Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
with A Guide to Reading and Reflecting by Karen Swallow Prior
Sense and Sensibility was first published anonymously in 1811; it was Austen’s first book. She was thirty-five. She published three more in her lifetime and two more were published after her death in 1817. Although the focus of this novel is love and marriage, it is not a romance in the modern sense. It is a satire finding humor in the manners and customs at the turn of the century.
The main characters are the pragmatic, self-controlled Elinor Dashwood and her sister Marianne who feels everything deeply and openly. Their financial situation is based on the inheritance system in place at that time in which the eldest son receives the lion’s share of the patriarch’s property and wealth. Thus the young ladies and their mother and younger sister are left with little to live on and are somewhat dependent on an ungenerous half-brother. As the older girls are at marrying ages (19 and 17), the main part of the novel tells of the ins and outs of various suitors and relationships. We watch the characters change and grow as their circumstances alter. The events work to balance out the extremes of character found in Elinor and Marianne.
Karen Swallow Prior takes this classic and becomes a guide for the modern reader. As an English professor, she begins with a thorough introduction befitting her profession. She provides information about the time period, Austen’s background, and the form of the satirical novel. She explains situational and verbal irony as well as free indirect discourse. She also discusses Austen’s Christian background and how a Christian today might view this work. Prior includes footnotes for words, terms, and concepts that harken from the last part of the eighteenth century and might cause confusion or difficulty for a reader in the twenty-first century. As Sense and Sensibility is divided into three “volumes,” Prior follows each section with discussion questions and then ends the book with more general “Questions for Further Reflection.” All of these features improve the reading experience and yield opportunities for a deeper understanding.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Historical Fiction, Classic
Notes: I found the introduction useful before I began reading Sense and Sensibility, but when I referred back to it in preparation for writing this review, I found it helpful to reread the information as I was able to apply some of it better having completed the novel.
Publication: The novel was originally published in 1811. This edition was published in 2020 by B&H Publishing Group.
From Prior’s Introduction:
Some of its satire is directed at significant human flaws and social structures such as romanticism, greed, falsity, and the prevailing view of marriage as a business transaction. Other objects of satire in the novel are less serious but incur no less delight in being skewered incisively by Austen’s sharp eye and even sharper wit: silly women, idle men, and gossiping tongues.
From the novel:
This specimen of the Miss Steeles was enough. The vulgar freedom and folly of the eldest left her no recommendation, as Elinor was not blinded by the beauty, or the shrewd look of the youngest, to her want of real elegance and artlessness, she left the house without any wish of knowing them better.
Marianne, with excellent abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions on herself.
Batter Off Dead
by Maddie Day
Robbie runs a breakfast and lunch restaurant in South Lick, Indiana. It has gained quite a reputation for its good food and the antique kitchen goods and local products sold in a dedicated part of Pans ’N Pancakes. Robbie also has a three bedroom B&B above the cafe. Locals love to meet to chat and eat there. Tourist buses often stop with excited visitors keeping the versatile staff on their toes. The reputation extends to Robbie who is even known in the bordering state as a detective.
Batter Off Dead is the tenth book in this series by Maddie Day, but the fourth one for me. I don’t like the way the series is developing. There is a violent crime and the local enforcement officers, Robbie herself, and the citizens of South Lick expect Robbie to find the criminal. She does this by picking up on clues she overhears in the restaurant. She also butts in on conversations there questioning anyone and everyone with even a remote connection to the case—all the while running around with coffee carafes in hand and telling the reader how busy the restaurant is. Meanwhile, Lt. Bird with the South Lick Police Dept. and Oscar Thompson, a detective with the Indiana State Police, come by the restaurant at least once if not twice a day asking Robbie what information she has for them, in addition to emailing, texting, and phoning her for information. They are not portrayed as bumbling, but the direction of information is almost always one way with Robbie leading and solving while the interested detectives follow along.
