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The Snow Bear–the old ways are disappearing

The Snow Bear

by Holly Webb

Illustrated by Artful Doodlers

The Snow BearDo you want to share information about the Arctic with the children in your life in an engaging way? The Snow Bear by Holly Webb is a great way to do it. Sara goes to visit her grandfather who lives on a cliffside in Canada. As it snows, he talks with Sara about going to the Arctic when he was a boy with his father to record the life and customs of the Inuits living in the Arctic as Sara’s great-grandfather could already see the old ways disappearing.

When Sara goes to bed that night, she dreams herself into the stories Grandpa told her and has her own experiences which bring the Arctic to life for her. She rescues a cub, falls into a crevasse, and shares a warming Inuit soup.

The Snow Bear is a chapter book. I think children would benefit from reading this with an adult as they look at a map of the Arctic and discuss the terms used. An Internet search of corresponding images for items such as “Arctic tern” and “quilliq” would be helpful too. Although the story is fictional, there is much information included.

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

Rating:  5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  1. The illustrations did not show up well in my Advanced Reader Copy, but the sample line drawings shown on Amazon were perfect for this story.

  2. This is the first book I have read by Holly Webb, but I discovered she is a prolific children’s author with books suitable for all the various ages. 

  3. I also learned that Artful Doodlers is responsible for many of the illustrations that children’s book lovers cherish.

  4. This book is part of a Wintry Tales Series.

Publication:   October 1, 2019— Myrick Books/Tiger Tales

Memorable Lines:

“That’s why we went. We wanted to record it all, before it changed forever.”

…the nearest dog, who was curled up in the snow, with his tail wrapped tightly around his nose and his paws. Sara had never seen a dog curl up so small—he looked almost like a cat. “They can sleep through a blizzard like that. And they have to stay out—they’re our guard dogs, too. They let us know if there’s a polar bear around.”

“We always share what we have,” Alignak said, sounding almost surprised. “Food belongs to everyone who needs it.”

Let It Snow–love, snow, and family

Let It Snow

by Sue Moorcroft

Let It SnowCome along for a peek at a British view of Christmas and snow with side trips to Switzerland where Lily and the Middletones, a motley crew of adults and teens, really experience snow with accumulated depth. They embark on a trip that displays the musical talents of the informal singing group as well as Lily’s work as an exhibition artist at a Swiss Christmas Market in Sue Moorcroft’s Let It Snow.

There are lots of complex relationships to watch develop. The back story is critical as Lily and Zinnia are sisters with two “mums,” Patsie and Roma, a situation that caused them grief from classmates as children and later from other adults. Zinnia’s biological father was an anonymous sperm donor, but Lily discovers as an adult that her conception was the result of a heterosexual affair between her mother and a much older man. Her desire to meet her other family upsets both her mothers and her sister, and she is fearful of how her brothers will respond to meeting her. Lily’s family situation gets tied into the pub she works at part time and her business endeavors in Switzerland. Lily has a romantic entanglement with Isaac, the temporary manager of the pub. Their relationship gets complicated when Isaac’s ex re-enters the picture.

I enjoyed watching the intermingling of lives and surprising conflicts that prove to make the story even more interesting. Moorcroft is a master of enticement with setting and mood. I really wanted to be at that Swiss Christmas Market with expensive cuckoo clocks and chocolates. I had visions of hot chocolate, bratwurst, and fondue (but not all at the same time) transferring to my tastebuds. When Lily stood up for herself, I was proud. When she was in physical or emotional pain, I felt for her. Lots of good outcomes make for a happy conclusion, but this tale is close enough to life that not everyone experiences a fairytale ending.

An added bonus to this story is the inclusion of some excitable kids—it is Christmas, after all. An equally enthusiastic Dalmatian named Doggo  accompanies his humans to Switzerland and is quite accommodating to whatever adventures come his way.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Publication:   September 26, 2019—Avon Books (U.K.)

Memorable Lines:

Feelings don’t always take account of right or logic or justice. They come from inside and sometimes they’re all that matter.

As they reached the car park, fresh flakes of snow began, stinging skin like love bites from the Snow Queen.

‘Pretty,’ Lily breathed, eyes reflecting the thousand lights suspended like stars in the night sky above rows of stalls like little red chalets with snow on the roofs. Each stall glittered with stars and lanterns so the entire market seemed luminous.

Where Have I Been? U.S.A. Bound!

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Over the last few months, I have been implementing a huge change in my life. For the last six years, my husband and I have been living in México most of each year. We initially moved to Ajijic, Jalisco, where the climate is close to ideal. Unfortunately, it was like living in Little America, rather than México, with so many expatriates from Canada and the United States. After two years, we took the plunge and moved to the mountains of Pátzcuaro, Michoacán.  We spent four years there in a quiet, rural, gated community, learned a little Spanish, and enjoyed the culture and the kind people we encountered.

