Monday, January 29, 2024


A Christmas Legacy

A Christmas Legacy by Anne Perry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mainstream fiction

After leaving her position with Charlotte and Thomas Pitt to get married, Gracie thought her days as a maid were behind her. But when her good friend's daughter, Millie, turns up on her doorstep just before the holidays, frantic because things are going missing from the kitchen in the household she serves, Gracie knows she has to find out what is happening. Millie, whose mother died years before, can't risk being accused of theft and getting thrown out on the street, with no character references for a new position.

So Gracie takes on Millie's job herself, claiming Millie is sick and needs a few days to recuperate. At first, it seems that all is normal in the household, even if the couple's elderly granny keeps entirely to her bedroom upstairs. But Gracie begins to realize that Granny is suffering from neglect--and rather than helping her, the husband and wife have decided she isn't dying fast enough.


I loved this book so much! A Christmas Legacy is part of Anne Perry's Christmas novella series, but it works beautifully for any time of the year. The main seasonal connection is that Gracie wants to have the mystery solved and be home with her family by Christmas.

Although Anne Perry writes murder mysteries, this isn't really a whodunit - other than that two quite unlikeable characters would like to hasten someone's death. It's a contrast of hearts, reflected in actions. Greed, selfishness, and scheming contrasted with kindness, caring, empathy, and a willingness to risk it all in a time when servants could be cast out without references, literally leaving them at the mercy of the streets.

Perry knows how to write a story that flows at a steady pace and captures the reader's emotions from the start. The characters are well developed and we can see into their hearts. Gracie was a character in the Thomas & Charlotte Pitt series, but this story stands alone. And the ending is wonderful, guaranteed to leave you smiling.

** Mainstream fiction, clean

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Sunday, January 28, 2024


The Body on the Beach (Fethering, #1)

The Body on the Beach by Simon Brett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mainstream fiction

Very little disturbs the ordered calm of Fethering, a pleasingly self-contained retirement town on England’s southern coast. Which is precisely why Carole Seddon, who has left behind both her husband and her career at the Home Office, has chosen to reside there. So Carole is surprised to encounter a new neighbour with one name and a colourful past. 'Jude' is not really Fethering . . . but even she is not as surprising as the body Carole finds on the beach.

A body, it has to be said, that has disappeared by the time the police arrive. Only Jude is ready to believe what Carole says she saw – and from that moment on, the two women resolve to turn detective.


Prolific British whodunit author, Simon Brett, begins a new series set in the coastal town of Fethering. Is it perfect? No. But I loved it and eagerly anticipate reading further in the series.

The town of Fethering - with it's lovely beach area, local pub, and housing clusters separated by wealth and social status, or lack of - feels like a major character. Secondary characters are interesting and sometimes quirky, but not over the top. Setting and characters are well established in this first story and will feel welcoming when I return to the next series book.

The two protagonists, Carole and Jude, are delightful. Carole's life had been pretty quiet until Jude, her new neighbor, moved in. Opposites in personality, Carole isn't sure what to make of her as they become connected through the discovery of a disappearing body on the beach. I love their humor and slowly growing friendship. Jude remains a little bit of an enigma and it will be interesting to learn more about her. The mystery was well crafted and fun to try and figure out, not that I ever did.

** Mainstream fiction, a little profanity

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Thursday, January 18, 2024


Dead Wrong (Agatha's Amish B&B #1)Dead Wrong by Vannetta Chapman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Agatha Lapp’s brother and sister-in-law are tragically killed in a buggy accident, Agatha relocates to the new Amish community in Hunt Texas, nestled in the Texas Hill Country. She’s there to make a success of her brother’s dream--an Amish B&B. Agatha is friendly, efficient, and capable. She's also a fifty-five year old widow who has learned to be independent. When she discovers Russell Dixon’s lifeless body in Cabin 3, she runs next door where retired detective Tony Vargas lives. The police determine that her guest died of natural causes, but as Agatha and Tony put together the events of the previous two days they become convinced that the police are Dead Wrong.


Delving into the pages of a Vannetta Chapman Amish book is like gently wrapping a warm blanket around you. I knew Dead Wrong would be good; I just didn't know how good it would be! The story moves at a steady pace, without unnecessary words or filler. The chapters were short enough to encourage me to keep reading; in other words, I never wanted to put it down.