The reader is fed detailed descriptions of Robbie’s day: prepare, open, go crazy with breakfast, lunch and investigating, clean up, prepare for the next day, visit someone to nose around, dinner and drinks with new husband, and crash in exhaustion. Repeat. I am sorry to see a series I enjoy disintegrate. There is a good plot, but it was too drawn out to hold my interest to the end. There was action in the conclusion, but not much of a surprise. By that point, I didn’t really care whodunit.
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. #10 in the Country Store Mystery Series
2. Cookie and crepe recipes included
Publication: February 22, 2022—Kensington
I took her hand and felt her soft, parchment-like skin, which had first seen light when automobiles were new, when white women first won the vote, when the technology we so relied on today was a science-fiction dream.
“Dessert before the meal?” “Hon, I come by my silver hair honestly. At this stage of life, I figure I can do pretty much what I want, as long as it’s legal.” She winked. “And sometimes when it isn’t.”
His face took on a sorrowful look. “So, I can’t get me a pile of lunch? My stomach’s got a hole in it bigger than the Grand Canyon with no tourists, and it needs filled.”
A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea
by Liz Eeles
Many series depend on the continuation of a character or a set of characters. The Heaven’s Cove Series does not. The continuity is found in the setting—the little village of Heaven’s Cove and Driftwood House perched on a cliff high above the ocean. Therefore, with only a few characters from the first book showing up in the second, anyone can easily jump into the series with this second book, A Letter to the Last House Before the Sea. I should add, however, that I loved the first book and immediately after reading it purchased the second book so I would be ready to jump into the third which was recently published.
Lettie has had a hard time finding her way in life. Her family tries to manage her personal life while depending on her to be on call for their needs—be they babysitting, shopping, or sorting repairs. When she is sacked from a customer service job five weeks after the death of her beloved great-aunt Iris, she does a runner to Heaven’s Cove where she hopes to fulfill the bedside wish of her aunt to “find out for me, darling girl.” Aunt Iris had secrets about her past. She left Heaven’s Cove as a teenager with her whole family, never to return. She bequeathed a delicate gold key to Lettie that was connected to her secret. Lettie is committed to discovering what the secrets are that make up Iris’ past.
Locals are suspicious and disdainful of outsiders so Lettie has trouble researching the history, but in the process realizes that maybe she is ready to rediscover her former passion for history and reinvent herself. Along the way she meets several handsome young men and some cranky old timers. She finds Heaven’s Cove calling to her. As she follows leads on Iris’ story, she discovers someone else in need of her skills to track down a long lost love, adding another emotional dimension to the plot.
Lettie is a very likable main character. You will want the best for her and feel her frustrations as your own. My second visit to Heaven’s Cove kept me turning pages and ended with me smiling in satisfaction.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: 1. # 2 in the Heaven’s Cove Series, but would be good as a standalone.
2. Clean fiction—no sex or violence and very little swearing.
Publication: May 19, 2021—Bookouture
Truth be told, Claude had saved Buster that night, as the rain lashed down and the shivering stray risked being swept away by the waves breaking over the quay wall. But then Buster had saved Claude, in return, from the loneliness that often threatened to overwhelm him.
“People disappear from your life, but they always leave an echo,” said Claude quickly.
Much as she’d grown to love Heaven’s Cove, she would never get used to the village grapevine. In London you could drop dead and no one would notice.
The Silent Sisters
by Robert Dugoni
Spy thrillers are not my go-to genre, but I read The Last Agent, the second book in the Charles Jenkins Series, thinking it was a standalone. I was hooked. I returned to read the third in the series, The Silent Sisters, when it was published recently. Both were page turners.
Charles Jenkins, the protagonist, is a semi-retired spy with quite the reputation in Russia where The Silent Sisters takes place. It is Putin’s Russia so the book brings together some of recent Russian history with current events. Moscow is covered with cameras as Jenkins goes in to rescue the two remaining deep undercover plants known as the Seven Sisters. Before he begins his mission, he works with specialists in disguise techniques at Langley because, as a large Black man on Russia’s top 10 kill list, he is easy to spot, especially given their expertise in facial recognition technology. His perhaps fatal error is trying to help an abused stranger in a seedy bar on his first night there. His principled act begins a manhunt by the police, the Russian spy agencies, and the mafia.
