Mixed Genre Fiction Reviews: Humor, Romance, Mystery

Mixed Genre  Fiction

I like mixed genre fiction. I enjoy almost  any fiction genre more if it contains some humor. Humor can relieve the tension in a mystery or thriller. Romance can also add interest to mysteries and historical novels. Christian faith can add depth to romance, historical fiction, and mysteries.

I have been mixing it up this  month. I’ve read many novels that fit into multiple genres.  Here are brief reviews of some of them. At the end of the post you will find links to the books I’ve discussed. Some of them may still be free for your Kindle. Many of the books are also  available in paperback for those who prefer bound books.

 

Mixed Genre Fiction for Youth: Humor,  Mystery and Romance

 

Mixed Genre Fiction Reviews

Kait’s Strange Hobby: Adventures in Funeral Crashing

Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris introduces  us to Kait Lenox and Ethan Ripley — two people hurting because of a death in the family. Kait is sixteen and a nerd.  Her former best friend Ariel has turned into an enemy who loves to make fun of her in public . As one of the unpopular people in her school, she eats by herself. She loves to read, and her secret hobby is crashing funerals. The first funeral she attended  was her mother’s, who had died of ovarian cancer, and Kait misses her — a lot.

Ethan is the most popular boy in the school. His half-sister, Liz O’Reilly, has just died of an overdose. Her friends and family were shocked, since she did not run with  druggies and seemed to be an upbeat person — not someone who would do drugs. Nevertheless,  the papers reported she had died of a drug overdose.

Kait decides to go to Liz’s funeral, even though she never had known Liz, who was in college. Kait’s usual practice is to be inconspicuous, wear dark clothing, and sit near the back. She tries to avoid  talking to anyone who might ask her how she knows the deceased.  She figures Liz’s funeral will be big enough that no one  will notice she is there.

Liz’s Funeral

Kait doesn’t want to admit to anyone  she  is funeral crashing. She likes funerals because she learned  a lot about her mother at her funeral she hadn’t known before. Kait likes to hear the stories family and friends  tell about their loved ones at the funerals she crashes.

Unfortunately, at Liz’s funeral, Ethan Ripley walked up to her and asked her how she knows Liz. Her prepared answer, that they had an English class at the community college doesn’t work  with  Ethan, since he knows  she is only in high school. So she  asks how he knows Liz, and  he explains Liz is his half-sister. He asks again how she knows Liz, and she flees.

Ethan Nails Kait and They Team Up to Solve the Mystery of Liz’s Death

She manages to evade Ethan for a few days before he finally finds her at the video store where she works and makes her explain how she knows Liz. She  finally admits that she doesn’t and that she was just funeral crashing. Ethan asks why she likes funerals and she explains.

She talked about her mother’s funeral, and Ethan and Kait see each other’s grief. It comes out that Liz is one of several girls who recently died of an overdose, and they were all girls no one expected to be using heroin. Ethan finally tells Kait he thinks Liz was murdered. The two decide to work on the case and find out who killed  Liz and the other girls.

A Teen Romance Even an Adult Can Enjoy

There is enough humor, mystery, and romance in this book to keep most teenage girls intrigued. Even I didn’t want to put the book down.  There was a twist at the end that caught me off-guard, but I was still satisfied with the ending.

I enjoyed the interaction between the teens and the hints of budding romances. I will have to read the next books in the series  to see how the romances progress and what new mysteries the friends will solve. The series has good reviews from those who have read all of the first three books. The one I have reviewed is still free for Kindle as I write this. To order, just click on the buy button at the end of this post.

The Aylesford Humorous Christian Romance Series for Adults by Steve Demaree

Brad Meets His Neighbors

I read Volume I, Pink Flamingoed, and  I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Well-known mystery writer Brad Forrester inherits a house in what he assumes is a quiet neighborhood on Aylesford Place in December. Before he can even unpack he hears carolers outside his door.