This book is a perfect blend of setting, characterization, and storyline. A two-story Amish B&B on the Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country - how beautiful and peaceful that must be! Agatha used additional cabins to house Englisch visitors, while keeping the main house true to Amish ways. The cultural mixture allowed for creative storytelling.

I loved how the main characters were in their mid-fifties. Both Agatha and Tony had tragic losses in their backgrounds. Agatha was a smart, honorable woman, good through and through. Tony Vargas, a retired police detective, had allowed grief to eat away at him. But after Agatha literally comes running into his life, Tony looked "like a man who'd woken abruptly from a long nap and found himself dropped into the river of life."

The mystery itself was well crafted and never obvious. There were lots of possible suspects who, if they didn't have obvious motives, it quickly became clear that none were telling the truth. There were moments of gentle humor and spiritual insight. I loved this quote by Bishop Jonas... "Sometimes we have to be remined that the next great thing comes after this life."

I can't wait to see how the relationship between these two unlikely friends grows in future stories.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2024


Cop Hater (87th Precinct, #1)Cop Hater by Ed McBain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mainstream fiction

When Detective Reardon is found dead, motive is a big question mark. But when his partner becomes victim number two, it looks like open-and-shut grudge killings. That is, until a third detective buys it.


Cop Hater, originally published in 1956, begins the popular and long-running police procedural series of over 50 books written by the prolific Ed McBain. I have long been a fan of TV police dramas and recently picked up one of McBain's 87th Precinct mysteries, which was so good that I'm now starting at the very beginning.

McBain wrote a fascinating forward to this book in which he describes being approached by Pocket Books about writing a series of mysteries that would replace Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason books as he was nearing the end of his writing career. McBain lived in New York and was influenced by the old Dragnet series, which inspired him to write about big-city cops. But rather than featuring one cop, he decided that something fresh would be to write about "a squadroom full of cops, each with different traits, who-when put together-would form a conglomerate hero." The result was the groundbreaking 87th Precinct series.

This is a unique series and I loved Cop Hater. It's realistic 
(cops get killed), complex, and imaginative. Cops talk like cops. We're given insight into how cops feel about their jobs and families, and how women feel about being in a relationship with man who faces danger every time he walks out the door. There's spots of humor and a surprisingly tender romance between Det. Steve Carella and his deaf fiancé, Teddy.

Rather than an outdated book, this should be thought of as groundbreaking for its time. I actually loved the dogged detective work, determination, and intuitiveness used long before the days of modern technology. And the following quote by Lieutenant Byrnes - hard to believe McBain said this back in the 50s - gave me chills when I look around us today... "We can't let a cop be killed because a cop is a symbol of law and order. If you take away the symbol, you get animals in the streets."

I don't know if I'll get to read all 55 books in the series, but I'm sure going to try. Highly recommended to fans of police drama.

** Mainstream fiction with some profanity

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Monday, January 15, 2024


A Place to Heal

A Place to Heal by Allie Pleiter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christian fiction

Opening a camp for children who've dealt with tragedy is former police detective Dana Preston's goal in life. And she's found the perfect location -- Mason Avery's land. But convincing the widowed dad -- and the town -- to agree might take a little prayer and a lot of hard work...


Love Inspired books are often my comfort reads, a lighter read after something more dark. Every once in a while, though, I discover a gem that rises above other books, and A Place to Heal is that book. It's a beautifully written story that deals with a serious topic and captured me emotionally.

Dana and Mason are both victims of violence, and Dana wants to use that experience to help other grieving families who suffer from violence. Her vision of a family camp is so very compelling and I loved how her intelligence and enthusiasm helped to break down protective barriers that Mason had built up and win over a town.

A renewal of faith also enters in. In one scene, Dana was turning through some old hymnbooks and thought how people of faith must often turn to hymns for inspiration. Not as a substitute for Scripture, but I find such joy in the text of so many hymns!

Camp True North Springs... such a meaningful name that reflects the purposes and goals of the camp! Dana's thoughts as she was placing a blue blanket on the last bunk say it all: Blue. It was a brave color. A color of courage and protection. The color of water, of springs nourishing the dry land. If true north had a was blue.

A Place to Heal is a beautiful, heartfelt story. I look forward to other books in this series.

--"We wouldn't depend so much on God if we thought we could do it all alone."
-- "The thing about faith is that you can know - even when you can't feel - that things will turn out."

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Last Christmas in Paris

Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mainstream fiction

An unforgettably romantic novel that spans four Christmases (1914-1918), Last Christmas in Paris explores the ruins of war, the strength of love, and the enduring hope of the Christmas season.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes - as everyone does - that it will be over by Christmas. But as history tells us, it all happened so differently...

