Monday, March 27, 2017

Murder is No Accident by A.H. Gabhart

ANGEL SISTER by Ann Gabhart and the two books which completed the series are among my all-time favorite Christian fiction.  Gabhart excelled at capturing both time and place of the Depression and the forties, but most of all she created such in-depth characters.  When I learned that she was writing cozy mysteries under the name A.H.Gabhart, I was a bit skeptical, thinking such writing would be a waste of her talent.  Think about it.  Really, aren't the characters in most mysteries sketchy -- sort of cookie cutter or paper doll thin?  Maybe the author spends time developing the main characters who will reappear in future novels, but even then, we are usually only given a bit of their story per book.  Recently, I've read a few mysteries in which the antagonist/murderer isn't even in the book until the end when they conveniently are introduced to wrap up the story.  With all that in mind, I wanted to read one of A.H. Gabhart's mysteries, but I was also prepared to be disappointed.

I am happy to say that there was no disappointment.  Gabhart continues to pen genuine small-town  characters that readers will love.  In MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT, I quickly bonded with 15 year old Maggie Greene who has been secretly hiding out in the tower room of the empty Victorian Chandler house.  She relishes not only the view, but also the quiet away from the stress of her troubled family.  As the book opens, Maggie is again there, working on one of the stories she loves writing; when she hears realtor Geraldine Harper enter, Maggie keeps extra quiet, not wanting to be discovered.  Within minutes, Maggie will hear a second person enter, argue with Geraldine, then a thud, followed by someone leaving.  When Maggie finally descends nervously from her tower perch, she discovers Mrs. Harper's body at the bottom of the stairs. 

Deputy Sheriff Mike Keane is called to the scene, following an anonymous call that there is a dead body at the estate (can you guess who made that call?) and while the coroner declares that Geraldine tripped and fell, Mike can not shake an uneasy feeling.  As he considers other possibilities, we are treated to learning more about Mike, the person.  We see him in action with the church youth group on a fishing trip, we see his interaction with the troubled teenager he has taken under his wing. and we watch as he struggles with his long-suffering love for Alex, the girl who left their small town for a big city law career.  Adding more layers to the story are Reece, the town's lawyer and Alex's uncle; Michael's Aunt Lindy (a school teacher); Miss Fonda, heir to the Chandler house, now a victim of Alzheimer's; and not least, Maggie's father who has finally decided to do something about his
alcohol addiction.  Oh, and I can't leave out the new shop keepers in town, one of whom seems to be just too interested in a death that happened in the Chandler house decades earlier. 

If you've never read any of Gabhart's writing, treat yourself and find one of her books.  I like that her books can span generations.  I would recommend MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT to young adolescents and young adults who like mysteries, and I could just as confidently recommend the title to my older reading friends.  Likewise, I believe her historical fiction novels would appeal to many ages.  I was supplied a copy of MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT by Revel Reads.  I was not compelled to write a review and all opinions are mine.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Banana Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke

As Joanne Fluke's latest Hannah Swenson mystery opens, Hannah and new husband Ross are enjoying the last days of their honeymoon cruise.  Meanwhile, back in Lake Eden Hannah's mother discovers the body of retired actress/community theater director Victoria Bascomb.  Within hours of arriving home, Hannah is involved in trying to solve the mystery along with her younger sister Michelle.  While the book starts out with some interesting details about Hannah and Ross adjusting to life as a married couple -- do they like the whole apartment makeover done by Hannah's mom and sisters?  Will Ross mind having Michelle stay with them for a few weeks?  Can Hannah adjust to having Ross around every evening?  Before she even has a chance to consider the last question, Ross is gone (for work?) and really never appears much again.  That appears to leave Hannah free to snoop and pry into the murder.  Was it the mayor, who appears to be a suspect in several Fluke novels?  But perhaps this time, he is guilty.  Victoria was his sister and she was planning to change her will, cutting him out as punishment for his bad behavior. 