At home in Washington state, he has left a wife who formerly worked for the CIA, two children, and a retirement he hasn’t really gotten to enjoy yet. Thoughts of his family keep him going when things get brutal.
Descriptions of the physical settings and the atmosphere of suspense and tension are achieved with excellence. The reader is immersed in each setting from the Trans-Siberian train making its way to freedom to the offices where directors of intelligence agencies compete for power and for their lives. Each setting has its own gripping tenor.
Author Robert Dugoni is a master at keeping all the balls in the air until it is time to draw things to a conclusion. Then he works the circumstances to arrive at a satisfactory ending that is hopeful, but realistic.
I believe this set of books was originally conceived as a trilogy. The author hints in the Acknowledgments that his upcoming trip to Egypt could be the impetus for more adventures featuring Charles Jenkins. I hope so!
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas & Mercer for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller
Notes: 1. #3 in the Charles Jenkins Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. There is some Russian included for atmosphere, but unless the meaning is obvious, it is seamlessly translated for the reader in the text.
3. There is a small amount of swearing, including one word in Russian.
4. It is a spy novel involving Russian agents and the Russian mafia so you can expect some torture, but the descriptions are not detailed or extensive.
Publication: February 22, 2022—Thomas & Mercer
The pain shattered his skin like splinters of broken glass passing through his body.
She’d learned long ago, when her father had died, that vengeance did not bring satisfaction. It didn’t even temper the pain of death. It would not temper the pain of Eldar’s death. It only let others know that killings would come at a heavy cost. Retribution. An eye for an eye.
When you can have everything, you appreciate nothing.
Antique Auctions are Murder
by Libby Klein
I always look forward to a visit at the Butterfly Wings B&B in Cape May, New Jersey. Poppy and her octogenarian Aunt Ginny operate their bed and breakfast that is beginning to show success. Poppy makes breakfast treats for the B&B and gluten-free muffins for her boyfriend’s espresso shop.
While I had no trouble remembering the major characters, I actually took some notes on the other characters in this book because there are so many of them. One of the major threads involves the dysfunctional Whipple family and those they know in the antique world. The patriarch and all of his children are more concerned about possessions than people.
This is the tourist season, and there are a lot of guests at the B&B. With all of the visitors’ quirks, Poppy stays busy sorting everyone out. The wine bottle and huge chunk of cheese disappear daily from the happy hour setting. Takeout orders are delivered in the middle of the night. Two guests bring their female cats, including one very large Maine Coon, who try to impress Figaro, Poppy’s male cat, who’s not having it.
Humor is all through the book, from smile-inducing to laugh out loud scenes. Some of the humor comes from the characters. Red-haired, feisty, little Aunt Ginny and her three senior sidekicks (aka “the biddies”) manage to draw Poppy into all kinds of situations. Victory, the Ukrainian chambermaid with narcolepsy, still works at the B&B. She is treated like part of the family, but her accent, misunderstanding of idioms, and the situations she gets into are hilarious. Some of the humor also comes from Poppy’s inner dialogue—what she is thinking but doesn’t verbalize. Incredibly, there is another very funny subplot related to a threat left for Poppy on her front lawn. It should be serious, but with Aunt Ginny’s “help,” it goes viral and the B&B guests and staff jump into the situation with a profit making scheme.
Gia and Poppy are officially a dating couple, but it seems doubtful that his mother and sister will let him go and accept Poppy like his melt-your-heart sweet little boy has. On Poppy’s side, Georgina, her mother-in-law from her only marriage, shows up unexpectedly at the B&B. Poppy is a widow and Georgina has a 10% interest in the business. She is high maintenance and has servants at home, but Poppy puts her to work as a chambermaid when Victory is out of commission in yet another humorous situation.
