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Double Agent–hurricane heists

Double Agent

by Gretchen Archer

Double AgentIf you like a cozy mystery with humor weaved throughout, you’ll love Double Agent by Gretchen Archer. Davis Way works in security at Bellissimo Casino in Mississippi. In addition, she acts as a double for the owner’s wife, the entitled and rather clueless Bianca, who also expects Davis to take care of her every need. Bianca always refers to Davis as “David,” and through good writing the use of that misnomer remains funny throughout the book. Davis’ husband Bradley manages the huge casino complex, and the couple lives on site with their twin two-year-old daughters. Another source of humor is the “rules” related by one of the girls to their grandmother who is caring for them during the hurricane emergency. Bex, the dominant twin, convinces Grammy that she only eats chicken nuggets and chocolate ice cream and that Quinn’s bedtime is two hours earlier than hers.

A casino is bound to have security issues because of the cash that flows through it. Double Agent ratchets the plot up several notches as the storyline is what happens in a casino with a hurricane on its way. There are protocols for this scenario, but they don’t account for the greed and mischief that happen when Hurricane Kevin rolls into the Gulf Coast. Throw in FEMA, law enforcement, helicopters, bodies on ice, and people on unlucky floor 13 who are not all what they purport to be, and you have a very complicated murder mystery with some huge surprises. With Gretchen Archer’s writing style, you will also have a smile on your face as you devour this cozy mystery.

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: #8 in the Davis Way Crime Caper Series, but could be read as a standalone. I have read three books in the series and, although I plan on reading the others at some point, I don’t feel like I have missed anything that has reduced my enjoyment or understanding of the individual books.

Publication:   March 26, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

And it wasn’t Danielle because she couldn’t organize the world’s smallest closet. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance she’d organized what we were in the middle of.

We had no way to restrain him except at gunpoint…And given the choice of Scotch tape or guns, I’d take the guns any day, but for all we knew, Jug was packing too. It was Alabama. Everyone was packing. 

Hurricane Kevin, like all severe weather, gave everyone it touched the chance to show their true colors. The best and the worst of humanity rose to the surface when forced to survive an event over which they had no control.

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Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837

Woman of Courage

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

woman of courageAuthor Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.

Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?

Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.

Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.

Publication:  December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.

She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.

“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée–lying never pays

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée

by Amy Vastine

The Rancher's Fake FianceeIf you have read the other books in this series, by now you know that Big E’s plan to get his grandsons to return to the Blackwell Ranch in Falcon Creek, Montana, has a chance of working. You also realize that Tyler Blackwell, one of the younger twins in the family and an advertising executive in Portland, Oregon, will be the focus of this book. What you won’t be prepared for is the bold lie he tells to try to avoid returning to the ranch. You have to smile when a character thinks “What could possibly go wrong?”

The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée by Amy Vastine is a sweet romance with a lot of relationship ups and downs along the way. All of the Blackwell brothers were affected by the death of their parents when they were young, and Tyler is no exception. He has to work through the feelings and perceptions of his ten year old self that remained with him as he matured. His fake fiancée, Hadley, is a likable character and fits in so well with the Blackwell brothers and their wives and fiancées. Unfortunately, Tyler drags Hadley into a sham relationship for his purposes, and she agrees in order to achieve a promotion that she lost due to nepotism. Of course, the truth is bound to come out, but watching it emerge is fascinating. The author uses the events in the plot to develop the characters and give the reader a chance to relate to them and their struggles. The Rancher’s Fake Fiancée lives up to expectations as a Harlequin Heartwarming romance—clean, fun, and positive. I truly didn’t want to put this book down.

As always, Big E is brought into the story in the epilogue where we get a glimpse of more of his hopefully well-intentioned machinations. If only he had shown this level of concern and understanding when the boys were growing up!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Amy Vastine, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #4 in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series, but it works well as a standalone because the author is efficient in bringing readers up to date. Warning: if you do read this as a standalone, you will find yourself wanting to read the other books in this five book series!

Publication: November 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

Being nice to people encouraged them to be nice back. It was something her father had taught her since she was little…It didn’t matter how important someone’s job was, everyone was treated with the same respect.

There was no way he could tell the truth. This was why lying was such a bad idea. It never ended with one lie. They always multiplied until no one could remember what the truth was anymore.

He wasn’t supposed to think about her because he didn’t have to see her every day, but her void was as strong as her presence.

