education pathways

Home » 2022

Yearly Archives: 2022

Wishing you all a great 2023! Here are some pictures from walking around my neighborhood this week!

Whoops! The only yard in the neighborhood that had an ice storm display.

Getting a head start on those New Year’s decluttering resolutions!

Yes, it is! Get out there and walk–if it’s not too cold and not too slippery! Happy New Year!

Three Sisters–survival in the midst of death

Three Sisters

by Heather Morris

I present to you a review for a book that will transport you unwillingly from Slovakia into the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. The horrors are especially difficult to read about because this novel was so well researched including interviews with primary sources, two of the three sisters who are protagonists in Heather Morris’ Three Sisters. The third sister had passed away before the author began this project. Unlike some survivors of the concentration camps, these sisters talked about their experiences to people who wanted to hear, especially their family members. These relatives were a treasure trove of information about the camps, the Nazi selections of individuals, hiding from the SS, and the kindness and treachery of nonJews.

Family, of course, is very important to Cibi, Magda, and Livi, the three sisters. Their father makes them promise to always stay together and support each other. Their grandfather gives them the mantra of “hope and strength” which they carry with them through the worst of times. Later they can joke about bad conditions by comparing them to the deprivation they experienced in the camps.

Three Sisters is a hard book to read, but another worthwhile reminder to not allow this history to repeat itself. Ironically, the last part of the book which was about happier times brought the strongest emotional response from me. This reaction is a tribute to Heather Morris as a storyteller who, despite the tragic subject matter, brings her characters to life in such a way that you feel like you really know them and you understand them as much as is possible as an outside observer.

I recommend this book. I know these characters will stay with me for a long time.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction

Notes: by the author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Publication: October 5, 2021—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

As the plaintive cries of their families fade, new voices—angry, hate-filled voices—greet them as they make their passage through the town. Their former friends and neighbors are hurling rotten fruit and stale bread at their heads, yelling their joy that the Jews are finally leaving. Cibi and Livi are stunned by the taunts, the full-throated bile being dispensed from snarling mouths.

…they will never forget their desperation to put something, anything, in their stomachs. These days they savor every mouthful, but, more than that, they cherish the freedom to move around the city as they choose, no longer under the watchful and penetrating gaze of a kapo or worse, an SS officer.

Cibi thinks about the space in her heart where God used to live and wonders, for a second, if the peace she feels in her sisters’ arms is a sign that maybe He never really left.

On Spine of Death–hidden bones

On Spine of Death

by Tamara Berry

Tess, a thriller writer, believes in using real life as an inspiration for her fiction. Sometimes that means investigating real murders that happen in her newly adopted small hometown, even on her own property. She also sets up scenarios to see if a situation is possible even if not probable. She is quite successful and has been able to renovate (i.e. make livable) a cabin she inherited from her grandfather. Newly divorced, she lives there with her teenage daughter Gertrude. In this book there are an assortment of interesting characters including two undercover FBI agents: Nikki who acts as a bookmobile librarian and Jared, a strapping young man who works construction for Tess as she tries to transform her grandfather’s wreck of a hardware store into a bookstore. Jared doesn’t do well as an undercover agent because he can’t “lie his way out of a paper bag.”

It is during the demolition of parts of the store that skeletons are discovered. Judging from similar hatchet marks on the bodies, it seems there has been a serial killer at work. The plot takes off from there as the story becomes more and more complicated. It appears the murderer has returned and is trying to frame either Tess’ family or the sheriff.

Woven through the mystery there is a lot of humor in situation and dialogue. There is also some romance and sabre rattling as Jared and Sheriff Boyd are both attracted to Tess.

The ending is dramatic and full of action. There is resolution of the mysteries but also a hook to make the reader want to read of Tess’ next adventures which will assuredly include some of both the romantic and investigative varieties. She may even find time to reach some of her publisher’s deadlines for her next book. Be ready to suspend reality and enjoy some over the top humorous situations in On Spine of Death.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the By the Book Mystery Series. I recommend reading this series from the beginning rather than trying to read this book as a standalone. It is a series where you will benefit from meeting the characters and watching their relationships develop.