For me, Last Christmas in Paris is more than a 5-star read. So much more. Less than a third of the way through, I knew this book would leave a lasting imprint in my thoughts.

On the surface, it's a WWI novel with romantic elements, and there's where the complexity begins. The writing format is one of correspondence, letters and telegrams among a small circle of friends, family and business workers. I never knew this epistolary style could advance the storyline so smoothly and be so emotionally gripping, keeping me on the edge of my seat at times.

Many aspects of war are explored - such as the naivety of solders at the beginning of the war, social mores with regard to women's role, and the government/media propaganda verses reality. The real cowards are those back in England, in charge of the printing presses. The real cowards cover up the truth and shy away from the reality of this 'war to end all wars' before sinking into their warm beds. (from Evie's newspaper column).

At the heart is one of the sweetest romances I've ever read, from childhood friendships of Evie and Tom to so much more. I love the part letters play, and how easy it is to communicate from the heart in letter writing. Each section ends with a short current-day narrative in 1968, gently unfolding Evie and Tom's life after the war and concluding with some emotional revelations.

Highly recommended.

**General fiction, some mild profanity

-- "As mothers and wives, sisters and friends, how can we help the men who don't return to us with broken limbs, but who return to us with broken minds?" - Evie's newspaper column
-- "We led such comfortable privileged lives before all this. Nothing will ever be the same, will it? I hope not. We must be changed by this, or what on earth is it all for." - Letter from Evie to her mother

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Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The Christmas PortraitThe Christmas Portrait by Phyllis Clark Nichols
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christian fiction

When a young patient grieving the death of her sister recognizes the man in a portrait hanging in her office, Dr. Kate Harding, an art therapist, is startled but not entirely surprised. The face in the painting takes her back twenty years to snow-covered Cedar Point, Kentucky, and to her first Christmas without her mother.

As Christmas approached, John Harding, his daughter, Kate, and son, Chesler, were struggling to adjust to life’s changes after the September death of his wife and their mother. When a conversation with Granny Grace convinced Kate that there was Christmas in heaven, she was determined to get her mother a present, a special gift that would make her mother happy forever. No one could tell Kate how to get her gift to heaven—not her daddy, not Uncle Luke the medical student, not Aunt Susannah Hope, and not even Pastor Simmons who she was most certain would have the answer. But Kate devises and executes a Christmas Eve plan that changes her life. Kate’s Christmas is filled with surprises—taking in a runaway girl who had no mother, a tender exchange of Christmas presents, a meeting with Mister Josh, and finally, an astonishing family Christmas portrait.


There's not enough stars to rate this book! Just an incredibly entertaining, inspirational and moving read. A Christmas gem, for sure.

A Christmas Portrait is a poignant, coming-of-age story that begins with the passing of 10-year-old Kate's Mama from cancer, then becomes about family love, support, faith, and kindness. I love the realism, for death is a part of life. I'd rather face it and breathe in inspiration than avoid the topic. But for a Christmas-themed read? Yes! Christmas is a joyous time, but Christ was born to die for us. There were times when I smiled through tears, but this story is not a downer. Anything but, in fact! I loved young Kate and her family, her girlfriend Laramie, and the symbolism of a cardinal. And I loved the grown-up Kate, who worked with grieving children, and the mysterious Mr. Josh who appeared when children were in need. There's a wonderfully fulfilling epilogue at the end.

Two themes of faith run throughout the story... First, Kate's Mom gives her three stones symbolizing the way to keep her head above water in life.

"This rock is your faith. Praying is talking to God. Faith's depending on Him. You just keep doing it, even when you don't feel like it, or you don't want to, or it doesn't make a dab of sense ... The second rock is your family. They'll take good care of you, but you must remember life's going to get rough for them too, and you're one of their rocks. So sometimes, you'll have to be strong for them ... This final rock is for forever. Life as we know it here on this planet is not all there is. There are things we cannot see here, but they are real. So you live and love knowing it's forever."
"Faith, family, and forever. I won't forget, Mama."

Second, living life in a way that reflects kindness...

     “Granny, why are you kind to everybody?”
     “Why, child, I’m building my mansion in heaven, and with every act of kindness, I’m adding another brick.”
     Granny’s mansion is gonna be big and tall.

This story will stay in my heart and be read again.

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