Although I've known about the Hannah Swenson mysteries for years, I did not start reading them until after I saw the Hallmark movies based on the series.  With my interest sparked by television, I read the newest Christmas tale CHRISTMAS CARAMEL MURDER and now BANANA CREAM PIE MURDER, plus I downloaded a few others on my Nook. While the idea of inserting actual recipes into the stories is appealing, I found that this book just had too many recipes.  Now, I often spend evenings reading cookbooks like they were novels, but the inclusion of a new recipe or two at the end of every chapter of the had me distracted.  Mostly it was the lengthy instructions with all sorts of "personal comments" from Hannah, Michelle, or the author that had me skipping ahead to the next chapter.  I mean there was a murderer on the loose. Recipe overload aside, this mystery offered a bit of humor via a trick on the mayor during a pie eating contest.  Then there was an ending packing two surprises worthy of another television adaption. While this wasn't my favorite cozy mystery of all time, it was a quick, entertaining read.   Plus, I have to admit I have a hankering for an old fashioned banana cream pie; so much so, that I put bananas on my grocery list and I hope I get a pie made before hubby eats all the bananas on his cereal.  I received a digital copy of this novel from NetGalley.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Women of Easter by Liz Curtis Higgs

The Women of EasterThe full title to Liz Curtis Higgs's latest book is THE WOMEN OF EASTER: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene.  And that is exactly what the book delivers.  We first see Jesus at Mary and Martha's home, an encounter that showcases the opposite reactions of the two sisters.  While Martha frets over the earthly obligations of being the perfect hostess, Mary seeks a spot at the Lord's feet, taking in his every word.  Then we see the pair of sisters again, when Jesus arrives after receiving word of Lazarus's illness.  Again, we are familiar with this passage and its outcome, but our author sheds insight on its importance in Christ's ministry and as a fore teller of Christ's own resurrection -- the power over death that only comes from God.  And Higgs's explanation of Mary's washing of Jesus's feet with oil again points to the cross and days ahead.

From these chapters, we travel ahead with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem and its outlying areas.  We experience Palm Sunday, the business of the temple, and the plot  against Jesus.  While the disciples' reactions are explained, much emphasis is given to those times when the women were present, especially the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. First we see and feel the pain that Mary, Christ's mother, felt.  It reminds us of those times our days and nights have been darkened by grief and pain that won't diminish.  Her time beneath the cross is yet another sign of the significance of what Christ did for us.  And then the empty tomb! A time to rejoice and shout.  You would expect the full clutch of disciples to be there to discover the empty grave.  But no, it is the women who have gathered the necessary spices and oils (after the Sabbath) and leave as early as possible to show their pure love for the Master by tending to the body. Remember, this was a time when women had few rights, yet God chose Mary Magdalene to be the bearer of news that Christ's body was gone, and that an angel had proclaimed he had risen. 

As Liz Curtis Higgs retells the details of Holy Week and Easter, she often quotes scripture, often citing different translations of the same verse or partial verse.  This is a technique that broadens the scope of our understanding, and it is a technique that she's used before in her nonfiction books, as have other Christian writers. Even so, it is a style that can be difficult to read and follow.  I wish I had taken the time to reread one translation in its entirety before starting this book; perhaps, that would have helped minimize the scattered feeling I sometimes felt at the verse-by-verse narration and commentary moved through multiple translations of key phrases.  Perhaps the most insightful part of THE WOMEN OF EASTER are the discussion questions which follow the book.  I made the mistake of not reading those questions during the reading process.  I highly recommend that any future reader read the accompanying discussion questions immediately after reading a chapter.  Hopefully, most readers of this book will have the opportunity to read the book as part of a study/discussion group. That, I believe, will give you the greatest results.  I received a copy of this prepublication from Blogging for Books. All opinions are mine.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Home At Last by Deborah Raney

Most of us would rank spending time with family as one of our highest priorities, but recognize that life's responsibilities and stresses often rush in and prevent quality time with loved ones.  In Deborah Raney's Chicory Inn series, readers meet an extended family who are able to honor that promise to make family first.  Their success centers around matriarch Audrey Whitman's decision to make Tuesday nights family dinner night; everyone gathers at the family home, now a B and B called Chicory Inn.  Grandchildren are spoiled, silly games are played, and occasionally problems are aired.
I've enjoyed the early books of this series, so I was delighted to revisit Chicory Inn  in book four CLOSE TO HOME and in book five HOME AT LAST.  Author Raney again dishes up some memorable Tuesday nights, but more importantly gives readers windows to heartfelt, realistic stories of second chances, challenges, and acceptance.  In CLOSE TO HOME, young widow Bree Whitman knows she must move on with her life as the five year anniversary of her soldier husband's death arrives and passes.  But she fears any new life she chooses will mean leaving behind the large Whitman family, her late husband's parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews she has come to love so much.  While we have not all experienced death of a young spouse, we've all experienced loss and can relate to Bree's inability to move on.  As always Deborah Raney's "take" is sensitive and beautiful.

