Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Food, Adventure, Love, and Spirituality

Lia Huber has had an interesting life so far. It’s not a life that is carefully planned. Lia seems to leap from one thing to another. However, there are stable themes: her love of food, the companionship with her husband, Christopher, spirituality, and a love of adventure.

The book starts in Greece where as an eighteen-year-old, she’s engaged to a Greek man and is beginning to develop her love affair with food. The Greek romance didn’t work out, but Lia found the theme of her life in cooking and writing about good food. I found all the parts of the book discussing her culinary adventures excellent. The recipes included at the end of each chapter will have you heading for the kitchen.

I also enjoyed her travels. The trip through Mexico to spend time in Costa Rica made me want to visit the places she described. I hadn’t realized how delightful some on the interior towns in Mexico are.

Lia hasn’t had an easy time with Lupus and a hysterectomy. She does make impulsive decisions that get her and her husband into trouble, but it’s all interesting to read. I recommend this book if you’re up for an armchair adventure.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.  

The Pluses and Minuses of Middle Age

Into your forties and approaching fifty, you’re in the throes of middle age. Significant events include: children leaving home for college, menopause, death of friends, and health concerns. Each essay in this book traces the author’s journey through this sometimes difficult period. Some of the vignettes are affecting, some try to be amusing, and some are sad.

I enjoyed the essays dealing with children going to college, particularly the one where the author celebrates the fact that her son is on his way to being independent. The essays on death, particularly the death of her sister, are affecting. It’s hard to see a sibling die and raises issues about our own mortality.

I didn’t find the book particularly humorous. The tone of some of the essays is light, but like the one about her concern that her bio wasn’t as good as her friends, it was rather sad. If you’re facing middle or already in it, this is an interesting book. It will tell you that what you’re experiencing is not all that unusual,
and there is an end in sight which may be much happier than where you are now.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.   

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Missing Child, A Double Murder, and Gwen’s Past

Gwen Marcey has taken a job with the Interagency Major Crime Unit (IMCU). Although she was planning to spend time with Blake, her new love, the case of a missing child whose parents were murdered recalls her own tragic history. She grabs the case and head for Idaho and the Nez Pierce reservation
leaving Blake behind.

From the beginning, someone wants Gwen off the case. When checking out the murder scene, her car is stolen. Without transportation, she seeks help from her friend Beth, who does research for her on her cases. Beth arrives with Winston, Gwen’s huge dog, in tow. They manage to find a bed and breakfast that will take dogs. It seems an ideal situation, but the building brings back memories, and in addition to the case Gwen is immersed in the search for her own history.

The plot is well done. The threads of the missing child case meld with Gwen’s history. In solving one, she comes closer to understanding who she is. I enjoyed the setting in the Nez Pierce tribe. The background was unusual and very interesting.

I enjoy the Gwen Marcey books, but Gwen’s character in this one seemed rather strained. She makes poor decisions which put her and Beth in danger. She manages to get out of the situations, but the actions are more like a superhero than a lady with a double mastectomy.

If you enjoy mysteries in unusual locals, this is a good one.

I received this book from Booklook Bloggers for this review.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Spree Killing and Finding Your Place in a Foster Family

Telly and Shalah Nash grew up in an abusive home. One night their drug addicted father stabbed their mother and took after the kids with a kitchen knife. Nine-year-old Telly managed to kill his father with a baseball bat, but in the process he broke Shalah’s arm. Because of the trauma, the siblings have been separated for eight years.

Each child has found a foster family they can begin to love. Shalah lives with Quincy and Rainie, FBI profilers, and a retired police dog, Luka. Shalah has gradually begun to love and trust her foster parents and they are ready to adopt her. Telly has also found a family he feels comfortable with. Frank and Sandra Duval, a science teacher and a homemaker, took Telly on as a project to get him ready to face the adult world when their own son, Henry, went off to college.

The security the siblings are finding is shattered when Sandra and Frank are found brutally murdered. Quincy and Rainie are recruited to help in the search for Telly who they believe is on a spree killing triggered by something that happened in the Duval family.

The characters in this book are all working on trust issues. The author has done an excellent job showing how difficult it is for foster parents and their children to deal with trust issues. The problems of teens coming from abusive homes are well portrayed. It’s worth reading this book because of the well developed characters.

The plot is good and has a number of twists. The author lays down enough clues that you can play the game along with the profilers. However, the beginning of the book is rather slow. As Quincy and Rainie try to discover what could have caused Telly to snap, they go over the same story numerous times. The action doesn’t really get going until after the middle of the book.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it. If you’re looking for violence and sex, this isn’t your book. However, it you like thrillers with well done psychological background, you’ll enjoy this one.

I received this book from Penguin Random House for this review.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

What Does it Take to Lead a Meaningful Life?

Why do so many people in the happiest countries in the world take their own lives, while fewer people in poorer countries do? The surprising answer is meaning. Too many people in the richer countries don’t feel their lives are meaningful. I particularly enjoyed the incident where Will Durante was asked by a man why he should go on living. Durante had no easy answer, so the man walked away, but it inspired Durante to search for the answers for himself.

This book is organized around the four aspect of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. In each of these sections, the author relies on psychology, sociology, philosophy, and theology to present information and look at the way, philosophers, poets, scientists, and others have answered the question, or looked for meaning.

The book is well researched. The author does a commendable job of presenting somewhat difficult material in a form that the average reader can enjoy. Her storytelling ability is one of the major reason for this. I recommend reading this book if you’re looking for a more fulfilling life. Reading the stories and questions can change your outlook and lead you to find more meaning in your own life.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

A Haunted Southern Mansion and Murder

The Ducote sisters, An’gel and Dickce, live in a lovely southern mansion that might have some ghosts. They’re experienced with old houses and strange occurrences. So when Mary Turner Catlin and her husband, Howard, ask for help because of the strange occurrences in the Natchez mansion they are fixing up as a bed and breakfast, the sisters can’t resist the adventure.

