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Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake–delectable adventure

Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake

by Sarah Graves

Death by Chocolate Cherry CheesecakeIf the phrase “chocolate cherry cheesecake” is enticing, then you will love the cozy mystery Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake. In the tiny island village of Eastport, Maine, bakers and best friends Ellie and Jake (Jacobia) fill The Chocolate Moose with delectable and aromatic chocolate goodies. Their biggest baking challenge is preparing 22 cheesecakes to be auctioned off to pay for the Coast Guard’s firework extravaganza which also includes a treat for the town’s special education students. They get to view  the display from a barge.

If this were not challenge enough, Ellie and Jake discover a murdered man in their kitchen and Ellie becomes the prime suspect. This is not a simple mystery as various others in the town have links that Jake and Ellie must ferret out involving them in some life threatening situations. Jake is also in the middle of family crises, and Ellie has secret expansion plans for their business. All of these events occur during a brief time span, with little sleep, and an impending hurricane. Accompanying Jake and Ellie in pursuit of the real murderer provides the reader with exciting rides by boat and car. I’m looking forward to the next adventure in this new series.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Recipe for Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is included at the end of the book.

Publication:  January 30, 2018–Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Once upon a time, Ma Bell ran the phone system with ruthless, utterly monopolistic efficiency. Now any fool can start a phone company and provide the kind of high-class personal communication service once offered only by two tin cans and a length of string.

When the door banged shut behind me, I must’ve jumped a foot. But it was only the wind blowing through the sliding-glass panels that looked out over the water, skittering the scattered papers like dry leaves across the slate-tiled floor.

I followed, with my heart pulsing crazily in my throat, thinking that if only I’d known how exciting the baking business would be, I’d have taken up some more sensible activity. Sword swallowing maybe, or milking poisonous snakes for their venom.

The Phantom of Oz–The Wizard: A Space OZpera

The Phantom of Oz

by Cindy Brown

The Phantom of OzDespite its title, I don’t think The Phantom of Oz really started out to be a ghost story. Because the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series focuses on the theater and actors, there are a lot of stage tricks that imitate the paranormal. In the end, however, this cozy mystery does address the question “Do you believe in ghosts?” Bigger and more important themes are tackled as well in author Cindy Brown’s latest mystery: fake news, paparazzi, body image, jealousy, priorities, friendship, social media, scams and control.

As a theatre buff I enjoyed reading about the trials of Ivy Meadows who attempts to eek out a living by combining the life of an actress with learning detecting skills from her P.I. uncle and mentor Bobby. We watch as Ivy juggles trying to find her missing friend Candy while working as an actress. She also finds time to maintain relationships with boyfriend Matt and mentally challenged brother Cody.

The Phantom of Oz has a good mystery, interesting setting (the Grand Phoenician Theatre), and some wacky theatre types. My only criticism is that the thread of Cody’s desire to become an actor and his sudden willingness to drop the pursuit could have been developed more thoroughly. In general, however, this is a fun book that addresses some serious issues.

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: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: The end of the book includes:

1. Reader’s Discussion Guide

2. Topics and Questions for Discussion

3. Enhance Your Book Club or Class

This book is #5 in  the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone.

Publication:   January 30, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Looking at petit-fours: I could almost hear their come-hither voices: “I’m the most delicious cake ever. I’m moist and sweet. And I’m free.” It was the last line that did it. We actors are suckers for free food.

I stood for a moment backstage, where the murky blue lighting matched my mood. I watched the revelers around me, feeling like an outsider who’d crashed the party.

This confronting-the-suspects thing was never as easy as it looked in Agatha Christie’s books.

Fierce Faith–the making of a battle plan

Fierce Faith

by Alli Worthington

Fierce FaithAlthough we all know how to put on our “Sunday” faces for those who don’t know us intimately, we all have struggles of one kind or another. In her book Fierce Faith, Alli Worthington gets real with Christian women. She gives us a “battle plan against the fear, worry, and anxiety” that want to pull you down. She uses anecdotes to illustrate the kinds of battles that we face and identifies that the attack usually comes from the spiritual realm. She offers Scriptural promises and practical applications and ways of fighting back with a “fierce faith.”