The Rancher’s Twins–romance in Montana

The Rancher’s Twins

by Carol Ross

The Rancher's TwinsA combination of the tangles that both city and country life can bring, a sweet romance, a heroine trying to do what is right, adorable twins, and a handsome cowboy—that’s a winning formula for a non-formulaic Harlequin Heartwarming novel by Carol Ross. In the first book of the series, Return of the Blackwell Brothers, Ross introduces a plethora of characters and the many connections inherent in a small town. Because I was not reading an ebook version, with its built in search function, I took some notes on the characters and their relationships. It seemed like a good idea because, I assume, many of these characters will be in the books which follow in the series. (My desire for notes surely doesn’t relate to the creep of age!)

I absolutely loved The Rancher’s Twins. As an educator, I found myself nodding approval as the main character, Lydia, applies practical techniques to teaching the almost kindergarten age twin girls, known to be a handful. She verbally prepares them for events, sets expectations, and makes learning fun and active.

Lydia is running away from a situation in Philadelphia that could cost her her life. Jon Blackwell is expecting a ranch-experienced nanny. When a city girl arrives on his doorstep, he can’t help seeing her through the distortion of pain left by his ex-wife. Lydia has no expectations of, or desire for, romance; she just wants safety and anonymity temporarily in Montana.

I kept turning pages in this book as fast as I could with some “oohs” and “ahs,” lots of nodding and smiles, a few chuckles, and, at the end, a few tears. Lydia is strong and nice and quite capable in many areas. What she doesn’t know, she is willing to learn. I never got bored watching Lydia grow into her position on the ranch and interact selflessly with her new acquaintances in town. Meanwhile, her boss, rancher Jon Blackwell, needs to come to grips with his own emotions as he decides whether or not to ask Lydia to stay on as nanny after a two-week trial period. As the storyline progresses we learn the backgrounds of Jon and Lydia that helped shape their characters.

I highly recommend The Rancher’s Twins and am looking forward to reading the next book in this series: The Rancher’s Rescue by Cari Lynn Webb. Just thinking about The Rancher’s Twins makes me smile. In this rough and tumble, stressful world, I think that is awesome!

I would like to extend my thanks to the author, Carol Ross, for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Thanks to Laurie at Cozynookbks (https://cozynookbks.wordpress.com) for recommending Harlequin Heartwarming books and connecting me with the authors of this series.

  2. Clean in terms of language and sex; the romance is not syrupy. 

Publication:  August 1, 2018—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

He knew it was far from poetic, but he and the girls were like the parched ground after a long drought, eager and hungry to soak up every bit of life-giving water they could get. And this nanny… This nanny was the rain.

Wrangling a pair of out-of-control twins and sparring with their irritable father seemed like a cake-walk compared to what she was running from.

“…hurricane-force winds don’t blow as fast as gossip in this town.” 

Auschwitz Lullaby–a mother’s amazing love

Auschwitz Lullaby

by Mario Escobar

Auschwitz LullabyAuschwitz Lullaby is a sad book based on the life of Helene Hannemann, a German woman married to a talented Gypsy violinist. As an Aryan she could have saved her own life, but she chooses instead to accompany her five mixed-blood Gypsy children to Auschwitz. There she is chosen by the infamous Doctor Mengele to establish and run a nursery school at the concentration camp. Knowing that Mengele would only perform this “kindness” to the children for his own ends, she agrees anyway to provide the starving children with more nutritious food, several hours a day in a cleaner, healthier environment, and some mental respite from the stressful deprivations and horrors of the camp.

Without graphic descriptions, the author Mario Escobar uses a first person format, having Helene tell her own story through a journal which she supposedly left behind in the camp. Her writing is encased in a Prologue and Epilogue in Mengele’s voice. As I read this work of historical fiction, I wondered how much was true. I was gratified to discover a section called “Historical Clarifications” at the conclusion of the tale that explains clearly the aspects of the book that are nonfiction. The author is a historian so he also adds a “Chronology of the Gypsy Camp at Auschwitz” and acknowledgements of his sources of research.

Although the publisher categorizes the book as “historical fiction” and “Christian,” there are not a lot of overt references to Christianity, but there is an underlying thread of faith, hope,and love available through the power of God. The school holds a meager Christmas celebration which attempts to “give these children back a little bit of their faith.” Helene notes “that night we were celebrating life, the birth of the Christ child” and she ponders the message of the manger: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” There are other Christian themes throughout of love, forgiving one’s enemies, God’s plan for Helene’s life, and the existence of evil.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Christian

Publication:  August 7, 2018 — Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“From the first time I saw you, I knew God had brought you here to ease our pain somehow. You were so lost, confused, and scared, but I could see a fierce determination in the back of your eyes.”