The bed and breakfast is supposedly closed during the time the sisters will be there. However, soon unexpected guests arrive. First a psychic comes saying she was called by the spirits inhabiting the house. Then distant cousins, Nathan and Serenity, arrive with Serenity’s lawyer in tow. Serenity wants to convince Nathan to give her some of her trust fund, while Nathan wants to look for papers that will give him title to some of the mansion’s valuable furniture housed in the French room.

Strange things happen almost immediately, but the action warms up considerably when Nathan is found dead in the French room with the furniture he’s trying to claim.

The Ducote sisters are delightful, proper ladies who can’t resist solving a mystery. The scenery was lovely and the descriptions of the mansion made me want to visit. The only criticism I have is that it took a long time for the murder to occur, nearly halfway through the book. However, the plot is full of twists. It’s hard to guess the murderer until the very end.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

A Community Torn Apart by Racial Tension

Officer Luke Nelson is feeling good. He loves his job with the Sheriff’s department. He loves his wife and baby girl. Life appears to be heading in the right direction until after a robbery in a convenience store, he shoots a black teenager running toward him. He thinks he hears a gun shot, assumes the teen is armed and pulls the trigger.

Adisa, a young black lawyer, loses her job with a prestigious law firm in Atlanta. At the same time her Aunt Josie suffers a stroke. Since Aunt Josie raised her and her sister, Adisa feels that she needs take care of her aunt. When a law firm in the small town where Aunt Josie lives offers her a job, it seems like the answer to a prayer, but it comes with strings attached. The partner who hires her wants her to help him defend Officer Nelson.

The is a novel fraught with racial tension. Adisa makes the unpopular decision to defend the young police officer. Neither the blacks nor the whites are happy about the decision. As tension mounts, families on both sides are torn apart and each character must face truths about themselves and what they believe.

This is a very timely book. It raises the issue that all of us must fact about what we truly believe and what we will do to live up to our beliefs. I highly recommend this book. It’s not an easy book to read. The characters struggle and have to come to grips with forgiveness and justice, as we all must.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Doomed Marriage in the South of WWII

It’s 1944. Tess DeMello is in love. She’s always been in love with Vincent. They grew up together and planned to wed. Vincent, a doctor, has finished his residency. Tess is finishing her nurses’ training when a polio epidemic strikes Chicago. Vincent feels he must go. At first Tess is understanding, but when weeks grow into months, she finds it hard to remain complacent.

Henry Kraft is visiting Washington DC. Tess is there with a girlfriend. They meet, and in one ill advised encounter, Tess becomes pregnant. She wants to marry Vincent, but she can’t tell him the truth. She turns to Henry, and he agrees to marry her, but when they arrive in Hickory, a traditional, segregated, southern town, Tess believes she may have made a mistake.

Henry is not affectionate. His mother is standoffish, and when his sister dies in a tragic accident, Tess doesn’t know what to do. When a polio epidemic strikes the town. She finds her place working in the hospital created by the townspeople.

History and romance combine to make this a good read. The South during WWII was a difficult place for a northern girl to understand. Mixed race marriages were forbidden and could lead to jail time. The town was stratified with the rich, the poor, and the blacks living in separate areas. The author has done a good job recreating this difficult era. The characters are true to life and the plot has twists that you can’t anticipate. I recommend this book. The difficulty of living in times when prejudice was accepted is well described.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

A Dark Scandinavian Mystery

Max, a private detective and former Norwegian police officer, learns of the suicide of his former colleague, Kurt. Although the men worked together thirty years ago, Max has trouble believing that his friend would commit suicide. When he arrives in Norway and learns more about the death, he decides to investigate.

People have a habit of disappearing around Midsummer Eve. Thirty years ago, a researcher disappeared. In the last year another researcher also disappeared. The disappearances seem to be related to pagan rituals. When Max is gathering material about the death and the history of the area, he meets a librarian, Tirill, who wants to be involved. She loves mysteries and has visions of being an investigator. As the pair come closer to the truth, someone or several people try to stop them.

If you like dark mysteries, you will enjoy this book. The characters, particularly Tirill, are engaging. The scenery is magnificent, and the dark aura of magic and occult rituals is creepy, but intriguing. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Stave Church, a relic from earlier times when pagan rituals were being replaced by enforced Christian worship.

The writing is good although sometimes the translation seemed awkward to me. However, I recommend this book once you start, it’s hard to put down.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

A Heartwarming Christmas Romance

It’s the Christmas season. Merry Knight is extremely busy. In addition to getting ready for Christmas and taking care of her family, which includes a mother with multiple sclerosis and a brother with Down’s Syndrome, her boss at the consulting firm where she works is increasingly difficult and demanding because of a big project that must be finished.

Christmas is also Merry’s birthday. Since she has no time for social life, her mother and brother decide that something must be done about it. They sign her up on an Internet dating site. Her little brother comes up with a clever idea for the picture. He posts a picture of their dog. Surprisingly this picture attracts a man. Soon Merry is chatting with this man and finding him very attractive.

This is a delightful Christmas story. Merry is a good character. You can’t help but respect her desire to take care of her family. However, it’s the family that steals the show, particularly her little brother. It was wonderful to see how charming a child with Downs Syndrome can be.

I recommend this story for Christmas or if you just love romance. The characters are well drawn. Their emotions are true to life and make you root for them to succeed. Although you know how the story must end, you want to keep reading because the characters are so likable.

