Dilly of a Death

Wittig Albert, Susan
Mystery

When it rains, it pours.  China Bayles knows the literal and figurative truth of that trite saying.  In the middle of preparation for Pecan Spring’s annual Picklefest, China is confronted with a slew of problems including the murder of a pickle heiress and her young lover, unsolved crimes that are threatening the career of her good friend, the pregnancy of her best friend’s daughter and her husband’s new career as a private investigator.  Not to mention the Texas downpour that has threatened to wash away everything not firmly rooted!  China’s reluctant to add her amateur sleuthing skills to the messy mix, but when the crimes begin to creep closer to those she loves, she doesn’t have much of a choice.  Will China be able to solve this dilly of a mystery before things get even uglier?

Sprinkled liberally with interesting tidbits about herbs and herb lore, A Dilly of a Death is an enjoyable read in the China Bayles series.  The mystery itself is a little bland and wrapped up too fast, but the unfolding drama between Amy, Ruby and those around them adds enough spice to make the book worth reading.  Certainly not the best by SWA, but a good read nevertheless.

Never Hit a Jellyfish with a Spade

Browning, Guy
Humor

Do you find yourself stumped by life’s little challenges?  Are you uncertain of the proper way to argue?  How about flirting?  If you’ve faced these tough situations and been unable to formulate the proper response, pick up Guy Browning’s guide and laugh yourself silly.  You won’t really find any serious advice, but you’ll have a wonderful time learning to see the ridiculous in all the little things that we often find difficult in life.  I listened to the audiobook version, narrated by Simon Vance, and found myself laughing harder than I had in a long time.  If you need help in seeing life with a sense of humor, this book is sure to do the trick!  DISCLAIMER: The author does refer quite a bit to the physical aspects of life, so this book isn’t a suitable family read.

The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Flagg, Fannie
Fiction

Sookie has lived in the shadow of her mother for fifty-nine years. Now that she has just married off the last of her daughters, she’s hoping to find a little peace and quiet. But the arrival of a letter that changes everything she knows about herself upsets her plans and sends her on a journey of self-discovery that leads her back to a Polish family of girls who ran a filling station in the early part of the 20th century. Couched in her story is the history of the WASPs, female aviators who were the first to fly military airplanes for the United States, freeing up their male counterparts for jobs overseas. Used and then dismissed when they were no longer needed, the WASPs played an integral role in the war and deserve the respect that Fannie Flagg rightly pays them in this heart-warming novel that’s full of her characteristic Southern charm.

The Headmistress of Rosemere

Ladd, Sarah E.

Historic Fiction
Her name belies her heart.  Left alone with a grieving mother and a houseful of girls, Patience Creighton feels her strength and perseverance slowly ebbing away as she watches her mother shrink into a shadow of her former self and tries to keep the school her father founded running smoothly without help from her absentee brother, Rawdon.  When a visitor arrives, bloody and beaten, on her doorstep late one evening, Patience’s fragile world begins to crumble.  The man is the rakish William Sterling, owner of the property on which the school sits and the subject of several scandalous rumors that Patience has heard whispers of.  Despite her vague wariness about him, Patience finds herself strangely intrigued and is disappointed when he disappears back into the night.  Their paths are destined to cross again, however, for William has enemies that will stop at nothing – even placing young girls in danger – to take their revenge.  Rosemere is all that stands between him and ultimate destitution – or possibly death.  But when he finds himself likewise drawn to the young headmistress, will he sacrifice her happiness for his own salvation?

A beautifully written novel and the second in her well-crafted series, The Headmistress of Rosemere was a delight to read.  With depth of character and plot, a bit of mystery and romance and an excellent moral theme, the book is sure to cement author Sarah Ladd’s reputation as a writer of stellar historic fiction.  She adds just the right amount of darkness and intrigue to keep the reader anticipating the next page and spices it up with a lovely romance that blossoms slowly and comes to beautiful fruition in the end.  Five stars.

I received a copy of the book from the author in return for the above unbiased review.

An Unlikely Witch

Geary, Debora
Fiction

What happens when the glimpse of a future that made you fell in love with your husband and with a little boy who didn’t yet exist falls to pieces, despite your firmest belief that it’s meant to be?  Natalia Sullivan, serene yogini and beloved non-witch member of the Sullivan clan, finds her calm and inner peace rapidly crumbling as the dream she’s held onto for so long vanishes with each month of negative pregnancy tests.  The universe – and her body – are conspiring against her and Jamie, denying them the fulfillment of the hope they’ve built their relationship on.  Can the two – and the rest of Witch Central – survive the loss of a little boy they’ve loved for three years, even though they’ve never felt his kisses or wrapped him in hugs?  When all of the magic in California and Nova Scotia combined is unable to waken Nat’s womb, Nat and Jamie just might crumble along with their dream.

