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A Bookshop Christmas–recovering from grief
A Bookshop Christmas
by Rachel Burton
Although Christmas is an important part of the setting for A Bookshop Christmas, the story focuses on Megan, a young widow. When she loses her husband Joe to cancer, she retreats back to the bookshop where she grew up. She’s been hanging on emotionally for over three years with support from her mom and two friends, but the bookshop is floundering and her heart is just not in it. Is it time to reenter the world of publishing, to leave behind the security of York and her bookshop?
Xander, a swoon-worthy author, as emotionally damaged as Megan, is scheduled to introduce his newest book at her bookshop. He is rude and arrogant, but maybe those characteristics are just a coverup for his pain and shyness.
One of my favorite characters is Philomena Bloom, Xander’s agent. She is bigger than life and seems to have connections with everyone in the publishing world. My other favorite character is Gus, a dachshund, whose sweetness is woven all through the book.
Megan and Xander have deep, painful secrets that make it difficult for them to open up to others. All is not sweetness and light in this romance. Although you will want a happily ever after for these two, the road is rocky and there is sadness and misunderstanding as they struggle to get over the past and find a hopeful future.
I enjoyed A Bookshop Christmas for the way the characters support each other. They make mistakes but learn to recognize and admit their mistakes and apologize for them. There is humor sprinkled in the book that helps lighten the tough times Megan and Xander go through. It is a thought provoking book and I recommend it.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction
Publication: September 2, 2021—Aria
“Reading is completely subjective and most readers read all kinds of different books. Being a snob about genre is like pretending that reading on e-readers or listening to audiobooks is somehow not proper reading. It’s ridiculous.”
Philomena Bloom burst into the bookshop at exactly three o’clock the next afternoon, leaving a wave of expensive perfume in her wake. The handful of customers browsing the shelves all looked up at the same time like meerkats.
The five stages of grief aren’t linear either—they all seem to exist together in one fiery hell ball of emotion that feels as though it will last forever. People will tell you that time heals but, in my experience, time just takes away the intensity.
I Capture the Castle–class structure in mid-20th century England
I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith
To label I Capture the Castle as a “coming of age” story is true, but the novel is so much more. It is related in her journal by Cassandra who lives in poverty under the leaky roof of a crumbling castle. Her father Mortmain is a writer with one successful book to his credit before he hit a writing desert. He secured a forty-year lease on the castle on a whim. The other residents are his son, another daughter, a boy taken in when his servant mother passed, and Topaz, the children’s stepmother. All in the family realize that the only way out of their financial straits is for at least one of the girls to marry into a rich family.
Author Dodie Smith has gifted us with a book full of nonconventional characters, a beautiful romantic background, and moral dilemmas. The plot begins with touches reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice but deviates fairly quickly. There is a similar theme of class differences, but without Austen’s use of satire. Two of the potential romantic interests grew up in America, one in the East and one in the West. Their backgrounds add another layer of social and cultural differences. Cassandra’s family is caught in the middle. They clearly had money in the past, but they have sold off most of their belongings and are reduced to very meager meals and one or two threadbare outfits per person. They have to be very creative to be acceptable in the social milieu to which they aspire.
I Capture the Castle has the depth necessary for a book to stand the test of time and appeal to a wide audience. It includes topics like women’s roles, art and sexuality, depression, literary criticism, and the laws of inheritance in Great Britain. While it addresses these issues, it remains an interesting and well-told tale with an ending that does not tie everything up neatly. Instead, it gives the reader the opportunity to speculate on the characters’ future decisions and actions which is a good way for this novel to conclude.
Category: Romance, General Fiction
Notes: 1. There are discussion questions at the end.
2. The book has been made into a movie.
Publication: 1948—St. Martin’s Press
I am writing this journal partly to practice my newly acquired speed-writing and partly to teach myself how to write a novel—I intend to capture all our characters and put in conversations. It ought to be good for my style to dash along without much thought, as up to now my stories have been very stiff and self-conscious.
