Tuesday, July 18, 2023

COZY MYSTERY REVIEW: Paws & Effect by Sofie Kelly

A Magical Cats Mystery #8
by Sofie Kelly
Berkley Prime Crime, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-451-47216-8
Source: purchased
All opinions expressed are solely my own.
Book cover provided by publisher through Goodreads.com.


As a big fan of cozy mysteries, I was thrilled to come across this delightful series by Sofie Kelly (pen name). The series has several things that I love to read about including libraries, cats, and great relationships. Kathleen works as the head librarian at the public library in Mayville Heights, Minnesota. Her boyfriend, Marcus, works as a police detective. In this eighth book in the series, some old friends of Marcus's from college show up in town to fight a proposed development next to the lake. When one of Marcus's friends, Dani, is found dead, Marcus becomes a suspect. As in previous volumes, Kathleen gets involved to help someone she cares about get out of trouble. Marcus's father shows up in town to help his son, but tensions between the two force Kathleen to walk a careful line. But Kathleen has her two cats, Owen and Hercules, to help her out. Not only do the cats have a knack for leading Kathleen to clues, but they have some superpowers as well (Owen can disappear at will and Hercules can walk through walls). As with the other seven books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  The mystery carries especially big ramifications in this book since Kathleen's boyfriend is the suspect.  But I also love reading about the cats and their antics as well as the relationships between Kathleen and her friends, neighbors, and family. There's plenty of humor, excitement, and mystery to satisfy any cozy mystery lover. I also appreciate that the books are pretty clean in terms of content save for a few swearwords here and there. There are references to some unsavory things just because it's a murder mystery.  All in all, a favorite new book that I look forward to reading again just for fun!

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

HISTORICAL ROMANCE: The Earl's Hideaway, No Ladies Allowed by Esther Hatch


In this second volume of the A Romance of Rank series, readers find Lord Riverton confronted by a conundrum. With a number of sisters, Samson feels overwhelmed by all their demands, especially Dru, who seems to be taking her resentment of men in general out on him. After being embarrassed in front of his love interest, Samson leaves his home in search of a refuge. He ends up at a cottage taking care of a very special flower named Fernadale. When the cottage owner's niece shows up to expecting to take care of Fernadale, Samson finds himself facing the woman he's loved for years, Catherine Wallace. A former friend, now governess because of the scandalous fall of her family, Samson and Catherine decide that as long as nobody knows that they are living in the same house unmarried, it's okay, especially since Samson is using a fake name. As they work to take care of the house and the flower, their feelings for each other grow stronger. The arrival of Catherine's sisters leaves Samson once again surrounded by females that he can't help but accommodate. But believing that Samson rejected the opportunity to marry her, Catherine refuses to give in to her feelings. Additional misunderstandings and an unfortunate series of events at the ball celebrating the engagement of one of Samson's sisters leave the two in misery. But Samson is determined not to lose Catherine again.

I thoroughly enjoyed Samson and Catherine's romance. Catherine's feistiness and Samson's easy going nature made for some amusing encounters, especially because of the fact that they grew up together and saw each other in many kinds of situations. But they've both changed a bit in the four years apart and so they still manage to surprise each other. One of the things I found most enjoyable was Catherine's frustration with Samson's tendency to put himself last. Samson is the very opposite of the puffed up, arrogant Earl, as he loves to make his family happy, and often takes care of his own needs without help from servants. It was impossible not to love Samson.  And the interactions between Catherine and Samson were often amusing as well. I had to laugh out loud when the proposal finally occurred and Samson offered to get Catherine a hippo in order to get her to marry him. As Catherine says, "Who mentions a hippopotamus when declaring love?"  

Overall, I found the story well-written and delightful to read.  If you enjoy clean, historical romance with a large dose of humor, I highly recommend this one.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

CONTEMPORARY SUSPENSE: Shifting Sands by Kathi Oram Peterson


All Gloryanna Griffin needs is a full-ride scholarship to finish her master’s degree in marine biology in order to pursue her dream of saving the ocean. However, to be a serious contender for the money, she needs to publish in a prestigious magazine. A research dive off the Olympic Peninsula is a dangerous proposition but one that just might give her article the impact it needs. But when she’s swept into an underwater vortex, she realizes her life may be the price she pays instead.