Tears and laughter mixed wonderfully as I read through this book.  I’ve tried time and again to explain what exactly makes Debora Geary’s books so enchanting – so absolutely heart breaking and heart healing in the same moment.  This time, I’m going to borrow a few of her words from a recent interview with Herbiary.com’s Meg Smith.  (For the entire interview, go here:  http://herbiary.com/blogs/herban-wisdom/11126069-wisdom-an-exchange-with-debora-geary)

“There are few values I hold more dear than that we are each wonderful, unique, and worthy of love. And when we as a community can’t manage that, it weakens all of us. I grew up in a small town and felt very different. Other. And then I went to an international school in Italy for two years and found deep connection with people who shared nothing of my culture, language, or upbringing. It was transformative, and it shaped a very important part of who I am (including the deeply ingrained belief that a shared meal makes everything better ☺).  I’ve spent much of my life since reaching across divides of one sort or another – to delinquent teens, senior executives, cancer patients. Learning how much of me lives in each of them. But nothing drove this message home more than the chance to be mother to my son. Griffin is severely autistic – he doesn’t speak, and he understands only a very little of what we say to him. And some days, being his mama is the most deeply frustrating experience of my life. But mostly, it has stripped my sense of what love is back to the very essentials. When he curls up against my chest, full of giggles or sleepy snuggles, it is so obvious that we are, in all the most important ways, so very much alike. Everything else is just trappings. My books are my plea to the world to see his heart. To see every heart.”

Debora puts her heart – and ours – in her work and creates a community we’d all love to be a part of: one of acceptance, love, humor, compassion and understanding.  I don’t think I’ll ever be able to read one of her books without longing to be a part of Witch Central and the crazy, amazing clan of Sullivans.  Ten stars out of five!

Learn Something New Every Day

Malesky, Kee
Fact Book

Research has proven that if we exercise our brains every day, we’re much less likely to experience age-related degeneration of our much valued mental capacities!  Crossword puzzles, sudoku, trivia: they all help.  It makes it easier to add these activities to your daily routine if they’re interesting and fun.  Enter Kee Malesky’s book: Learn Something New Every Day.  This compendium of interesting facts, whose topics range from science and religion to history and geography, is a wonderful resource for anyone who just likes to know more “stuff.”  My family and I read this together through the year and though not all of the entries were interesting to all of us, there were enough to make us say “Ah!” or to laugh or to want to look up more that it was well worth the read.  It was also a great family activity that added more depth to our dinner table conversation!  Highly recommended.

Archie: The Married Life, Book 4

Kupperberg, Paul
Graphic Novel

Archie: The Married Life series follows Archie Andrews, America’s favorite comic teen, as he learns to become an adult in two alternate worlds.  In one, he has married Veronica and struggled to be the son-in-law that Hiram Lodge wants.  In the other, he has found happiness with Betty and teaching.  As the two parallel universes continue to diverge, their paths take eerily similar courses that are fraught with angst, upheaval and controversy.  Marital bliss, secure jobs, reliable friends, life itself: they’re all threatened in this newest installment, which collects issues 19-24 of the magazine.

As a lifelong fan, it’s hard for me to admit that I’m disappointed with this book.  Unfortunately, it’s the truth.  What began as an interesting concept has deteriorated into a political and social machine, obviously used by the author and publisher to support their personal views on hot topics.  I never want my blog to deteriorate into a political or moral rant.  I’m interested more in the quality of the books I read and the value they impart to my life.  This book, however, has met none of those qualifications.  I want to read a story about Riverdale’s inhabitants that doesn’t ignore the problems of adulthood but also doesn’t blatantly support controversial issues that truly do not belong in books that are seen as children’s / young adult literature.  I almost wish I had spent my time reading the old 1960s Archie comics that I’ve read a hundred times before instead of reading this book.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

Faulks, Sebastian
Wodehouse Pastiche

Always leery of authors who attempt to revive my favorite characters, I was a bit apprehensive when I requested this book from the library.  But the positive reviews spurred me on to give it a try.

I will not attempt to explain the entire Bertie and Jeeves narrative to my readers.  It suffices to say that if you’ve never read any of P.G. Wodehouse’s classic stories and books, you’ve missed out on the best example of comic literature to come out of Great Britain in modern history.  Wodehouse was a master and there is nothing else I can say about him.  Sebastian Faulks picks up where Wodehouse left off.  Bertie and Jeeves are recently returned from a holiday on the Cote d’Azur, where Bertie typically fell in love once again.  This time, the object of his affection is Georgiana Meadowes.  Their time together had no future, however, for Georgiana is engaged to a man whose fortune is needed to save her guardian’s ancestral home.  Though he was looking forward to a return to his life in London, Bertie is soon running away from town, fleeing from an ominous visit from Aunt Agatha.  He escapes to Kingston St. Giles, where he has promised his help to an old friend, Peregrine “Woody” Beeching, whose engagement to (surprise!) Georgiana’s cousin is on the rocks.  What ensues is a comedy of errors, complete with false identities, wrong assumptions, unfortunate accidents involving food and, of course, star-crossed love.  Will Jeeves be able to save Bertie (and Woody and Georgiana and…) from the mixed up plot that develops?  Or are the wedding bells destined to remain silent for all involved?