I received this book from Penguin Random House for this review.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

Being a Driven Person Verses Being a Called Person

Life is stressful and fast paced. Gordon MacDonald has been there. As a young pastor, he found himself running to meetings, counseling parishioners, writing sermons, trying to start big projects for the church, and he discovered that he was losing his family. His solid base was disintegrating.

Driven people are often running on empty. They are exhausted, but feel it’s what has to be because there are so many things to do, and they are the ones who have to do them. This leads to a terrible problem of being unable to let go. Too many people reach retirement not knowing what to do with time and often it leads to their death.

Called people are secure in themselves. MacDonald used John the Baptist as an example of a called person. He was secure in the knowledge that his job was to prepare the way for the Messiah. When Christ appeared he didn’t try to hang on to his followers. He relinquished his role to Jesus. If we’re secure in ourselves, we don’t have to constantly prove things, or work too hard to prove to the external world that we exist.

I highly recommend this book. If you see yourself in the example of a driven person, perhaps it’s time to take stock and find ways to get back your internal solidity. The first half of the book discusses the concept of the driven person versus the called person. The remaining chapters provide hints and ideas for how to begin to order your life to become less driven. In our fast paced society, I think all Christians should read this book.

I received this book from Handlebar Publishing for this review.

An Exceptional Devotional for Tween Girls

Girls are told to be brave and find themselves. This isn’t an easy task in today’s busy world. This devotional gives a girl a chance to take time to figure out who she is. The tone of the book is conversational. It’s like having an older friend to talk to.

The book is full of stories and insights from the author’s growing up years. These are stories a tween can relate to and make the book personal. There are also quizzes and space for the girls to respond to questions. The questions are designed to help her think about who she is and what she wants.

The book is divided into 100 chapters. If taken a day at a time, the devotionals cover about three months. However, they can be used more slowly. The content focuses on areas important to young girls, school, family, friends, and, of course, Jesus.

I highly recommend this book. A young girl would love it. The book itself is lovely, a pleasure to read. It also gives a chance for a mother or grandmother to read the book with the girl and talk about the content. The content could also be used in more formal situations. It could form the basis for discussions in a Sunday school class, for example.

I received this book from Handlebar Publishing for this review.    

Friday, September 29, 2017

An Inspiring Friendship

Jim Bradford thought he and his wife, Brenda, would start working on their bucket list when their girls were grown. Then one day he went to an out-of-the way diner for a cup of coffee. A small boy, HK Derryberry, was sitting at a table with his ear glued to an old radio. HK had braces on his legs, he was blind, and wearing ill-fitting clothes. Once Jim Bradford saw him, he couldn’t look away. This was the start of an unusual friendship and the beginning of HK Derryberry overcoming his blindness and cerebral palsy to become an intriguing young man.

This is a wonderful story. Through Bradford we get to know HK, his grandmother, Pearl, and the sad tale of his early life when his mother was killed and his father abandoned him to his grandmother. So many people did amazing things to help this small boy realize his potential. A teacher took a special interest in him and helped him to learn to use a machine to read braille with one hand. His other hand was affected by cerebral palsy.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a wonderful story of how a boy came to find a father figure and a man found a son. There are too many dreadful stories. This one is uplifting. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read lately.

I received this book from Handlebar Publishing for this review.

Thoughts Determine Actions

The premise of Hahn’s book is that thoughts influence actions. Our thoughts shape who we are. If our thoughts are focused on anxiety and temptations, we don’t leave room for Jesus. What the book suggests is that we can order our thought to live a more godly life, a life of peace and happiness rather than anxiety and fear.

The book makes important points for not only our individual lives but for how our communities can be better places to live. One of the most important chapters for me was Chapter 10, Replacement Therapy. Hahn makes the point that God wants us to be filled with love and peace. Too often we are encouraged to remove things from our lives, sin and wicked ways. Hahn makes the point that it’s important to fill our live and learn how to make our thoughts close to the mind Christ. When we’re full of good thoughts there is no place for sinful imaginings. Chapter 11, Who’s the Boss, is also an excellent chapter. God is the boss and we need to train our thoughts to bring them into conformity with that idea.

This is an excellent book. If you’d like to free yourself to lead a happier more peace life in conformity with God, I highly recommend it. It’s not a particularly easy book to read. It’s filled more with Bible teaching than examples from everyday life. However, it’s well worth taking the time to read and appreciate it.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.  

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Teenage Couple Died Too Young

Fifteen years ago, Leo and Diana were struck by a train. Were they playing chicken with the locomotive; was it bad luck; or something more sinister?Detective Napoleon, Nap, Dumas wants to know why his twin brother, Leo, died. The same night, Nap’s girlfriend, Maura disappeared. Now her finger prints have appeared in another murder scene and the victim is another classmate. Nap wants to know what happened to his brother, and particularly why Maura disappeared.

This is a great mystery. I didn’t figure out all the connections until the very end. Nap is a good character. You can’t help liking him and rooting for him to solve the old mystery even if the final solution is much darker than he wants.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. Coban is at his best. Nap is a good cop, but to solve murders, he is capable of bending the rules. In this case when Rex Canton dies, he can’t help but see the connection to his brother’s death, since Canton was a classmate. When other former classmates, feel threatened, Nap believes that he is on the track of what caused his brother’s death.

If you like thrillers with great characters and a plot that’s hard to unravel until the end, this is a very good one. The pace is fast. I found it hard to put down. I highly recommend it.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.  

