell Romance Series. Denise Hunter has written over 30 books, two of which have been made, not surprisingly, into Hallmark movies.

Publication:   November 12, 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“You’ve been very welcoming, and you have a beautiful face—I mean, place. You have a beautiful place.” Why did he have to be such an imbecile with women?

All those times he’d disappointed his dad rose to the surface like buoys, bringing a load of hurt and a feeling of unworthiness that went core deep.

“…I’ve never had God’s work in my life be so…blatant. I mean, I’ve seen Him work in my life so many times. But this particular situation is so convoluted and layered, it would be impossible not to see it as His handiwork.”

Into the Frying Pan–medical mayhem

Into the Frying Pan

by Sarah Osborne

Into the Frying PanIf my opinion of this book were based on the likability of the characters the plot centers around in Into the Frying Pan, it would get a low rating. Fortunately the main characters, pediatrician Ditie Brown and her detective boyfriend Mason, along with Ditie’s adopted daughter Lucie and Ditie’s  close friends Lurleen and Danny, do not like these people either. Sadly they were an odd group of former friends from Ditie’s medical school days.

The tale is full of suspicions and secrets when one of the group is killed during a Civil War reenactment. Ugly motives and complicated relationships emerge. Will Ditie be able to protect herself and her children while interviewing former friends to discover the murderer?

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com 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: #2 in the Ditie Brown Mystery Series but great as a standalone.

Publication:  May 28, 2019— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

I hung up not sure what I was feeling. I’d put Phil in a category of lousy human being and now he was trying to ease his way out of that box.

Agatha Christie would have loved this gathering. A small clutch of people with one murderer in the mix.

“You see, I learned the hard way that some people get broken by their past and don’t recover from it—that was Carl. I did everything I could not to be like my mother, but Carl became his father. He ran around, had schemes to get money, and always wanted more than he had. I thought I could love him into being a better man, but you can’t do that for another person. They have to do it for themselves.”

Sweet Tea and Secrets–a web of lies

Sweet Tea and Secrets

by Joy Avon

Sweet Tea and SecretsLike the main character, Callie Aspen, the plot of Sweet Tea and Secrets seems to exist in limbo in Joy Avon’s latest cozy mystery. Callie has quit a job she loves as an international tour guide and moved back to Heart’s Harbor to help her Aunt Iphy run Book Tea, the local tea shop. She is waiting for a local rental to be restored to livable condition. She doesn’t actually contribute much help to the tea room in this book. To top it off, Deputy Falk, an additional enticement when she decided to move, seems less than enthusiastic about Callie’s return to town.

The plot follows the same erratic pacing and intensity as we see in Callie’s personal life. Callie gets pulled into the investigation of a cold murder case that revolves around a web of lies. It is hard for Callie and the reader to know which characters are reliable. My interest would ramp up, and then I would find myself wondering when the book would end. The ending was a surprise in regards to the mystery, and the author didn’t leave any loose ends. There were a number of subplots that were interesting but sometimes too distracting when acting as red herrings.  I was glad Callie’s personal relationship with Falk showed forward progress. I would read another book in the series, but I hope it will have more of a focus on the tea room like the first books in the series do.

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:  4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Book Tea Shop Mystery Series

 

Publication:   June 11, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

But nothing happened. Just those lights teasing her from the darkness. Telling her she wasn’t alone.

“So far everybody seems to have been lying about everything.”

Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches–secrets in the family

Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches

by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Cucumber SandwichesAlong comes a fairly gentle cozy mystery in Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches by Karen Rose Smith that is half personal relationships and half murder mystery. Interestingly enough, Smith manages to tie in a lot of the personal issues with the murder. Daisy, a widow, owns Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. This mystery begins with uncomfortable anticipation for Daisy and her staff caused by the upcoming visit by celebrity food blogger Derek, known for giving unfavorable reviews. He is found dead after his visit. 

There are so many questions about Derek’s death that Daisy must try to answer while juggling personal dilemmas with her college age daughter Vi and with Foster, Vi’s boyfriend, who is also an employee of Daisy. Her other daughter, Jazzi, is undergoing emotional trauma because of possible rejection by her birth mom. Daisy is moving slowly in her relationship with former detective and current local woodworker Jonas. Daisy’s parents live in the same town, and her mother tends to be critical. What a lot of things for Daisy to deal with at one time!

At the teashop, business is off because potential customers are deterred by the possibility of poisoning. Daisy needs to find the murderer to save her shop and her employees’ jobs. Her major method is listening as she informally interviews suspects and watches for their reactions. The characters are interesting, and I enjoy visits to the tea shop where all kinds of teas and goodies are available as well as more substantial fare such as soups. Before the murder, bus loads of tourists frequently stopped for tea, but the murder has squelched enthusiasm for the tea shop.  As the setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, there are some Amish references as Daisy and Jonas interact with Amish friends and employees. Willow Creek is a welcoming little town, and Daisy’s Tea Garden, set in a charming Victorian house, is a comfortable spot to chat with a friend. Come on in! The tea is hot, the hostess is friendly, and the treats are (not literally) “to die for.”