With all that’s going on, you might wonder how there is any room in Antique Auctions are Murder for a murder mystery. That’s where the author’s fine art of plotting comes in. There is a murder and Poppy’s solving the mystery is front and center in the book with all of these characters and situations moving in and out and then actually coming together. So many people with motives! So much greed and a plethora of secrets! The murder weapon is unusual. The killer is not someone you would suspect and you might even have sympathy for. Perhaps my favorite part of the book is the Epilogue. It not only ties up some loose ends and clears up a few major misunderstandings on the part of the characters, but it reveals one last surprise that will knock you over!
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. #7 in the Poppy McAllister Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but at this point in the series I think a new reader would have some trouble isolating the recurring characters. The whole series is so good, that my recommendation is to start at the beginning and ENJOY!
2. The book ends with a lot of Jersey boardwalk inspired, gluten free recipes. An example is “Unicorn Cotton Candy CuppyCakes.”
Publication: February 22, 2022—Kensington
My chambermaid hobbled around the corner with her arms sticking straight out and her legs wide like a zombie. “I weill sue sunscream companee. I am shreemp.” I think you mean lobster.”
Aunt Ginny cocked her head to give me a gleeful smile. I hadn’t seen her this excited since the Entenmann truck broke down around the corner and the driver had to give away fifty boxes of raspberry Danish twist.
Mrs. Davis gave me a look that was so pitiful it would put a basset hound to shame.
Murder on the Menu
by Fiona Leitch
A delightful British cozy mystery, Murder on the Menu takes us to the fictional town of Penstowan in Cornwall where Jodie Parker and her daughter Daisy have returned to Jodie’s hometown after years on the police force in London. Wanting to remain safe for her daughter’s sake, Jodie retrained in culinary school and plans on starting a catering business. She gets her first job (from an old friend getting married) with little notice, but is anxious to prove herself.
The case of a murdered ex-wife and a bride who may have done a runner returns Jodie to her investigative roots. As she tries to discover the who and why, Nosey (as her childhood nickname used to be) Parker meets the handsome DCI Withers who really wishes she would stay out of his investigations and crime scenes.
I enjoyed all the Britishisms. I know biscuits in England are cookies in the U.S., but terms like “Jammie Dodgers,” butty with brown sauce,” and “ponce” sent me scurrying to the Internet. I love sleuthing words!
The characters are interesting and humor in dialogue and plot is sprinkled throughout. I enjoyed the Cornish accent and word choice like “guv” and “copper;” They are stronger in some of the characters than others depending on their backgrounds. Her mum and Daisy are appropriately supportive of Jodie’s passion for police work that she has trouble leaving behind. Jodie, to the delight of Daisy, adopts a Pomeranian when its human mom is murdered. An expert at “escapology,” the white fluff ball becomes a constant companion and essential to the plot.
The plot is complicated and Jodie is good at both finding clues and deducting their meanings. Our perception of DCI Withers develops from that of an “annoying git,” to a fair and honest investigator.
The setting includes the many varied locales from the town of Penstowan to tourist campsites and from the hotel for the wedding reception to the church hall for the weekly women’s coffee group.
The next three books in the series have already been published as there was lots of time for writing in New Zealand during the lockdown of 2020. This poses a task that I look forward to handling.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Harper 360 (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery
Notes: 1. #1 in the Nosey Parker Cozy Mystery Series
2. Some questionable language
Publication: February 15, 2022—Harper 360 (One More Chapter)
“This is your first major case here—definitely your first murder case; we don’t get a lot of those down this way—and you want to make a good impression by solving it quickly. But this is Cornwall. We don’t do things quickly here, and we don’t expect you to, either. We just want you to do it properly.”
“Are you all right, love?” she said, offering me a wine gum before adding with typical Cornish understatement, “That were a bit intense, weren’t it?”
I was excited about my new catering business,…but this got my adrenaline pumping in a way that making a velouté never could. I’d never been a detective, as such, but I’d always been nosey.
Put Out to Pasture
by Amanda Flower
Since I enjoy Amanda Flower’s cozy mysteries, I left the first one in her new series Farm to Table Mysteries scratching my head in wonderment that this book, although satisfactory, was just not up to the standards I expect from this author. Fortunately, the first book was just a rough patch as she got started on the series. The second book, Put Out to Pasture, is everything I want in a cozy.