Worthington addresses issues you may not even know you have because you avoid confronting them by strategies such as staying busy, bingeing on a variety of things, or becoming numb. I don’t consider myself a fearful person, but I got zinged a number of times as she addressed fear of betrayal, rejection, and an uncertain future. Some might identify with FOMO (the fear of missing out) which began with Adam and Eve but is put on steroids by social media. Fear of failure and not measuring up are other common forms of attack.

Alli Worthington offers practical help for common problems. She encourages the reader to trust God and explains how to do that. I recommend this book for all Christians regardless of where you are in your faith walk.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Notes: The end of the book has workbook like pages to help the reader develop a person battle plan.

Publication:  January 23, 2018—Zondervan

Memorable Lines:

Fear doesn’t have to stem from some catastrophic event that cripples us. Everyday worries can be as crippling as catastrophes. Fear often stems from small worries and anxiety that build up over time, eventually shutting us down or causing us to explode.

Sometimes the illness or disability isn’t cured, the financial hardships aren’t resolved, the bad news doesn’t change, but when we throw ourselves at Jesus’s feet, he gives us what we need to walk through our difficult seasons and to fight against the storms that darken our skies.

You can choose to believe the truth that Jesus has a purpose for you beyond your failures and allow him to rewrite your story. Our futures are already claimed by God; we don’t have to stay stuck in a cycle of fear and failure. Failure doesn’t have to be your story. He is still writing your story.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz–tribute to human resilience and the power of love

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

by Heather Morris

The Tattooist of AuschwitzWhen a book reads like fiction but is a union of memories and history, it is literary work that is destined to engage and move the reader. The Tattooist of Auschwitz is such a tale, related by Lale Sokolov to Heather Morris over a three year period. It is a horrific story of desperation in the worst of circumstances and of Lale’s confidence that he would survive and marry his beloved fellow sufferer Gita.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz displays the best and worst of mankind. It shows the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Throughout, the reader witnesses people doing whatever it takes to survive as does Lale who is innovative, multilingual, charming, and determined that in the end his tormentors would not get the best of him. There are many books written about the Holocaust. Each addresses the events from a different perspective. This is another valuable contribution, adding to our understanding and reinforcing the sentiment of “never again.”

The Tattooist of Auschwitz2I would like to extend my thanks to and to Bonnier Zaffire for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction

Notes: Despite the nature of the events being retold, the writing has a respectful tone without graphic descriptions of violence or swearing. I highly recommend this book.

Publication:   January 11, 2018—Bonnier Zaffire

Memorable Lines:

Lale has witnessed an unimaginable act. He staggers to his feet, standing on the threshold of hell, an inferno of feelings raging inside him.

How can a race spread out across multiple countries be considered a threat?

“I know it’s a strange thing for me to say, but you will honor them by staying alive, surviving this place and telling the world what happened here.”

He knows they will never grow to be the women they were meant to be. Their futures have been derailed and there will be no getting back on the same track. The visions they once had of themselves, as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, workers, travelers, and lovers, will forever be tainted by what they’ve witnessed and endured.

Carnegie’s Maid–sacrificing for family

Carnegie’s Maid

by Marie Benedict

Carnegie's MaidCarnegie’s Maid, a work of historical fiction, attempts to explain what could have caused Andrew Carnegie, a ruthless businessman, to become a philanthropist and founder of the Carnegie Libraries. As a former impoverished Scottish immigrant, he fights his way to the top echelons of America’s monied, sometimes stepping on the backs of other immigrants to get there. Author Marie Benedict has created a lady’s maid from Ireland who is on a mission to support her Irish Catholic Fenian family. Her Clara is hard-working, smart, and focused. An opportunist, she takes the place of another Clara becoming a lady’s maid rather than a scullery maid making herself privy to the family’s secrets and business machinations.

As seen in Benedict’s other excellent work of historical fiction, The Other Einstein, the novel Carnegie’s Maid demonstrates the author’s intensive research and attention to detail. As I read I found myself wishing for a main character based on an actual person as in The Other Einstein. I assume the details and records of Carnegie’s life are just too sketchy to provide such a character. Benedict has taken the immigrant culture of the times, the certainty that Carnegie’s mother would have had a lady’s maid, the mystery of Carnegie’s altruism, and his delay in marriage as the basis for her fictional Clara. There is much more supposition in this book, but it is well written and not outside the realm of possibility.