When she awakens on the rocky beach—miraculously alive—the first person she sees is the handsome stranger who saved her. Over the years, Jonathan Dawson has saved countless lives from the perils of the ocean. But until now, no one has ever seen him. Nearly eighty years ago, he died on this same beach, and his spirit has been tied to the spot ever since. Now Gloryanna and Jonathan are irrevocably linked as they are plunged into a decades’ old mystery that promises answers to the past and keys to the future. But they soon discover that some secrets may be better left undisturbed.


Shifting Sands intriguing premise pulled me into the story right away. The shocking events of the prologue left me with questions that kept me eagerly reading. Gloryanna makes a winning heroine with her love of family and love of the ocean. And the connection between Jonathan and Gloryanna is clear from the beginning. The way the two mysteries blended together and twisted around and between each other was fascinating. Jonathan doesn't remember how he died and he certainly doesn't know how he ended up as a ghost with the power to rescue people from the ocean.  And Gloryanna has no idea why someone would want to sabotage her diving tanks. Working together they seek answers, but the danger only seems to increase and Gloryanna is left wondering just who she can trust. 

Peterson does a great job blending the real and the fantastical.  With ghost stories it can be tricky to make it work in a story that revolves around the real world.  On the other hand, you have the freedom to create your 'own rules' so to speak. No complete explanation is given for Jonathan's state or for what happens later, but there are hints provided that relate to Gloryanna's work in marine biology and the circumstances that bring Gloryanna and Jonathan together. As I read this I wanted a happy ending but I wasn't sure how the author was going to pull it off.  I'm pleased to say that she does it in a way that works well for the story. I enjoyed meeting Gloryanna and Jonathan and reading their story. Recommended for mystery lovers who enjoy a good dose of suspense with a touch of the supernatural.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

HISTORICAL ROMANCE REVIEW: To Win Her Hand by Jen Geigle Johnson


A man to teach men how to win a woman's hand. A woman who cannot be won.

Lord Featherstone has the world on his shoulders. Or at least his world. With two brothers and a failing estate he must make funds somehow. But what happens when he falls for a woman? Will his tactics work when the situation is so close and personal?

Everyone thinks Lady Loveluck is a wealthy widow. What they don't know is that she is on the brink of hiring herself out as a Governess in order to pay for her next meal. The only thing keeping her from employment is a growing reputation as a matchmaker. As long as she never falls for another man, as long as she doesn't allow herself to be fooled into marrying, she will be just fine.

But she never counted on being caught up in the beguiling tactics of London's renowned and not so secret matchmaker for men.


Johnson really knows how to pull a reader into a story.  This first book in a new series sets up a rather intriguing situation from the very beginning.  Both the hero and heroine are matchmakers, working to help members of the Ton find a spouse by providing assistance in dress and behavior as well as help with introductions.  Both Lord Featherstone and Lady Loveluck work because they must to keep food on the table, both are striving to save their estates.  When Lord Featherstone's client, Mr. Hartsworth, and Lady Loveluck's client, Miss Anna seem to take a shine to each other, Lord Featherstone sees it as a perfect opportunity to show his interest in Lady Loveluck.  But Lady Loveluck has no interest in making a match herself.  After having been badly treated by her now deceased husband, she's reluctant to trust any man, especially one as charming as Lord Featherstone.  

What I especially love about the book is how Lord Featherstone treats Lady Loveluck.  I love his sincerity.  Yes, Lord Featherstone is very charming, but he's sincere in the compliments he gives and his skill with people.  Such kindness is hard for Lady Loveluck to trust having been betrayed so badly before, but her heart refuses to listen to her head.  When she and Lord Featherstone end up at the same house party with their clients, she meets a group of widows who offer her the support and understanding she's so desperately needs.  By this time however, Lord Featherstone realizes that he cannot offer Lady Loveluck the stability and comfort she needs and he resolves to help another interested party succeed with her.  But the heart will not be denied, and Lady Loveluck must decide what she's willing to risk to find happiness. 