Mixed Genre Fiction Reviews

When  they have finished singing, they invite him to come with them as they gather all the other neighbors on the dead-end street. The three singers are Amy, his pretty next door neighbor, and Cora and Frank, an elderly couple. Cora explains to Brad that Amy will lead the neighborhood tour as they collect the other carolers. She explains who lives in each house and a bit about them. The church most of them  go to is at the dead-end of the block. When everyone is collected they all  go  to  Amy’s house for a party.

What a Bunch of Characters!

The fun in this book is in the interaction between the characters, most of whom are Christians. As Brad   observes them for the first time, it’s obvious that Harry, the retired IRS agent, is the brunt of most of the jokes. He is a tightwad, and they call him on it frequently. Cora is like the adopted mother of the single young  adults who live on the block. They confide in her and she gives them advice.

Melanie is a single real estate agent who chases any man near her age who crosses her path . Cora tries to tell her that she may be scaring off those men who might like to do the chasing themselves. Amy is a professional photographer.

Pastor Scott Ambruster and his wife Nancy have the only children on the street, Jill, Kenny, and Mallory. They also add humor to the book as they tease each other. Kenny’s greatest fun seems to be in making his sisters miserable.

The most infamous resident on the block is someone no one ever sees. The neighbors call her Witch Peabody, but her real name is Minerva. Her fortress-like house with an iron gate is next to the park. No one dares get near it,  for it’s said that she shoots anyone who does. She frightened a couple of Mormon missionaries so badly that they ran away and no Mormon ever came back to the neighborhood.

One Big Zany Family

It soon becomes evident to the readers that the neighborhood is like a big family. They tease each other, but they care for each other. Within this neighborhood there are four budding romances before the book ends, and one of the couples is not young.

Mixed Genre Fiction Reviews: Humor, Romance, and Mystery

Cora seems to be the ring leader of the group — the one who organizes things and keeps everyone — including Harry — in line. She is the one who organizes the church fund-raiser where the pink flamingo comes into play.

The Pink Flamingo

One unlucky neighbor is chosen by lot to be the first to receive  the pink flamingo Cora provides.  The person with the flamingo must place it in plain sight in the yard of another neighbor — without being seen. If a neighbor finds the pink  flamingo in their yard, they have to donate $20 to the fund for the orphanage and be the next one to get  rid of the flamingo. If they get caught placing the flamingo, they have to donate $20 to the fund.

Tightwad Harry is  determined avoid having to make that $20 donation. That’s why he sleeps on the front porch the first night. I won’t tell you  how that turned out. You need to read the book,   which currently, as I write this is free. You have to pay for the rest of the  books in the series.

There are many humorous subplots, most involving Harry. There are also some mysteries to be solved. Why is Minerva a recluse? Who is the mysterious Moses on the church email list? Harry’s efforts to solve this one make his  wife sure he’s having an affair. She also thinks that’s why Harry wants to sleep on the porch.

Pink Flamingoed Will Make You Laugh

Pink Flamingoed is slapstick funny and should appeal to most adult ages who just want to laugh. I think seniors will most appreciate the humor and may catch more of it than younger people might.

The characters are not as well  developed as they could be, but their interactions show you a lot about them. What they do reveals their personalities, as well as their affection for one another.

The books in the Aylesford Place Series are not literary, but they are entertaining. They make great escapes when you don’t want to get involved with a thriller.

Steve Demaree also writes humorous detective novels, but the Christian elements in  those seem out of place. His treatment of Christian faith is more realistic in the Aylesford Place series.

The links below are to books in a series. Just click through to see the individual books. The first volume in each series may still be free. It is as I write this, but that could change at any time.

 

 Aylesford Place Humorous Christian Romance Series (4 Book Series) Funeral Crashing Mysteries (4 Book Series)

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Mixed Genre Fiction Reviews: Humor, Romance, Mystery

Romance Novels Make Great Summer Reading

Romance Novels are Ideal to Read When You Have to Read in Spurts

When it’s hot and I’m feeling a bit wilted, I tend to read romance novels that don’t demand too much from me. This is especially true when I have to spend a lot of time waiting.   I had numerous computer problems this week. I used several tiny slices of time to read just a few pages while I was waiting for scans and reboots.