I enjoyed the tale with its details about the difficult lives of the Irish both in Great Britain and in the United States. It paints a picture of the U.S. as a very difficult land of opportunity, with no handouts, and even fewer options for women. Gender, ethnic background, religion, money, family, and education all play a role in the highly stratified, unofficial class systems of the time.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: by the author of The Other Einstein

Publication:   January 16, 2018—Sourcebooks Landmark

Memorable Lines:

“These Catholic Irish running from the havoc wreaked by their famine and pouring onto American shores are not like the hard-working Protestant Irish who immigrated in earlier years. This new Catholic crop is rough and uneducated, and they’ll destroy the fabric of this country’s shaky democracy if we let them, especially in these days of Civil War unrest, just like they did back home in Scotland when they stole factory jobs away from Scottish men and women. An Irish Catholic servant might suffice as a scullery maid but not as my personal maid.”

For whom was I crying? for all the immigrants like the Lambs, who came to America seeking a better life but settled instead for a soot-infested home and dangerous work in the mills and gave thanks for it?

For the first time, I realized how alike my situation was to that of Mr. Carnegie. Although the scale was quite different, the stakes were not. The well-being of both our families rested on our success.

The Spy Who Never Was–pretending to be Julie, called Chris, with code name Rose

The Spy Who Never Was

by Tom Savage

The Spy Who Never WasThe Spy Who Never Was poses a mystery within a thriller as Nora Baron, drama teacher and part time CIA operative, is recruited to play the role of a spy who has disappeared, but never actually existed—according to Cole, head of the investigation. The mission is never quite clear to Nora, even as it suddenly reaches its conclusion and she is congratulated and sent back home. At this point the thriller is far from over for any of its characters.

Nora finds herself in the ultimate danger and discovers she is both naive and talented. She is aided by friends from previous missions along with new friends she learns to trust along the way. With interesting characters, settings in Paris and Switzerland, a complex plot, and some believable action, this is a book you will not want to put down.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller

Notes: #3 in the Nora Baron series; works well as a standalone

Publication:   January 9, 2018—Alibi (Random House)

Memorable Lines: 

Professional agents knew their jobs, and they thought that no one outside their charmed circle possessed the imagination to do what they did. Now Nora could use their arrogant blind spot to her advantage.

Nora was working for phantoms, agents who were every bit as insubstantial as the paper woman they represented: the spies who never were.

…the words she shouted weren’t in the débutante handbook.

Where I End–A Story of Tragedy, Truth, and Rebellious Hope

Where I End

by Katherine Elizabeth Clark

Where I EndIn Where I End, Katherine Elizabeth Clark shares a chance accident, a moment in time, that altered her life and the lives of her family members forever. She describes and analyzes the event and her journey to healing from the viewpoint of a Christian. Although she did not have a “leap to her feet dancing” experience, she did eventually regain the ability to walk, which her surgeon regarded as a miracle: “I can take no credit. God did this.”

Although Kate is left with residual, fairly dramatic difficulties and constant pain, her progress has been remarkable. As she shares her story, she relates how God worked in her life through family, friends and strangers who ministered to her. She tells of the humiliation and frustration of being unable to do even the simplest things for herself. Before the accident Kate was employed as a writer by a Christian organization so her prose is excellent and well thought out and her ideas are clearly expressed. She backs up her theological positions with Scripture references and quotes from Biblical scholars. She shares her story not to put a focus on herself, but on Jesus, who was and is with her through the trials and pain of the accident, surgery, rehabilitation and daily renewal of her hope and trust.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir, Christian

Publication:   January 2, 2018—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

In that moment, my steady world, where bodies work in harmony with brains, was bartered for an unrecognizable universe, something resembling a Salvador Dalí painting; I felt as if I had slipped into a surreal, disorientated dream.

Yet though our Father promises to hear the cries of His children, He has not promised to exhaustively reveal His mind or plans. We must trust Him, and sometimes in the dark.