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Ajijic, Jalisco, México–our “yard” was a tropical garden

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Our house in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, México

We are now in a different season of our lives. A four day trip with two dogs in tow, twice a year, has become increasingly difficult physically and more stressful. If you are following the news, you know that the trek is also fraught with dangers from cartel activity and random acts of violence. Mexican drivers are generally untrained and adhere to their own set of rules. My husband and I are both licensed to drive ALL vehicles in Mexico including semi-tractor trailers, merely because we paid a fee. A bribe was not involved. On our last trip  north, we witnessed the aftermath of several different accidents involving multiple trucks. It was sadly clear that some drivers would not be retuning to their families—ever. Road hazards include often unmarked and unexpected speed bumps called topes on the highway, drivers converting a two-way, two-lane road into a three and a half lane road according to custom, and small herds grazing unfettered. Due to these dangers, as well as the increased potential for criminal activities, the general recommendation is to not drive at night.

So now, we anticipate winters in Farmington, New Mexico, and summers in Chama, New Mexico. To travel between houses we have a two and one-half hour drive rather than four days. We can enjoy either house whenever we choose, dependent only on snow conditions. We are already getting involved in local activities that in México we would not have participated in due to language limitations. Great shopping is available seven minutes away rather than one hour. We feel free to drive to restaurants and civic events at night.

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Farmington, NM

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Chama, New Mexico

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Chama in the summer

We enjoyed our time in México and the everyday challenges of living in a different culture and communicating in a different language. We will miss friends we made in Ajijic and Pátzcuaro. It was not easy to arrange the movement of some possessions and decide what to leave behind. We also wanted to return with some mementos of México to decorate our new home.

I don’t know what the future holds for us. Perhaps more community and church involvement, excursions in the Four Corners area to explore ancient Native American cultures, motorcycle trips from our two home bases, time to explore our hobbies and, after life settles down a little for us and for some of the countries we would like to visit, maybe some trips abroad. Argentina has terrific Italian food!

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The border

I did a happy dance and a cheer as I crossed the international border and felt the immediate relief of having survived the journey and the elation of being home again. It was an oddly different feeling from returning to the U.S. for a few months as in the past. “Welcome home,” the border seemed to say: home, sweet home. 

To my fellow bloggers:

I was more or less (más o menos) without Internet for a month during this transition. Internet was installed for us about a week ago. I have over 600 emails to deal with, and I have only rarely been able to post on my blog. Even my reading has slowed way down. Please forgive my absence, and be patient as I try to establish a new normal at the same time that I review books I have already committed to. I am looking forward to reading your posts and reviews again. I will still occasionally write posts about my experiences in México and my views on education. 

As a bellwether for my productivity in the immediate future, I should note that I started writing this post a week ago. Much to my frustration, life has not settled down yet as we still have purchases to make, installations to schedule, and so many decisions to make. I must declare, however, that all of this is easier in my home language, and I am enjoying that change. 

It Won’t Be Christmas Without You–white Christmas in England

It Won’t Be Christmas Without You

by Beth Reekles

It Won't Be Christmas Without YouCara and Eloise are twins in Beth Reekles’ It Won’t Be Christmas Without You. The author never tells if they are identical twins or not, but they are certainly different in personality. Cara is a workaholic, driven to earn an early promotion. She feels she has always had to work extra hard to achieve grades and jobs. Eloise is a teacher and success in school and in finding her first job comes easier for her. She, however, always feels lacking in the friendship department.

This year Eloise’s world is turned upside down as their parents announce that they will take a beach vacation on what is Eloise’s favorite holiday, Christmas. Cara decides she may opt out of their traditional celebration also in favor of working. The conflict in the book revolves around the tension between the siblings as they move closer to December 25. Both of the twins become involved in romantic relationships with likable young men. 

The chapters move along a timeline which is a countdown to Christmas. It was a quick read, but I never felt fully invested in the characters. I was more of an outsider looking in on the action. I enjoyed learning about some mentioned British foods: roasties, bacon sarnies, and the sweet treats of individual, packaged mince pies, Celebrations, and Roses.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (A), Romance

Notes: Contains a lot of British Vulgarisms

Publication:   August 30, 2019—HarperCollins (One More Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

Wow. She’d actually done it. She’d gone for the blackmail card. Guilting her twin with her own broken heart.

But it did mean she was lacking in experience when it came to relationship problems. Like what to do when you think your boyfriend is lying to you. (Google wasn’t very helpful, when she asked it.)

The burn on the back of her forearm she’d got an hour ago was still red and angry, so she slapped a little Savlon on it. Salon would cure everything that a good cup of tea couldn’t, she was convinced.

Except Christmas.

Nothing could fix this Christmas.

Trip North of the Border

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Bienvenido a Casa!

Welcome Home!

This little lady and about 20 more greeted us on our arrival at our cabin in Northern New Mexico last week.20190402_155707_resized

We have returned a little early due to some events north and south of the border.  It is not the pretty scene of midwinter with everything covered in a white snowy dress. The  display is piles of dirty snow, some ponds where there were none, and muddy areas with deer prints. Although it is not pretty, it is a welcome relief from the drought of recent years. As soon as the temps rise, we should see a lot of green as the trees and grass spring to life.

But backtracking a little, we had four long days of travel with 2 dogs in tow to get from the middle of Mexico to Northern New Mexico. We spent 3 hours inching along in our manual transmission pickup at the border crossing into the U.S. Here are a few pictures of the Plaza de las Culturas (Plaza of Cultures) as you exit Mexico at Tres Piedras to cross over into Eagle Pass. We have crossed there before, but I hadn’t really noticed the replicas of ancient temples, because in the past we had zipped right past them.

One highlight of the trip for me was the small Texas town of Eldorado. On our trips from New Mexico to east Texas, we have fun finding the doughnut shops as we pass through little towns. We don’t eat at all of them, but Eden, for example, has delicious fresh doughnuts. On this trip, the doughnut shop in Eldorado appeared to be closed. As my husband turned around to tell me the bad news, a sheriff’s vehicle pulled in. We had a friendly conversation, and he shared that the doughnut shop was now part of the liquor store in town. He not only gave us directions, but when I pulled out to go there, I found he was at the stop light waiting for us and gave us an escort! As in many small towns, for purposes of survival, the shop (called A’s) was not only a doughnut and liquor store but also a short order grill and convenience store with some of the nicest owners you would want to meet. Texas friendliness at its best! 

As we were leaving town, we pulled over for GPS adjustments and I hopped out and snapped some gorgeous 

Bluebonnets!

As my lack of inactivity on my own blog and those I follow demonstrates, the last few weeks have been hectic–preparing for the trip, making the journey, and transitioning into life in the U.S. again. I am so far behind, that I will probably alleviate the stress of unread blogs by deleting most of my email notices. My apologies. The good news is that, perhaps, due to a new tower and Internet provider in my rural area, I may actually have a good connection this summer. I am currently using a loaner device and it is fabulous. Under past “normal” conditions, I would be unable to make this blog post. If my actual connection is only half of what I am currently getting, I will still be happy. I find I have less time in the U.S. for reading and reviewing as I have a different lifestyle here, but the future looks bright!

 

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.

Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin

Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin

by Steve Smallman

The Not So Brave PenguinJoin Percy penguin and Posy penguin doing what Antarctic penguins do—and bring along some kids for a fun time together. Storytime: The Not-So-Brave Penguin is an adorable picture book written and illustrated by Steve Smallman. It tells the tale of the adventurous daredevil Percy and his timid friend Posy. When Percy’s penchant for rollicking fun takes him over the edge, Posy finds the courage to overcome her biggest fear, the dark, to rescue him.

Children can identify readily with both characters and will enjoy talking about the plot, characters, emotions, and setting. The illustrations are outstanding and such that a non-reader could retell the story. The author follows up with suggestions for discussion and activities to enhance comprehension with charts and art activities.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes:  Age Range: 4-8 years

  Grade Level: Preschool-2

Publication:   November 15, 2018—Quarto Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Percy penguin wasn’t scared of anything. 

He loved WHIZZING down snowy slopes on his tummy.

Posy penguin was not so brave. 

She shuffled down slopes on her bottom instead.

Kissed by the Country Doc–snowed in romance

Kissed by the Country Doc

by Melinda Curtis

Kissed by the Country DocThe Monroe family is the center of this new Heartwarming Harlequin series The Mountain Monroes. The first novel, Kissed by the Country Doc, by Melinda Curtis, opens with the reading of Grandpa Harlan Monroe’s will. Full of surprises for the Monroe heirs, the will sends some of the younger generation of Monroes off to Second Chance, a small mountain town in Idaho. One of them is Ella, a Monroe by marriage, but widowed for two years, with an adorable two-year old. What will happen when Ella, after a childhood of foster homes and seeking a love that will last, encounters Dr. Noah Bishop, whose successful career as an orthopedic surgeon was crushed in an accident?

As snow strands the four Monroes in Second Chance, we learn more about them, the inhabitants of the town, and its mysterious history. In fact, we discover just enough to pique curiosity about the origins of the town and why Grandpa Harlan left the town to his grandchildren. The Monroes are divided about what should be done about the town—sell it off, try to inject new life into it, reinvent it as a high-end tourist destination, or some other solution. Their inheritance could be a blessing or a disaster, and perhaps the hardest part will be to get all of the grandchildren to agree on a decision.

