Wine Tastings are Murder
by Libby Klein
Welcome to the world of Poppy McAllister, a plus-sized, forty-something pastry chef with self-esteem issues. And commitment issues (ask Tim and Gia). And food issues. Food calls her name and sticks to her like a long lost twin. Her latest effort is the kale diet where she discovers that a kale frittata is like “an omelet full of yard clippings.” Also, and you need to think this one through…our featured pastry chef can’t eat gluten!
Wine Tastings are Murder is full of madcap adventures that will keep you laughing through a serious and complicated murder investigation. What in the world are Aunt Ginny and her octogenarian friends doing in the evenings that leaves them cackling, smirking, and sitting on bags of frozen vegetables?
Poppy is owner of the Butterfly Wings B&B, a new business that she is trying to launch. She agrees to cooperate with a company sponsoring a wine tasting at a local winery, but one of the guests has an apparent heart attack—or was the medical event more than that? Suspicion falls on other guests and on winery personnel. Poppy needs to find out if they are who they claim to be and what motives they might have.
The eighty year old “biddies” are not the only source of humor. Poppy hires “Victory,” a chambermaid from Eastern Europe, who does not understand guest privacy, the basics of inn housekeeping, appropriate attire, or the nuances of English. It also gradually occurs to Poppy that Victory has narcolepsy.
Figaro, Poppy’s cat, has met his nemesis in Tammy Faye, a teacup Pom who is the treasured delight of guest Sunny Baker. The two chase each other all over the house leaving a trail of destruction. Technology joins the fun as Aunt Ginny’s new toy Alexa demonstrates that she is always listening. Aunt Ginny doesn’t know how to use Alexa who sounds alarms and speaks at the craziest of times.
On the personal front, you’ll adore little Henry, Gia’s four-year old son. He has Poppy on emotional speed dial without even trying. Amber, a local police officer who has been at odds with Poppy since high school, might be softening just a tad. Then there is the romantic conundrum. Readers are anxious for Poppy to choose between “hunky” Italian coffee shop owner Gia and long ago love, Chef Tim. Read Wine Tastings are Murder to see if there is resolution in either love or murder. I guarantee the outcome will be a surprise.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. # 5 in the Poppy McAllister Mystery Series. You could read this as a standalone. It is better to have read the first four for the background, but Klein fills you in well, and the read is worth it if you aren’t able to backtrack on this series.
2. The end of the book contains lots of recipes (6 gluten-free and 1 paleo) that will have you drooling, even if you don’t need gluten-free.
Publication: December 1, 2020—Kensington Books
I was all for eighty-year-olds going “a-courting,” but Royce Hansen had the short-term memory of a fruit fly and Aunt Ginny could do crazy all on her own.
The biddies all nodded and smiled sweetly. “Have fun, honey.” They waved as I left the room. They’re not fooling anyone. They’re definitely up to something.
She made me feel like I was back in the eighth grade again. Fat, awkward, and foolish. Gigi even made my baking, the only talent I had in life, sound like I was adding water to a boxed cake mix and cooking with a high-wattage lightbulb.
Courting Can Be Killer
by Amanda Flower
Millie Fisher, the “sedate Amish woman,” and Lois Henry, the “flamboyant Englisher,” join forces again to solve a murder, one quite personal to Millie. Don’t worry If you missed the first book in the Amish Matchmaker Mystery Series as author Amanda Flower is quite skilled in providing background information. There are also tie-ins to Flower’s Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series, but the two function independently of each other.
In Courting Can Be Killer, Millie and Lois were childhood friends and are now in their sixties. They are as opposite as possible, but they complement each other and prize their friendship. Lois loves being the sidekick of the “Amish Marple” and is a bonus to the relationship because she is not bound in her investigations by the strict Amish code, sometimes stretching the truth until it breaks. Her driving a car and having a cell phone are quite handy as well.
When a fire breaks out in a flea market, Millie’s “adopted nephew” Ben is found dead. Rumors spread fast in the Amish community that Ben, who recently moved to the area and is therefore considered an outsider, is responsible for the fire. The duo set out to defend the young man’s reputation. In the process, Millie comes under attack although the long-suffering Deputy Sheriff Aiden has warned her numerous times that her interviewing various suspects is dangerous. Lois, however, is delighted as she see the assault as a sign that they are getting close to discovering the murderer.