Cold Cases, the Swedish Welfare System, and Murder

Denise and her young friends appear to be gaming the Swedish Welfare System. They dress well, party, and don’t want to work. Anne-Line, their case worker,is frustrated. Why should they receive benefits when they’re so clearly gaming the system? Then the young girls become the victims of a serial killer. Department Q is assigned the case.

The murder of an elderly woman in a park resembles a cold case Department Q is investigating. This puts them in conflict with the department upstairs and affects Department Q’s future. The members of the cold case team, Detective Carl, Assad, and Rose are experiencing their own problems. Rose is recovering from a mental breakdown and appears to be on her way to another one. Assad and Carl care for Rose and want to help her, but the resemblance of one of their cases to her past may be pushing her over the edge.

I found this book hard to get into. It’s part of a series and while it can be read as a standalone, I found parts confusing. The opening is devoted primarily to the welfare system and the young girls who are gaming it. When Department Q comes in, they’re trying to wrap up an old case and worried about the existence of their department. In the end all the threads come together for a satisfying ending, but you have to get well into the book to become immersed in the cases.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Murder, Corruption, and the Mistral

Captaine Roger Blanc specializes in ferreting our corruption. He thinks he’s solved an important case in Paris when suddenly he’s transferred to Provence, to a small provincial hamlet. His wife decides to stay behind in Paris with her lover, so he’s alone in a crumbling house that was once housed an olive olive press.

On his first day on the job, the Commandant assigns a murder case that looks like a drug related death that will go immediately to Marseilles. Unfortunately, Blanc’s partner Tonon recognizes the body as belonging to a local thug who delights in terrorizing his neighbors. The Commandant expects the case to go away, but when another body turns up, this time a builder who may or may not have been accidentally killed on his sailboat, Blanc can’t give up the hunt.

The best part of this book is the scenes of Provence, the scent of wild thyme, and the haunting winds of the Mistral. I enjoyed the way Blanc, the Parisian, begins to appreciate his new home. He’s a character you can’t help but relate to. He knows that he may be getting himself crosswise with his new superior, but when he scents the mystery, he has to go after the culprit.

The mystery is not hard to figure out. The author gives us all the clues early in the novel. However, because the French police and criminal justice system are
so different from ours, it’s a fascinating read. If you enjoy a good mystery, and likable characters in an exotic local, you’ll enjoy this book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.   

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Legal Thriller with an Intertwined Romance

Mason Pharmaceutical Company (MPC) is being sued by numerous plaintiffs. Their drug, Celix , taken by migraine sufferers, allegedly causes brain tumors. Kate Sullivan, a rising star in the Atlanta legal community, wants to be chief counsel on the combined cases. She achieves her wish, but is thrown into a dangerous situation.

One of the chief scientists at MPC, Ellie Proctor, contacts her about possible problems with the testing of the drug. Kate hires a professional investigator, Landon James, to find whether Ellie can be trusted. When the scientist is murdered, Kate and Landon are thrown into a deadly struggle to keep Kate safe.

The plot in this book is fast paced and keeps you wondering how the case will be resolved. For me the best part was seeing the detailed workings of a big law firm preparing for a civil case. It was very realistic. I was a little disappointed in the conclusion. I thought is was a little too violent for the pace of the novel. 

Kate is a character you can relate to. She is consumed by her job and sincerely wants the best for her clients. Landon is likewise a good character. He’s pursued by his demons from his time as an Army Ranger in Iraq, but he wants to keep Kate safe and gradually he begins to fall in love with her. It’s not easy for these two serious people to finally admit to the feelings they have for each other.

This book is Christian fiction, but Kate’s belief fits well into the story and is not overpowering. If you enjoy a good thriller without sex and little violence, you’ll like this book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.   

Thursday, September 14, 2017

An English Village Full of Secrets

Miss Seeton is back. In this, the twenty-second Miss Seeton mystery, she’s returned in the same form as before. For those unfamiliar with Miss Seeton, she carries a sketch pad, umbrella, and her pictures help the police to solve crimes.

Back from a tour of the North where a golden heron was one of the featured sights, Miss Seeton is ready for another adventure. Nigel Colveden has married a French girl, the daughter of a count. The couple plans to live in local cottage and the ladies have decided that a quilt where each lady provides a square in her choice of embroidery or applique will be the perfect gift. While sketching the newlyweds cottage for inspiration on her part of the quilt, Miss Seeton’s drawing reveals something quite unexpected. This is in addition to the mural portrait of Henry VII found when renovating the Tudor cottage.

Happenings in the village are not the only secrets. Scotland yard and Miss Seeton’s old friends, Chief Superintendent Delphick and Sargeant Ranger, are involved in international secrets. Miss Seeton is helpful as usual.

If you enjoy English village mysteries, this is a fun one. The plot is full of complications, the characters are quirky, and Miss Seeton overcomes all to solve the case. I found the book rather slow. The characters take their time gossiping about Miss Seeton, the village happenings, and in the case of Scotland Yard, the new case.

If you’re a Miss Seeton fan, this book will be a delight. It’s also standalone, if you’re new to the series, but you have to love the slower pace of English mysteries. It can get a bit tiresome waiting for all the village ladies to have their gossip and get on with the action.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Memoir of the Restaurant Business

Jan Agg owns bars and restaurants. Perhaps the one most people have heard of is The Black Hoof in Toronto. It’s a restaurant and bar that specializes in charcuterie. I have never been to a bar specializing in serving a selection of spicy meats, but it sounds delicious.

The book is the story of how Jen found her passion in developing and owning great restaurants. It’s not an easy life to provide delicious food for a varied clientele, but according to Jen, it can be very satisfying. The story covers her early life, first marriage, and subsequent success in the restaurant business with her second husband. I enjoyed the history. It’s good to read about people overcoming obstacles to achieve success, However, I found the amount of time devoted to her early life less interesting than the rest of the book.