Light romance novels are just right when you have to read in spurts.   A mystery or thriller I can’t put down tempts me not to go back to work when I should. So during  my trouble shooting waiting  times, I sometimes read romances.

All Romances Aren’t of Equal Quality

Many of what we consider the best romances aren’t romances at all. They are novels that include romance and we remember those romantic scenes, even though they may be only part of the plot. I think of Jane Erye and Gone with the Wind as examples. They are classics because they are about much more than romance.

If you Google “romance genre,” most sources agree that a romance novel focuses on the love relationship between the two main characters and that the ending satisfies the reader. In other words, there should be a happy ending. When people read romances, that’s what they usually expect.

The digital romances I read this week on my Kindle varied in quality. All were free, since they were daily promotions. Some were worth exactly what I paid for them. Some I enjoyed, even though it was obvious that the author stuck close to a typical formula.

 

When I read a romance, I’m happy if it’s clean, if I care about the characters, and if the plot seems to evolve from who the characters are.  I don’t expect much more when I’m reading for escape. I read romance novels when I want to have something to do during commercials, or while I wait for my computer to work. Romances or short stories are my choices when I don’t want to get involved with a novel I can’t put down when it’s time to get back to work.

Don’t Waste Your Time or Money on These

I normally enjoy mail order bride romances. I read quite a few of them. I thought I was getting a good deal when Mail Order Bride: Clean Romance and the Call of Marriage was offered free during an Amazon promotion. It got some good reviews so I gave this 13 short story set a try. Amazon classified it as Western Christian Inspirational Historical Romance Short Stories. The stories did not inspire me. The first few weren’t too bad, but the more I read the worse they seemed to get.

As an ex-English teacher the spelling and grammatical errors bothered me a lot. The author really needed an editor to catch mistakes the spellcheck didn’t . I think what bothered me most among the mistakes was the use of the wrong pronoun. Too many times the author is talking about a woman, and then referring to her later in the sentence or in the next one as he.  Or a man will later be referred to as a she. This leaves me going back to reread to see if I misunderstood. This happened many times over the course of these stories.

You may find some of these stories amusing, and they may keep you entertained for a few minutes, but in the end you will probably wish you’d spent your time reading something better. I certainly wouldn’t pay to buy this.

The Best Romance in the Bunch

My Father’s House by Rose C. Johnson is set mostly in rural Georgia.  There are also scenes in New York, Canada, and Detroit. The settings in the novel are not just places where things happen. They take on personalities of their own in how they influence the protagonist,  Lily Rose Cates.  Georgia is where Lily Rose thrives. Detroit, and Manny who took her there, together kill her spirit.

Lily Rose was born in a small town in Georgia in 1964. She is a country girl in every way. Her mother fell into depression when Lily Rose was born and never recovered. Lily’s father brought Annie Ruth to come five days a week to help raise her. When her older brother James Michael left to become a missionary her mother’s spirit seemed to all but  die.

Lily’s father, though,  believed in  her and made her world perfect. That helped her believe in herself. Her early years were idyllic. She was Daddy’s girl.  When she was sixteen her world  crashed when her father died  of a heart attack while mowing the lawn. His last words to her were, “‘Lily Rose, you’re gonna be all right.'”

Reading Romance Novels Can Kill Summer Boredom: Review My Father's House by Rose Johnson

Annie Ruth continued to take care of her and her mother. Her father had provided for their support in his estate. Annie Ruth explained to Lily Rose what she needed to know just when she needed to know it. She did the real mothering. One theme of this book is the importance of support from family and friends when one faces life changes.  Lily Rose faced many of them.

When Lily graduated from college, her closest friends moved on and married. She stayed in the cottage the three of them had shared. She got a part-time job in a flower store and wrote for the local paper. She felt very much alone. Then her cousin Maggie called and invited her for a visit in New York.

The visit with Maggie lifted her spirits, but it also led to some of the worse years of her life. On a Friday night they had dinner at Valenti’s — an iconic Italian   restaurant. Their waiter, who introduced himself as Manuel,  paid Lily Rose a great deal of attention. At the end of the meal, he asked for her phone number. She was sure she was in love.