Sigh, I do love a sweet romance, especially one with such a great, good hero.  I do love Jen Giggle Johnson's stories with their great historical details and fabulous characters. I look forward to reading future books in the series.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

PROPER ROMANCE REVIEW : Hearts of Briarwall by Krista Jensen

Hearts of Briarwall


Lydia Wooding is fascinated by the latest inventions the new century brings, including motorcars. She longs for the independence they represent and believes that women should have a say in the future of the industry—just as they should have a say in suffrage, adventure, and, of course, love.

Spencer Hayes is a man of practicality and innovation, but he lacs the financial backing to make his dream a reality. When he contacts his childhood friend, Andrew Wooding, about a promising business venture, he is invited to Briarwall Manor to discuss the terms. Once there, he is surprised to find that Andrew's once shy, younger sister, Lydia, has grown into a young woman of beauty, wit, and a bit of fire. Even better, the two share a passion for motorcars.

Andrew, however, is wary of cars, having lost his parents in a tragic auto accident when he and Lydia were young. And he's not sure a relationship between his sister and Spencer is the best idea—not when Sir Lawrence is available and could match both Lydia's social status and her fortune. Spencer is torn between his dream of owning his own business and risking his heart for a relationship with a free-spirited woman determined to live life to the fullest.


One of my favorite things about Hearts of Briarwall, other than the romance, is the friendship Lydia shares with the other ladies of the Wendy League.  They are truly delightful as characters and I hope to read more about the other ladies in future books.  As for this one, Lydia is the heroine and she makes a good one.  Her feistiness and willingness to speak up for what she wants and believes makes her a great character to root for, especially during the historical period in which she is placed. The hero, Spencer, makes an interesting match for Lydia since he is from a poor area of London, and is seeking investors for his motorcar supply business.  The motorcar angle made for an intriguing storyline, especially considering Lydia's family's history with automobiles.  The fact that Lydia was the assertive one in the romance and Spencer the reluctant one, for good reason, made for the perfect touch considering the female characters efforts toward women's suffrage.  Lydia's efforts to pursue her own interests and feelings contrasted nicely with her brother's efforts to 'keep the bird caged' so to speak.  And poor Spencer finds himself caught between his friendship with her brother and his growing feelings for her, especially as he has his own secret.  I thoroughly enjoyed this ode to female independence and finding a partner who loves you the way you are.  Recommended. 

Friday, September 23, 2022


 I am delighted to be part of the cover reveal for the upcoming book of one of my favorite authors, A.L. Sowards. I'm always amazed at the stunning stories she writes and the incredible historical detail she includes.  She always manages to dig up fascinating events and stick her remarkable characters right into the middle of them. 

Her new book, A Waltz with Traitors comes out in March 2023, which is way too far away if you ask me.  But in the meantime, we can ponder this book blurb and admire the stunning cover.  

Sometimes the road to freedom is a six-thousand-mile-long railroad track. Sometimes the road to love is even longer.

The Former Russian Empire, 1918

Czech soldier Filip Sedlák never wanted to fight for the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So at the first opportunity, he defected to the Russians. Now he and others like him have formed the Czechoslovak Legion. Their goal: leave the chaos of Russia, sail to France, and help the Allies defeat the Central Powers, thereby toppling a hated empire and winning an independent Czechoslovakia.

With the fall of the tsar, Nadia Linskaya’s life is in ruins. Her family is dead, her lands are confiscated, and her aristocratic world is gone forever. But Nadia is determined to elude the Bolshevik agent who destroyed her family and find a way to survive in this changed world.