My favorite chapters were the first two where she describes her method of running a restaurant and takes you behind the scenes to discuss how she expects her servers to act and how she keeps the restaurant functioning at top speed

The author has a great many opinions and is not afraid to share them This makes the book fun to read. She’s also quite open about her sexual experiences. This doesn’t have much to do with her success as a restaurateur, so if you’re offended by her frankness, you can skip those parts.

I recommend this book. It’s a lively memoir and gives a very interesting picture of the restaurant and bar business. I found myself looking more carefully at the service in the restaurants I enjoy.

I received this book from Viking/Penguin for his review.

A Double Murder in the French Wine Country

An old couple is found shot to death in their cottage near the famous Chateau Yquem. Benjamin Cooker, wine expert and amateur detective, is intrigued by the double homicide, particularly because it reminds him of the famous sauternes produced by the Chateau.

Virgilie, Cooker’s assistant, has a long term friend managing his wife’s family vineyards in the area. Cooker has him contact the friend to learn more about the tragedy. With the scent of a mystery and the promise of memorable wines to sample, Benjamin and Vergilie set off for the Sauternes wine region.

As with the other books in this series, the descriptions of the wine and the countryside are magnificent. They draw you into the setting and make it real.

The mystery in this book is much more a typical mystery than some of the earlier books. Benjamin and Vergilie are caught up in the search for the killer. I was pleased to see Vergilie getting a much larger role. With a beautiful girl, the granddaughter of the murdered couple, and his friend, who has more than a passing connection to the mystery, Virgilie has a major part in this novel.

Benjamin, Elizabeth, his wife, and Virgilie are wonderful characters. I particularly love hearing about the feasts Elizabeth prepares. Benjamin is a source of information about the wine country, and Virgilie adds a light touch with his romantic escapades.

I highly recommend this book if you love wine, or just like a good mystery.

I received this book from Le French Book for this review.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Lilah Concocts a Drop Dead Pudding

Lilah would love to have a full time catering business, but right now her catering consists of making dishes for customers who want to pass the dishes off as their own. One of her first customers, and the mother of her boyfriend, Jay, Ellie loves to get dishes from Lilah and pass them off as her creations. This time, she takes a rice pudding casserole to Marcus Cantwell’s 65th birthday party.

All is going well. Marcus and the children love the pudding until Marcus slumps over, face first in the remains of the pudding. Fearing that she may be suspected of murder, Lilah decides to unravel the murder. There are plenty of suspects. Marcus was married three times and has five children. Distributing the money via his will provides a reason for any of the beneficiaries to commit murder.

The author does a good job of making the suspects and their motivations real. I had suspicions about the murderer, but it took until the end to see the whole picture. One of the delightful benefits of this book is the plethora of delicious dishes Lilah concocts. It will make you hungry just reading about them.

Romance is in the air. Lilah and Jay are going over a rough patch and with three ex-wives people wonder about Marcus’ relationship with Ellie.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery. If you like murder mixed with delicious food and a helping of romance, you’ll love this book.

I received this book from Berkley Publishing
Group for this review.

Enhance Your Creativity: Detach from Your Smart Phone

Smart phones are useful, but they can become a crutch that keeps us from getting in touch with our creative side and distances us from other people. Zomorodi, host of WNYC Studio’s ‘Not to Self,’ realized that being constantly plugged in to her smart phone was keeping her from doing other things, like thinking. She wondered if other people had the same problem. She got her answer when she offered her listeners a series of experiments to help them get away from their phones and hundreds of people signed up.

The book describes the experiments and encourages the reader to try them. One of my favorites was deleting an app you’re spending too much time on. Zamorodi was addicted to Two Dots. It wasn’t easy to delete the app, but it was remarkable how much time she had to think when when she wasn’t glued to the device.

The book also contains information she gathered from neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists. The research is discussed in the chapter which is most closely related to the experiment being described.

I don’t have a particularly bad phone habit, but I found the exercises helpful. Some of the research is well worth reading. You know that people aren’t really paying attention to you when their eyes keeping straying to their smart phone. Just the presence of the smart phone in viewing range can reduce the empathy between friends. I recommend this book if you want to cut your phone dependence, or if you’re interested in the psychology of phone use.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

The Magical Cats Help to Solve a Murder

Kathleen Paulson, Head Librarian in Mayville Heights, MN and owner of the two cats, Owen and Hercules, is pulled into a mystery when Leo James is murdered and his nephew Simon is suspected.

Leo has a twin brother, Victor James. He’s been away from the town for years after seducing Leo’s wife who later died in a one-car crash. Leo has never forgiven his brother, but now Victor has cancer. He says he wants to return and try to make amends.

A wall in the local post office is taken down revealing a space no one remembered. The space contains undelivered mail and a number of photographs. Kathleen and the library staff are asked to take on the identification of the photos to try to get them back to the owners. This task on top of trying to solve Leo’s murder has her quite busy, not to mention keeping track of her magical cats who can disappear and walk through walls. Kathleen doesn’t want people to think the cats are freaks so she tries to keep their magical talents a secret.

This is a delightful cozy mystery. The intriguing plot involves long lost letters and old crimes. The facts come out throughout the story, but it’s not easy to guess the murderer before the end. Kathleen and her cats are great sleuths. I particularly like the little bit of supernatural attached to the cats. It’s not heavy handed just a little extra sparkle for these fascinating creatures.

If you enjoy small town mysteries, this is a good one. It doesn’t hurt that the cats have prominent role in solving the mystery.