I have only a single quibble with this book: everything but the ending rings true.  Faulks has achieved what few can: a book that honors Wodehouse’s memory with a plot that is complicated without being contrived and characters who merge seamlessly with the originals.  An author who can make me laugh and shake my head in dismay nearly as much as Wodehouse did certainly deserves applause.  Faulks is definitely a corker!

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria

Willig, Lauren
Historic Fiction

With this 10th installment of the pink carnation, Lauren Willig’s popular mystery series is beginning to show the faintest signs of becoming stale. The parallel stories – modern and historical – seem poised to be drawn to their final conclusions. Happily for her devoted fans, before drawing the final curtain on her characters, Ms. Willig has given the reader a book devoted to that perfect example of staid propriety, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. Behind her stern demeanor and sharp parasol, we’ve long thought that this champion of purity might have a soft heart. Finally, our suspicions are laid to rest as Miss Gwen lets her hair down and shows the true woman behind the strict guardian facade.  Pulled away briefly from their missions of espionage, Miss Gwen and her employer, The Pink Carnation aka Miss Jane Wooliston, go on a desperate search for Jane’s missing sister. They are aided by a dashing rogue, Colonel William Reed, whose daughter has also disappeared. Thrown together by circumstances, Miss Gwen and William are forced to let down their barriers, finding that they may have more in common than they first believed. What follows is another adventurous episode in the annals of the Pink  Carnation, teased out from the pages of a novel by the book’s modern heroine and literary scholar, Eloise.  Eloise is not just interested in the melodramatic plot of the book – she and her boyfriend, Colin, are using it to search for clues to a hidden treasure. Coping with her dread of returning to America and her need to keep Colin from murdering his no good cousin Jeremy, Eloise has her hands full. Will she and Miss Gwen find success in their respective missions – and in love?  Read on to find out!

Entertaining as an audio book on a long drive, this book might not have otherwise held my interest for as long as its predecessors. However, I was very happy to finally see the spotlight placed on Miss Gwen and do hope that the author is wise enough to end the series soon (after satisfying our hopes for Eloise and Jane, of course) instead of letting it die a slow death. The aspect of this novel that I appreciated the most was the fact that it focuses on a “woman of a certain age” who is grudgingly accepted and treated as a source of amusement.  The soft heart that shelters under her brittle exterior has suffered disgrace, humiliation and loneliness until finally, her knight in somewhat less than shining armor arrives.  Women like Miss Gwen are too often overlooked by authors or passed off as uninteresting but, as this book shows, they are anything but.

Once Upon a Christmas

Matlock, Curtiss Ann
Historical Romance

Curtiss Ann Matlock moves away from her beloved city of Valentine and back in time to the years just following the American Civil War.  Her heroine, Olivia, is, like all of her other female leads, a strong, stubborn woman who has suffered loss and pain but refuses to give up her will to survive.  She brings her two young sons, Will and Henry, with her on an arduous journey from North Carolina to Texas, where she plans to marry John Carter, a man she’s only seen a few times.  Olivia has big hopes for their future in this stark, dry land – hopes that are dashed suddenly when she learns of John’s untimely death from his friend and partner, Monroe Lockett.  With barely enough money to make the return trip to North Carolina and the rigid home she left there, Olivia persuades Mr. Lockett to allow her and the boys to stay with him until the next stagecoach arrives.  Far away from civilization, tucked into the small cabin built by her late fiance and furnished by the silent man who has grudgingly given her a temporary home, Olivia finds herself faced with loneliness, despair and, surprisingly, a growing longing for her host when she realizes that his stoic calm and brooding eyes hide an upright, passionate soul that calls out to the woman in her like no man ever has.  Seemingly oblivious to her feelings, Monroe remains focused on his struggling ranch and on protecting his herd – and himself – from those who wish them harm.  Christmas promises to be one of heartache and possible disaster, a grim prequel to the rest of Olivia’s life.  Unless, that is, the magic of Christmas comes to the little cabin on the barren Texas range, bringing with it hope, safety and love.

Though I missed the familiar characters and setting of Curtiss Ann’s Valentine books, this book was just what I needed today.  Its short, sweet tale of hope and love brought Christmas sunshine to my heart and helped me forget the world I live in for just a little while.  Down-home talking, simple truths and a comforting setting made this book the perfect one to enjoy snuggled on the couch in my warm nest with a cup of coffee at my side.  Thank you, Curtiss Ann, for lifting my spirits as you always do.