Woven into the main plot are some potential romances as Millie is known as the local matchmaker. Animals provide both chaos and humor as Jethro the potbellied pig makes an appearance, and Millie’s two mischievous Boer goats, Phillip and Peter, cause havoc and provide protection. The Amish are not immune from having dysfunctional families, and we meet several in this cozy mystery. The ending is a surprise and justice is served. The epilogue gives closure for the characters with a little positive philosophy thrown in as well, and the sound advice is from the Englischer!
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Amish Matchmaker Mystery Series
Publication: December 1, 2020—Kensington
“…in this life one should always be willing to take a chance and roll the dice.” She grinned. “That sounds like one of the Amish proverbs you recite all the time, doesn’t it?” “It doesn’t.” I shook my head. “Not at all.”
“I knew when my second husband bought a singing bass for our living room wall that there were no more rules when it came to good taste.”
A feeling of peace came over me. I knew the Good Lord had moved Lois to come and check on me. It gave me comfort to know this, and the fear I had been holding onto all evening started to melt away.
The First Christmas
by Stephen Mitchell
While I am not a theological scholar, I have been a Christian for over sixty years. Those are years in which I have studied the Bible, and God has grown my faith. When the author of this book gives an interpretation that I disagree with, I can accept that as a difference of opinion. An example in Stephen Mitchell’s The First Christmas is the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary. In the Bible this event is reported in chapter one of Luke. I believe this account literally, that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in a physical form and spoke to her in an audible voice. In fact, there is a dialogue recorded there. The author wants to interpret the appearance as a bright light (“the best I could come up with,” he says) and its communication as “empathy and telepathy,” nothing “so gross as speech.” Based on the writings in Luke, the author is creating a fiction that, though unconfirmed, could have happened. Many describe near death experiences as a comforting, blinding, white light. So, here, the author is using his imagination within the context of an angel visiting Mary.
What is more believable in his telling of the story are the extensive thought processes that Mary must surely have engaged in during the days and months following the angel’s announcement that she had been chosen to bear the Son of God as He comes to Earth in human form. The Bible doesn’t give details of all of her thoughts and feelings, but it does record her song of praise often called The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Luke also shows us that her response is meditative.
There were shepherds who had an angelic visitation. After that they came to worship the baby Jesus, explaining how they found the little family in Bethlehem filled with visitors paying their taxes. “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Using common sense and based on Biblical evidence that Mary was a reflective person, the inner dialogue the author creates is believable, even if you don’t agree with all the fictional details.
There are some larger issues with this novel, however, that bother me. Mary says “No one had ever prophesied that the Messiah would never die.” This statement skirts the issue that there were many Old Testament prophecies which predict the Messiah would be resurrected to reign in His eternal kingdom. Her statement feels like a deliberate distraction in the text. Author Mitchell is clear that Mary would know the Jewish teachings. Therefore, she would have been aware of the many prophesies that Jesus would be resurrected and sit on the right hand of God the Father (Psalm 110:1). Psalm 49:15 says “But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me.” Interpretations are acceptable, but contradictions are not.
The format of the book is interesting. The author states “my only agenda was to inhabit the characters.” He tries to put himself into an ancient time and experience it as each of the characters in the Nativity story might have. As he looks at the role each person or animal had in this pivotal moment, the author makes the decision to tell the story in the third person for the people and first person for the animals. He separates the chapters with an “Interlude” which is his opportunity to reveal his thoughts as an author and provide some background information. This format (which he explains in an Interlude is based on “the glorified sestet of an Italian sonnet) is a good choice for this book. Unfortunately, the author deviates in the second part of Mary’s story and interrupts the tale as he inserts his “authorial I” into her story rather than waiting for the Interlude. This happens again in Joseph’s story. In general I found Joseph’s tale more convincingly told. Oddly though, Mary and Joseph were approached in the book by angels who were totally different in appearance with Joseph’s angel not even culturally appropriate to the time period.
The section of The First Christmas that tells of the visit of the wise men is an elaborate fictional tale of two Jewish scholars who travel to the East studying Buddhism and other mystic philosophies that concentrate on meditation and finding the god within. It deviates from Scripture in many ways, most notably in the visions of the future of Jesus and his family that the men have as they sit with Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus. (In the book, they visit the family in the stable whereas most Christians believe this visit occurred somewhat later as the Bible says the wise men or magi went to a house.) If you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and He was with God from before the creation of the world, as set forth in John 1:1-3, then much of this chapter is disturbing. They envision a confused young man, estranged from His family, and perhaps mentally deranged. A reading of any one of the four gospels shows anything but what they see for His future. He was fully man and fully God. Their supposed vision is not in character. They even shortcut and omit important parts of His death, fantasize his burial in a mass grave, and totally neglect His resurrection.
