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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.

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut–explosive action

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut

by Sarah Graves

Death by Chocolate Frosted DoughnutJake and Ellie continue to make delightful chocolate goodies at The Chocolate Moose when they are not being shot at, run off the road, or drowned. In Sarah Graves’ Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut, there is more than enough action, some strong female characters you will want to see survive, lots of suspects, and some confusing motives. I could relate more to the chocolate than the many nautical references which are, in fact,  extremely important to the plot.

Jake lives in an old home bursting at the seams with extended family. Her sidekick Ellie is instrumental and often the leader in Jake’s dangerous investigations. As you read about the remote town of Eastport, Maine, where Jake put down roots twenty years before, you can understand why she decided to stay. As autumn closes in, the town is hosting the Eastport Pirate Festival which draws a huge tourist trade and, in this case, provides the perfect atmosphere for explosive action.

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.This is #3 in the Death by Chocolate Mystery Series, but the author does an excellent job of supporting the reader so that this book can be a standalone.

  2. The book concludes with a recipe for Double-Chocolate Ginger Cookies, featuring chocolate chips, white chocolate, and crystallized ginger.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

His face, furrowed and grooved by age and the outdoors, was like something you might find carved into an old tree trunk, and his grip had felt as tough as bark.

I took a gulp of my hot drink and felt the brandy molecules percolating through my collapsed brain cells, reviving them. Or at least making them dance around very happily indeed, which was enough for me at the moment.

She was an overbearing old fussbudget, our Bella, but she would have stepped in front of a freight train for any one of us.

The Confession Club–baring your soul

The Confession Club

by Elizabeth Berg

The Confession ClubAs a group of women, representative of all ages, convene each week, we get a glimpse into their pasts and their presents, their hopes and dreams for the future. The members of the Confession Club eat, drink, talk, laugh, and cry as they share their most secret moments with each other. There is joy and also an underlying sadness as we experience poignant moments of human desires and frailties. The meetings tie together the characters; but their stories extend into other chapters, and their lives overlap outside the club and with others who are not a part of the group.

My favorite characters are Iris, who teaches a baking class, and Maddy, Iris’ landlady. I also enjoyed Maddy’s daughter, Nola, a precocious seven year old with an insatiable appetite for learning, life, and fun. Although unstated, a current flows through the book pointing to the concern that  everyone is going through something. The characters are realistically portrayed with frailties and strengths that make you want to know them. The Confession Club by Elizabeth Berg is a quick read with a tale that draws you in and keeps you coming back. Berg is a master of both storytelling and language, This is the third book I have read by her, and it just makes me want to return to the well of literary magic found in her writing.

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: General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: Though I wouldn’t officially consider this a series, there are characters and references in it that originate in The Story of Arthur Truluv and Night of Miracles. It is certainly not necessary to read either to enjoy The Confession Club.

Publication:   November 19, 2019—Random House

Memorable Lines:

“They’re snobby. The displays are so fancy you don’t feel you can touch them. You stand in front of the cheeses and it’s like they’re whispering to one another about you, in French.”

The filing of citizenry out from coffee shops always reminds Iris of cattle coming out of a barn in the morning, in their slow, blinking line. Not the most flattering of images, but for her, it’s calming, suggesting a kind of optimism about at least one thing in the world. A new day. A new start.

She envies Nola for the way she is always in a rush to do everything, the way she rises so quickly to the possibility of joy. Most of all, she envies Nola her default setting of goodwill toward man, beast, or weather.

Snowflakes at Mistletoe Cottage–treasuring Grandma’s recipes

Snowflakes at Mistletoe Cottage

by Kate Ginger

Snowflakes at Mistletoe CottageIf you enjoy a book that starts with personal disaster and ends in triumph, a tale with sadness underlying humor, and a story that emphasizes the good in people, you will have an enjoyable read with Snowflakes at Mistletoe Cottage. Esme Kendrick is a food technologist; she creates the delectable dishes shown on the famous Felicity Fenchurch’s cooking show. Esme’s life is headed for disaster, however, when she stands up against the theft of her beloved grandmother’s recipes and her long time boyfriend has a less than pleasant surprise for her—all in the same day.

She heads home to Sandchester in defeat, but regroups determined to find success. Fortunately, her lovable and crazy (in a fun way) parents are supportive as are a small group of quirky friends who drive in from London periodically. Esme is a likable character, but you may find yourself yelling at her periodically to stop as she heads for catastrophe.

