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Penne Dreadful–a delicious cozy mystery

Penne Dreadful

by Catherine Bruns

Penne DreadfulA cozy mystery about a chef whose heritage and passion is Italian cuisine? Count me in! Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns is filled with food references from the beginning “Italians are passionate about almost everything in the world, and food is at the top of the list” to recipes for sauce, pizza, and stromboli at the end. In between, you will find a solid plot and interesting characters. 

Five weeks prior to the story’s action, Tessa’s husband, Dylan, was killed in a car accident. Tess walks around in a trance until she learns that the crash may not have been an accident and neither her husband nor her marriage was what she thought they were. Secrets and evil minded souls abound, and it seems her husband was one of them. The discovery jolts Tess out of her grieving stupor and into action putting herself and her friends in danger as she tries to uncover the truth.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Italian Chef Mystery Series

Publication:   July 30, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

Luigi’s V-8 engine noises continued while I filled his food dish with star-shaped kitty crunches, and then he couldn’t scramble out of my arms fast enough.

“…you don’t ever want to get on Izzy’s bad side. That broad has enough venom in her to make a snake jealous.”

That was one of the beauties about New York weather. It might be ninety degrees one day, and forty the next. Unpredictable, the same as life.

Cliff Hanger–plans that go awry

Cliff Hanger

by Mary Feliz

Cliff HangerAs Maggie McDonald and her family look forward to a working vacation at Monterey Bay, California, they could not imagine that it would turn into a nightmare. Sons David and Brian help rescue a crashed ultralight pilot, but their quick thinking and heroic actions could backfire in a legal maelstrom. 

In Mary Feliz’s Cliff Hanger, Maggie tries to protect her sons and accomplish her organizing job at the resort that hired her, but there are complications at every turn with farmers in conflict, possible drug running, and alien deportation. It’s hard to know who to trust so the family enlists the help of crime fighting friends from their hometown, Orchard View. Their pet golden retriever, Belle, and their friend Stephen’s service dog, Munchkin, a drooling mastiff, have large supporting roles and are a welcome addition to the character list.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground) 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 Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

  2. Each chapter begins with a tip for vacationing families from Maggie’s organizing notebook. Many of the ideas are helpful for daily car use or for those who live on the beach.

  3. In addition to formal tips for making life easier, the author weaves handy ideas into the body of the story as well as showing how a family can respond to stresses in a healthy way.

Publication:   July 16, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Books)

Memorable Lines:

“The tricky part will be managing the news outlets and social media. Their attacks can be swifter, harsher, and more reactionary than the law. Lucky for you, we’ve just hired two people who are experts in that arena. We all need to become adept at fending off slings and arrows in cyberspace.”

I shuddered, both in fear of the tales I’d heard of exploding methamphetamine labs and in sympathy for the people for whom near-slavery in the United States meant a better life than staying in the countries in which they’d been born. My skin prickled as my thoughts traveled from the desperate to those who preyed upon them.

Max placed a plate of warm cookies on the table. The fragrance lured David from his room, and we had a moment of silent appreciation of the stress-busting properties of chocolate and refined carbohydrates.

Thunder of Heaven–the power of love

Thunder of Heaven

by Ted Dekker

Thunder of HeavenIn reading Ted Dekker’s Thunder of Heaven, I deviated somewhat from the types of books I usually read. My thirteen year old granddaughter recommended this Christian thriller, and I wanted to gain insight into her reading preferences. Having said that, I should clarify that Thunder of Heaven is not written for the younger reader; it is an adult novel without the inclusion of sex or vulgar language. I do not normally read thrillers; but, although suspenseful, this is not the kind of psychological thriller which will keep me up for nights to come. 

Shannon and Tanya have grown up in the jungles of Venezuela where Shannon’s parents are coffee farmers and Tanya’s parents are missionaries. Their blooming romance and happy lives are interrupted by horrific events in this action packed story that focuses on good versus evil, the sacrifices of love, and God’s bigger plan.

I had some confusion with the identity of the characters, but it eventually surfaces that the confusion is intentional and is resolved in the end. The plot is strong and intricate. The Venezuela jungle setting is interesting, well depicted, and perfect for the tale Dekker weaves.

Thunder of Heaven deals with some of the bigger spiritual questions. Can God use evil for good? Can a person become possessed by satanic powers? Can a Christian have a vision from God? What is the ultimate sacrifice? The exploration of these topics is not simplistic and is woven throughout the book coming to a head in the resolution of the conflict.