When she got home, he did call. Often.  She learned that he was a lawyer in Detroit — not a waiter in New York. He had only been  visiting his brother who owned Valenti’s the night they met. They had a whirlwind courtship.  It seemed almost enchanted. Manuel wined and dined Lily Rose and brought her diamonds. The only thing that put a damper on it was was a visit home to Annie Ruth so she could meet him. The instant Annie Ruth  met him, her smile vanished.

Once they were alone, Annie Ruth warned Lily Rose that he was trouble. When she found out Manny had proposed, she said privately, “‘Don’t get tangled up in the briers with that man.'”

The author offers many clues to foreshadow what will happen in the marriage, and there is enough complexity in the plot to hold your interest to the end. Although I started reading in spurts, I went back to the book when I had larger blocks of time and I  was just too hot to enjoy more demanding reading.

Reading Romance Novels Can Kill Summer Boredom

I  recommend this book as a Christian romance that is inspirational, but not preachy. You will be able to predict what will happen in the marriage, but not how the characters will solve their problems. This book will especially appeal to those who have lived in small towns and those who appreciate clean rather than explicit romances. I hope you will enjoy In My Father’s House as much as I did.

Rose C. Johnson also wrote a devotional I’m hoping to read soon — God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea.

 

 My Father’s House: a novel God, Me, and Sweet Iced Tea: Experiencing God in the Midst of Everyday Moments

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Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

It All Happens in Burford

In Greening of a Heart, Stepheny Houghtlin shows us not just one heart, but several that need healing.  All of them are part of or tied to the restoration of the garden of the vicarage of St. John the Baptist Church in the Catswold Village of Burford. Burford and the church are  real. You might want to check out the websites linked to so you can picture the setting before you read this. These sites say nothing  about a garden. The church, however is the setting for some important scenes, since Hannah and Martin live in the vicarage.

Photo of St. John the Baptist Church in Burford courtesy of Tom Bastin, CC by 2.0
Photo courtesy of Tom Bastin, CC by 2.0

Tom Bastin  took the picture of the church St. John The Baptist Church you see above. You can also see many other scenes from Burford  in his Flicker Album Burford.

The Cast of Major Characters

  • Hannah Winchester, an American: The vicars’ wife and mother of Anne and Christopher
  • The Reverend Martin Winchester: Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, father of Anne and Christopher
  • Malcolm Thomas: Martin’s old college friend, now also his Bishop
  • Brother Gregory: Monk at St. Edward’s House and spiritual counselor to Martin
  • Anne: Daughter of Hannah and Martin, wife of Geoffrey Bentley, mother of James and Kate
  • Geoffrey Charles Bentley IV:  Anne’s husband and father of James and Kate
  • Christopher: Brother of Anne and son of Martin and Hannah, single
  • Henry Bernard: On a research sabbatical from Kew Gardens in London.  Hannah hired him to help with the heavy work in the garden during its restoration. Single
  •  Madeline Thompson, widow: An old college friend of Hannah’s who is Hannah’s sounding board in the book.  She is a catalyst in helping many characters find direction
  • Christine Bennett: Never married, older parishioner, critical of Hannah’s garden restoration. Lives across the road from the vicarage and has her own garden. She is no longer speaking to Hannah since garden work began.
  • Robert K Myers: Deceased former Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church, who originally designed the garden Hannah is restoring. Close friend of Christine.
  • Emma Barksdale: Another parishioner, close friend of Christine and Hannah. She doesn’t understand why Christine is so critical of Hannah’s garden restoration project
  • Samuel White: Senior Warden at St. John the Baptist Church, single, close friend of   Martin and Hannah.  He appears to be secretly in love with Hannah
  • Lucy and Randy Talbot:  Henry lives with them in Burford while he works for Hannah
  • Many men who are working to restore the garden and coach house, and their wives and children
  • Other parishioners, including Lynn Spencer, who likes to make trouble with her gossip, and her husband Mark, who is much kinder
  • Margaret Clover: New in town, just bought the Bay Tree Inn. She plans to use it to serve healthy meals such as those that helped cure her cancer. Divorced
  • Caroline Clover: Margaret’s daughter, who will be the chef at the Bay Tree Inn