Flower turned around the pervasive and ugly negativity that permeated Shiloh’s return to her home town of Cherry Glen in Michigan from L.A. In this story there continue to be antagonists, but not everyone is pitted against Shi. When a dead body is found on her farm and her best friend Kristy is accused of the murder, Shi is doggedly determined to clear her name. There are a lot of clues that lead Shi and the reader to suspect various people. Having spent years with the Hollywood crowd, Shi knows that many seemingly good people may just be good actors.
Meanwhile, on the personal front, Shi’s best and favorite sidekick, her pug Huckleberry, continues to bring humor through Shi’s descriptions of what he appears to be thinking. She continues to clean out her grandmother’s cabin and finds a note to her with a mysterious riddle. She has a new neighbor who at first appears to be a bright light, but later seems to have greedy intentions. Shi’s deceased boyfriend’s best friend is working through the deaths of his friend and his own wife. Hazel, his daughter continues to be a breath of fresh air as the tween struggles to find a new normal with her firefighter dad’s erratic schedule and her grandmother’s protective strictness. Shi’s father, who was immersed in his Michigan history collection for most of Shi’s life might be coming out of his shell.
In this book, Shi is a likable character and we can see potential for her goals of revitalizing the family farm. The story is fast-paced with a web of threads and interesting characters. The author ends by dangling several hooks, any one of which is sufficient to reel the reader into the next book in the series.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Poisoned Pen Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Farm to Table Mystery Series, but can certainly be read as a standalone.
Publication: February 22, 2022—Poisoned Pen Press
The one anomaly in the gravel lot was my car, an expensive sports car that would be as practical in a Michigan winter as a snow blower was in LA.
“She seems calm to me.” “That doesn’t mean she’s not mad. Trust me, I know. When she is really, really mad she gets cold. She’s like the iceberg that took out the Titanic.”
“I think the thing I got most out of my parents’ death is cutting people a break. You don’t know what they have been through or are going through. Everyone could use a little kindness.”
The Cowboy Meets His Match
by Melinda Curtis
Olivia Monroe has spent two months with Sonny, a sports psychologist, after a disastrous sailboat racing accident that destroyed her self-confidence. When she impulsively kisses handsome former rodeo star Rhett Diaz in front of her cousins, she sets herself and Rhett up for a fake boyfriend scenario which her two business-minded cousins jump on. They offer Rhett a deal. They will help him in his yet undetermined adventure tour company if he will deliver Olivia to her home base of Philadelphia. Sonny accompanies them as they try out various adventure sports like mountain biking and zip lining along the way.
From their first fake kiss, Olivia and Rhett are drawn to each other, but they realize that they are impossibly suited for a long-term relationship. They both are strong-willed and love adventures, but Rhett’s cowboy skills and Olivia’s sailing require very different locations.
The characters are well drawn by the author. Rhett and Olivia are both struggling with the direction of their futures. Sonny is a fun character as he is full of platitudes and advice. Physically he resembles Santa Claus in a motivational T-shirt: he is a walking billboard for positivity with slogans like “Show No Fear” and “Be a Unicorn.” Sonny is recovering from a health scare so food choices on their cross-country trip are a constant, humorous struggle as is his passion for goats!
Relationships change under the pressurized close quarters of travel. Feelings are hurt and reconciliation is needed. Decisions about the future loom large. Compromise seems out-of-reach.
As a Harlequin Heartwarming novel, The Cowboy Meets His Match fulfills its goals of providing the reader with a fun, clean romance. I learned about a lot of adventure tours I never want to personally experience. Author Melinda Curtis created a story that kept me turning pages and left me with smiles and a chuckle at a surprise ending.
I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #7 in The Mountain Monroes, it could be read as a standalone, but reading it in sequence will provide a lot of interesting reading about the various Monroe cousins and the grandfather who binds them together.
Publication: February 1, 2022—Harlequin Heartwarming
Grandpa held a secret the way a colander held water…which was not at all.
This trip was turning into a fresh cowpie on a steep trail.
Sonny snored louder than a revving engine at a tractor pull.