When Nadia takes refuge with the Czechoslovak Legion, the last thing she expects is an ally. But when Filip proposes a sham marriage to ensure her safe passage across Siberia, she takes it. Neither Filip nor Nadia expect real love, not when the legion has to take over the longest railroad in the world—and then hold it against Bolshevik counterattacks, partisan sabotage, Allied intrigue, and a set of brutal Siberian winters. At risk is the future of Czechoslovakia, the fate of Russia—and their hearts.

WOW! Isn't that cover amazing?! I love it!  I can't wait to get my hands on this one! I know that's a lot of exclamation marks but I'm so excited that I just can't help myself. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

INSPIRATIONAL NONFICTION: Until You Find Strength by Jason F. Wright


Everyone experiences loss differently and grieves in their own way, but author Jason F. Wright has learned from his own life some key principles to regaining your footing and finding tranquility after a devastating loss.

This beautifully illustrated book helps remind those who are grieving that they are never alone in their pain and heartache.


Jason F. Wright is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of seventeen books. He lives with his wife, Kodi, and their children in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.


This tender gift book touched my heart as I read it.  Maybe it's because not too long ago I lost a loved one myself. I cried as I read Jason Wright's sweet words of comfort and hope.  I found it a great reminder that there is help and comfort available during these times of sorrow.  It also reminded me that I can be that someone to offer love and support for others as they struggle with loss.  I also appreciated the gentle reminder to ask for help when needed, there are those willing and able to help.  The author also points out the grieving is different for everyone, that there will be ups and downs, and that we are likely to never stop missing those we love, but that good times can still be enjoyed and it's okay to laugh or cry as needed.  This sweet book would make a great gift for yourself or others whose hearts are mourning the loss of a loved one.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

HISTORICAL FICTION : Praying with the Enemy by Steven T. Collis

Praying with the Enemy


When pilot Captain Ward Millar is forced to eject over enemy territory in North Korea, the ejection explosion snaps both of his ankles. Unable to walk, he is easily captured by North Korean and Chinese soldiers who interrogate, threaten, and starve him for strategic wartime information. He feeds the enemy false information while plotting his escape. But it’s only a matter of time before they discover his lies. He knows it will take a miracle to gain his freedom, but his previous self-reliance on his own capabilities has never included appealing to a higher power. If only he had faith like his wife, Barbara, whose firm belief in God can move mountains.

North Korean soldier Kim Jae Pil was raised to believe in the power of prayer, but, knowing the Communist Party’s views on religious groups, Kim and his family must keep their Christian faith secret. He is desperate to escape the army, return to his family, and then flee to South Korea.

With Millar imprisoned and unable to walk, and the North Korean army increasingly suspicious of Kim’s actions, it seems impossible that either man will find the freedom they so desperately desire. But when these wartime foes cross paths, they find in each other an unlikely ally. Despite speaking different languages, Millar and Kim find common ground in their fragile faith and must rely on each other to undertake a daring escape.

Praying with the Enemy is a story of courage, determination, unlikely friendship, and enduring faith.


STEVEN T. COLLIS is a storyteller at heart. He is also a law professor at the University of Texas School of Law and the faculty director of Texas's Bech-Loughlin First Amendment Center and Law and Religion Clinic. Previously, he was the Olin-Darling Research Fellow at the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School and chair of the Religious Institutions and First Amendment Practice Group at Holland & Hart LLP. 

He is an engaging and sought-after speaker nationwide on religion and law. Steven received his MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan Law School. 

He is the author of Deep Conviction: True Stories of Ordinary Americans Fighting for the Freedom to Live Their Beliefs. He and his wife have five children and reside in Texas.


Ward Millar's escape from North Korea during the Korea War was a most remarkable one.  In novel, based on Millar's real life experiences, Collis takes readers into the middle of two men's experiences during war time.  After Millar's plane goes down, Millar is at the mercy of his captors.  With two broken ankles, escape seems to be an impossibility.  To get medical care he is forced to share information with his North Korean & Chinese captors.  He mixes a little truth with mostly lies knowing that it's only a matter of time before his lies are discovered.  Unlike his wife, Millar wasn't a man of faith, he'd never seen a need for a belief in God, until now when his helpless situation stares him in the face. To escape will require a miracle.

