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Monthly Archives: March 2017

If Not for You–gentle romance

If Not for You 

by Debbie Macomber

If Not for YouIf Not for You is part of the New Beginnings series by Debbie Macomber. These are books related more by theme than by characters, although there is some overlap of characters. Each could definitely be read as a standalone. I am not a fan of the romance genre, but I do enjoy reading one occasionally. I like Macomber’s romances because she manages to talk about relationships without taking the reader into the bedroom with detailed descriptions. If Not for You begins with a blind date between Beth, a young socialite struggling to escape a controlling mother, and Sam, a bearded, long-haired, tattooed mechanic. The date doesn’t go well, the evening ends in physical disaster, and a romance begins.

If Not for You details the ups and downs of Sam and Beth’s relationship as well as their respective backgrounds which brought them to this point. Other characters in the story have romantic issues as well. Beth has a tendency to want to “fix” other peoples’ affairs. Her efforts sometimes backfire despite her good intentions.

This romance is set in Portland and in Chicago. The characters are interesting and likable. Most of the story is predictable, but there are surprises along the way and I think fans of the gentle romance genre will enjoy it.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Random House (Ballantine) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication:   March 21, 2017–Random House (Ballantine)

Memorable Lines:

…the look in his eyes that said more than an entire library of books.

My mother will find a way of making sure the entire facility knows she’s arrived. She’ll make more of a production than Hannibal crossing the Alps.

My husband would have disapproved, but he’s been gone three years so I do what I want these days. That’s one of the compensations of being a widow.

…when we fail to be kind and loving, then we fail to be wise.

No Way Home–abundant suspense!

No Way Home

by Annette Dashofy

No Way HomeNo Way Home combines elements of a cozy mystery with elements of a thriller, and the result is an excellent read. As a cozy, No Way Home’s main character is Zoe Chambers, a county EMS paramedic and Deputy Coroner, who gets involved in trying to solve a murder when a riderless horse returns to the stable she manages. She is also trying to help her friend Rose find her missing son Logan. Meanwhile, several young people have overdosed in her county, and Zoe’s boyfriend Pete, Chief of Police, is driven to find the dealer. In this book, there are all the components of a good cozy: a likable heroine, a love interest, and a fascinating mystery with lots of threads. In addition, we are exposed to Native American culture as found in the Four Corners area.

No Way Home is also a thriller, however. A crucial characteristic of a thriller is suspense. This book kept me interested and wanting more from start to finish and fearful of what  might happen next. The book has two contrasting settings as it bounces back and forth from Pennsylvania to New Mexico in such a way that the reader wants to keep going with each plot thread in turn, a thread which is dangling just out of reach. It is a book you won’t put aside easily or for long.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: #5 in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series, reads well as a standalone

Publication:   March 14, 2017–Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

He had an easy smile, a hearty laugh, and a talent for putting everyone at ease, whether they agreed with his politics or not. In addition, Dale was always happy to help with chores even if it meant getting dirty. Not what Zoe had expected from a well-to-do politician.

He held the phone away from his ear. At Rose’s current decibel level, Pete could almost hear her from New Mexico without the device.

In Farleigh Field–World War II spy novel

In Farleigh Field

by Rhys Bowen

In Farleigh FieldI was late coming to the TV series Downton Abbey, but it is now a fait accompli, and I enjoyed it very much. I found In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen to be reminiscent of Downton Abbey in its focus on the titled upper class during the hardships and upheavals of World War II. The plot is not highly complex, but it is interesting as characters of various social ranks use their skills to help England survive the Nazi onslaught.

I have two criticisms of the book. The character of Lady Diana (Dido) repeatedly whines about the war’s hampering her coming of age social season. I suppose a young woman could be that self-centered, but I kept wanting to tell her to grow up and look at the devastation surrounding her. Even her younger sister, Lady Phoebe (Feebs), seems  mature, especially in times of crisis, at age twelve compared to her eighteen year old sibling. My other issue with In Farleigh Field is the ambivalence over secrets that are crucial to national security. The rules were emphasized over and over again and then broken on several occasions. At the same time, it seemed that more would be accomplished if branches of government cooperated.