The taxi drew up at a wonderful shop—the sort of shop I would never dare to walk through without a reason. We went in by way of the glove and stocking department, but there were things from other departments just dotted about; bottles of scent and a little glass tree with cherries on it and a piece of white branched coral on a sea-green chiffon scarf. Oh, it was an artful place—it must make people who have money want to spend it madly!
In the end, Topaz got Stephen to take the hen-house door off its hinges and make some rough trestles to put it on, and we pushed it close to the window-seat, which saved us three chairs. We used the grey brocade curtains from the hall as a table-cloth—they looked magnificent though the join showed a bit and they got in the way of our feet. All our silver and good china and glass went long ago, but the Vicar lent us his, including his silver candelabra.
The Enchanted April–looking for happiness
The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth Von Arnim
In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.
The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.
Notes: Originally published in 1922.
Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg
She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?
“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”
In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.
Murder in a Teacup–who had the opportunity to murder?
Murder in a Teacup
by Vicki Delany
The Locality: Cape Cod Bay in North Augusta, Massachusetts
The Setting: Victoria-on-Sea, a B&B owned by the elderly Rose Campbell
Tea by the Sea, a tearoom on the B&B property operated by Rose’s granddaughter Lily Roberts
Friends: Bernie, AKA the Princess Warrior, a frustrated writer
Simon McCracken, horticulturalist from England hired as a temporary gardener
Pets: Rose’s cat Robbie
Lily’s Labradoodle, Éclair
Vicki Delany’s Murder in a Teacup centers around a family reunion with events at both businesses. The organizer is Heather, a very wealthy, young, New York widow who is paying all expenses for the trip for her grandmother and her estranged, greedy family—her father, mother, brother and his wife and their two teenagers—all from Idaho. Also included in the fun are Heather’s brother-in-law and his wife. No one seems to know that the other side of the family is invited. If you look up “dysfunctional” in the dictionary, you will probably find this family listed as an example.
There is a death that is possibly attributable to something served at one of the establishments. That is bad news for both businesses when the police shut down the tearoom. Not only are cancellations necessary, but social media is going to have a field day. Lily cooks for both facilities. Rose and Lily desperately need to be open as they depend on summer tourist income to get them through the winter. The further complication is that the murderer must still be at the B&B and is probably part of the family.
I kept changing my mind as to who the murderer is: an easy thing to do with so many unlikable characters. Pulling together possible motives is easier than pinpointing opportunity once the method of murder is discovered. The identity reveal comes as a shock to the characters and to the reader.
There are subplots that add interest. Lily’s life has an intense pace as she puts in 12-14 hour days seven days a week struggling to make both businesses succeed. Bernie gave up her Manhattan job as a forensic accountant to become a writer but is having trouble settling into her new profession. There are the barest beginnings of a romance for both young ladies. The pets are ever-present but don’t participate much in the action. I enjoyed watching the conflict between the two detectives on the case play out. One is lazy and fumbling. His counterpart is sharp and cares. Both are limited in what information they can share with Lily and the others making it more difficult for Lily, Rose, and Bernie in their informal investigations, but they persist anyway.
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. #2 in the Tea by the Sea Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone as the author provides all needed background information while diving into the current story.
2. Recipes at the end of the book include Chocolate Chip Cookies for children’s tea, Shortbread Cookies, and Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches.
Publication: July 21, 2021—Kensington
Plump orange and raisin scones in the middle, perfectly cut sandwiches on the bottom, delicious sweets on the top: a carefully controlled explosion of color, shape, and flavor.
Matt was a true-crime writer, successful enough to have been able to buy his family property when his father wanted to sell it, but not successful enough to be able to pay for all the renovations it needed.
“Stay!” Her ears dropped, her face crumbled, her tail drooped. Slowly, ever so slowly, she crawled under the table and sat down. She let out a mighty sigh and stared at me through enormous liquid brown eyes. “Drama queen,” I said as I bent over and reached under the table to give her an affectionate pat.