The last major section focuses on the donkey and is my favorite. The donkey tell the Nativity story from his perspective. Recalling ancient donkey traditions, he retells the Biblical story of Balaam’s donkey who could both see angels and could talk. He points out the good qualities of donkeys—intelligence, honesty, service, dignity, and trustworthiness.
I have an admiration for the author as a multi-lingual translator, well-versed in many Eastern religions and philosophies. He possesses a great imagination and makes connections from various works of literature. I hope that he will return to the Bible to connect with Jesus in a personal relationship. I don’t regret reading The First Christmas as an intellectual exercise, but I don’t recommend it as an Advent activity or as a pleasure read.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to St. Martin’s Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Religion & Spirituality, General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: November 9, 2021—St. Martin’s Press
[From the chapter Yosef (Joseph)] Where was the Lord now? Not here, not amid this swirling chaos. But if the Lord was not with him, it was his own fault. He knew that. God had not left him; he had left God. It could be no other way.
[From the chapter Yosef—speaking of Maryam (Mary)] She was graced with a quality he had been striving for all his life, ever since he had realized what his purpose, what the purpose of every Jew, was: to love God with all his heart and to fulfill His commandments as impeccably and with as much joy as he could summon.
[From the chapter The Donkey] …throughout the day angels from every order of the hierarchy descending to take a peek at the new little visitor. They don’t knock or announce themselves; they just fly in through the roof or the walls, without so much as a by-your-leave, and nobody greets or even notices them. When they see me, though, they nod to acknowledge my presence and to let me know that they know I know.
A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale
by Karen Schaler
A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale is perfect for readers who enjoy a book infused with:
*the spirit of Christmas
*beautiful snowy backdrops
*the importance of family
*magical, romantic possibilities
*a belief that wishes can come true
*a kinder, gentler way of interacting with others
*royalty who love and respect the citizens of their kingdom
The story centers on:
Alexander—handsome, widowed prince
Isabella—perceptive and generous queen
Anna—precocious princess, enthusiastic, but respectful
Blixen—charming Vizsla dog
What happens if you are expecting a promotion, but discover at Christmas that the company is making cuts? You accept any job, even if it is a mystery assignment, if it might lead to greater things.
What do you do if your wife dies, and the paparazzi are ruthless in their hounding? You escape to the Caribbean.
With a little royal manipulation, the two are thrown together, with a comfort zone nowhere in sight.
My favorite character is the princess, mature in manners and understanding of the grownup world of royalty, but young in her enjoyment of life. My favorite scene is Kaylie’s arrival in Tolvania, unaware she will be working in a real castle inhabited by royalty. She is greeted by the princess, but thinks it is all pretend and plays along with what she thinks is an imaginary scenario. Confusing and embarrassing for Kaylie. Amusing for the reader.
Along the way I could tell that Kaylie had stepped over a boundary, a law actually. That decision was complicated by a mistake that I knew was coming and which added tension to several chapters as I waited for the issue to explode. If you want a true Christmasy, romantic escape, A Royal Christmas Fairy Tale was written just for you.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HawkTale Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: This standalone includes three recipes and two activities in a bonus section.
Publication: October 5, 2021—HawkTale Publishing
She wondered, if she’d had an inspiring art teacher who had encouraged her, instead of telling her all the things she was doing wrong, maybe she would have liked art more.
Kaylie was once again impressed by how many of the royal family’s Christmas traditions included the entire village of Tolvania and focused on giving back and bringing people together.
“Christmas spirit is the heart and soul of Christmas because it celebrates family, faith, friends, community, hope, and love,” the queen said. “You can tell a lot about someone by the way they celebrate and honor Christmas.”
by Natalie Normann
I am not moving to Norway. Ever. It’s too dark and too cold for me. I had a lot of reading fun coming to that conclusion, however, as I read Christmas Island, a romance that begins on a wet, cold, dark, rainy island in Norway. The snow and the need for many layers of heavy clothing would come later. The author, Natalie Normann, is highly qualified to be our atmospheric guide as she grew up in a shipping town on the west coast of Norway. When she writes about the many Christmas foods and traditions peculiar to Norway, she speaks from experience. Originally a Norwegian writer of historical romance, she has lived in Cardiff, Wales, since 2017, and Christmas Island is her second book written in English.