I received this book from Berkley Publishing Group for this review.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Shades of Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and an 1800s Romance

Clara Chapman is becoming anxious. Not only was she left at the altar by her fiance, who stole her family fortune, but the aunt she’s living with is dying and then she’ll have no place to go unless her one time maid gets her a job in the hat factory.

Ben Lane, her finace, is wrongfully imprisoned. He didn’t steal the money. He was grabbed on the way to the church and thrown into prison without a trial. He still loves and misses Clara, but he doubts he will ever be able to clear his name and claim her.

On Christmas Eve the ex-lovers receive invitations to Bleakly Manor. If they can stay through the 12 days of Christmas, Clara will receive 500 pounds, which she dearly needs, and Ben will receive his freedom. The catch is that only one person, the one left at the end of the 12 days, will receive the prize.

In addition to Clara and Ben, several other eccentric individuals have received invitations. They all want the prize, and some are willing to do anything to get it.

This is a lovely story. The 1800s Christmas traditions are showcased. Readers familiar with Bleak House will find much to remind them of Dickens, particularly the zany characters, and for Agatha Christie fans, the plot has aspects of Ten Little Indians.

The main characters, Ben and Clara, are delightful lovers. They want to be together, but the hurt keeps them from trusting. It’s a clean romance. No one jumps into bed, but you can feel the tension between Ben and Clara.

If you love cozy mysteries, this is a good one. Although the theme is Christmas, you don’t have to wait. The story is good at any time of year.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Great Photos, Interesting Recipes

The best thing about this cookbook, next to the recipes, is the mouth watering pictures of the finished dishes. It made me want to try all of them.

The recipes are good and generally easy to make. However, there are often several steps that are done before or after using the slow cooker. This has the advantage of increasing the flavor of most dishes, but also adds preparation time. It’s a trade-off.

The book features useful information such as the Slow Cooker Commandments and The Basics, which are information included at the beginning of each chapter. The book contains recipes for meat, seafood, poultry, side dishes, stocks and sauces, breakfast and sweets. I found the content heavy on meat dishes. We don’t eat much meat. I would have preferred more meatless dishes. However, Spaghetti Boulognese is excellent.

The chapter on sauces and stocks is very helpful. The slow cooker is an excellent device for preparing stocks. The chapter on fish was also useful. We eat a great deal of salmon. It’s easy to overcook it. However, poaching in slow cooker makes it come out perfect.

I hadn’t really tried baking in a slow cooker, but the Blueberry Cornmeal Buckle turned out very well as did the Apple-Cranberry Crisp.

If you enjoy slow cooker cooking, this is a very helpful book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Making of a Speaker of the House

New Gingrich is and has been a colorful and polarizing political figure. This biography does him justice. Starting with Gingrich’s youth in Pennsylvania, it moves quickly to his days as a college professor. Although the book doesn’t state it explicitly, I believe that Gingrich loved to teach. He kept his professorship through all his early campaigns. This was partly a matter of money, but since he continued teaching when in congress, I believe it is also a matter of enjoying the activity.

The stories of Gingrich’s three early campaigns to gain a seat in the House are fascinating. You can definitely say he isn’t a quitter. The early days in the House are also interesting. Gingrich was and is a conservative. His struggles to get the House to embrace a conservative agenda are well worth reading.

Much as I loved the book, I did have some disappointment. It’s well written and easy to read, not dry like some biographies. Gingrich’s early life and tenure in the house before becoming Speaker are well done. However, the book ends just when things are getting exciting. He’s on the verge of becoming Speaker. This leaves out all the interesting incidents surrounding being removed from the Speaker position by his party, the impeachment of Clinton, and his run for President in 2012. I’m sure there are equally interesting incidents in these years. Perhaps another book is planned.

I received this book from Booklookbloggers for this review.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Inner City Struggle of Both Landlords and Tenants

Milwaukee, like most large cities, has a surfeit of substandard housing rented to struggling families, and people with histories of drug addiction, and criminal behavior. These families and individuals can spend as much as 70 percent of their income just to keep a decaying roof over their heads. You also have the landlords. Their lot isn’t easy either. Properties have mortgages, taxes, and repairs. When tenants default, the landlord must cover the expenses and often evict the tenant.

The stories in this book are heart wrenching. Young mothers with small children who can’t find enough money to feed the children properly and pay the rent. These people are trapped in low paying jobs, or confined to public assistance. As the author points out, it’s not always easy to get and keep public assistance. There are also drug addicts and ex-convicts struggling to get clean and keep a place to live.

This is a very powerful book. I found myself rooting for the families trying to pay the rent, feed the children, and stay out of trouble. If you wonder what life is like in the inner city, this book may not be an eye opener, but it will make you think.

I highly recommend this book because of the insight into people trying to make a living and the problems of both landlords and tenants. Evicting people is hard, but the author depicts a culture in which it is inevitable that evictions will occur and where landlords will also suffer.

The author has a solution. I don’t know that it’s workable. I do know that what he portrays is a very complex societal problem. It’s a situation we should all be aware of because in the end it affects all of us.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Erica Sparks Uncovers a Secessionist Plot

Erica Sparks’ program, The Erica Sparks Effect, is still highly rated, but Erica needs more challenge. She convinces her network, GNN, to give her a new show, Spotlight. The show promises to be a success, but will her marriage to Greg survive? He no longer works for GNN. He’s doing work as a consultant, but is he happy? Erica could hire him as her producer, but could she work with him?

Leslie Burke White, an author specializing in political commentary, is tapped by Erica for a special on her program. Leslie is brilliant, beautiful, and well connected. Erica can’t help but be awed by her and desirous of joining her famous circle of friends.