Publication: November 29, 2022—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

She also knew that the more exhausted the sheriff was, the more likely he was to cave. That was a trick Gertrude used all the time. Requests for increases to her allowance always occurred with greater frequency whenever Tess was approaching a deadline.

There was no telling how or why rumors spread so quickly in a place like this, where social media existed mostly in the form of the church calling tree and chance encounters at the grocery store, but there was no denying that they did. No one went so far as to throw stones at her or start waving pitchforks in her face, but the hostility was palpable.

Tess had always assumed that hackers were social misfits, living off Mountain Dew and whole bags of Doritos in the dark. A humorous hacker who could manipulate her like playing a drum opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

Wyoming Christmas Reunion–a horse for Christmas

Wyoming Christmas Reunion

by Melinda Curtis

I had read and enjoyed all of the Blackwell saga until the Blackwells of Eagle Springs came along at a bad time for me to accept more books to review. So, coming to the party late, as a fan of author Melinda Curtis, I thought it would be fun to read another Christmasy romance by her. She is very good at making even her series books work well as standalones, so that was not an issue for me. Big E from the other Blackwell series is even a crossover to this one.

I liked the first part of Wyoming Christmas Reunion, and I loved the last part and the wrap-up. I didn’t enjoy the middle where divorced Helen and Nash bounce back and forth ad nauseam on overcoming their backgrounds and their current problems, on their love for each other, and on their commitment to each other.

Nash, an outstanding trainer for cutting horses, in his efforts to save the Flying Spur, the family’s ranch, from developers makes a very risky bet. Helen is a farrier by trade; she has given up riding due to the trauma of injuries from horses, Nash’s bet puts her in the position of needing to overcome her fears to even get on a horse again and then learn how to compete on a cutting horse…all in two weeks. I did learn a lot about cutting horse competition and would love to view it live.

The character in the book that charmed me and kept me going during repetitive parts of the book was Helen and Nash’s son Luke, a sweet kindergartener who wants to train his own horse like Nash did as a child. The book has a lot of themes that appeal to me—family, friendship, and forgiveness. Some of the positive attributes on display in the book are commitment, persistence, kindness, and the ability to open up to communicate on even the hard issues. I enjoyed the ending of the book, and I think those who have read the whole series will be pleased with the conclusion as all the major characters in the series make an appearance in the tale that culminates with the traditional Blackwell Holiday Feast. I also enjoyed the way Christmas carols were incorporated into the story to lighten moods and help Helen focus during the competition.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #5 in the Blackwells of Eagle Springs Series
2. This is my last Christmas book review for 2022 and probably for quite a while. Next up—a cozy mystery and then historical fiction (WWII).

Publication: November 29, 2022—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

On those rare occasions when Helen was visibly frustrated, the very air around her was charged the way it was during a summer thunderstorm. Noise, huffing, words flung about looking for a dramatic crash landing. And then the clouds moved on as quickly as they’d blown in. And she’d be evenkeeled and easygoing, like a clear cloudless day where you’d feel recharged beneath her rays of sunshine.

She held Luke still. “Just to recap—no kisses, no kicking, no pushing or putting people in prison.” “You’re funny, Mama.” Luke kissed her cheek and ran out of the bathroom, as if leaving all his cares behind him. An enviable skill.

When the gelding realized they were going in, it was as if he was a completely different horse. He cocked his ears and snorted, head high, gathering himself like a sprinter before he took his mark at the starting line. And then he strutted forward, like he was used to being large and in charge, unafraid of zombie apocalypse bovines.

Christmas at the Amish Market–finding the right mate

Christmas at the Amish Market

by Shelley Shepard Gray

Sometimes we forget how stressful being a shopkeeper in the month of December can be. There is no exception for Amish merchants as many customers seek out their wares for unique, special gifts. Wesley Raber has been working at his family’s large Amish market since he was a boy. As a young man he gradually took over most of the operation, but he had never tried to handle it alone until his father had a heart attack.