I am new to Dekker’s work, but Dekker is not new to suspense aficionados. A best-selling author, he has written over thirty books which have been translated into multiple languages. Two of his works have been made into films. His chosen genres for his storytelling are thriller and suspense, fantasy and speculative, and historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by this author.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Thriller, Christian Fiction

Notes: Thunder of Heaven is book 3 of the Heaven Trilogy, but as the publisher says, “Each is a stand alone story that in no way depends on the other.”

Publication:   August 28, 2005—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“If your life made too much sense to you, you might forget about God altogether. It is man’s most prolific sin—to be full of himself. But your tormenting has left you soft, like a sponge for his words. It’s your greatest blessing.”

“We see only the terrible tragedy; he sees more. He sees the ultimate glory.”

Abdullah was no one to play with. His heart was the color of his eyes, Yuri thought. Black.

Father…dear God, I’m lost down here. Forgive me. I’m lost and lonely and confused. I hate this man and I hate that I hate him. And I don’t even know if that’s possible! What are you doing? What is your purpose here?

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

by Lysa Terkeurst

It's Not Supposed to be This WayWe all have had or will have painful, disconcerting times in our lives—times when we feel that life is not supposed to be the way it is. Lysa Terkeurst, in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, shares three major struggles she has been through over the course of a three year period. This book was written in the midst of these extremely hard times when the pain, both physical and emotional were still raw. She talks of her profound agony and grief in hopes that others will benefit from what she has learned and from having a friend walk alongside them through dark times. The despair we feel comes from disappointment which Lysa defines as the difference between our expectations of what life should be like and our reality.

Lisa had to face life-shattering, life-altering and potentially life-ending events with all of the usual questions. Why me? Why now? Regardless of the reader’s circumstances, they will be able to identify with the depth of Lysa’s pain even if the source is different.

This book is not a Hollywood style “tell all.” Lisa only shares enough of the details of her trials for the reader to understand that any one of these events could be more than a person could bear, and Lysa experiences three of them in a short timespan. She tells how she struggled against attacks from within and without and how leaning into God’s word and truth and love sustained her.

Lysa’s writing style is honest and accessible. She is a Bible teacher who has applied the truths of the Bible to her unique circumstances but is also able to show how they apply to anyone who feels that life is not supposed to be the way they are experiencing it. With chapter titles like “But How Do I Get Through the Next 86,400 Seconds,” you know that Lysa “gets it.” She understands just how making it through the tiny portions of one day can constitute a huge struggle.

Each chapter concludes with a “Going to the Well” section that summarizes the major points, provides related Scripture references, and offers questions to reflect on. She ends it with a heartfelt, from-the-soul prayer as she continues reaching out to and trusting in God, the source of her strength for the ache in her soul.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Also available, a video teaching series for this book

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.

No, I believe it took every bit of holy restraint within Him to not step in and remove my pain. He loved me too much to do the very thing I was begging Him to do. He knew things I didn’t know. He saw a bigger picture I couldn’t see. His mercy was too great. His love too deep.

The thrashing winds of the storm are gone, but the consequences make it impossible to return to something that feels normal. We make brief visits to normal, but there’s a lot of emotional debris to which we must tend. Little by little, we make progress in the two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way.

Dead of Winter–being there for others

Dead of Winter

by Annelise Ryan

Dead of WinterAs snowstorm after snowstorm blows through the U.S., I am reading about similar circumstances in Wisconsin where Mattie Winston, a medico-legal death investigator and former OR and ER nurse, is involved in several cases. The primary focus of Dead of Winter by Annelise Ryan is the brutal death of a teenage girl whose little sister is also missing. In addition, Mattie has to investigate the death of the director of a local theater group which includes Dom who is her friend, the partner of her boss, and also the caregiver for her son.

The investigation of all three crimes moves along at a pace that is frustrating to those involved, especially locating the missing child who is obviously in danger. Interwoven with the professional issues is Mattie’s personal life with her husband, his teenage daughter, and their two-year old son. The little one is a challenge if left alone even briefly. Mattie juggles motherhood with a part-time job that holds full-time intensity.

I originally thought, when I read my first book (#8) in this series that the descriptions at the morgue would be too graphic for me. Because the setting is one of compassion from the coroner, the EMT’s, and the law enforcement officers, that was not the case. I appreciate the author’s ability to show how those who are tasked with solving crimes and helping victims are able to work their cases, maintain their personal relationships, and perform daily necessary tasks. Balancing all of those roles must be very difficult. Clues don’t always pan out. Sometimes even strong people get sick. Kids can misbehave at the most inopportune of times. Lovers quarrel. But the author shows how those we depend on show up and do their best regardless of the chaos in their own lives.

