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It Won’t Be Christmas Without You
by Beth Reekles
Cara 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.
Category: General Fiction (A), Romance
Notes: Contains a lot of British Vulgarisms
Publication: August 30, 2019—HarperCollins (One More Chapter)
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.
Nothing could fix this Christmas.
Death on a Summer Morning
by Betty Rowlands
Previously published as Deadly Obsession by Severn House, this cozy mystery by Betty Rowlands is being published anew as Death on a Summer Morning by Bookouture as part of a thirteen book series centered around Sukey Reynolds, a Scene of Crime Officer responsible for photographing and collecting evidence at crime scenes. Sukey has a nose for detective work which often leads her into scenarios that she is not prepared for, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend DI Jim Castle.
In this case, Sukey arrives at the home of a somewhat elderly man who appears to have fallen down the stairs. Both the man’s younger fiancée and his estranged daughter are convinced there is more to the story, but are at odds with each other in every other way. Meanwhile a headless torso is found in a watery ditch, and the police have the unpleasant and difficult task of identifying the body.
The characters in this book include Fergus (Gus), Sukey’s amiable son who is ready to enter university. Caught in time between teenager and adult, he acts as a sounding board when Sukey needs a listening ear. The plot moves quickly; the setting is important to the plot and well described. I ended the book satisfied with the outcomes, but wanting to read more in this series.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: Although this book is #6 in the Sukey Reynolds Mystery Series of 13 books and it is my first Betty Rowlands book, I had no problem jumping into the series and already have another waiting in my queue based on my enjoyment of this book.
Publication: July 22, 2019—Bookouture
A short time later, the garden was empty of birds. They had all taken fright at the high, thin scream of terror and the crash of broken crockery and glass that shattered the peace of the morning.
“My father’s death was no accident; he was murdered.” The blue eyes that had made such an impression on Dalia Chen blazed with an almost fanatical intensity.
“In the hope that Sabrina will stop tilting at windmills, I’ll do what I can to get her and Elspeth to talk to each other.” …Fergus grinned. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall if those two ever get together. It’ll be the mother of all cat fights!”
by Karen Barnett
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
The middle of the Great Depression
Ever Faithful is the tale of young people from various walks of life joined by employment at Yellowstone. Some are pack rats (porters), some pillow punchers (maids), and others pearl divers (dishwashers). Additional college students working the summer are tour bus drivers and laundry workers. Throw into the mix a contingent of down and out, unemployed and often uneducated young men from the cities, part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) founded by President Roosevelt to combat unemployment and the problems that can arise from idleness and defeated attitudes. All of these young people have pasts that affect their presents.
Elsie, the daughter of a park ranger, loves Yellowstone and has spent many summers working hard at the inns at the park to achieve her dream—to go to college to become a teacher. She and her friends have romantic entanglements typical of summer romances. Some, however, seem more serious than others. Vaughn, a park ranger, sets his eyes on Elsie as does Nate Webber who has taken a CCC job to get out of trouble and provide money for his family in New York. Secrets abound and some are potentially deadly as they are linked to wildfires that could destroy the dry, pine beetle infested forests of Yellowstone.
After an interesting story with a historically accurate setting, author Karen Barnett moves the story ahead four years with a quite satisfactory epilogue. Then she provides information on the main aspects of this work of historical fiction and notes a few minor discrepancies as well as how the park has changed.
Yellowstone with its bears, bison, geysers, and vistas is on many a bucket list. Some of the original inns remain while others have been replaced. There are probably too many tourists, but it is still a park that belongs to the people, and it is a wonderful setting for this tale.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to WaterBrook (Penguin Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Historical Fiction
Notes: 1. Thematically a part of the Vintage National Parks Novels but remains a standalone in terms of characters, setting, and plot.
2. Gentle reminders of God’s presence and plan.
Publication: June 18, 2019—WaterBrook (Penguin Random House)
“It’s hard for men to be out of work. It wears at their souls, tears them down piece by piece like a crumbling brick wall.”
It was odd how teaching both energized her and sapped her at the same time. During class, she flitted from one student to another, each one’s progress sending a wave of satisfaction through her chest. But when the room emptied, her strength seemed to go with them.
