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All Creatures Great and Small–more than an animal story

All Creatures Great and Small

by James Herriot

Veterinarian James Herriot set the bar high for veterinarian memoirs when he penned All Creatures Great and Small. Humorous, touching, joyful, personal, this book had me smiling and laughing through the tales of this newly qualified vet who begins his career in the Yorkshire Dales where he falls in love with the land, his patients, and their hard-working owners.

Much of the book’s humor is self-deprecating as Herriot describes unfortunate circumstances in which he is enmeshed. Some come from his visits to various farms, often for middle of the night emergencies. A great deal of amusement arises from Siegfried Farnon, Herriot’s likable, dashingly charming, energetic, and volatile boss and from Siegfried’s younger brother Tristan. Although the brothers love each other, they are frequently at odds due to Tristan’s carefree attitudes.

Although I read this book over thirty years ago, my recent reread was a pure delight. The characters are down to earth and detailed so well the reader can easily picture them. There are customs and manners in the Dales that are foreign to twenty-first century denizens. Herriot is quick to contrast the tools, techniques and medicines available to him as a young vet in 1937 with those used later in his career. All of this is quite interesting, but Herriot’s storytelling abilities are what draw the reader in and keep him returning chapter after chapter. I was so sad when I came to the last page. The fun was over! I read this book with my book club, but I think I may “need” to do a reread of the other books in the series as well.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir

Notes: 1. The series is based on Herriot’s experiences and those of other vets. The characters’ names have been created for the series. Some of the nonfiction may be embellished.
2. It is hard to pull out a passage and say “See how funny this is” because so much of the humor relies on the context and the characters, but it is very funny.
3. There are at least two television series and a movie based on these characters.
4. I would be remiss if I did not note that the word d__n is sprinkled throughout the book. I did not remember this from my earlier reading. In this case I felt the usage fit the story and the characters. It is not used in a mean spirited way and did not detract from the book for me.

Publication: 1972—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

“Animals are unpredictable things so our whole life is unpredictable. It’s a long tale of little triumphs and disasters and you’ve got to really like it to stick it…One thing, you never get bored.”

I had learned enough of Dales ways to keep quiet at meals; when I first came to the district I had thought it incumbent on me to provide light conversation in return for their hospitality but the questioning glances they exchanged with each other silenced me effectively.

…now that I was away from the noise and stuffiness of the buildings, the silence and the emptiness enveloped me like a soothing blanket. I leaned my head against the back of the seat and looked out at the checkered greens of the little fields along the flanks of the hills; thrusting upwards between their walls till they gave way to the jutting rocks and the harsh brown of the heather which flooded the wild country above.

People who think farming is a pleasant, easy life should have been there to see the hunched figure disappear into the blackness and the driving rain. No car, no telephone, a night with the heifer, eight miles biking in the rain and a back-breaking day ahead of him. Whenever I thought of the existence of the small farmer it made my own occasional bursts of activity seem small stuff indeed.

Secrets in the Stacks–supporting friends

Secrets in the Stacks

by Lynn Cahoon

The Survivor’s Book Club is for women who are currently undergoing or have finished treatment for breast cancer. It was founded by Rarity, a local bookstore owner and cancer survivor. The group does not actually read books about cancer, but their background gives them an unspoken bond and perspective. When one of the club members discovers her grandmother murdered in their home, the group shifts into high gear to support their friend, clear her of suspicion, and help discover the real murderer.

As is usual with a Lynn Cahoon book, Secrets in the Stacks has an intricate plot, great characters, and a lot of surprises. Cahoon actually discovered cozy mysteries when she was going through breast cancer treatments herself and realized that writing is what she really wanted to do. She has been very successful with several popular series to her credit, but this is the first one that draws on her experiences with cancer treatment and survival.

Rarity is supported by a group of friends who are Sedona, Arizona, locals. She is close friends with Drew, a detective, but the romantic interest in the story is Archer, an athletic man who leads group hikes in the surrounding area. Rarity has her dog Killer, a Pomeranian, with her almost constantly. As the boss, she can even take her well-trained dog, who has a great instinct about people, to work with her.