A  Troubled Marriage

 

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Photo in Public Domain Courtesy of Pixabay.com

 

As the book opens, we learn that Hannah and Martin Winchester have a troubled marriage. Martin is burned out as a priest and a husband, since he has let his work dominate their lives. Hannah is wondering what happened to the man who courted her and laughed with her when they were first married. Now he rarely laughs at all. They now sleep in separate bedrooms. The author  describes it this way:

“The image of one of her garden walls, where stacked stone had shifted and sagged over time, reminded her of their relationship.”

Although they shared a common faith as members  of the Church of England, they did not express it the same  way. Hannah’s family had been “high church” with services closer to those in the Catholic Church.  Martin was “low church” and did not believe in icons and incense, or “smells and bells.” This  was occasionally a source of conflict.

Whereas Hannah had been an  independent American woman while in college, now, with an empty nest, Martin seems to think she is incapable of managing her life without his input. He has become stern and impatient with her.  He is no longer interested in sharing memories of their courting days and other carefree times, as they had in the early years of their marriage. There had been no intimacy for so long that Hannah had begun to think of Martin almost as a guest in her home, more a priest than a husband.

The Role of The Garden In Greening of the Heart

Hannah’s Garden Restoration Project

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

The book begins in the vicarage garden, with Hannah pulling weeds. She aspires to gain recognition as an authority on plants someday. She has accumulated a library of gardening books and has visited other gardens whenever there was time.

She is in the process of restoring the garden the late previous vicar, Robert Myers, designed and planted.  She is hoping that as she works on the garden restoration, it will bring her closer to Martin again. She expected they would make decisions together, but he shows little interest, preferring to let Hannah make the decisions.

Martin’s Dreaded Lunch Date

Martin is about to leave for a lunch date with Malcolm, his friend and bishop. Malcolm had called Hannah earlier with  concerns about Martin’s health and state of mind. Hannah knows Malcolm is going to tell Martin to take a leave of absence. She also knows Martin will be disconsolate after the meeting.

Henry Arrives in Burford

Meanwhile, Henry Bernard is on his way to Burford from London to meet Hannah. He hopes she will hire him to help with the garden restoration. He is  also looking for information about a photograph he’d found while cleaning up his  grandmother’s home after she died. The photo is of a young priest who is his own mirror image.  He arrives in time to have a quick look inside the church before meeting Hannah, but Hannah is already there watering the altar flowers and she had seen him come in. She noticed he was touching a remembrance plaque on the wall, which she later discovered  was for Robert Myers.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Adapted from photo of Kew Gardens found on Morgue File

She engages Henry in conversation and he says he’s her 2 pm  appointment. Henry tells her he’s taking a sabbatical from his work at Kew Gardens to study the influence of clergy gardeners on the development of English gardens. People believed Robert Myers had integrated spiritual elements into his gardening activities. Henry said many clergymen considered gardening both work and prayer.

Henry impresses Hannah she and hires him after negotiating terms of employment. Hannah tells Henry he’s an answer to her prayers. He silently disagrees, thinking that it wasn’t her prayers, but his own detective work that  brought him to her.

Martin Returns Home after Lunch Date

After Henry leaves, Hannah returns home to find Martin is back from his lunch date and he’s devastated, as she expected him to be. Malcolm  has sent him to take a course in Jerusalem that will be part of a three-month leave from his ministry.  Malcolm hopes  this will restore Martin’s health, energy, and heart for preaching again. Hannah hopes it will restore her husband to her.

Who is  Henry Really?

Why did he want to come to Burford?  More than one character in the book raises this question. Anne seemed not to  trust Henry. Lynn Spencer chided  Hannah for hiring someone she knew nothing about. Hannah, however, had no reason to be suspicious and she let the criticism roll off  her. A savvy reader will have a pretty good idea early in the book who Henry is,  but the author does not completely reveal it until much later.

The Garden Party

Will There Be Trouble?