Jenny, Erica’s, daughter, is growing up and still having trouble balancing her love for her mother and her mother’s fame.

The novel starts with a group of secessionists in West Texas in a shootout with local law enforcement. Erica realizes what a draw the secessionist movement would be for her new show. She determines to meet some of the groups and highlight what’s happening. These are very dangerous people and the action is non-stop.

If you like a fast paced plot with echos of the evening news, you’ll enjoy this book. Personally, I found the action, particularly Erica’s involvement in stopping the secessionists’ plot, a bit over the top. She is after all a news reporter, not special forces.

I was turned off by Erica’s treatment of Greg. She knows he’s not happy with his consulting role, but she’s determined to keep him outside her new show although she could use the help. I found that very selfish, self-centered, and shortsighted.

The book is well written and moves smoothly. As an adventure story it’s good. However, I found the actions of the characters, particularly Erica, not quite believable.

I received this book from BookLook Bloggers for this review.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Counterpoint to the Low Fat Diet

Diet fads come and go. We’ve had the low fat diet, the low carb diet, the South Beach Diet, the Atkins Diet and others. From current research it seems clear that any diet that insists on not eating one type of food is not going to work for all people. I enjoyed this book. It makes the point that diets need to be individualized and that eating fat is not the real problem.

The book contains a great deal of information on current research. Karvandi, a fitness coach, explains the current finding in language easy to understand by anyone interested in nutrition. He explains fat metabolism and goes into detail about how it keeps the body function in a healthy way.

If you read a lot of nutrition advice, the book doesn’t present anything new, but it is explained well. I recommend this book for beginners or people who are interested in nutrition and don’t have much time to study it.

In addition to the description of body function and recommendations for foods to eat and those to avoid, the author includes a number of recipes and a diet plan for those who want to try his method.

This book is short, easy to read and even if you don’t plan to take on all his recommendations, you’ll learn a lot about food and exercise.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Jack Stratton Solves Thefts in a Florida Retirement Community

Jack Stratton is visiting his parents in the Orange Blossom Cove Retirement Community in Florida to introduce Alice to them. Jack proposed marriage before they left, but with Alice things never go as planned.

When Jack, Alice, and Lady, their enormous dog, arrive in Florida the community is bedeviled by a series of thefts. Nothing of serious value has been taken, although the prologue hints at something darker. The residents are concerned and have formed a committee to catch the thief, known as the Orange Blossom Cove Bandit. Laura, Jack’s mother is so proud of him she told the committee that he will help solve the mystery. This generous offer leads to unforeseen complications.

Jack’s parents, Laura and Ted, are impressive characters. They love each other and are very proud of their son. They’re also involved with the community and enjoy their amusing neighbors. The retirement community is peopled by a series of zany seniors. They are stereotypical of what people think of as elders, but they’re fun and add a light touch to the novel.

The romance between Alice and Jack seems destined to go on forever as a never completed action. However, this book may surprise you. The atmosphere of love and caring surrounding Jack’s parents opens the door for a rather different ending.

I enjoyed the book. The pace is fast; the retirement community scenes, well done; and the plot is full of twists. If you like Jack Stratton mysteries, this is one of the best. If you’re new to the series, it’s not a bad place to start.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Great Fortune, A Lonely Woman, A Con-man, and a Jealous Daughter

Liliane Bettencourt, heir to the L’Oréal cosmetics fortune, is one of the world’s richest women. Married to Andre Bettencourt, a politican, Liliane became tired of her bourgeois life. She met and was attracted to Francois-Marie Banier. Banier was an artist and photographer and a member of artistic society that fascinated Liliane. Infatuated with him, she presented him with hundreds of millions of euros worth of real estate, paintings, and cash. Andre didn’t complain about the money. He said it was her’s to do as she wished.

Liliane’s daughter, Francoise, thought differently about Banier and the family fortune believing that he was taking advantage of her mother. She had not been particularly close to her mother, probably because Liliane was not a maternal person and was absent during the early years of Francoise’s life taking a tuberculosis cure, The rupture never healed. When Liliane started becoming confused. (She is presently suffering from Alzheimer’s.) Francoise filed a law suit against Banier.

The lawsuit devolved into a major scandal involving corporate secrets, WWII relations with the Nazis, Swiss Bank accounts, and political payoffs.

This is a fascinating book. The unusual characters, tangled emotions, and high level political maneuvering makes the book read more like fiction than history. The book is very well researched, going in depth on the background of the characters as well as the trial.

For me, the book started rather slowly with the history of the L’Oréal Company founded by her father Charles Schueller, a brilliant chemist and business man. This history is important to the rest of the story, so it’s necessary in order to understand the later trial, but it did make the early chapters slow when you’re interested in the scandalous trial.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Get Away from the Destructive Forces in Your Life

People become trapped in destructive forces in their lives. Some are pushed into pits, some fall into pits, others jump in. No matter how you get there when you’re in a pit you need help and encouragement to get out. Beth Moore provides that help in this book.

Moore shares her own story and those of others who found themselves in a pit and managed to get out with God’s help. God’s help is the key to this book. The book is filled with scripture focusing on God’s love and how He can pull you out of the pit and help you get on with a more rewarding life.

Perhaps one of the most useful parts of the book is recognizing when you’re in a pit and knowing when you’ve escaped it. I love Moore’s description of knowing that you are out of the pit because you have a new song in your heart.

The last chapter is equally valuable, knowing how to stay out of a pit in the future. I highly recommend this book. It’s a Christian book, but the theology is easy to understand focusing on the Psalm 40. I highly recommend this book if you’re struggling with your life. Moore’s book is like having a counselor who is also a good friend.