Jenny, who has a month-long break from her job as a nanny, is called in to help at the market. She stays with Liesl who is actually her niece although they are close to the same age. Wesley has been courting a frustrated Liesl for many years but has never proposed. Liesl is an expert seamstress and through her work has met the widower Roland and his four year old daughter Lilly.

Since Christmas at the Amish Market is a Hallmark book, you can guess where the plot is headed, but as always it is fun to learn more about the characters and their struggles, experience the ups and downs of their lives, and watch as romance develops in a very proper Amish way. The Pinery is a Christmas event center that plays an important role in the story. It attracts tourists and locals to view the magical light displays, sample delicious food and drinks, and get lost in a tree maze.

“For sure and for certain,” Christmas at the Amish Market is a fun holiday read with a quiet Amish background showing people trusting God and seeking his guidance.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Religion, Christian

Notes: The book includes a recipe for Cincinnati-style chili. It is served in an unexpected way, and the reason it is a Christmas Eve tradition for Liesl’s family is shared in the story.

Publication: November 8, 2022—Hallmark Publishing

Memorable Lines:

…while Wesley was kind and sweet to her, he didn’t exactly have as much passion for life—or for her—as she might have imagined. He was more the steady, plow horse type of man. He clip-clopped along at a steady pace but never exactly did anything flashy.

He was currently in between a rock and a hard place with a side of torrential rain added into the mix. It was the holiday season, and he had a slew of customers needing to be served and two parents who were depending on him to not let them down.

“You know as well as I do that our Lord is in charge. Everything happens in His own way and in the right time. Doesn’t do any good to second-guess accidents and whatnots.”

Christmas in the Scottish Highlands–feel good Christmas romance

Christmas in the Scottish Highlands

by Donna Ashcroft

Join Belle Albany as she tries to fulfill the elderly, lonely Edina’s Christmas wishes. Edina has separated herself from people and life in Evergreen Castle. It takes an accident to show her what she has been missing. Not only has she distanced herself from the townspeople, but she also needs to finally meet an adult grandson Jack and see her daughter Tara more often. Christmas in the Scottish Highlands is character generated and propelled. The stories that motivate the main characters are key, but the supporting characters are vital to the plot too. A surprising and important character is Bob, a delightful donkey that lives at Evergreen Castle.

Christmas is critical to the plot, not just a backdrop. You can anticipate lots of Christmas traditions. Belle’s students at Christmas Village Primary School put on the annual Nativity program. A lot of effort is devoted to reviving the tradition of a huge Christmas party at the castle—enough that you might coin a new saying: “it takes a village to celebrate Christmas properly.”

Front and center next to the frivolity are deep and sometimes painful relationship issues: abandonment, estrangement, and communication. There are also three romantic threads and one other disclosed third hand as Jack is a divorce lawyer, better at splitting assets than at mending relationships. Several characters need to learn that there are often two sides to a story and author Donna Ashcroft does an excellent job of helping her readers understand that.

I enjoyed my visit to the Scottish Highlands in this book with its snow, castle, small village feel, and Christmas Cairn. Ashcroft sprinkles the text with just enough Scottish dialect (nae, dinnae, wee, lass/lassie, lad/laddie) that as I read dialogue I heard a Scottish brogue.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: There is one scene in the book where the sex could have been implied. It was not terribly graphic, but I prefer romances with closed bedroom doors.

Publication: October 11, 2021—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

Belle said his name slowly, layering it with a dollop of irritation. Kenzy quirked an eyebrow. “Is Pollyanna having an off day? I know you weren’t that sure about him, but I thought your mantra was “there’s good in everyone”. Not that I’m complaining. You could do with toughening up—the world’s filled with sharks, it’s good to have your harpoon sharpened when you meet them.”