Since sixteen relatives of Harlan Monroe are shown on the handy family tree included in the book, I feared I would have trouble distinguishing and remembering all of the characters. That actually is not a problem as only four of them, plus Ella, are characters in this book.

Ella is a very likable character as is her daughter Penny. More of a puzzle is Dr. Noah Bishop who struggles with his identity as a former surgeon whose hand injury keeps him from what he and his family view as his full potential. The author cleverly helps the reader understand the dual nature of Noah as he struggles to disassociate the man who falls hard for Ella and her daughter from the jaded, self-loathing failure, Dr. Bishop, by sharing the reactions of both. For example, “Dr. Bishop fell off his stool in a dead faint. Noah’s reaction was equally shocking. His mouth dropped open and his waffle-loaded fork hung in midair.” Both Ella and Noah have issues to overcome to be able to give and receive love. Read Kissed by the Country Doc for a sweet romance in a snow-covered mountain setting. Add in a lovable two year old and an injured dog and hang on to your heart so you don’t lose it in Second Chance. I am looking forward to more stories about members of the Monroe clan and the fate of this little town and its residents.

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, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in The Mountain Monroes series

  2. Clean and heartwarming romance

Publication:   February 1, 2019—Heartwarming Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

“My four sons are too old to unlearn the privilege of the silver spoon, too busy to enjoy the priceless beauty of a mountain sunrise, too calloused to appreciate the comfort that comes from loyalty, or the joy that love for love’s sake can bring.”

“Don’t get attached to people. They always leave. And when they go, they take a piece of you with them until you feel like you’re dying inside.”

The dog did what Ella and Noah couldn’t. Penny’s sobs subsided. She snuffled and buried her hands in Woof’s fur, her lower lip trembling.

Penned–animals play important roles in this mystery

Penned

by Eileen Brady

PennedA clever murderer is on the loose and his endless killing seems to extend over the years. How do you stop a murderer who is a master of disguise? What do you do if you feel like someone is watching you—only to have him disappear? Dr. Kate in Eileen Brady’s Penned, after briefly befriending a senior with a memory for faces who is in the beginning stages of dementia, has to confront these questions.

Dr. Kate gets along well with the residents of Oak Falls where she serves as veterinarian, taking over an established practice for a year. The book has interesting characters and some romance, but the true focus is the mystery. I thought I had solved the crime only to be surprised at the end. I highly recommend this page turner.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Kate Turner, DVM Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   October 9, 2018—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

“I don’t make any money. I’m a writer. The only people who are poorer than writers are actors. One night I calculated all the hours I put into my last book and how much I made, minus the cash off the top that my agent and publisher took. I would have been better off working at McDonalds.”

“What idiot uses a match to kill a tick? You could have set our dog on fire and burned down the house.” “I blew out the flame before I squished it,” Amos countered. This time I swear the dog rolled his eyes.

I remember arrogantly thinking I knew the answers to everything when I was a in my teens, and now…now I realize I hadn’t even understood the questions.

Fiction Can Be Murder–death by poisoning

Fiction Can Be Murder

by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be MurderWhat does a pickle jar have in common with an unpublished manuscript used as the blueprint for murder? Take a trip to beautiful, sunny, snowy Denver to meet mystery author Charlee Russo and her writing support group who suddenly find themselves under suspicion of murder along with about ten other people in Becky Clark’s Fiction Can Be Murder.

This book follows the fairly standard expectations for a cozy mystery. The main character tries to solve the crime to clear herself and her friends. She has romantic entanglements to work through. Her brother, who plays a very small role, is a cop, but Carlee mainly deals with two detectives in an antagonistic role. The characters range from interesting to quirky.

While Fiction Can Be Murder will not go down as one of the greats in mysteries, it provides an enjoyable read that will keep you guessing at “whodunnit.” I particularly enjoyed Clark’s humorous turn of phrase in descriptions and dialogue, and I will be looking for the next book in the series.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery Series

Publication:   April 8, 2018—Midnight Ink

Memorable Lines:

The closest I came to having servants was watching Downton Abbey.

This was one of the few times I longed for a sturdy landline I could slam down. Hanging up with attitude was simply not satisfactory on cellphones.

I will admit to getting sucked into the Grocery Store Apocalyptic Group-Think Drama once, the day before a blizzard. I saw there were only two pounds of butter on the shelf and I grabbed them both. I didn’t need butter, and certainly not eight sticks of it, but I felt the pull of that panic. What if I did need it? What if I ran out? How would I survive for two whole days with only the single stick of butter I’ve had in my refrigerator for the last three months?

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