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. #3 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone thanks to the author’s ability to dive right into the plot while simultaneously providing background.

2. Three original recipes are included at the end of the book for items served in the tearoom.

Publication:   May 28, 2019—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“I know a therapist who’s very good with teenagers. She has a cat who sits in on most sessions. She finds that Lancelot relaxes her clients. He’s very loving, and in that intuitive way cats have, he knows whether to come closer or stay away.”

Daisy felt as if she was living in more than one universe—one filled with the tea garden and friends and customers, tea and sweet goods. And the other with a family dilemma she didn’t know how to handle.

The tea might have been brewed for them, but by their expressions and body language, she could tell tension brewed between them.

Two Weeks–abort, adopt, or keep?

Two Weeks

by Karen Kingsbury

Two WeeksElise is a budding artist, and Cole has a promising future as a doctor when they meet and their lives become intertwined during their last semester of high school. In Karen Kingsbury’s Two Weeks, these young people have to deal with their own pasts with single moms, their love for each other, and their relationship with God. An unplanned pregnancy, the loss of a child, and trust in God take center stage as Elise and Cole wrestle with major decisions that have wide ranging consequences.

Two Weeks is a romance but it also deals with the emotional and personal impacts of abortion outside of any political concerns. It also addresses the agony of miscarriages and infertility while holding up adoption as a difficult and complicated but positive possibility. This work of Christian fiction shines a light on a subject that is painful for many. It also examines parenthood from several viewpoints. Both topics may be sensitive for some readers, but I do recommend this work written by a prolific Christian author whose books have been made into movies.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Christian

Notes:   1. This book is the latest in an extensive series of books about the Baxter family. I read it as a standalone and had no problem following the plot.

  2. There is a discussion guide at the end.

Publication:  April 2, 2019—Howard Books

Memorable Lines:

Ashley would do the most powerful thing she could. The best gift a mother could give her child. Grown or not. Now and forevermore like her life depended on it. She would pray.

Their lives were a trail of broken moments and closed doors when it came to having a baby.

“I never think of them as dead.” Her eyes grew softer. “They’re alive. They just have a new address in heaven.”

Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story

Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story

by Meredith Shafer

Mad CowDespite its subtitle, Meredith Shafer’s Mad Cow: A PTSD Love Story is not a mushy romance.  It is the hard-hitting tale of a woman who has lived in the trenches and struggled to scramble out for her own survival and that of her children and her husband nicknamed Mr. Wonderful in the book. “Mad Cow” does not refer to the feared Mad Cow disease; it is the nickname Meredith has given to the struggle her husband faces every day. He is a veteran retired on a medical disability and Mad Cow is a triangle of asthma, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury and all of the associated problems that often accompany these disorders including issues with depression and sobriety. 

Mad Cow is not a timeline biography, and it does not detail Mr. Wonderful’s war injuries or his specific medical issues. Instead, this memoir shares the struggles of this hot mess, circus-like, crazy family of six, led by a spunky mama and a wounded warrior as they navigate life, crises, and the VA medical system. We learn of financial struggles and family issues.  We discover how survival fueled by faith, trust, and God’s love becomes more important than a perfect house, after school activities, and productivity.

Meredith brings her background as a musician, lawyer, mom,  writer and speaker, a devotee of leopard, shoes, coffee and bling, and most especially a lover of Jesus to this book. She shares openly from her heart; there is no fakeness in this book. You will find humor scattered liberally throughout. There is one particularly funny chapter called “The Casita” which describes how the family of six lived temporarily in a 150 square foot house. Under the humor though is the pain of trying to save a husband who is past being able to save himself. Under the humor is a woman’s heart as she leans into her Father relying on Him to restore her family.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir, Christian Nonfiction

Notes: You can find my review of Meredith Shafer’s first book, My Pink Champagne Life here

Publication:  2016

Memorable Lines: 

You can’t really go back, though. You can only move forward, which we are trying to do with generosity of spirit and good humor and grace, a whole truckload of grace. Wow, that’s hard.

I’ve decided that potty training a fiery redheaded she-child is kind of like training a wild tiger to dance to show tunes. It’s a delicate yet frightening process that requires infinite patience, a death wish, and multiple costume changes.

I guess thirty days off and three counseling appointments post deployment aren’t nearly enough. The military way, though it’s not written in any of their field manuals, is to soldier on. Self-medicate with alcohol if necessary as that is the acceptable method of of soldiering on.

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