The book does give insight into what it must have been like during World War II in England to work as a civilian for the government. Women were assumed to have secretarial jobs and men were thought to have bravery issues because they were not in the military.

I enjoyed the book, including the spy intrigue. There were surprises that kept the reader engaged, the setting was interesting, and the characters were appropriately either agreeable or unlikable.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Notes: World War II era

Publication:  March 1. 2017–Lake Union Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“Nasty Americanism, the word ‘weekend,’ ” Lord Westerham remarked. Although he had known Clementine Churchill for many years, he still hadn’t quite forgiven her for being American.

“I said she should have Margot’s bedroom, since she’s not likely to need it, but Pah said that standards had to be kept up, and it was not right for the staff to sleep on the same floor as the family, even if there was a war on.”

It was such a typical thing for someone like Lord Westerham to say. Not admitting that anything was allowed to change, even when the whole world was disintegrating around him.

Every Trick in the Rook–fun mystery with an ingenious bird

Every Trick in the Rook

by Marty Wingate

Every Trick in the RookIf you are looking for a fun, engaging read—a good mystery, but nothing to keep you awake at night, look no further than Every Trick in the Rook. The bottom line is that I had a good time with this book. The main character Julia is predictably at odds with law enforcement as she both finds herself in bad situations not of her own doing and also pursues investigations putting herself in harm’s way.

I especially enjoyed meeting the young Tennyson and her trained rook, Alphie, who plays an important part in solving the mystery. I kept wanting Julia to help Tennyson’s mother find a good job, but since it was hinted at a few times, perhaps it will happen in the next novel. Every Trick in the Rook is the third book in the Birds of a Feather Mystery Series, but I didn’t feel I had missed anything by jumping into the series with this book.

The overarching theme of Every Trick in the Rook is obviously birds, but you don’t have to be an ornithologist to enjoy it. It has the typical small town feel of a cozy mystery with the added interest of a special setting, a small village that is part of Lord Fotheringill’s estate. Julia (Jools) wears many hats as she manages the Tourist Information Center and promotes the village through public relations efforts to draw tourists to the village for hiking, birding, and special events. she is the daughter of a famous ornithologist, a former Cambridge professor, and is therefore well acquainted with “all things bird.” She has a busy, happy life until her ex-husband, Nick, shows up unexpectedly in the village after a five year absence—dead. And so the mystery begins…

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Part of a series but works well as a standalone

Publication: March 7, 2017—Alibi

Memorable Lines:

Their leaves had only just begun to unfurl, turning the wood into a shimmer of fluorescent green that glowed in the last of the sun that peeked out from beneath the clouds.

For the first half of my journey back to Smeaton, I dutifully slowed down every time I saw a warning for a speed camera.

I marveled at how easy it was these days to throw up a website and toss out a load of lies.

Blood and Circuses–the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd…and a murder

Blood and Circuses

by Kerry Greenwood

blood and circusesBlood and Circuses is my second foray into Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Phryne Fisher is recruited by some carnival workers to investigate mysterious problems with the circus they work for, a failing endeavor named Farrell’s. The mystery begins commonly enough, but as Phryne goes undercover as a bareback rider, she learns about the stratified and well ordered world of the circus. There, the trapeze artists have the most prestige, carnival workers are second class citizens, and Gypsies are low life.

Meanwhile, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, Sargeant Terence Grossmith, and Constable Tommy Harris are up to their necks with gangster warfare and the disturbing murder of a circus member known as both Christopher and Christine. The source of these crimes seems to connect with the troubles of the circus, but it is hard to discover just how they are related.

In the process of these investigations, the reader learns more of Phryne’s background–some of the things that helped form her character. Several moral issues are addressed: an audience’s hunger for disaster in the circus ring, the need of people to order their society in classes and then discriminate based on the labels they attach to each group, the disparagement of people who are different with the label of “freak,” and the emotions and needs of those born with a physically inconclusive gender. Phryne faces personal issues when she chooses to live in deprivation, giving up her creature comforts, her safety, and her status in the name of relieving her boredom and helping others.

Blood and Circuses is a convoluted mystery, but all of the plot lines are explained in the end. It is not just an exciting tale of adventure. There are philosophical elements which invite Miss Fisher and the reader to engage in a bit of self-examination without even a touch of preachiness.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Notes: 1. #6 in the series, but could be read as a standalone

             2. some bad language and a number of sexual encounters, but the emotions are described more than the physical aspects of the encounters.