Drafted into the North Korean army after a stint in prison for his Christian beliefs, Kim Jae Pil also wants to escape to the south.  But he wants to take his family with him.  When a chance to slip away from the army arises he returns home to find only his mother waiting for him. As he and his mother make plans to go so south, Jae Pil find himself unwillingly returning to the army with little chance of finding the rest of his family.  Despite careful watching, it seems his prayers are going unanswered as weeks go by without any chance to escape.

Despite his difficult circumstances, Ward uses his intelligence to make plans for escape, hoping that his ankles are healing enough to do so.  He gathers supplies with the help of some friendly villagers and prepares to slip away before he ends up in a northern POW camp.  But the poor medical care he has received and his immobility prove to be a bigger problem than he expected and his first attempt fails miserably.

After escaping, it quickly becomes apparent that he seriously miscalculated his situation.  When he encounters Jae Pil and some other soldiers, it seems any hope of a miracle is lost.  But the hope in God that both have exercised through nearly constant prayer brings them together and hope may not be entirely lost.  But time is running out and options are few.  It will take all the ingenuity and faith the two men can muster to find a way to freedom.

Ward and Jae Pil's story fascinated me from the beginning.  I don't know what the odds are of the two men meeting the way they did, somehow managing to communicate with each other, and then trusting each other enough to attempt an escape together.  Failure means likely death for both of them.  So often people claim that such encounters are just coincidences, but here it is clearly a miracle.  While the book has been fictionalized to make it easier to tell (the author's note makes it clear where the story was tweaked a bit to help the book move a bit smoother), the main experiences of both men did happen.  

In addition, the chapters dedicated to Ward's wife's experiences after finding out her husband was missing highlight her great faith and belief that he was still alive and would be coming back to her.  Despite other's efforts to prepare her for the worst, she refused to give up and kept writing letters, even insisting to her husband's commanding officer that he keep the letters for her husband's return.

The faith demonstrated by these individuals is truly inspiring and reinforces my own belief in God and His power to work miracles.  As Ward himself realizes, not all receive the miracles they desire, but by exercising faith he, his wife, and Jae Pil receive their miracle. An incredible story of faith, courage, and determination in the face of challenging obstacles. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

HISTORICAL FICTION : A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice by Rebecca Connolly

A Brilliant Night of Stars and Ice


Shortly after midnight on April 15, 1912, the captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, is awakened by a distress signal from the RMS Titanic, which has struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Though information is scarce, Rostron leaps into action, determined to answer the call for help. But the Carpathia is more than four hours away, and there are more questions than answers: Will his ship hold together if pushed to never-before-tested speeds? What if he also strikes an iceberg? And with the freezing temperatures, will there be any survivors by the time the Carpathia arrives?

Kate Connolly is excited to join her sister in America and proud to be traveling on the grand Titanic. As a third-class passenger, she is among the last to receive instruction and help after Titanic hits an iceberg. Despite the chaos of abandoning ship, Kate is able to reach the upper decks and manages to board a lifeboat, though after seeing the Titanic sink into the abyss and hearing the cries from the hundreds of people still in the water, she wonders if any rescue is even possible.

Told in alternating chapters from both Captain Rostron on the Carpathia and Kate Connolly on the Titanic, this historical novel is a compelling, heart-pounding account of two eyewitnesses to an epic disaster. Rostron's heroic and compassionate leadership, his methodical preparations for rescue, and his grit and determination to act honorably and selflessly to save lives and care for the survivors, sets the course for this awe-inspiring story.