Death seemed like a gift from heaven, but I knew that it was not yet for me. I was an old ship in the middle of a storm, and my children anchored me to life. I had to keep fighting for them, trying to hold on to hope, looking each day in the face, praying for this nightmare to finally be over.

“God sent you here to guide us. We needed a breath of hope, and you showed up with your beautiful family. I’ve never known anyone as brave and determined as you.”

I tried to fill my heart with love. I did not want hatred to eat away my insides. I had to love even my enemies. It was the only way to keep from becoming a monster myself.

Double Dog Dare–humorous cozy mystery

Double Dog Dare

by Gretchen Archer

Double Dog DareI was surprised to see that Double Dog Dare, a cozy mystery, is also classified by the publisher as humor…until I read it. It is hilarious; all the way through from one complication to another. The storyline starts out simply enough as Davis Way, who is part of the security team at a Biloxi, Mississippi, casino anticipates the arrival of her sister Meredith and Meredith’s friend Vree, a nonstop, stream of consciousness talker with her dog who will be competing in a canine competition at the casino.

From the moment Davis opens the door to the early arriving Vree instead of Meredith, absolutely nothing goes as planned. Author Gretchen Archer creates fun characters and really amusing dialogue. The plot is intricate and when you are not laughing, you will be saying “What???” over the latest development. There are a variety of crimes including kidnappings, impersonations, and thefts. Meredith has a moral dilemma and in trying to help her, Davis also explores ethical and legal boundaries.

While all of these complications are occurring, Davis has to role play the wife of the casino’s owner, care for her twin 20-month old daughters, manage several dogs, and not tell her husband what is going on at home while he is attending a conference in Nashville.

If you want a nonstop mystery that will keep you smiling, laughing, and shaking your head, you’ll want to grab Double Dog Dare. It is now available in Kindle format.

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: Mystery, Humor

Notes: #7 in the Davis Way Crime Capers series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:  March 20, 2018 —Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Vree could talk the stars out of the sky. I believed she talked so she wouldn’t have to listen; there was always something Vree didn’t want to hear.

We’d wasted the half hour before that racking our brains for a doctor, a medical examiner, an EMT, a mortician, or even a Girl Scout with her Corpse Badge who owed us a favor…

“It was our constellation prize to them since our dog drew blood.”

I always thought she was just mean, as opposed to otherworldly. As it turns out, she’s neither. She wants what everyone else wants. Someone to love who loves her back. That’s it.

Dead on the Bayou–great setting, but…

Dead on the Bayou

by June Shaw

Dead on the BayouSunny and Eve are identical twin sisters in the cozy mystery Dead on the Bayou. The sisters try to keep their home repair and renovation business going while exonerating themselves and friend Dave Price from murder charges. Sunny is the narrator of this tale and shares with the reader in endless repetition her attraction to Dave and how she stifles it because her twin sister is also attracted to him. Much information about her investigation is also repeated to the point that as  a reader I wanted to yell “I know. I was there!”

The plot idea is good. The ending is a surprise, but in a disappointing way. There are no clues to lead Sunny and Eve in that direction at all. The setting is well executed with descriptions of the bayou and Louisiana food. Even better are the descriptions of the living facility where the twins’ mother resides. Accurate details include little groups of chatting ladies, assigned tables with self-assigned seats at early mealtimes, and seniors with walkers who by necessity are totally focused on keeping themselves upright and headed to their destination. Unfortunately the author, June Shaw, keeps returning the twins fruitlessly to this home to investigate even though the residents have little more than rumor to offer and usually are not even available. The twins are not honest, being willing to bend truth and fabricate stories to cover themselves. I found myself looking for diversions each time I finished with a chapter or two. Dead on the Bayou is not a page turner.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Twin Sisters Mystery Series

Publication:   August 22, 2017— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

…she reminded me of my first-grade teacher, who didn’t know about my dyslexia any more than the rest of us did at that time. Every time I read a few words or a group of numbers in class, she gave me that same hard shake of her head and finger wag as though I had been a really bad puppy. She would end this display of negativity toward me by speaking my name with a sharp tone and say, “No, you are wrong. Again.” No wonder I hated my early schooling.

Bless my third-grade teacher, who figured I was dyslexic and had me tested.

Eve must have read my mind since she called me the instant I sat in my truck and pulled out my phone. Maybe that was an occurrence with a lot of people, but over our lifetimes my twin and I so often received the same vibe at the same time that our connection was hard to discount.

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