Knit of the Living Dead–murder at the bonfire
Knit of the Living Dead
by Peggy Ehrhart
If you enjoy a cozy mystery with a lot of well-composed descriptions, likable characters, and clean language, you might enjoy the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series. In Knit of the Living Dead, Pamela, an editor for a fiber arts magazine, follows screams at a Halloween bonfire. She discovers a young woman who has found a dead body. With almost everyone in costume, it is difficult to tell who is in attendance, much less who the murderer is. It is possible that the deceased is not even the intended victim.
Pamela and her best friend and neighbor Bettina are joined in their sleuthing activities by Nell, an elderly member of their knitting club. They interview possible suspects under various guises, narrowing down the pool and often hoping the perpetrator is not someone nice that they have difficulty imagining as a killer. Both the murderer and the motivation are a surprise when revealed.
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. #6 in the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series, but would work as a standalone.
2. Includes directions for making a Trick-or-Treat tote for children and recipes for Pumpkin-Spice Crumb Cake and Candy Corn Halloween Cookies (which have a chocolate base).
Publication: August 25, 2020—Kensington Books
Despite the festive atmosphere and good cheer, the bonfire awoke feelings more appropriate to a pagan celebration marking nature’s mysterious powers. The flames illuminated rapt faces, dramatizing features and rendering the familiar unfamiliar.
The air was chilly but still, and the day was bright and cloudless. Lawns on Angler Road were still green, with fallen leaves like bright paint spatters here and there.
Wilfred had outdone himself. The beef was meltingly tender, savory, and meaty, infused with the flavors of carrots, mushrooms, and the subtly sweet onions—all melded together during the stew’s long, slow cooking.
Tea & Treachery–new cozy mystery series
Tea & Treachery
by Vicki Delany
People who enjoy the experience of indulging in a specially prepared tea at a tearoom will also enjoy reading about it in Tea & Treachery, the first book in Vicki Delany’s new cozy mystery series Tea by the Sea. Lily has left behind the fast paced life of a Manhattan pastry chef to fulfill her dream of owning her own teahouse. It is located in a restored house next to Lily’s grandmother’s B & B. As part of their agreement, Grandmother Rose lets Lily live in a cottage on the property. Lily prepares breakfast at the B & B in addition to doing all the cooking for her own tearoom.
The property overlooks the Cape Cod Bay, but its appeal is marred when Jack, a local developer, is found dead at the bottom of a bluff. Unfortunately, Rose previously had a very public disagreement with Jack. The lead detective is focused on pinning the murder on Rose so Lily, of course, has to find the real killer.
The plot is inventive, and the author’s descriptive powers shine. We are introduced to a number of interesting characters. Some are employed at one of the two businesses. Others already are or become friends of Rose and Lily. Lily’s best friend Bernie (aka the Princess Warrior) is a spunky, red-headed, aspiring writer. Simon hires on as a gardener; he is not only handsome, but is talented in horticulture, has culinary skills and a British understanding of tea, and rides a motorcycle. The locals include police officers along with town councilmen and a mayor who have interests in rezoning issues that affect Rose and Lily and their businesses.
There are lots of suspects to keep the reader guessing, some romance in the air, and dangers that arise from the ladies’ investigations. You will be exhausted just reading about Lily’s efforts to juggle her two jobs. Rose and Bernie add some humor to the tale. The book ends with hints of future developments for the tearoom, the B & B, and the main characters.
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. #1 in the Tea by the Sea Mystery Series
2. Recipes included for scones, coconut cupcakes, and tea-scented bath salts
Publication: July 28, 2020—Kensington Books
It was a day full of promise: the sun was a huge yellow circle in a pale blue sky, and the lightest breath of wind carried the scent of salt off the ocean.
A wave of warm sugar and spicy cinnamon goodness washed over me, and I almost groaned in pleasure. No matter how many pastries I’ve made over my lifetime, I never get tired of these scents. Or of the pleasure in producing beautiful food and having it enjoyed.
More than once, people have complained when they saw the prices. We never apologize. Good food, well prepared with excellent ingredients, much of it sourced locally, costs money. Not to mention fresh flowers on the table and real china and silver and linen at every place. Afternoon tea isn’t an everyday thing, not even in the UK and certainly not in America. It’s a treat, an indulgence, and I believe it needs to be presented accordingly.