HOME AT LAST, Raney's most recent novel, ends the series.  A secondary story thread about great-mother Cee-Cee failing health continues in HOME AT LAST, while the primary focus in on family bachelor Link.  Tired of his dead-end job and his single status, Link takes a risk and asks out beautiful Shayla, who runs a bakery and coffee shop with her father.  While Shayla is mutually attracted, she sees too many barriers -- her need to care for her young niece, her father's dependence on her, and not least, her bi-racial heritage.  Shayla's life is complicated and falling in love with Link isn't the smooth, easy road to a happy ending that one would expect.  Author Raney tackles prejudice, race, and past mistakes, showing us that God can handle all of that and with patience, we can all find HOME AT LAST.

I received copies of these two novels from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine. Close to Home: A Chicory Inn Novel - Book 4

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Penny Brannigan mystery by Elizabeth J. Duncan

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Mystery (A Penny Brannigan Mystery) by [Duncan, Elizabeth J.]Our local bookclub read the Agatha Christie novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in January as a salute to the 100th anniversary to Christie's first publication.  While we had a great discussion including comparisons to the various movie interpretations of the novel, most of us came to the conclusion that we are drawn to the more complex character development in more modern mysteries. We also wonder just what the upcoming release of a brand new MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, starring Johnny Depp, will do to the original plot and characters.  We ended the evening by sharing names of "cozy mystery" series that we have enjoyed.  I recommended Diane Mott Davidson's series featuring Goldie the caterer, but since there haven't been any new titles recently, I was eager to hear the recommendations of others.

That's how I came to read my first Penny Brannigan novel.  Set in Wales (first book set in Wales for me, too), Penny is a transplanted Canadian who makes her living as a manicurist in a small village.
As the book opens, Penny's long time friend, former school teacher Emma Teasdale has just died and Penny tells the funeral director that she would like to do the friend's nails one last time as a tribute to their friendship.  Then Penny must prepare for a busy weekend as she is going to the do the nails for a bridal party.  Meg Wynne Thompson, the bride, is new to the community, and her upcoming marriage to the most eligible bachelor in Lianelen has everyone gossiping, especially after her drunken father has an outburst at the rehearsal dinner.  The next day, when the bride fails to show up for the ceremony, it becomes apparent that Penny may have been the last person to see the missing bride.  When Penny figures out that the person who came to get a manicure WAS NOT really Meg Wynne Thompson, the police suspect foul play.

I liked Duncan's writing and especially the development of the kind, quiet and observant Penny, but I felt that the mystery really took a back seat to Penny and her life in the village. That made it necessary for much of the mystery plot to be revealed at the very end.  I guess I prefer mysteries which reveal more clues as you read along and which include both the victim and the villain in more of the plot.  I've got lots on my to-read pile, but I think I can make time to try another Penny Brannigan story when I'm in the mood for a quiet mystery and a trip to Wales.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

Murder on the MoorThe covers of Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering Mysteries all have a distinctive look - to me, they are reminiscent of Art Deco, the 1920's and 30's classic look while still projecting a British feeling, all which perfectly replicate the settings and tones of Deering's books.  Drew Farthering, himself, graces the cover of MURDER ON THE MOOR but the eye is also drawn to images of a dark, brooding country estate.  Note the foggy moor in the background, as its wildness, isolation and  abandoned structures and ruins is as much a character in this tale of murder and secrets as are the residents of the small Yorkshire town Bunting Nest. 

Drew Farthering and his wife are called to Bloodworth Park Lodge by Drew's childhood friend Beaky Bloodworth.  Newly married and recent heir to the Yorkshire estate of his uncle, Beaky (nicknamed for his nose), is unsettled by the apparent murder of the village vicar and his wife's obsessive worry over strange noises and sightings near the estate.  Within days of arriving at Park Lodge, Drew and Madeline learn of a second murder, hear the ancient tales of a wandering wild beast, and find gigantic canine-like footprints in a crumbling, unused section of the estate's home.  Suspects and red herrings abound in this delightful tale.  Is it Beaky's beautiful new wife, unhappy with leaving her glamorous London life for this remote, worn out estate?  Has she found a new love in the dark, rugged Welsh groundskeeper Rys Delwyn or the neighbor Morris Gray, whose own marriage seems stalled in mediocrity?  A dead body on the church steps, a tampered sports car, strange noises in the night, and then there is that isolated, dark moor -- all this adds up to a mystery Agatha Christy would smile to read!  Add in the dynamics between the charming Drew and Madeline, and you have another successful Drew Fathering mystery.  I received a copy of this title from CELEBRATE LIT fpr review purposes. All opinions are mine.