The story of the Titanic is a well-known one.  Many books, both fiction and nonfiction, have been written about the disastrous sinking. Most of those books, at least the ones I've read, focus on the experience of the survivors on the Titanic itself.  This book also looks at the horrific experiences of the survivors.  What this one does that's different, is the focus on the captain and crew of the Carpathia, the ship that rescued the survivors.  In alternating chapters, Connolly shares with readers two different perspectives.  One perspective is that of Arthur Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia as he and his crew receive word of the Titanic's sinking and rush to help.  The other perspective is that of Kate Connolly, an Irish immigrant, who is traveling to the United States in the company of several friends.  The reader travels along with Kate and Captain Rostron as they face the tragedy and heartbreak of the disaster.  The author does an excellent job of helping the reader feel the terror, shock, and grief that afflicted those on the Titanic.  What makes the book especially powerful is the urgency that drove Captain Rostron and his crew as they worked feverishly to come to the aide of the Titanic.  I think what struck me most about this book, and it's the reason I liked it so much, is that is personifies what I love so much about survival or disaster stories: the courage and determination and selflessness that people so often exhibit in the face of difficult circumstances.  Connolly has done a fantastic job of sharing a fictionalized version of a true story focusing on real people and what they experienced over those few days.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy a story that inspires both tears and admiration.

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

CHRISTIAN FICTION REVIEW: The Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham


Will the magic of Christmas bring these two newlyweds closer together, or will the ghosts of the past lead them into a destructive discovery from which not even a Dickens’s Christmas can save them?

Mistletoe is beautiful and dangerous, much like the woman from Lord Frederick’s Percy’s past, so when he turns over a new leaf and arranges to marry for his estate, instead of his heart, he never expects the wrong bride to be the right choice. Gracelynn Ferguson never expected to take her elder sister’s place as a Christmas bride, but when she’s thrust into the choice, she will trust in her faithful novels and overactive imagination to help her not only win Frederick’s heart but also to solve the murder mystery of Havensbrook Hall before the ghosts from Frederick’s past ruin her fairytale future.


I know it isn't Christmas right now, but I loved this book so much I couldn't wait to review it!  The Mistletoe Countess provided a delightful and thoroughly engaging reading experience.  Not only was the plot compelling, but I absolutely fell in love with these characters.  They honestly felt like friends that I'd want to sit down and enjoy again and again.

When Gracelynn Ferguson steps in and marries an earl in her sister's place, she never expects to face a new home full of questions and the unhappiness of her new husband's past.  As Frederick and Grace's relationship develops and they become friends as well as spouses, Grace uses her unique collection of skills to help her husband find the healing and redemption he so desperately seeks.  With her sunny disposition and deep knowledge of fictional characters and plot lines, she works to help her husband discover what happened to the his brother, the former Earl of Astley.  Frederick's tender heart has been wounded by choices from the past, but Grace's openness and generousness of spirit helps him find the courage to face the past and work toward building the future.

Many of the interactions between the characters are wonderfully laugh inducing.  Grace is such a fun character, and quite amusing in the way she's always referring to fictional characters and what she has learned from her reading, especially the sleuthing information.  The growing relationship between Grace and Frederick is sweet and tender. The other characters provide greatly to the story as well, especially the servants reactions to Grace's often quite improper behavior.  Frederick's mother is a rather heartbreaking part of Frederick's past, but by the end, like Grace, I felt some empathy for her situation even though it's partly self-induced.  As a romance, there is plenty of kissing involved; intimate relations are shared between Grace and Frederick as husband and wife, but are kept off the page, although there are a couple of bedroom scenes where they are talking. 

As Christian fiction there is frequent mention of God and prayer and religious belief throughout the story, but it doesn't get preachy or bog down the story in any way. The contrast between Frederick's past mistakes and Grace's innocence highlights Frederick's efforts at redemption and restitution.  The murder mystery becomes a prominent part of the story as Grace and Frederick begin to settle in at Havensbrook Hall and prepare to celebrate Christmas.  The danger that stalks Grace and Frederick builds in tension until the denouement at the end where Grace and Frederick have a chance to show just how much they have come to care for each other.

The length of this review should make it clear that I truly loved this book and plan to enjoy reading it many times in the future.