Publication:   March 7, 2017–Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Sargeant Terence Grossmith was huge. His expanse of blue tunic was as wide as a tent. He had thinning brown hair and large limpid brown eyes, which seemed to hold an expression of such placid benevolence that hardened criminals had occasionally found themselves confessing to him out of a sense of sheer incongruity.

[speaking of Detective Inspector Jack Robinson]…always at the start of a case, he felt downhearted and tired. There was so much evil in the world. “O cursed spite! That ever I was born to set it right,” he quoted to himself. The Mechanics’ Institute English literature classes which his wife had taken him to, much against his will, had been very useful. A man could always rely on Shakespeare to hit the nail on the head. Robinson wondered how he had done without him.

Phryne speaking: “…what’s fascinating about the circus is the people. And I don’t expect you to like them, Dot. They aren’t respectable.” “That’s why you like them,” commented Dot. Phryne looked at her companion’s reflection in the mirror and grinned.

Postal Service in Mexico


I think everyone from North of the Border who lives in Mexico has a postal service story to tell. Today I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who lives in Ajijic, Jalisco. This week she received two Christmas cards, one from Canada and one from the U.S., that were sent in December. Not bad. Lots of mail doesn’t ever arrive. We discourage anyone who has a notion of using the postal service, but I have used it twice in ordering some pills from a Mexican company. BOTH times they arrived in good shape in about 2-3 weeks. I consider that a success. So today I am posting a picture of the beautiful stamps that were on the last package (in December) in honor of the brave young men in Mexico who ride little motorcycles laden with letters and packages and negotiate the roads filled with drivers with “interesting” driving habits. Salud!




How can New Mexico help its students?

_absolutely_free_photos_original_photos_happy-kid-in-class-5184x3456_29015Education in New Mexico has gone from bad to worse. Teachers and, more importantly, students are suffering from bad decisions made at the state level by the Governor and her Secretary of Education, a non educator, cheered on by administrators at the school district level who fear retaliation if they stand up to the system. Teachers, in turn, fear from certain retribution (i.e. loss of job through inexplicably bad evaluations or being blackballed), if they hold their ground. The sweet children just do what they are told and suffer through overtesting and curriculum taught in a lockstep, one size fits all manner, while administrators claim that the “data driven instruction” will help students achieve higher levels. No, but it certainly wipes out individual initiative, creativity, and a love of learning. Oh, but the students do become better test takers!

Senator Tom Udall asked for my support for early childhood education on Facebook. Below is my response:
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Bitter Harvest–second book in the series lives up to expectations

Bitter Harvest

by Wendy Tyson

Bitter HarvestCozy mystery series frequently have themes–a tea shop, scrapbooking, dogs, etc. The best of these appeal to readers outside this narrow interest, perhaps even widening the reader’s horizons.  The Greenhouse Mystery Series created by Wendy Tyson is a perfect example. Honestly, neither the title of the series or of the book I just read, Bitter Harvest, holds a particular attraction for me. I’ve done my fair share of mucking about in a large vegetable garden and have raised an assortment of farm animals. I am also a fan of organic vegetables. But, READ about them? In a mystery? Turns out the answer is a resounding double yes!

Bitter Harvest is a page turner as former Chicago lawyer Megan Sawyer returns to her roots in Winsome, Pennsylvania, to try to piece together a living from an organic farm, a café, and whatever else comes her way to make her farm a viable enterprise. The plot has multiple threads, but they all seem to center around Winsome’s first Oktoberfest. Don’t get too comfortable with the idea of small town friendliness, because a heated argument erupts at the café and Megan discovers evidence of a stalker looking down on her property–all in the first chapter. From there events move quickly as Megan’s grandmother discovers one of the town’s brewers is dead; no one is sure if it was an accident or murder. In Winsome, business and personal relationships swirl around like dust devils, never quite settling down.