Holly Greene has an enforced four week leave of absence from her hospital job as a doctor resulting from a problem with a co-worker on the job. She is invited to Christmas on the island by her brother Jack as a way to help her survive this period. She meets Tor, mysterious and reclusive, who has rented a house on the island. The reasons both are there are revealed to the reader quite gradually. Holly lives in London and Tor in Oslo making a long-term relationship out of their holiday fling problematic to say the least. They are likable characters in need of healing. Will they find what they need in Norway? Within the island community? With each other?
Normann really helped me experience Norway. I felt like I was tasting the foods along with Holly. I understood her difficulties with the language. Once I raised my head from the pages almost expecting to see a wet snow drifting down. The backdrop she paints is important to the story and pervades the reader’s imagination.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #2 in the Very Hygge Holiday Series, but could clearly be read as a standalone.
2. There are too many American and British swear words and vulgarisms for my taste. When I embark on a Christmas read, I look forward to sweet and clean. Although there is a fling, there are no graphic details. Language is the only obstacle for me with this Christmas read.
3. Recipes for three sweet Christmas treats are included.
Publication: November 30, 2020—HarperCollins UK (One More Chapter)
“Fresh air is the Norwegian cure for everything. If you’re unwell, get some fresh air; if you can’t sleep, get some fresh air; if you’re feeling sad, get some fresh air. I think it comes from living too close to the sea and the mountains,” Tor said.
At the hospital gossip and rumours were part of the daily routine, and mostly it was friendly and amusing…until it wasn’t. But she didn’t want to dwell on that today.
Holly opened her mouth to answer, then got completely flustered and knew she was blushing like a whole crop of tomatoes.
by Harriet Fish Backus
If you ever thought of memoirs as a boring genre, I encourage you to sample Harriet Fish Backus’ Tomboy Bride. It is anything but boring. “Tomboy” refers to the Tomboy Mine, located above Telluride, Colorado, and “bride” is the author Harriet who moved there in 1906 immediately after her wedding at the age of twenty with her mining engineer husband George Backus. The first half of the book describes the difficulties and adventures inherent in living in an almost impossible to reach area with only the barest necessities. Harriet was a city girl and had a big learning curve in basic survival skills in the remote, dangerous, high altitude mining camp—everything from baking at over 11,500 feet to how to wade in long skirts in the snow to an outhouse located quite a distance from the home.
The second half of the book relates a series of moves to various mines along with changes in mining fortunes. Not every mine was successful, and the country’s economic twists affected the mines as well. Their adventures took the couple to Britannia Beach, British Columbia; Elk City, Idaho; and Leadville, Colorado. They had several children and lived through World War I and the Great Depression. George’s mechanical ingenuity landed him a job in Oakland, California, which he held for 37 years, but Harriet’s fondest memories are not the ones of ease in the city, but of struggles, love, and friendship in the mountains.
Mining was a difficult and dangerous business. This was true even for college educated mining engineers who suffered from the cold, long hours and perils along with the miners. Mortality rates were high because of the distance to health care. Transportation was slow and uncomfortable along the treacherous snow packed mountain trails. Water and coal had to be carried by hand from dropping off points up slippery, snow-covered slopes to their homes by the residents. The only fruits and vegetables available were canned and brought up monthly on burros. Because of the isolation, residents tended to work as a community. As long as Harriet and George were together, they were happy despite, and sometimes perhaps because of, their shared hardships.
Category: Memoir, History
Notes: 1. I recommend the 50th anniversary edition of Tomboy Bride because it includes many photographs that bring the story to life.
2. There is a timeline at the end of the book.
3. This is a great book for a book club to read as it is ripe with topics for discussion. Tomboy Bride includes thought provoking questions at the end of the book which our book club found quite helpful.
Publication: 2019—West Margin Press
On reaching his destination the rider tied the reins to the pommel of the saddle and turned the horse loose. Regardless of the distance, knowing the trails far better than most riders, the horse quietly and surely returned to the nearest stable, at the Tomboy or in Telluride.
Crash! What sounded like pounds of glass breaking into bits was only an old cigar box filled with nails that had fallen from a shelf. Even the rats laid low that night, at least we did not hear them. My chattering teeth kept time to the rattling of the old stovepipe fastened by wires to the rafters. The denim “carpet” rose and fell like ocean billows and wind crackled the newspaper padding.
…at the end of a month we both felt inwardly the call of the wild. Somehow, after the serenity of our mountains, the city seemed tawdry and confusing.