When Scripture speaks of not being afraid, it is always cloaked in the presence of the Lord. Be not afraid, not because the situation isn’t terrifying, but because you’re not  alone. You have a Good Shepherd who hides you beneath His wing.

It is a great mercy of God that we cannot see the future.

Alpha Alpine–serial killer or local shenanigans?

Alpha Alpine

by Mary Daheim

Alpha AlpineI was amazed when I saw the list of books Mary Daheim has written in the Emma Lord Series. She has already been through the alphabet once with titles in ascending order and has started again. I know I would have enjoyed the book more had I read the previous 26 books because there must be a lot of back story to Alpha Alpine, but Daheim does a great job of cluing the reader in on the many characters mentioned and how they relate to each other and to the current story. In fact I would say she is a master at making the book understandable and interesting to the new reader without being redundant.

Emma Lord is the editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Alpine, Washington, where if everyone is not related to everyone else, they are at least all related to Vida who is the House and Home editor and makes it her job to know everyone’s business. Emma is married to Sheriff Milo Dodge, giving her an inside edge and also causing friction when Dodge can not disclose information she wants. This mystery contains the murder of young girls, an unexpected assassination attempt, an explosion, domestic abuse, and a visit by Dodge’s brother in his Texas sized RV. All of these events keep both Emma and Milo quite busy in their jobs and at home.

The paper has an interesting staff, and the story is also fleshed out with deputies, townspeople and visitors, but despite the large number of characters, I never felt overwhelmed by them. The setting is well defined as mountainous Alpine seasonally moves from hot to cooler weather.  Along with Emma and Milo, the reader is continually evaluating characters and their motives as new information and more crimes come to light. When you get to the end, you will be happy with the resolution, but you may find yourself wanting to know more about Alpine and its inhabitants.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #27 in the Emma Lord Series but works well as a standalone

Publication:   December 12, 2017— Random House (Alibi)

Memorable Lines:

But promises are flimsy things and easily broken.

She’d been bitten by the need-to-know bug. Sometimes that bite can be fatal.

I knew when to shut up, focusing instead on Hercule Poirot grooming his elaborate mustache while exercising his little gray cells. Ten minutes and a second murder later, my eyelids felt heavy. Milo turned off the light. I curled up next to him and fell asleep in the sanctuary of his arms.

Happy New Year–Feliz Año Nuevo


What does it look like in January at 7,785 feet in the mountains near the town of Pátzcuaro in the state of Michóacan, Mexico? It is not as cold as the same altitude in northern New Mexico in the U.S.: the lows where we live in Mexico are currently about the same as the highs in northern NM (the 40’s F). This is the dry season of the year, so we have to water the grass and other plants. But it is beautiful. I took a side trip into a neighbor’s yard, always looking for even a little flat land for walking. I mentally call it my secret garden because it is tucked away behind tall grasses. So, join me as I enter my borrowed  secret garden and take a peek at the beautiful plants growing there.


The Case of Syrah, Syrah–good story concept, difficult execution

The Case of Syrah, Syrah

by Nancy J. Parra

A Case of Syrah, SyrahA Case of Syrah, Syrah starts off as an interesting cozy mystery in a great setting and proceeds with building excitement. Unfortunately, by the time the book reaches its conclusion, the reader is ready to commit a crime against the main character. There are two major issues. First, the usually enticing twists and turns of a mystery evolve into a ride on a hamster wheel, churning round and round on the same territory. Second, the main character Taylor, in her efforts to prove her innocence, refuses to follow instructions from her own lawyer and from the sheriff to stop talking to people and to stay out of the investigation. She keeps exposing herself and others to danger, and her friends and aunt encourage her compulsions. By the end, I was ready to arrest her for obstruction.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Wine Country Mystery Series

Publication:  December 12, 2017 —Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

It was a fun and carefree moment with the wind whipping through my hair. The night smelled of vineyards and warm earth. Stars twinkled in the dark sky.

Taylor says of her investigative efforts—without altering her actions:

I couldn’t help myself.

It seemed the more I investigated, the more I incriminated myself.

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