The murdered grandmother was well-loved in the community, but no one seemed to know anything about her life before she and her teenaged son moved to Sedona. The group decides that something from her past could be a motivation for the crime. The deeper they delve, the more complications arise.

The ending is dramatic, action-packed, and surprising. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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: 1. #2 in the Survivors’ Book Club Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone as Cahoon provides any background information needed.
2. Sedona is often associated with new-age beliefs so there are several references to tarot cards as well as one to crystals and sending out good wishes through the universe. Some of the characters believe in the “mystical part” of the tarot card reading and others don’t. As a Christian, I avoid the occult, but there are few enough references and enough skepticism on the part of the characters that I am able to read this book. It is not a predominant theme.
3. Includes a recipe for Hamburger Stew.

Publication: November 1, 2022—Kensington Books (Lyrical Press)

Memorable Lines:

“…running my own business is harder than I thought it would be. Every time I think I see a light at the end of the tunnel, it turns out to be a train.”

She’d worked out her negative feelings about what Shirley had said without confronting the woman. Sometimes you just needed to realize it was you and not them.

The book club was more than just a bunch of women reading books. Or even poking their noses into an investigation, or now, two. They were there for each other.

Beneath His Silence–guilt and forgiveness

Beneath His Silence

by Hannah Linder

“Gothic-Style Regency Romance” encapsulates Hannah Linder’s new historical fiction novel Beneath His Silence. The beginning of this romance did not appeal to me at all with its mishmash of characters, settings, and mysterious motives. The first part of the book is confusing but gradually straightens itself out into a reasonable plot that continues to tease the reader with questions of who did what to whom and why. With the main male character, Lord Henry Sedgewick, consumed by guilt and admitting his crime, the reader must persevere along with the female protagonist, Ella Pemberton, who struggles to find the truth and control her emotions.

My favorite character is Lord Sedgewick’s son Peter, a loved and lovable lad. Ella assumes a new name and identity and becomes his governess to get into the household and avenge the deaths of her sister and her father.

The ending of the book is packed with action, danger, and heroics. Mysteries and love are revealed, but not without a cost. There are several romantic overtures to Lord Sedgewick who is a widower. The characters’ actions conform to the requirements of the times for the various classes and genders and stand out in stark contrast to expectations for the twenty-first century. The themes of the book revolve around a relationship with God, guilt, and forgiveness. Despite my initial misgivings, I did stay up late to finish what became a page turner.

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: Christian, Historical Fiction, Romance

Publication: November 1, 2022—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

There’d been no laughter for a long time…But maybe now things would be better. If Miss Woodhart could offer the boy love, if her presence could bring him laughter, if truth of his own mother could forever be kept from his ears…Maybe Peter could escape the punishment. The punishment Henry had brought on them both.

Was this how all inferiors felt? How demeaning to be treated as if one’s presence was not noticed. Had she ever treated anyone thus at Abbingston? Ah, yes. She most certainly had. Not out of meanness, of course, but rather from a lack of thought or consciousness. She resolved to do better in the future.

“I can believe that God created the world,” she whispered, “but how can I believe He is the author of such dreadful circumstances?” “I cannot convince you, Miss Woodhart, nor can I make you believe.” The evening shadows deepened around them. “I can only testify of Him. I am afraid the rest is something you must discover yourself.”

Sit, Stay, Heal: What Dogs Can Teach Us About Living Well

Sit, Stay, Heal

by Dr. Renee Alsarraf

Dr. Alsarraf is a veterinary oncologist. Her training and profession put her in the odd position of knowing way more than most people about cancer in both animals and people. Even as she works with cancer patients and their pet parents every day, she is shocked when she is diagnosed with what she calls “the C word.”

Dr. Alsarraf’s story is quite properly told in the first person. She shares the struggles of some of her patients and compares them with her own battles. Because animals live in a present mindset, they don’t have a fear of the tomorrows of cancer. They have fewer side effects from treatments. For example, they don’t lose their fur. There are many similarities, however, in the unknown outcomes of treatments and the unpredictability of cancer.

I thought this might be a very dark book, but it isn’t. It is inspiring to watch Dr. Alsarraf and her team of assistants work diligently and with care and respect as they treat their patients. Dr. Alsarraf takes time to explain everything to the pet’s human parents and to answer their questions. She never hurries them or makes them feel guilty about their decisions assuring them that there are no right or wrong answers in treatment choice.

There is another situation in this dedicated vet’s life that doubles the emotional impact, but to share it would be a spoiler. I found tears streaming down my face and had to wait a day to finish the book. Sit, Stay, Heal is very well written. The Introduction sets up the reader to journey with the author through her personal battle and shares her philosophies about cancer, pets, and fighting back. Each of the ten chapters that follow focuses on the story of a pet patient, the pet’s family, and her interaction with them all the while enduring her own health struggles. Sit, Stay, Heal is a heart felt book with more smiles than tears for a dog owner.

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: Memoir, Nonfiction

Publication: October 18, 2022—Harper One

Memorable Lines:

All cats and dogs live in the moment, carefree. They do not waste the present, worried about what might happen in the future. Or how much longer they have to live.

Before the C word, I’d always thought that life was so under my control, and yet the disease has helped me realize that I was never in control of the really big things, or even the medium things.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a loved one. Through good days and bad, our pets provide such unconditional love, support, and companionship. They’re with us for fun times, and also are there to snuggle with when the outside world seems too harsh.

The Story of Love–being Englisch in an Amish community

The Story of Love

by Beth Wiseman

Yvonne moves from her house in Houston to live in Amish country in Montgomery, Indiana. Her friend Eva has been ordered to bed during her pregnancy, and Eva’s father-in-law is confined to a wheelchair leaving the farm management to Eva’s husband Jake. Yvonne, a rare book dealer, had met the couple at their bookstore, and now she steps in to help her friends at their store.

Abraham is a police officer who left the Amish church on friendly terms hoping to be useful as an intermediary between the Amish and the Englisch. He met Yvonne shortly after her fiancé died and hoped that at the right time he would be able to get to know her better.

The Story of Love is a sweet story of two people trying to sort out priorities and relationships. When the tale begins, Abraham is dating a very attractive woman who is as shallow as a mud puddle. With Yvonne and Abraham trying to make honorable choices, it takes a while for the romance in the story to progress. There is the further complication of Abraham’s family’s attitudes toward both women and their continuing discomfort with Abraham leaving the Amish faith. It is a problem for him too. Interesting and important subplots center on a homeless dog and a case of domestic violence.

I really enjoyed reading The Story of Love and am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Hopefully Ever After, to discover what lies ahead for the characters. It is a gentle book but also has some action and confronts some serious issues. The characters use some Amish terms, and through the plot I learned how the Amish celebrate Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

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: Christian, Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Amish Bookstore Novel Series. It would be fun to read the first book in the series, but I had no problem jumping into this one.
2. Contains a Glossary of Amish words used in the book.

Publication: October 11, 2022—Zondervan Fiction

Memorable Lines:

Brianna smiled, looking gorgeous, but now that Yvonne had seen what was on the inside, her striking appearance had lost some of its luster.

This was what Christmas was supposed to be. Gifts created out of love. Meals shared with family. And an all-knowing sense that where more than one gathered in His name, He was there.

…if she was honest with herself, she was the problem. She was unlovable, despite her outward beauty that she’d always counted on to get her through life, to land her a good man, and to enjoy the life she thought she deserved. Maybe you had to give love with genuine intent before you got it back.

Last But Not Leashed–veterinarian story

Last But Not Leashed

by Eileen Brady

Dr. Kate has taken on the practice at Oak Falls Animal Hospital while the owner is on a year long vacation. She lives in a small, connected garage apartment which is very convenient in snowy weather. Dr. Kate has been well accepted and supported by the locals including Mari, her veterinary assistant, and Cindy, her office manager. Even her next door neighbor, Pinky, makes sure she is safe since she lives alone, and he keeps the snow plowed regularly in gratitude for her life saving veterinary services to his dog.

So many threads in this book! The plot involves rescue services for a sweet pit bull used as a “bait dog” but abandoned outside the hospital. Mari convinces Dr. Kate to attend organizing workshops with her where events turn deadly. Dr. Kate and Mari take their veterinary skills to customers who are unable or unwilling to bring their animals to the hospital including one wealthy film star tucked away in a a gorgeous but almost unreachable setting on a mountaintop. Why would she need two bodyguards inside her remote, gated compound? Even Bitcoins come into play in Last But Not Leashed.

The reader meets Oak Hills locals, and there are lots of interesting characters. Romantic standouts are Luke who is Kate’s boyfriend across the miles where he attends law school and Colin, an artist with enough charms to attract all the ladies of Oak Hills. Kate relies on her Gramps by phone for support and advice. Judy owns the town’s only café which makes it a favorite hang out and a good place to gather information. Posey, a night clerk at a convenience store, is writing a “kind of Edwardian, sci-fi vampire novel,” but could it hold clues to the crazy, real life murder plots?

This cozy mystery was a fun read and author Eileen Brady is a good storyteller. As an added benefit, Brady who is a veterinarian herself shares lots of interesting tidbits about various animals, their needs, care, and health issues. These facts are included non-intrusively and never overshadow the plot. Her character Dr. Kate is likable and has a genuine compassion for her patients and their owners. I recommend this mystery for those readers who love cozies, animals, and stories centered around veterinary medicine.

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: Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Dr. Kate Vet Mystery Series. I had not read #1 in the series so I can attest that it works well as a standalone.

Publication: September 6, 2022—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

“People love all the shapes and sizes of dogs. It’s only with our fellow humans that we are so judgmental and critical in unproductive ways.”

My food choice for lunch had hit a new low—a pint of fudge ripple ice cream and a diet soda. Both of my coworkers watched sympathetically as I tried to eat my way to a little happiness. We all knew that never worked, but it sure tasted good.

After working in an animal hospital for twenty years, Cindy had an iron stomach, nerves of steel, and could charm a frightened cat from a tree.

A Vacation to Die For–ex-in-laws can be a pain

A Vacation to Die For

by Lynn Cahoon

It’s good to return to South Cove to visit with Jill, owner of a bookstore/coffee shop, and her fiancé Greg, the local police detective. They head up to nearby Apple Valley for a much needed get-away, but unfortunately there is a murder back in town. In addition, there are a lot of other threads in this well-crafted cozy mystery. There is a conflict with the mayor when Jill won’t agree to sell her property to a real estate developer. Evie, one of Jill’s baristas is harassed by her ex-husband and his sister over an inheritance. Jill is a bibliophile, preferring a good book to social interaction, but she tries in this book to reach outside her comfort zone.

There are lots of interactions among the various characters. Some are just townspeople and others are in the area for trouble. Jill seems to frequently find her way into investigations and dangerous spots, sometimes because she is nosy and sometimes because she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jill shows off her investigative skills in this book as she picks up on little things she sees or hears that others might not notice. She then feeds them to Greg, helping solve the crimes. Jill’s dog Emma is a mainstay, always ready for a run. Another dog, Homer, plays an important role in this book.

There are lots of food mentions from Tiny’s fantastic cooking at Lille’s café to Sadie’s delectable desserts from Pies on the Fly. You don’t want to try to read this book when you are hungry.

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: 1. A Vacation to Die For is #14 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series. You could read it as a standalone as Cahoon is good at grounding readers in the past and the characters as needed. As this story is fairly far into the series, however, I think it would be more enjoyable if others in the series were read first. I do recommend the whole series if you are looking to read a new cozy mystery series. This one never disappoints.
2. A recipe for Esmeralda’s Creole Seafood Stew is included.

Publication: September 6, 2022—Kensington (Lyrical Press)

Memorable Lines:

“I swear, I can’t hold a Tupperware party without having one of the guests show up dead.”

I let her talk for a while. I found the best part of being a friend was letting the other person talk out the problem and find their own solution.

The world must be moving into an ice age. Greg had asked me to investigate. I hurried home to get my car before he changed his mind.

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