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A Dog’s Perfect Christmas–meeting life’s challenges

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas

by W. Bruce Cameron

I have discovered an author I was unfamiliar with, but now I want to read more of his works. W. Bruce Cameron specializes in dog/people stories and knows how to combine some humor with tough reality. His A Dog’s Perfect Christmas could be labeled as a “feel-good Christmas story,” but it is so much more.

This is the tale of an imperfect family doing their best to survive the everyday struggles and big disasters. By the conclusion of this book, you’ll like all of the characters. Hunter loves his family but devotes himself to his job. His wife Juliana gave up her job to raise their children but struggles with inner conflict about her role. Ello (short for Eloise) is their thirteen year old daughter caught in a hurricane of hormones and middle school relationships. Her two younger brothers are three year old twins who excel in wreaking havoc and rely on Ello to be their translator to the rest of the world. Grandpa Sander is a widower whose beloved wife passed away from cancer. Her care drained their financial resources requiring Sander to move in with his son’s family. Completing the family is Sander’s faithful canine retainer Winstead. 

I devote so much of my review to the characters because the characters and how they interact with each other and meet life’s challenges is the focus of A Dog’s Perfect Christmas. Everyone in this book has specific needs to be met. The family undergoes a major crisis that could have thrown them all into despair, but as they work to stand strong together through the big problem confronting them, there is healing and a renewing of family and spirit.

Dogs play a part in this story that dog lovers will enjoy, especially the thinking process in Winstead’s brain as he reacts to his “daddy” Sander’s moods and actions. If only there were a puppy, this would be a perfect Christmas story…

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction

Publication:   October 10, 2020—Forge

Memorable Lines:

He saw the tidal forces of rage fighting for control of Ello’s face. As a little girl, she had been able to charm her grandfather into reading her one book after another after another. Now, though, she’d morphed into this hideously unpleasant creature, spitting acidic venom.

Winstead and Ruby had already incorporated park visits into their bill of rights, and now gazed at Sander expectantly whenever he stood up out of his chair. They tracked him with eager intensity as he fetched their leashes, then bounded joyfully into the minivan, wrestling all the way to the park.

When Hunter released her, Ruby darted off with crazed energy, racing around the room in celebration, because puppies know how to celebrate everything.

Twins for the Mountain Firefighter–standing up for those you love

Twins for the Mountain Firefighter

by Melinda Curtis

Twins for the Mountain FirefighterThea Gayle, working on her PhD in textiles, takes on a job as a nanny for ten year old twin girls. When their truck driving, widowed dad is absent for two months without paying Thea’s salary or the apartment rent, Thea finds herself and the girls literally on the sidewalk in Seattle with their belongings. When Thea latches on to the mention of Uncle Logan, a mountain Hot Shot firefighter, she packs the girls and their possessions in her yellow VW Beetle and heads to Silver Bend, Idaho.

In the little town she discovers Logan, aka Tin Man because he “has no heart,” still in deep distress over the death of his twin sister Deb, the girls’ mother. He is having trouble coping with his grief, maintaining his challenging job, and caring for his aunt Glen who has declined rapidly both physically and mentally. Thea brings light into all of their lives, but she and Logan both had serious problems in their family backgrounds and wonder if they can overcome them to find happiness.

Melinda Curtis’ Twins for the Mountain Firefighter is clean and heartwarming, but it does address serious issues including abuse, abandonment, and trust. Although the series focuses on a crew of Hot Shots, there is more emphasis in this novel on relationships than on the actual firefighting. It has characters reaching deep into themselves to find strength, courage, and caring they never knew they had.

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Mountain Firefighter series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   March 16, 2020—Purple Papaya

Memorable Lines:

She swung her foot, causing a ripple from the bells attached to her shoes, reminding herself to believe in sunshine and happily-ever-afters, of dreams being achieved.

The distance between them and their goals suddenly seemed insurmountable. She and Logan operated on two different planes. He guarded himself from others with invisible plates of armor and wanted to be alone. She called people to her with color and sound.

His acerbic niece turned to face him. And suddenly, it wasn’t Deb’s face he saw in her scowl but his own. Here was more fallout of his actions, proving he was like a rock dropped into a pond, creating ripples where he shouldn’t.