Nate reached into his pocket and pulled out the pine cone he’d picked up at Roosevelt and squeezed it in his fist. The scales were closed, glued shut by sap. According to Ranger Brookes, without fire it wouldn’t open to disperse the seeds hidden within. God could bring good out of disaster.
Goodness, Grace, and Me
by Julie Houston
Complicated relationships are at the center of Julie Houston’s Goodness, Grace, and Me. Harriet (Hat) has been best friends with Grace since they were eleven, and they both idolized Amanda who along the way picked up the title “Little Miss Goodness.” Twenty years later, Grace and Harriet assume they are rid of her influence when she suddenly re-enters their lives. Despite all warnings, Harriet’s husband Nick becomes involved in business with Amanda’s husband and thus Amanda. Grace’s brother continues to be under Amanda’s spell.
Life is not easy for Harriet, mother of three, who had to return to teaching because of economic problems. Also Nick’s mother has come to live with them. Although her situation is complicated, Harriet pushes hard for stability for her family.
This is my second Julie Houston book to read and I like it much better than the first. The main character is strong, likable, and has moral character. There is a subplot involving Harriet’s mother, possible dementia, and a secret. I wasn’t sure how the plot would sort itself out, but it did and I enjoyed watching it happen.
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.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Includes some British vulgarisms but they are not terribly offensive compared to those found in Julie Houston’s Coming Home to Holly Close Farm.
Publication: February 19, 2019—Aria
I can only ever sulk for a maximum of five minutes, by which time I’ve usually had enough of giving the cold shoulder treatment and need to start talking again. Life is just too short to spend it in silence.
Admittedly, I did most of the hard graft but I lightened the proceedings by blasting out T.Rex’s “I Love to Boogie”, so that even Kit forgot he was a fully paid up member of the moody brigade and jitterbugged round the furniture with the Hoover.
…wrapping a duvet around her against the almost damp cold which had settled in the sitting room like a melancholic maiden aunt who has outstayed her welcome, I went back through the hall to ring the doctor’s surgery.
Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake
by Sarah Graves
Jake (Jacobia) relates this tale from the first person point of view as she and her friend Ellie struggle to survive the low tourist season in Maine. In this delightful cozy mystery, Jake and Ellie own their dream shop, The Chocolate Moose. Having recently purchased a vintage, mint green milkshake maker, they have added chocolate milkshakes to the treats featured in their chocolate themed bakery. Unfortunately, an abusive local drunk is found dead with one of their milkshake cups beside him.
In Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake by Sarah Graves, questions swirl like a milkshake in a blender. Was the victim poisoned by the milkshake? Will the tampered milkshake rumors prove deadly to their struggling business? The ladies are counting on a whoopie-pie wedding cake to keep their business afloat; but with the groom suspected of murder, will the wedding even take place?
There are other suspects, interesting extended family members, a competent, sympathetic sheriff, lots of action, and more than a little danger as Jake and Ellie try to save their shop, keep Ellie and her family from having to move, discover the murderer and stay alive. I was surprised by the ending and the revelation of the murderer.
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.
Notes: #2 in the Death by Chocolate Mystery Series, but will work as a standalone.
It features a recipe for Ginger Chocolate Biscotti.
Publication: January 29, 2019—Kensington Books
The landlady’s glare was so cold, you could’ve used it to freeze fish.
An old railroad trestle crossed the gap between two high bluffs over a grassy salt marsh. In the moonlight, the cattails in the marsh stood motionless as if at attention.
Basically, I thought, frogs lived in a puddle, ate flies, and never got warm; still they yelled out their happiness in doing it and I found that encouraging.
Died in the Wool
by Peggy Ehrhart
Died in the Wool, like the first book in Peggy Ehrhart’s Knit and Nibble Mystery Series, has a calmness that gives me pleasure as I read. Although the main character Pamela sometimes follows inadvisable investigative leads like other cozy mysteries’ main characters, neither her pace of life nor her pursuit of justice is frenetic. I sometimes wonder how some main characters manage to maintain a job while trying to solve the mystery and juggle their many personal issues.