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: #10 in the Mattie Winston Mystery Series, but the author encapsulates the series background handily for the new reader.

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Kensington Press

Memorable Lines:

“It seems easy at first because you’re so in love with a person, and you feel like you’d be willing to sacrifice anything, do anything, be anything, just so you can be with them. But eventually the shiny finish on that new relationship wears off, revealing the rust and dull metal beneath. And after a while, you start to question how much of yourself you’re willing to give up to make someone else happy.”

…he’s as nervous as a blind man navigating a floor covered with thumbtacks…”

Amazing that so much beauty can come out of all that meteorological fury.

Broken Heart Attack–good series

Broken Heart Attack

by James J. Cudney

broken heart attackThe best way for me to describe the beginning of Broken Heart Attack is “hyperactive,” a label which is meant to be descriptive, not positive or negative. Author James J. Cudney packs a lot into the first several chapters as he brings readers up to speed on the events in the first book of the series and introduces a complex plot with a lot of characters.

The main mystery of Broken Heart Attack centers around the Paddington family, murder, and a missing will. Unfortunately, the Paddington family is quite dysfunctional, and there is not one member of the family that I could relate to or invest myself in. In other words, by the end of the book, I really didn’t care who the murderer was.

A side issue to the murder is a paternity case. Other stories that affect the main character, Kellan, continue from the first book but make little progress: the reappearance of a presumed dead wife, conflict with co-worker Myriam, a potential love triangle involving friends Connor and Maggie, and a possible softening in his relationship with Sheriff Montague.

I purchased this book; it was not an advance copy. Therefore, I was surprised to see a number of errors. Some were obviously a case of  autocorrect gone wrong, some were spelling, and some were, more egregiously, pronoun usage. This is particularly startling because the author rarely has errors in his posted book reviews.

On the positive side, Nana D continues to provide humor and Kellan is a likeable character. Would I read another book in this cozy mystery series? Absolutely! I would particularly like to see what happens as Kellan is pressured by his wife’s mob family, the Castiglianos. I would urge the author to write the next book at a less frenetic pace with more character development. He has the beginnings of a good series with interesting plots and a college setting that provides a background with multiple possibilities. The Braxton Campus Mystery Series definitely has a lot of potential.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be more fun in sequence.

Publication:   November 25, 2018—Creativia

Memorable Lines:

I loved my nana, but her friends were harder to handle than standing upside down catching a greasy pig in a mud slide.

Eustacia and Nana D had some sort of symbiotic relationship where they often couldn’t stand to be around one another but if ever two days went by without time for tea or gossip, the world might’ve come to an end.

I woke up Thursday morning with a hangover so painful my head had put out a foreclosure sign.

‘Twas the Knife Before Christmas–a Christmas cozy mystery

’Twas the Knife Before Christmas

by Jacqueline Frost

'Twas the Knife Before ChristmasI have to applaud Jacqueline Frost for ’Twas the Knife Before Christmas, the second book in her Christmas Tree Farm Mysteries. Full of the Christmas spirit, it is a fun read and a delightful cozy mystery. The story begins with an introduction to the engaging town of Mistletoe, the main character Holly, and the setting of Reindeer Games which is Holly’s family’s Christmas tree farm. Unfortunately, a murder is discovered at a very Christmasy unveiling. Holly is determined to find the murderer who is also trying to frame Holly’s friend Caroline. Sheriff Evan Gray is equally determined to keep Holly alive despite her dangerous investigative efforts.

’Twas the Knife Before Christmas is a solid mystery with interesting and well-developed characters. The plot has twists and turns, some romance, and a little Christmas magic, making it a cozy mystery you won’t want to miss this Christmas season.

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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Christmas Tree Farm Mystery Series but works well as a standalone.

Publication:  November 13, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

…she’d taught me to love art the way she loved life: voraciously and with spirit.

Unfortunately, Mom and I also shared a soft personality. We were bleeding hearts, givers of fifteenth chances, and avid avoiders of conflict, at least when the problem only concerned ourselves. Basically, we’d fight black bears with our hands for someone else, then let the bear eat us if we thought he was hungry.

The homes in Derek’s neighborhood were oversized and overpriced. It was the kind of place where people with four-car attached garages parked outside all summer just to show off their vehicles and further inflate their already out-of-control egos.

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