Snowflakes over Holly Cove–reconciliation

Snowflakes over Holly Cove

by Lucy Coleman

Snowflakes over Holly CoveTia is facing her first Christmas without her mother. She also has a painful distancing from her brother Will and his family. She is returning to her job as a journalist after a breakdown, but as we see her take on a feature assignment in isolated Holly Cove, she is depicted as a strong and resilient woman.

As Lucy Coleman’s Snowflakes over Holly Cove unfolds, Tia finds herself in the middle of other familial dysfunctional relationships that include Clarissa, her successful but manipulative boss, and Nic, the owner of the house she is renting. She also meets Max, a reticent retired Navy officer who is her temporary neighbor. Everyone has secrets, and some of those secrets might tie the characters together.

There are many interesting, vying, plot threads as Tia interviews couples for her feature articles and tries to sort through what makes a relationship sustainable. The story ends with some surprising action scenes and lots of genuine moments of compassion and reconciliation. This is a novel that rises above the typical Christmas feel-good story; readers will appreciate its depth.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   September 18, 2018—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Strangely, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the window to marvel at the hostility of the sea. It’s a top to bottom, wall-to-wall steely greyness, that is like a blanket and it’s hard to see where the water ends and the sky begins.

“Money and possessions, I came to appreciate, create mistrust and envy. They bring out the worst in people.”

I truly believe that the spirit of Christmas is embodied in this room, today. It’s not about the gifts, or the amount of money you have to lavish on the occasion. It’s about the desire to make it special for other people and in doing so, it makes it special for you, too.

Night of Miracles–tales of sweetly intertwined lives

Night of Miracles

by Elizabeth Berg

Night of MiraclesOne of the most interesting things in the world is people. Elizabeth Berg created a gentle, touching world in The Story of Arthur Truluv. Then she expanded on the core characters, adding more characters that tie into one another in Night of Miracles. The chapters are short; the novel is a character driven set of tales of common people living out their interesting lives looking for meaning in the everyday circumstances and the extraordinary ones.

Arthur Truluv’s legacy of calmness and kindness lives on in the family he adopted. His neighbor Lucille’s legacy is the culinary wisdom she imparts during an age of “fast” everything. Neighbors Jason and Abby learn the importance of living in the present. Tiny and Monica learn to share the love that has been in front of them all along. The chapters bounce back and forth from one storyline to the next. This is one of those stories I had to keep reading. I read the last of the book with tissue in hand, not because it is tragic, but because there is sweet sadness in knowing that life keeps progressing toward an inevitable conclusion and we can find happiness by reaching out to share life with others.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: For those who enjoyed The Story of Arthur Truluv, this is not a sequel in the traditional sense. It takes a few of the characters from that book and builds a story around them. Although it could happen, I wouldn’t expect any more stories in this line. From my perspective the story has been told.

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Random House

Memorable Lines:

It was true what they told her on the first day of teachers’ college: you never forget some of your students. For Lucille, it was the cut-ups she could never keep from laughing at, the dreamers she had to keep reeling back into the classroom, and little Danny Matthews, with his ragged heart of gold.

At least Link loves to read. There’s always hope when a kid—or an adult, for that matter—likes to read.

All those years, and not one person that she had truly opened up to, or kept up with. Probably she expected her husband to be everything to her when it wasn’t his place to do that, even if he wanted to or could. Another thing she regrets: having made him feel that he was failing her when she was the one failing herself.

A Bridge for Christmas–rescuing with love

A Bridge for Christmas

by William Schwenn

A Bridge for ChristmasThe first part of A Bridge for Christmas is fairly easy going, setting the stage for a novel about a widower who shuffles through life a day at a time, apparently without purpose or direction. Dave finds himself adopting two dogs, and that one action changes his life. The plot progresses to include a low water bridge destroyed by flood, almost isolating Dave and a small group of his neighbors. There is also an introduction to several people with various approaches to animal rescue work.

Background set, the author William Schwenn picks up the pace, and Dave finds himself in the midst of a mysterious, secretive transport network for rescue dogs. Is the traditional North Carolina mountain community of Calvert County attracting a criminal element focused on dangerous drugs and horrible animal abuse? Will the Bear Creek Bridge be finished in time for Christmas relieving the residents of a one hour dangerous ride to get supplies and conduct business? Can Dave open up his heart to love again?

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Literary Fiction

Notes: This book contains a number of instances of swearing.