Pamela, like author Ehrhart, enjoys knitting and food, and those passions are evident in Pamela’s life as a member of a knitting club whose meetings also feature snacks or desserts. Ehrhart includes a knitting pattern and recipes in the back of the book, but more pointedly, her descriptions of various foods are detailed and mouth-watering.
The knitting club Knit and Nibble works for weeks producing stuffed animal aardvarks, the school mascot, to sell in support of the football team at Arborfest. Unfortunately there is a murder and the knitting group’s reputation is damaged. Pamela and her friend Bettina try to find the murderer. This cozy has twists and turns with the criminal’s identity discovered only after many understandable, but wrong assumptions and some exciting scenes. I’m looking forward to the next book in this series, Knit One, Die Two.
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.
Notes: #2 in the Knit and Nibble Series, but works well as a standalone
Publication: August 28, 2018—Kensington Books
She tested several ice-breaking comments in her mind, settling on “Your daughter’s tabouli is delicious.” He turned, looking as startled as if she’d announced a taste for human blood. Terribly shy, Pamela said to herself, awkward in social situations.
At that moment, the sandwiches arrived, on cream-colored oval plates with slender pickle spears tucked alongside. Gobbets of tuna salad and golden streaks of melted cheddar were barely contained by bread that had been grilled to buttery and toasty perfection.
Pamela wasn’t a wary person. She woke up every morning expecting the day to unfold predictably, just the way a knitting project moved predictably toward completion with only an occasional dropped stitch that could easily be picked up again.
by Elizabeth Gunn
With the interruptions common in daily life, I never finish a book in one sitting, and I rarely complete a book the same day I start it. Burning Meredith was an exception. I did stay up late to finish reading it because it was such a good mystery. Due to its focus on police investigative techniques, it is considered a police procedural by those who like to subdivide the genre.
Burning Meredith centers around a huge forest fire in the south-central Montana mountains, destroying many acres and threatening little Clark’s Fort. If it is possible for a bad thing to be good, then this forest fire was it. The disaster breathed new life into the little weekly Clark’s Fort Guardian and provided opportunities for young, local photo-journalist Stuart Campbell to shine. Not afraid of hard work and familiar with the mountains, he manages to put the Meredith Mountain area on the map nationally.
I like the journalist character, but I truly associate with retired teacher Alice Adams who works for the paper as an editor, initially only a few days a week. As she says, “After thirty-two years of catching kids passing crib notes, you didn’t just stop on a dime. Shouldn’t there be a twelve-step plan for this transition?” She is a respected fixture in the community, as she has taught English and social studies to several generations of Clark’s Fort middle schoolers. She encourages her nephew Stuart in his journalistic efforts, and she provides invaluable assistance in solving the mystery of an unidentified man whose body is found after the fire has been controlled.
There are two major threads to this plot; the author initially shares these in separate chapters as unrelated storylines. The reader gets caught up in the reporting of the fire, and then suddenly there is this other direction that appears like an itch waiting to be scratched. Author Elizabeth Gunn’s writing is excellent in terms of the general plot and how it plays out and also in her turn of phrase. Some of Gunn’s prose is so good that I found myself rereading parts just to enjoy her choice of words, her descriptive excellence, or her metaphors. Many mysteries do not allow for much in the way of character development or they expend too much energy on the characters at the expense of the plot. Gunn hits the mark with her writing style. Her main characters are developed and interesting; her minor characters provide a nice backdrop.
Elizabeth Gunn has two series of police procedurals. Will Burning Meredith begin a new series? I could find no indication that it would or wouldn’t, but my opinion is that this book is a good basis for one.
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.
Category: Mystery, Police Procedural
Publication: June 1, 2018—Severn House
Like a bonus for a job well done, Clark’s Fort got a second freaky dose of luck. A surprise deflection in the polar vortex brought cold, moist air and a drastic dip in air pressure down across Canada and pouring into Montana.
“As you well know, Clark’s Fort doesn’t generate much news.” “For sure. My street gets so quiet on August afternoons, I swear I can hear the bluebirds planning their trip south.”
She gave him the English teacher look that had brought silence to rooms full of eighth-grade miscreants for a generation.
…when the weather warmed up the country roads became mud-holes even more impassable than the snow-drifts had been. People still had to get around, so they chained up and churned out, making ruts you could lose a spring calf in.