“Ah, lass, it’s been a lot of years since anyone’s said anything so nice. The last compliment I got was from my dentist—and she just admired that I still had my own teeth.” Edina’s face lit with mirth and Kenzy snorted. The older woman had a wicked sense of humour and often had Belle belly laughing.

He’d had a quiet few days in Evergreen Castle, feeling slightly more popular than an axe murderer, but less welcome than someone with a really contagious cold.

Christmas at the Sleigh Café–fun romance

Christmas at the Sleigh Café

by Melinda Curtis

I was delighted that Christmas at the Sleigh Café met my expectations for a Melinda Curtis clean and sweet romance with some serious themes. This was a quick read for me because I was enjoying it so much. The story takes place in Christmas Mountain, Montana. Allie Jameson has not made her fame or fortune in New York City as her family expected. She is passionate about dancing, but bad breaks, including one in her foot, have led to a bus ride back home to regroup. She is met by her long time best friend, Nick, a trained chef who has also returned to Christmas Mountain to help his family and decide on his future.

Allie quickly becomes involved in helping others as a barista at Nick’s family’s coffee shop, a substitute dance teacher, and a designer in setting up her mother’s new business. Nick is always there to support Allie as she works through various issues, but what is it that Nick wants out of life? Is friendship really enough for either of them or might a kiss destroy that friendship?

Christmas at the Sleigh Café is a wonderful story to read at Christmas time, but the themes and issues are relevant all year long. I recommend this book for characters, setting and plot. These elements merit at least four stars, but my enjoyment of the book, including Allie’s inner dialogue and the gentle humor, ramp it up to 5 stars for me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: I realized when writing my review that this book is part of a multi-author series, the Christmas Mountain Romance Series. It seemed like a standalone to me so I recommend it even for readers who have not been following this series.

Publication: October 25, 2022—Franny Beth Books

Memorable Lines:

“And I suspect my time as a dancer is over.” The words cut me. They cut inside where I kept my dreams wrapped in gossamer wings.

“As for the meaning of life…” He shrugged. “I think it’s to be kind to one another, find something you’re passionate about, and love someone.”

I stumbled as I turned, probably tripping over pieces of my heart. I couldn’t see for the tears that suddenly filled my eyes.

The Christmas Spirit–sharing Christmas

The Christmas Spirit

by Debbie Macomber

What could the pastor of Light of Life church and the owner/bartender/waiter/janitor of the Last Call tavern possibly have in common? They were childhood friends and they maintain their connection by meeting at Mom’s Place monthly for lunch. Pete is clean-cut and Hank looks a little rough and shaggy, but they both love Jesus and people.

Debbie Macomber’s The Christmas Spirit is a humorous romance that is as Christmasy as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. With only one week to go before Christmas, the two men decide to change places for a week because each thinks he has a harder job than the other. Walking in each other’s shoes teaches the men a lot of lessons about how to deal with all kinds of people with love and compassion and how to trust God. The pastor has to stand up to some tough characters including the Hell’s Outlaws, and Hank must confront the equally challenging Mrs. Millstone who dangles the large donation of a new roof for the church over the pastor’s head.

Both men are single so you can expect some romance. The women they are interested in have backgrounds that complicate their relationships. The waitress Millie might be unacceptable to Pete’s congregation, and the woman who has caught Hank’s attention happens to be Pete’s sister and the church secretary. Because of past pain, she has shut herself off to others with a superior attitude.

The story has a sweet format as Nana tells it to her two grandchildren who have come over to visit. Instead of a fairy tale, she tells them a real story. Eight year old Lance is good with that, but Nana has to promise to forewarn him if there is any kissing so he can cover his ears. Six year old Lily is delighted that there will be kissing. The plot progresses quickly with interludes in which Nana and the kids reflect on events in the story.

So many problems arise, some fun and some more serious. Characters must rise to the occasion to overcome biases, think outside the box, and trust God to work things out.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.


Category: General Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: This is a good book for anyone who feels “church people” are too stuffy or hypocritical.…or for any Christians still holding onto biases. After you read this, you may come away with a new understanding of how God’s love is meant to play out in our world today.