Will she return to her controlling ex-boyfriend? Can she help her teenage crush recover from a past that haunts him? Is it possible to create a successful blog and find happiness outside of bustling London? Can Esme layer up enough clothes to survive the winter in quaint, but unheated Mistletoe Cottage? Join a cadre of happy readers as you immerse yourself in this Christmasy read that is perfect for any season of the year.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: Contains some bad language, including British vulgarisms

Publication:   October 11, 2019—HQ Digital

Memorable Lines:

This was why Esme loved cooking so much. It was history, their history. It meant her grandma who had helped her through so much, whose loss she had felt so deeply, would never be forgotten if her recipes were still being cooked, and the love that went into them still existed.

“If I lived near him I’d key his car—”   “He doesn’t own a car, Mum. No one does in London.”   “Well then, I’d put itching powder in his underpants and cut the arms and legs off all his suits.”   Esme suppressed a smile. “Has Dad only stayed married to you all these years because he’s too scared to leave?”

Life was a large dark hole that she was falling deeper and deeper into, and at the moment there didn’t seem to be a bottom, or a way back to the top. She was just tumbling endlessly downwards.

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit–knitting with friends

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit

by Peggy Ehrhart

Silent Knit, Deadly KnitVarious cozy mystery series stand out for special strengths. The strong point might be humor, breathtaking setting, fast pace, intricate plot, or interesting characters. Peggy Ehrhart’s Knit & Nibble Mystery Series is different from most in its genre. The main character, Pamela, is calmer. The pace is slower. The descriptions of everyday life are more detailed. And somehow the combination works. Ehrhart’s latest mystery, Silent Knit, Deadly Knit, is no exception. Set in the Christmas season, we get to join Pamela, her daughter Penny who is home from college, and their friends and neighbors as they celebrate the Christmas season while trying to discover who murdered their friend.

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit provides a nice break from the overly sweet seasonal romances. The characters are not depicted as saints. Pamela  struggles with letting her daughter gain her independence. Bettina pushes her friend Pamela to make a connection with a single neighbor. The plot does not get lost in all the character interaction, however. There are deadly doings in little Arborville, and Pamela and her friends are caught up in the action. My favorite character is Bettina’s retired husband, Wilfred—always a helpful gentleman, but never stuffy.

As the crime is being solved, Pamela and the reader work through various theories. When the character who appears to be the murderer is found murdered, the investigation takes a whole new direction resulting in a surprise ending.

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 Knit & Nibble Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone!

  2. At the end of the book, there is a recipe for a poppy seed cake and directions for knitting fingerless gloves.

Publication:   October 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

A soft form stirred at her feet, migrated up the side of her leg, and inched its way delicately across her torso. It eased its head out from under the down comforter that Pamela used on chilly winter nights. Two amber eyes stared at her from a heart-shaped face covered with silky jet-black fur.

Pamela was a kind person, but she occasionally enjoyed the slight feeling of power that came from having a secret to share. Bettina’s lips, which today were a shade of deep orange that matched her coat, curved into a tiny smile that acknowledged she knew she was being strung along.

It was tempting, especially at holidays, to imagine a past in which joy had been unalloyed. But Pamela knew she’d been happy about some things, worried about others then too, just like now.

Death by Jack-O’-Lantern–vets helping vets

Death by Jack-O’-Lantern

by Alexis Morgan

Death by Jack-O'-LanternOstensibly a Halloween cozy mystery, Death by Jack-O’-Lantern by Alexis Morgan is so much more. In addition to a great mystery, there is a budding romance between Tripp Blackson and his landlady Abby McCree and lots of small town activity as Snowberry Creek in the Pacific Northwest pulls together to make their Halloween Festival a success. In the midst of a murder investigation, pumpkins carved to resemble townspeople crop up all over town, produced by an anonymous artist. There are lots of supportive new friends for Abby as she tries to settle into her new town, but there are also some puzzling characters. The overarching serious questions are important ones: How can we help returning veterans with PTSD? To what extent does a person go to help and protect his friend?

Abby goes too far in her investigations, stirring up danger for herself and anger in Tripp and the local law enforcement officers as they fear for her safety. Zeke, her mastiff mix, plays a recurring role as her buddy and protector. Abby, an excellent manager and organizer, spends a lot of her time coordinating volunteers for several committees. She also loves to bake, especially for her friends, and to consume copious amounts of caffeinated coffee and sweet treats.

I enjoyed this top notch cozy mystery, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series. Kudos to the author as this story’s ending was one I didn’t see coming!

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: #2 in the Abby McCree Mystery Series. It would be OK to read as a standalone, but I think it would be more enjoyable if you read #1 in the series first.

Publication:   August 27, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Connie has a real talent for ‘volunteering’ people. I swear, you walk into city hall to ask a simple question about property taxes and somehow walk out in charge of a major town event. You’re even grateful for the chance to help out.”

Abby used artificial sweetener in her coffee to help compensate for the huge chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies she’d ordered. Yeah, it was a bit silly, but logic didn’t play a big part in her need for chocolate in times of stress.

She’d let Zeke outside for his usual morning patrol around the yard, but he hadn’t come trotting back in to inhale his breakfast…When she finally spotted him, her heart almost broke. He was sitting on Tripp’s front porch and staring at the door as if sheer determination would make his friend appear. How on earth was she supposed to explain to him that his buddy had been locked up in the people pound?

Sconed to Death–another fun writers’ retreat

Sconed to Death

by Lynn Cahoon

Sconed to DeathIt’s hard not to want to be Cat Latimer. Who wouldn’t enjoy living in a small Colorado college town far enough from Denver to avoid the big city traffic but close enough for occasional trips for shopping and dining? Oh, to completely own a large Victorian house where you can write in a third floor turret and host periodic writers’ retreats! What satisfaction in sharing your business with your best friend who manages the household and cooks gourmet foods for you on a daily basis. She also feeds breakfast to the retreat guests while keeping the retreat stocked with drinks and homemade goodies. The only thing better would be to reconnect with your handsome, very nice, high school heartthrob who can landscape, perform handyman jobs, and chauffeur guests to the airport. Cat has it all!

In this engaging mystery, Cat’s guests are a group of cozy mystery writers from Chicago. They thoroughly enjoy their week at the retreat with an additional day devoted to cooking lessons by resident chef Shauna who is also writing a cookbook. I think I gained ten pounds just reading about all the delicious cookies they consumed.

The murder of a famous Denver chef is the central focus of Lynn Cahoon’s Sconed to Death. What is he even doing in little Aspen Hills and who would want to kill him? Despite Uncle Pete’s warning to stay out of the investigation, Cat finds herself asking questions and using her online research skills to assess motives and alibis. Look out for a dramatic surprise ending to this page turner that’s sure to appeal to mystery lovers and especially cozy aficionados.

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. #5 in the Cat Latimer Mystery Series, but works quite well as a standalone as Lynn Cahoon has a talent for bringing the reader up to date without boring.

  2. Includes a recipe for Cranberry Scones.

Publication:  May 28, 2019—Kensington 

Memorable Lines:

“So, cozy mysteries? What are those?” Seth had finished the paper and pushed it into the center of the table as he finished his breakfast. “Low on gore, low on sex, high on fun.”

The trees were just starting to drop leaves and the crunch of dried leaves under her feet made her think about all things autumn. Chilly nights with a bonfire. Hot chocolate in the evening by the fire. More time to read. All these memories made her happy.

She took a big bite of the pasta. This was one of her favorite dishes that Shauna made, and yet, today, it tasted like sawdust. She kept her head down and willed away the tears.

Silent Footsteps–admirer or stalker?

Silent Footsteps

by Jo Bannister

Silent FootstepsHazel Best, a personable young constable with aspirations to be a detective, finds herself the focus of an admirer turned stalker. The investigation heats up when the stalker enter her home and later her friend Ash is bludgeoned. Saturday, a young man Hazel befriended, suddenly reappears in Norbold, having gotten his life together. There are two murders that are possibly related to Hazel’s stalker, but no one knows how the events could all be tied together. As tension mounts, Hazel’s friends and even a local businessman with a dark background gather around to support and protect her. It is a race against time as Hazel and her friends try to identify the mysterious attacker.

A fun part of this book is Patience, Ash’s very likable lurcher. Ash is gradually overcoming the town view of him as mentally unstable. At one time he earned the nickname “Rambles With Dogs,” but has since tried to rein in his public dialogues with Patience. Ironically, he does, in fact, talk to his dog, and Patience replies but only Ash can hear her.

Silent Footsteps is a police procedural that will keep you turning pages as the police investigate the various threads to try to make sense of them. The characters are interesting and continue to develop in this latest mystery. I figured out the murderer before Hazel, her friends, or the police did, but that is understandable considering the timing of the revelation of various facts. This discovery in no way mitigated my enjoyment as I still had to anticipate a resolution—and it was quite surprising.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best Mystery Series. I have only read one other mystery in this series. This book works quite well as a standalone, although I must admit it makes me want to read the first books in the series to get more understanding of the characters. That does not take away from the mystery at all, however.

Publication:   May 1, 2019—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

“You’re far too honest to be any good at it,” said Ash. “Spies have to be able to lie convincingly. You lie as convincingly as my eight-year-old when the biscuit barrel is empty and there are crumbs on his T-shirt.”

With the best will in the world, Ash in a blonde wig was never going to be mistaken for a twenty-eight-year-old policewoman. There wasn’t enough rope in Norbold to suspend disbelief that far.

“…the sheep people are constantly trying to keep their stock from committing suicide. Dropping dead from no appreciable cause is the average sheep’s highest goal in life.”

Staging is Murder–when less is more

Staging is Murder

Staging is Murder

Laura Bishop has quit her boring IT job, but still has debts to pay off from her mother’s illness and funeral. She has allowed herself one year to make a success of a new staging business, helping people prepare their homes to look their best for resale. Her friend Nita, whose large Italian family “adopted” Laura years ago, is the “Lucy” to Laura’s “Ethel” as they try to solve a murder and free Tyrone, Laura’s assistant in the business. There are lots of suspects, and my heart was in my throat when Laura decided to confide in one of them as I felt sure he was the murderer. Was he? Why did someone want Laura to stop investigating? Will she be able to discover the murderer before he or she strikes again? Grace Topping’s Staging is Murder is a good start to a new cozy mystery series. Read it to answer all these questions and to learn if her first staging job is a success or a flop.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #! in the Laura Bishop Mystery Series

  2. Staging tips are included in each chapter.

Publication:  April 30, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Also, trying to find the time to help him while meeting my staging deadline was creating havoc with my stress level. I needed physical activity. Either that or lots of chocolate.

I wasn’t cut out to be Nancy Drew. With nerves like mine, I couldn’t sit comfortably through a scary movie much less play detective in real life.

“Here, I brought you a Snickers—the staff of life.”

The Library of Ever–unforgettable library adventures

The Library of Ever

by Zeno Alexander

The Library of EverLenora is a rich, privileged, eleven year old, cared for by a nanny in the absence of her vacationing, neglectful parents. With a nanny absorbed by shopping and tech devices, Lenora is understandably bored, but that changes quickly when she escapes the nanny’s unwatchful eye in the LIBRARY. To her delight, she is hired to work there. What follows is a series of magical librarian adventures. With each one of them, Lenora proves her worth and advances from Fourth Assistant Apprentice Librarian up through the ranks.

The adventures are fun and scary in this amazing library created by Zeno Alexander in The Library of Ever. Lenora is set on tasks by Malachi, the Chief Answerer, and she bravely confronts the Forces of Darkness who want to destroy Light in the world by destroying knowledge. The scary features are appropriate to Middle Grade readers with transporting by tubes, shrinking and unshrinking, dark caverns, holes that suddenly appear, evil men in bowler hats who can chill a room, and robots with spinning swords for arms.  There are lighter moments too. Lenora becomes a cat in a diorama to rescue a lost kitten. Lenora is ever helpful, for as a librarian that is her job. Her good deeds include resettling a colony of penguins and helping a kindly robot find a lost memory. The plot moves quickly from adventure to adventure and is an appropriate length for Middle Grade readers. As an adult reader I enjoyed it too, smiling over antics and anticipating each new adventure along with each promotion for Apprentice Librarian Lenora who has always enjoyed the adventures to be found in books.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Middle Grades

Notes: Ages: 8-11

  Grades: 4-7

Publication:  April 30, 2019—Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

Malachi burst onto the scene looking rather disheveled, meaning a wisp of hair had escaped from her bun and her badge was ever so slightly askew.

“This isn’t the Complaints Desk,” said Lenora shortly. “The Complaints Desk is down the stairs, across the hall, over the bridge, past the waterfall, then you take the fifth left after the third right and straight on ’til morning.” Lenora had no idea if there was a Complaints Desk. “You’ll also need ice skates.”

Remember, Lenora, you are not alone in this fight, even if it will feel like that sometimes. You have allies, and you can rely on them to help you with the battles you are not yet ready to fight.

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