Publication:   August 6, 2018—Brighton Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Dave knew and loved the nature of dogs—they’d forget all about this in a day or two, and move on. Life for them was a fresh adventure every day. Win some, lose some, get confused by some, but no worries—tomorrow will be another day.

Tough mountain boys, Dave thought, and smiled gently. They’ll go through women and wives with the wind, reluctantly trade in trucks, but give up their dogs?

He always found it necessary to remind rookies in his department after their first encounter with particularly nasty elements of the human race, “Don’t think about it too much. Let the Almighty take care of His job, and let’s concentrate on doing ours. We’ll be busy enough with just that.”

Don’t Believe It–an unexpected murderer

Don’t Believe It

by Charlie Donlea

Don't Believe ItThere is so much to recommend in Don’t Believe It by Charlie Donlea. The initial setting is exotic: Sugar Beach in St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean. This mystery begins immediately with action and suspense. The main character, Sidney Ryan, is a smart, talented, ethical filmmaker. The documentary she is producing is presented almost in real time: the audience gets to learn the results of Sidney’s investigations and interviews in the same week they occur. Out of appeals, an old friend who has been incarcerated for murder for ten years in St. Lucia asks for Sidney’s help in drawing attention to her case as Sidney has done in three prior films that resulted in each instance in freeing the accused.

The story effectively jumps around to various locations and times and uses a variety of styles to convey the events. Designations for places and times  are clearly and helpfully added to the first of each chapter. The inclusion of documentary episodes based on interviews is very effective as a storytelling tool.

Don’t Believe It is fast-paced, and the author knows just where to break the chapters so the reader wants more. The mystery is engaging and suspenseful, and the various threads all come together in the end. There were a lot of plot inversions and surprises. I would rate this mystery highly until the end when the crime puzzle is solved, but there is no closure to two major threads. What is the point? Is the author being artsy by leaving the reader dangling? Perhaps he is letting the reader mentally finish the book according to the way the reader wants it to end. Maybe this open-endedness is preparation for a series. Whatever the reason, I was a happy reader for most of the book, disconcerted by but accepting of a sudden change in direction, and then unsettled by the ending. Charlie Donlea proved he has good skills as a mystery writer, and I would like to read more of his work to get a comprehensive feel for his talents.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Some swearing

Publication:   May 29, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

The detectives did exactly what they’re trained not to do. They picked a suspect first, and then looked for evidence that supported their theory. And the problem with investigating a crime in that manner is that any evidence they came across that didn’t support their theory was ignored or discarded.

But she had found over the years that inmates, deprived of just about every luxury in life, possessed a great deal of patience. They never expected anything to happen quickly, and took news of delays in much the same fashion as finding the bathroom stall occupied. They simply took a breath and waited.

If I could start my career over and take a path that more closely represented my interests, I’d do it in a second.

Lowcountry Bookshop–good intentions

Lowcountry Bookshop

by Susan M. Boyer

Lowcountry BookshopIn Lowcountry Bookshop, Susan M. Boyer outdoes her last cozy mystery which I thought was  good. In this book Liz Talbot and her husband Nate, both private investigators, are hired anonymously through an attorney to prove the innocence of a very sweet mail carrier who stopped at the scene of a hit and run. The plot is very complex and involves a group of women who try to help victims of domestic violence.

Watching Liz and Nate go about their business of investigating the crime and the people involved is very interesting. They have tools, disguises, and methods that they use to pursue the truth regardless of where it leads them.

In the middle of some pretty intense scenarios, there is a little comic relief as Liz’s family deals with a situation involving a Bassett hound, a pig with a broken leg, three escape artist goats, and a backyard dug in preparation for a swimming pool. As you can imagine, “Mamma ain’t happy” and everyone knows it.

Set in the Charlestown area of South Carolina, Lowcountry Bookshop features heat, humidity, and Southern charm. This mystery will keep you on your toes as you follow its complexities and guess who did it and why—right up until the end.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: 1.  #7 in the Liz Talbot Mystery Series but works as a standalone

2.  Slight paranormal aspect: One character is a helpful guardian spirit. Frankly, she contributes little to the solving of the mystery and could easily be removed without harming the plot.

Publication:   May 29, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Sunday morning arrived on air as thick as mamma’s gravy.

At five in the morning, it was already eighty-three degrees.

Everyone had baggage. Some of us had heavier bags than others.

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