Publication: October 18, 2022—Random House (Ballantine)

Memorable Lines:

Never in all his days had he met anyone more self-righteous than Grace Ann Armstrong. The woman had her nose so far up in the air that she was in danger of drowning in a rainstorm.

In Hank’s way of thinking, Gracie was so heavenly minded, she was no earthly good. Life was black and white for her, unlike Pete, whose real gift was understanding human nature and accepting others for exactly who they were. Pete was never one to cram faith down anyone’s throat. He loved people, and anyone who spent time with him, even a short while, recognized as much.

“Doesn’t the church belong to God?” he asked. “Technically…yes, but…” “It seems to me,” he said, “if God is who you say He is, then it makes sense to me that He knows that the roof needs to be replaced and He’ll see to it.”

The Post Box at the North Pole–falling in love with Christmas

The Post Box at the North Pole

by Jaimie Admans

With less than a month until Christmas, Sasha is replaced in her job as an assistant to a dog groomer and gets a phone call from her adventurer father Percy informing her that he is recuperating from a heart attack. When her mother died, her father became an absentee parent traveling the world and never able to make it home for Christmas.

Sasha jumps at the chance to be with her father, to be needed by him. He says he is running a reindeer sanctuary in Norway. When she arrives, she discovers Percy is “Santa” at the North Pole Forest two hundred miles north of the actual North Pole. He and the mysterious, tall, quite independent and capable Tav are trying to bring the decaying Christmas attraction back to life.

Sasha resists all things Christmas because of her many disappointments over the years. Percy and Tav (also a part of the North Pole Forest enterprise) want to engage her again in the magic of Christmas.

It would be impossible to imagine a tale with more of the Santa Christmas spirit. The setting is an incredibly cold land with lots of snow. The North Pole Forest is decorated with white lights, and Santa’s house is the perfect cozy refuge where you can always find a mug of hot chocolate. Santa greets children in a grotto, and the onsite post office is overwhelmed with 500,000 letters to Santa each year. There are Christmas themed cabins and glass igloos for viewing the Northern Lights.

Unfortunately, the center is in disrepair because tourists are not flocking in. Percy had to let go his workers which continued the downward spiral. Tav is a reindeer whisperer with skills at managing and healing reindeer, but he has emotional wounds of his own and physical scarring that is usually covered in layers of clothes.

We don’t get to know Percy as well as Sasha and Tav, but all three are important to the story and will speak to your heart as you learn their motivations. If you are looking for some Christmas magic, you will find it in The Post Box at the North Pole.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: I love Christmas decorations, music, and celebrations as much as anyone, and I do find the season magical, full of wonder. This book, which I highly recommend, emphasizes the “true meaning of Christmas” as the belief that anything is possible at Christmas. With all the focus on Santa, elves, and presents, the book skirts over the real “reason for the season:” to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born as a human to be like one of us. One of His names, Emmanuel, means God with us. He taught love of God and others, died an unjust and painful death, and was resurrected—all to take on himself our sins so that we can live forever. All we have to do is believe in Him. (John 3:16). Regardless of your beliefs about the season, I wish you a very Merry Christmas!

Publication: October 18, 2021—HQ

Memorable Lines:

The excitement of sitting down to compose a letter, maybe drawing a picture with it, decorating the envelope, and then posting it…That’s magic to a child. The whole world has gone digital, but Santa is one person who should always uphold tradition.

Every star in the universe must be out tonight, twinkling down on us, the movement of the curtains of green gives the illusion that the stars are dancing in time with the lights. Shades of pink creep into each green splash and turn yellow before fading away completely, only to be replaced with more flowing streaks of light, and just watching them makes me emotional.

“If you can’t be a big kid at Christmas, when can you?” “I’m glad you’re coming round to my way of thinking.” He tilts his head to the side. “Too many people absorbed the lie that when you grow up you have to stop liking fun things and start liking adult things but the happiest people are those who embrace things they love without shame.”

%d bloggers like this: