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The Valet’s Secret–class barriers to love
The Valet’s Secret
by Josi S. Kilpack
When I started reading The Valet’s Secret, I realized it is a historical romance, not of the Jane Austen satirical variety, but one of romantic attraction thwarted by class differences. This is not my typical reading genre, and so it took a few chapters for me to get involved with the characters and their dilemmas. At that point I began to really care about the main characters.
Kenneth Winterton, while raised as a gentleman, had no expectations or training to be the future Earl of Brenton. When his cousin Edward dies suddenly, Kenneth is expected to prepare himself for his new role, including marrying someone from the local gentry. Thus begins round after round of entertainments to introduce him to suitable ladies. His heart has already been stolen by a chance encounter with Rebecca Parker, a widow living with an abusive, alcoholic father, helping him with his craft of silhouettes. Prior to her marriage, she had been “in service” as a maid. Kenneth and Rebecca are by status incompatible.
As the story moves towards its conclusion, the reader must certainly wonder how the couple could possibly marry. There are several dramatic twists; the actions of a few characters reveal their true motivations and scheming, and some even have a change of heart. The cover reflects the importance of silhouettes in the story, and the title reflects an early, light-hearted deception in the tale with serious consequences. By the end of The Valet’s Secret, I was convinced by this quick read that this genre and author deserve some more attention from me as I make future selections.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Shadow Mountain Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: March 8, 2022—Shadow Mountain Publishing
“The title precedes you into every room, every relationship, every decision. You do not think what is best for any individual—not even yourself—but what is best for the community affected by your status. Nothing comes above that responsibility. Nothing at all.”
…the thought that he would remain here, learning to live a life that was uncomfortable with a woman whom he did not know while waiting for an old man he loved to die, made him extremely sad.
How he hated this marriage mart he was hung within. So very much. The only viable solution to get out of it was, in fact, to marry.
Aria’s Travelling Book Shop–trauma of grief
Aria’s Travelling Book Shop
by Rebecca Raisin
This second adventure of the Van Lifers features Aria, Rosie and Max who are the main characters in Aria’s Travelling Book Shop. We follow them to France for the summer where they meet up with new and old friends as is the way with these nomadic souls who travel from festival to festival earning their way as they go by holding pop-up specialty shops.
This story is told from Aria’s point of view. She lost the love of her life to cancer three years ago and is still struggling with grief, guilt, and an inability to move forward in her life. Her friend Rosie is always there to support her, but Rosie has a life surprise that complicates her ever-meticulous plans. Aria tries to re-establish a relationship with her husband’s family who estranged themselves from her after TJ’s death. She receives a journal written by TJ during his last months that reveal his hopes for her future. Jonathan is a successful writer who wants to be friends with the romance book loving Aria.
An interesting technique the author uses is to have Aria step outside herself, as if she were an onlooker announcing the events. For example, in italics we read “Hopeless romantic Aria vowed never to love again after loving her husband, TJ, but fate seems to have other ideas and keeps throwing mysterious Jonathan in her path. Is this a test of her commitment…” Using this approach, we get an up close view of Aria’s working through her issues in an almost humorous way.
In addition to personal matters, Rosie and Aria are confronted with a negative and unhappy “friend” who invites herself along. She is not a nice person, but Rosie and Aria try to understand and help her. Look for a surprise transformation for that character, and enjoy the very bookish nature of this novel.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: #2 in The Travelling Shops series, but can be read as a standalone.
Publication: August 10, 2021—Harper Collins
Promises that won’t be kept swirl in the air above like the glittery trail of a sparkler extinguished before the word is written. I smile sadly, wishing things didn’t have to end but knowing that they do.
“According to my translation app you just told him: You’re a wet chicken!” She bites down on her lip before laughter gets the better of her.
I duly sit and wait for Rosie as she hurries to make tea and serves me a slice of cake so large it has its own postcode.
Hannah Coulter–“living right on”
by Wendell Berry
The narrator through the voice of Hannah Coulter ends the first chapter of this novel with the simple line “This is my story, my giving of thanks.” Do not, however, be lulled into thinking you are going to read a book consisting of platitudes on gratitude. Hannah reflects from old age on a full life, but what most would consider a common, ordinary life. She grieves over those she lost whether to sickness or the War. She keeps moving forward because what else is she to do?
Wendell Berry, the author of Hannah Coulter is an agrarian, a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. He brings his characters to life with carefully chosen words that reflect their deepest thoughts about difficult subjects as well as their humanity. This is a book that you may want to reread, that may make you tear up, and that will certainly be the cause of reflection as you identify with certain characters or events.
Perhaps because I usually prefer linear storytelling and Hannah Coulter strays from that paradigm in its first and last chapters, it will not be one of my favorite books. I do recommend it as a book of depth with passages that are worthy of sharing orally for the way the words delight or for the descriptions meant to be savored for the images they evoke. Hannah Coulter opens the door to her heart, her life, and her community to the reader in an honest and touching manner.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Counterpoint for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Literary Fiction
Notes: 1. Part of the Port William series but they don’t have to be read in order.
2. Map and Genealogy included at the end.
Publication: October 10, 2005—Counterpoint
Time doesn’t stop. Your life doesn’t stop and wait until you get ready to start living it. Those years of the war were not a blank, and yet during all that time I was waiting. We were all waiting.
He told of the time he went fishing and the mosquitoes were so big and fierce that he had to take shelter under a lard kettle, and the mosquitoes’ beaks were so tough and sharp that they pierced the iron and came through, and he picked up his hammer and clenched their beaks, and the mosquitoes flew off with his kettle.
The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: “Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks.” I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.
Murder with Clotted Cream–cozy mystery with an emphasis on relationships
Murder with Clotted Cream
by Karen Rose Smith
You can jump right into Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series with Murder with Clotted Cream, the fifth book in this series by Karen Rose Smith. The author does an outstanding job of providing information on the characters for the new or returning reader.
Daisy Swanson is co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden. In this book, Daisy is hired to provide a tea for the actors preparing a play for the Little Theater, newly built by a real estate developer and his actress wife. When a murder occurs at the tea, Daisy finds herself in the middle of yet another investigation. Other major parts of this plot are relationship oriented: Daisy and her boyfriend Jonas, Daisy’s daughter Jazzi and her biological mother, Daisy and her own mother Rose, and Daisy’s other daughter who suffers from postpartum depression. As you can see, Daisy has a lot on her plate, and it doesn’t help that the detective on the case has an ax to grind with Daisy’s boyfriend.
There are a lot of suspects to keep you guessing and some danger along the way for Daisy. The book also deals with important parenting issues across the generations. Some of Daisy’s investigations are digital or local to her town, but others involve a train trip to New York City. We get to view her not as a one-dimensional heroine but as an independent businesswoman, a caring mom, a widow exploring a friendship blossoming slowly into romance, and a careful observer of those around her.
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 Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but great as a standalone.
2. Includes 3 original recipes
Publication: May 26, 2020—Kensington Books
“She knows how to ask questions, and she doesn’t treat everyone she meets as if they were hostile witnesses. You might be better served to do the same.”
November has descended with a cold grip, and today was a perfect example of a steel-gray day with the reminder of winter in any wind that blew.
Daisy heard Jonas gasp as if Zeke had punched him in his solar plexus. In that one statement Zeke just might have changed Jonas’s attitude about life, about love, and about moving forward.
A Very Merry Match–romance with the kindergarten teacher
A Very Merry Match
by Melinda Curtis
What a book I chose to read on Christmas week! Melinda Curtis’ A Very Merry Match is a romance that involves serious threads. Mary Margaret, widowed last year at Christmas, is trying to survive the memories of the season. As a Kindergarten teacher with a strong sense of honor, she has been very disciplined with her finances to try to repay her husband’s debt accrued through shopping therapy at the end of his life. Just when the mountain of debts have been conquered, two unsavory characters show up on her doorstep wanting an obscene amount of money.