I received this book from Handlebar for this review.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

An Ex-Speical Forces Limo Driver Gets Wrapped into a Murder Plot

Michael Skelling, owner of a limo company, is waiting for his fare in an alley behind a hotel. He’s been driving Bismark Avila, a skateboard rapper, for the last twenty-eight hours and wonders when Avila will get tired and go home.

A voice on the Santa Ana wind, like that of a Chechen torturer he shot in Yemen, warns Michael of danger. Knowing not to disregard the warning, he charges into the hotel just in time to save Avila from a bullet, but not before Avila’s body guard is killed. When Michael wakes up in the hospital, he finds he’s implicated in the murder. Avila refuses to alibi him unless he agrees to be his personal driver which puts Michael in a direct line to take a bullet for his employer.

The book is packed with action and snappy dialog. The ending is quite violent. Michael seems almost superhuman. The plot is filled with twists. It’s almost impossible to figure out what’s behind the murders until the very end.

For me, the best part of the novel was the quirky characters Michael employs in his limo service. Two are wounded veterans, one is his Afghan interpreter. The veterans are damaged, fighting their demons, but they are all supportive of each other and willing to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, to save each other.

I recommend this book if you enjoy fast paced action and interesting characters.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

An Ex-Con and a Pastor Find Love

Shay has just been released from prison for embezzling from the bank she worked for. The victim of an abusive father, a mother who died young, and a manipulative brother, Shay hasn’t had much of a chance. She pulled away from a relationship with Shooter, a drug dealer, but when her brother owed money to Shooter and others, she felt she needed to get the money for him and took it from the bank.

Feeling that she’s lost her chance at a good life, Shay is lonely and depressed when she gets off the bus from prison. It’s freezing and there’s a church in front of her. She enters to get warm, and it changes her life.

Drew Douglas, pastor of the church, feels that he is losing his faith after his wife’s death. He’s praying when Shay walks in. Meeting her, he wants to help and by helping gives them both a chance at a more fulfilling life.

This is a Christian romance. The emotion between Drew and Shay is powerful, but all at the level of propriety, no bedroom scenes. Shay has a hard time giving up her defensive attitude to accept help and friendship from others. I found this the most realistic part of the book.

As usual in a romance, the course of love doesn’t run smooth. In this case, it’s due to Shooter and Shay’s brother reappearing in her life, as well as her prison past coming back to haunt her. I enjoyed the book. Some of it seemed too good to be true. However, it was an enjoyable, quick read.

If you like Christian romance, Debbie Macomber is always a good choice.

I received this book from Penguin Random House / Ballantine Bantam Dell for this review.  

Monday, July 31, 2017

Maggie Hope in Occupied Paris During WWII

With the help of the Queen, Maggie Hope is back in occupied Paris. Her half-sister, Elise, escaped from the Gestapo. Maggie wants to find her and bring her back to England, but does Elise want to be rescued? Maggie is also hoping to contact SOE agent Erica Calvert. She has been captured and her research, vital to the Normandy invasion is missing.

SOE agents, Hugh and Sarah, Maggie’s friends, are also in Paris working undercover as entertainers and sending information vital to the invasion back to England. The whole enterprise is threatened by the existence of a double agent. Maggie must discover this agent before the invasion plans are leaked to the Germans.

Suspense is the keynote of this Maggie Hope novel. The streets of Paris are eerily silent except for the Nazi’s Mercedes creeping along. She is working undercover, but any false step could land her in the hands of the Gestapo. Maggie is an excellent character, some of her feats seem almost superhuman, but she’s also vulnerable and recognizes the danger to herself and her friends in occupied Paris.

The historical detail in these novels is well researched, but the author doesn’t let the history get in the way of a suspenseful story. The somber atmosphere makes the story particularly nail-biting. In fact, this story is almost too hard to read at points. I cared about the characters and hated it when they were captured and tortured by the Gestapo.

If you enjoy historical suspense with a great female character, this is a terrific book.

I received this book from Random House / Ballantine Bantam Dell for this review.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

One Hundred Years Apart Two Women Find Temptations in the Dakota

Sara Smythe, illegitimate daughter of an earl, finds in Theodore Camden’s offer to be managerette of the Dakota, the fabulous apartment he designed in New York City, the chance to make something of herself. The temptation to see more of Theo and experience gilded age society even at a distance is hard to resist.

Bailey Camden, fresh out of rehab, has tasted the riches of New York too exuberantly. Now the ex-party girl and interior designer is homeless, out of work, and out of resources. Bailey is not related to Theo. However, her grandfather was Theo’s ward. Bailey grew up with her “cousin” Melinda. Now Melinda is her only hope to get her life back together.

Melinda hires Bailey to oversee the renovation of the Camden apartment in the Dakota. Although Bailey doesn’t like Melinda’s ideas, which destroy much of the historical detail in the apartment, she has no choice but to help if she wants a roof over her head.

Bailey meets Renvo, the building manager, who shares her interest in preserving the historical detail of the old building. In the storeroom where he keeps all the moldings and furniture no one wants in their modern apartment, Bailey discovers Sara Smythe’s belongings and unravels the secrets of her family.

The gilded age in New York is beautifully depicted in the novel. The changes that take place over the hundred years make a vivid contrast between the modern Dakota and the original building. The descriptions are compelling,
so much so that the Dakota becomes a character in the novel.

This is another novel, of which there are a number lately, told from the point of view of two characters separated by many years. Usually, I find one or the other character more interesting, but in this case, I was captivated by both Sara and Bailey. They are strong, independent women who experience difficult trials and are not beaten by them.

If you enjoy a novel with a complex plot and rich historical detail, you’ll enjoy this book.

I received this book from Dutton for this review.