The writing in Bitter Harvest is excellent. The setting varies from small town to farm and further afield as Megan tries to discover who is behind the crimes occurring in Winsome and what the motivation could possibly be. Megan is a war widow starting life again, but she still has to deal with a complicated past as she tries to understand why her mother left their family when she was eight years old. The characters are interesting, believable, and likable. The romantic attraction in the story is a handsome Scottish vet whose skills are invaluable in several crisis situations.

Wendy Tyson does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into Megan’s life. If you read the first book in the series, A Muddied Water, you get subtle reminders of events that occurred in that book. If you are jumping into the series with Bitter Harvest, you are quickly brought up to date without feeling like you just got a history lesson. I highly recommend this book and am looking forward to the next one in the series, Seeds of Revenge, with projected publication in fall of 2017.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: part of a series, but works as a standalone

Publication:   March 7, 2017–Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Megan called to Sadie and Gunther. Gunther, better trained every day, came immediately and sat before her, the obedient livestock guardian dog. Sadie looked at her, sniffed a flower, peed next to a bush, and then trotted her way toward the house, stopping twice to investigate something interesting. For Sadie, obedient livestock guardian dog was clearly not a career aspiration.

“Trolls.” She handed the phone back to Emily. “That’s all they are. Sad, lonely people with nothing better to do than leave mean reviews and comments online. The web allows strangers to bask in the safety of cowardly anonymity. Hurtful, Emily–but not meaningful.”

Of Hats, Pockets, Ears, and Hidden Messages

I read so many fascinating tales and review them in my blog, but probably none outshine the real story of Esther found in the Bible. Here my blogging friend Dolly (KOOLKOSHERKITCHEN) shares the original tale along with traditions that have developed and are part of the celebration of Purim. Don’t miss the funny video and delicious recipe she shares as well.


These pastries are called Hamantaschen. We can no more imagine the holiday of Purim without them than without the graggers – noisemakers gleefully shaken by children and adults alike to drown the name of the evil villain Haman.

That’s a story of Purim in a nutshell. Once again, the Jewish people, marked for wholesale slaughter, were saved through the good offices of the beautiful and pious Queen Esther and her uncle, the wise and righteous Mordechai. To commemorate this event, we read (or at least listen to) Megillas Esther (the Scroll of Esther) where the entire story is recorded in minute details. Every time when Haman (may his memory be erased forever) is mentioned, we make all kinds of noises, and not necessarily by using traditional graggers that look like this:


…but also anything that makes loud noises. I play castanets. A friend of mine, a very reserved lady…

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The Case of the Curious Cook–good, but not recommended as a standalone

The Case of the Curious Cook

by Cathy Ace

The Case of the Curious CookThe Case of the Curious Cook rather stumbled along for me until about halfway through. At that point the mystery took off and the characters gained new life. I enjoyed the occasional Briticism, the many Welsh references, and the view of upper crust life. I was particularly pleased with the conclusion of the book, giving a glimpse into the future for the characters as well as resolution to the several entwined mysteries. My reservations about The Case of the Curious Cook stem from my reading this book as a standalone. My enjoyment would have been much enhanced by a better introduction to the characters, which probably occurred in the first two books of the WISE Enquiries Agency Series.

The mystery centers around the murder of an artist by her brother, the unexplained and unwelcome donation of books, the discovery of miniatures, and strange occurrences at a retirement home. The plot and setting are excellent and the pace is quick in the last half of the book. I probably would like the main characters, a diverse group to be sure, if I felt I knew them better. I did appreciate their concern for each other and their efforts to work together respecting each other’s strengths.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Should be read as part of the series

Publication:  March 1, 2017–Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Even when he was cleansed, shaved, moisturized and dressed, he still felt grubby; that was how anger made him feel–as though he was rolling around in the filth where he’d been raised.

Your mid-sixties was a time when activities like working, traveling, and even hiking and hillwalking were still real possibilities, and when there were still enough years ahead of a person for them to make plans.

It became increasingly clear Mountain Ash House was filled with widows whose children were either non-existent (rare), living too far away to visit often (more likely), or happy to ignore them (too frequent).

You can’t take books to the dump. They aren’t something you just dispose of like so much rubbish. A book means something. It does. Someone wrote it, printed it, bound it–not to mention the ones who read them, held them and maybe cried into them. I love books I do, they’ve all had a life–like a person.

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