Finding Christmas–a holiday romance
by Karen Schaler
The beginning of this Christmas romance is overly sugar sweet—or I was a tad “Grinchy” at that particular time. It isn’t long, however, before the conflict is presented and the interest level ramps up. Emma Sanders (aka Miss Christmas) loves Christmas as did her parents whose memory she tries to honor in her devotion to all things Christmas. The other thing she is devoted to is the community center she runs and the people it serves. The story centers around Emmie, her boyfriend Grant who is a lawyer, and Sam, a writer who mistakenly follows clues for a scavenger hunt intended to inspire Grant with the Christmas spirit.
Although the reader can quickly predict the outcome, the rest of the story is quite engaging as you watch the conflicts and misunderstandings of the romance play out. All of the characters are altruistic, but you’ll soon pick your favorites. Yours might even be Dasher, a border collie mix who adds fun to the story.
Finding Christmas has a beautiful Christmasy setting. Author Karen Schaler will lead you through a wonderland of snow, twinkling white lights, and evergreen decorations to a satisfying conclusion as the characters find Christmas.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins (William Morrow) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: October 15, 2019—HarperCollins (William Morrow)
Grant gave her a look. “Emmie, this is where I work. I don’t need…decorations.” Emmie’s eyes grew huge, and she looked at him like he’d just said he didn’t like puppies.
She loved seeing firsthand how even the smallest gift of kindness could make such a difference in someone’s life. She had seen over and over again the power of reaching out to someone, offering comfort when they needed it the most—how even the simplest gesture could connect people and give them hope.
After her parents passed away, Emmie had promised herself never to put off doing the things she really wanted to do, knowing tomorrows are never guaranteed. She had learned that saving something to do “someday” meant you were risking never having that special experience happen at all.
Silent Footsteps–admirer or stalker?
by Jo Bannister
Hazel Best, a personable young constable with aspirations to be a detective, finds herself the focus of an admirer turned stalker. The investigation heats up when the stalker enter her home and later her friend Ash is bludgeoned. Saturday, a young man Hazel befriended, suddenly reappears in Norbold, having gotten his life together. There are two murders that are possibly related to Hazel’s stalker, but no one knows how the events could all be tied together. As tension mounts, Hazel’s friends and even a local businessman with a dark background gather around to support and protect her. It is a race against time as Hazel and her friends try to identify the mysterious attacker.
A fun part of this book is Patience, Ash’s very likable lurcher. Ash is gradually overcoming the town view of him as mentally unstable. At one time he earned the nickname “Rambles With Dogs,” but has since tried to rein in his public dialogues with Patience. Ironically, he does, in fact, talk to his dog, and Patience replies but only Ash can hear her.
Silent Footsteps is a police procedural that will keep you turning pages as the police investigate the various threads to try to make sense of them. The characters are interesting and continue to develop in this latest mystery. I figured out the murderer before Hazel, her friends, or the police did, but that is understandable considering the timing of the revelation of various facts. This discovery in no way mitigated my enjoyment as I still had to anticipate a resolution—and it was quite surprising.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #6 in the Gabriel Ash and Hazel Best Mystery Series. I have only read one other mystery in this series. This book works quite well as a standalone, although I must admit it makes me want to read the first books in the series to get more understanding of the characters. That does not take away from the mystery at all, however.
Publication: May 1, 2019—Severn House
“You’re far too honest to be any good at it,” said Ash. “Spies have to be able to lie convincingly. You lie as convincingly as my eight-year-old when the biscuit barrel is empty and there are crumbs on his T-shirt.”
With the best will in the world, Ash in a blonde wig was never going to be mistaken for a twenty-eight-year-old policewoman. There wasn’t enough rope in Norbold to suspend disbelief that far.
“…the sheep people are constantly trying to keep their stock from committing suicide. Dropping dead from no appreciable cause is the average sheep’s highest goal in life.”