You’ll like Mary Margaret. She’s a dedicated and loving teacher always wanting to do the right thing. Sadly, she carries around the physical and emotional scars of childhood abuse. Kevin, the mayor of the little town of Sunshine, has a son in Mary Margaret’s class. His initial dilemma is a decision regarding a development project that has potential positive and negative impacts on the town and is thus quite controversial. He also develops an interest in his son’s teacher. Along the way we meet Barb, Kevin’s ex-wife, and Edith, Mary Margaret’s supportive and fun-loving grandmother along with the local Widow’s Club whose members are always interested in matching up lonely hearts.
Mary Margaret has, out of financial necessity and a love of dance, a second career as a burlesque dancer, and Kevin is being considered for political office at the state level. Although they are attracted to each other, a serious relationship seems unlikely. Christmas is the backdrop for the fun, romance, and conflict that permeate the plot. This is a clean romance you can enjoy at Christmas…or any time of the year!
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #2 in the Sunshine Valley Series, but I had not read the first book in the series and had no problem jumping right into this book.
Publication: September 29, 2020—Forever (Grand Central Publishing)
Dancing always loosened up the stress, shook it off, made her feel free, moved her beyond her worries and fears. How could this be wrong?
“I’ll tell you a secret I learned growing up.” Her smile was tentative, as if her secret was sad. “Preacher’s kid wisdom. There’s always someone in a worse situation than you are.”
Doubt crept between his shoulders on spiked cleats.
The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow
The Crow’s Call
by Wanda E. Brunstetter
I like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.
The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.
With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.
It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Women’s Fiction, Mystery
Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.
Publication: March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)
Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.
“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”
She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.
Matchmaking Can Be Murder–Amish and Englisch worlds collide
Matchmaking Can Be Murder
by Amanda Flower
Already familiar with the little town of Harvest through Amanda Flower’s Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series, I was a a little confused when I found myself in a familiar town, but with a new main character, Millie. Then I remembered that Matchmaking Can Be Murder is the first in a new series. Many of the characters in the first series, which focuses on Bailey, an Englisch candy maker are back in this series. The new series features a sixty-seven year old Amish woman with a knack for knowing if two people are compatible. She returns home after years of caring for Amish kin in various communities.
Harvest is a mixed community with its Amish and Englisch citizens getting along fairly well. It is interesting to learn more about the Amish while watching their interactions with their non-Amish friends and neighbors. Especially fun is the reunion of Millie with her childhood friend Lois, a gregarious lady who has had a lot of husbands and is quite outspoken. Her clothing and jewelry are as eye-catching as Millie’s style of dress is plain. Lois makes many references to contemporary technologies and cultural icons that go right past Millie. More humor is found in the trained goat duo of Phillip and Peter who are Millie’s pets, guard goats, and lawn keepers.
Although Millie is the main character, the mystery centers around her niece Edy, a young widow with three children, whose fiancée is discovered dead in her greenhouse shortly after she breaks off the engagement. Millie and Lois attempt to discover who murdered Zeke, but they uncover more crime and convoluted personal relationships than they could ever have predicted.
It is interesting watching Millie in action as she tries to find out the truth while staying within the limits of what is right. She and Lois have to work at keeping each other in check and out of trouble. A nice touch is the author’s inclusion of Amish proverbs as they come to Millie throughout her day. I enjoy the Amish Candy Shop Mysteries, but this spinoff series is even better!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: The first book in the Amish Matchmaking Mystery Series, it is a spinoff but it is not necessary to read the series it came from.
Publication: December 31, 2019—Kensington Books
Sometimes it worked to a person’s advantage to be friends with the biggest gossip in the district. I just had to feed Raellen the right information, and she would take care of the rest.
…”they can only fully commit to the Amish life when they know what the Englisch one is like. If they see the way the rest of the world lives and then commit to our ways, they are more likely to stay here.”
There was no way to rebuild what was shattered, but what we could make was something brand-new, something that was different but stronger than before. That’s what I hoped for the very most.
Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas
Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas
I had a blast reading Juana and Lucas: Big Problemas. Author and illustrator Juana Medina, like the main character in her book, is from Bogotá, Columbia. I know some bilingual teachers who would be uncomfortable with the code switching in this book; I love it. For me, inserting some Spanish words in places where the context or illustrations make the word meanings plain adds color and flavor to this chapter book written mainly in English.
Juana, her Mami, and her dog Lucas have an almost perfect life together. They have a routine and a support group of family and friends that keep them happy. Things start to change when Mami gets a new hairstyle and starts wearing more perfume. The new man in Mami’s life is Luis, an architect. Juana likes him but she doesn’t want things to change, and she doesn’t want Mami and Luis to get married. We learn about Juana’s dad who passed away and about the sadness of not having a father. We share in the characters’ preparations for the wedding and the move. All of this is portrayed sensitively, but also with humor. The illustrations fit the book well.
I learned about a favorite Columbian soup, ajiaco. It is creamy and made of several types of potatoes that cook to various consistencies. It has corn on the cob, capers, chicken, sour cream, and herbs, and is topped with a slice of avocado. The other unfamiliar food to me is chocolate con queso. This special treat consists of hot chocolate with chunks of cheese—chihuahua, queso fresco, or mozzarella. Evidently it is a delight of sweet and salty and is served with bread. I’m ready for a trip to Columbia!
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Candlewick for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Age Range: 5 – 8 years
Grade Level: Kindergarten – 3
Publication: May 14, 2019—Candlewick
Crime and Punctuation–super senior
Crime and Punctuation
by Kaitlyn Dunnett
Crime and Punctuation features a retired Language Arts (English) teacher who decides to take up editing to fund the remodeling of the 110 year old home she lived in until she was seventeen. At age sixty-eight, newly widowed, Mikki returns from Maine to Lenape Hollow in New York’s Catskills and purchases the three story home of her childhood which has not been maintained properly.
Although Mikki intends for her business to mainly come through online sources, she is approached shortly after opening her enterprise by Tiffany, a young, enthusiastic, and well-funded new author. Mikki accepts her as a client and three days later there is a murder.
Lenape Hollow is a small town where news travels fast. Mikki finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation that involves old friends and enemies and brings up long forgotten memories. Tiffany’s book is fiction, but it is based on Mafia activity in the 1930’s. Her husband and his associates have been involved in some shady deals in the past and may be the models for some of the book’s unsavory characters. Crime and Punctuation is a good mystery with lots of suspects. It is not difficult to figure out who the murderer is, but it is fascinating to watch it play out. The book is well-paced and the main character Mikki is an interesting and likable character. Her honesty in her introspection is refreshing and not belabored. Mikki’s age is certainly older than the typical cozy mystery heroine, but that fact provides a different perspective that is interesting.
I have always enjoyed language, word study, and even grammar. Fresh out of college, I taught middle and high school English for a year while waiting for an elementary teaching position to open up. I was excited to teach, enjoyed the subject matter, and particularly related to the twelfth graders ready to embark on their next adventure in life. So in Mikki I find a kindred spirit with her references to the Oxford comma. Its use in Tiffany’s manuscript actually helped solve the case. On the other hand, I don’t think a reader needs to be obsessive about grammar to appreciate this latest mystery by Kaitlyn Dunnett.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #1 in the Deadly Edits Mystery Series
Publication: May 29, 2018—Kensington Books
I can dress in my best, freshly pressed and pristine, and within five minutes, I look as if I’ve slept in my clothes. Don’t even talk to me about scarves! No matter how I tie them, they just hang there, limp and unflattering, feedbag instead of fashionable.
Thunderclouds scudded into Van Heusen’s face so fast that I expected it to start raining at any moment. My uneasiness about being alone with him returned just as quickly.
“Excuse me. Is Mr. Onslow available?” The redhead looked up, mouth opening in a startled, lipstick-circled O and heavily mascaraed eyes widening. I wondered if my question had been too complicated for her.