Hannah goes back to preparations for her garden party the next Saturday. She has invited everyone to the Winchesters’ Garden Opening.  Hannah is hoping there will not be trouble, since she knows some parishioners have been upset with her project. Christine Bennett, usually not a critical person,   has been most vocal in her complaints. She had accused Hannah of ruining Robert Myers’ garden, and Hannah had reminded her that  it no longer belonged to Robert Myers.  Christine had not spoken to her since.  Emma Barksdale, a friend of both,  had told Christine to behave at the party. Madeline has warned Henry to steer clear of Christine.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Ready for Garden Party

For the most part, the party turns out to be a success as , Madeline, Hannah’s oldest friend, had come to help. A few incidents had marred it, however.   She and Martin had quarreled just before the party because he thought he needed to tell her how to act with the guests. Henry has impressed Madeline,  but Hannah’s daughter Anne wants him fired because she had dated him years ago and he had left her alone at a party he’d invited her to.

Hannah Speaks, Martin Prays, but Not Everyone is Happy

Hannah welcomes everyone. She explains that she restored the garden to honor the memory of her mother who had died ten years ago, and that her inheritance from her mother was helping to pay for the restoration.  The guests  applaud, but Christine does not join in. Martin  prays for everyone  involved with the garden restoration and for the future ministry of the church.

Hannah then joins Lynn and Mark Spencer at the punch table and Lynn immediately gets on Hannah’s case about hiring “a complete stranger” to work for her.  Mark tries to intervene, but Lynn keeps meddling. Hannah justifies her decision to hire Henry by explaining his qualifications. Lynn still thinks Hannah shouldn’t have hired someone she knows nothing about.

The guests stop to shake Martin’s hand as they are leaving, and Christine isn’t able to hide her negative feelings. The other guests seem pleased.
Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day after the party, Henry takes a bouquet of daffodils to Christine’s house to try to get acquainted with her and try to find out why she is so negative. The reader sees a new side of Christine during this visit.

More Than the Garden Grows

Madeline’s words act as catalysts to the ideas and actions of many characters in the book. Madeline was the one who encouraged Hannah to restore the garden. At one point before the garden party,  Hannah  tells Madeline, “I’ve lost touch with my own dreams and it scares me. Growing old is bad enough, but I wake up and think of wasted days where nothing I’ve done is of any consequence…. I need to reinvent myself.”

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

Madeline spins a tale about a  driver telling a couple of strangers he is lost. One of the men responded, ‘No, you’re not, you’re here.’

Madeline adds,  “If we spend our days always thinking of what we’ve missed, what might have been,  we miss the now of our lives, too. You aren’t lost, Hannah, you’re here. In this moment, we’re here, looking at this beautiful garden emerging around us. Perhaps …being lost is not a bad thing, but an opportunity to notice new places you have never been, actually looking at the things you pass by. “

Characters Grow as Part of the Community

Greening of the Heart is a story of people interacting and growing through the process. The church community and those in the wider community of the village around it begin to know themselves better. They make decisions, face unacknowledged truths about themselves,  and find solutions to their problems through their conversations with others and by observing their behavior  .

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

An example of this is Anne’s marriage to Geoffrey. The reader sees immediately that the marriage has severe problems. It is only as Anne  observes the relationship between other couples that she realizes how troubled her marriage is. Geoffrey is a snob who has tried to keep Anne from her family and any friends that won’t enhance his social standing. He also stifles Anne and their children.

Although Anne has observed the growing distance between her parents, she realizes that Geoffrey’s life is all about impressing people he considers important, whereas her father’s life is about serving his congregation to the extent there’s nothing left for his wife. Geoffrey is harsh with her and with the children, who withdraw in his presence. Anne has smiled through Geoffrey’s rants and cried when she was alone. Anne never saw her father even say a harsh word  to her mother.

She decides to seek counsel from her mother and she finally reconciles with Henry for the sake of her mother.  It is her brother Christopher that motivates her to heed Madeline’s advice to get a job so she can be self-sufficient. She decides to do it.

Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

Anne sees how loving the relationships between the workmen and their wives are. She observes the other young couples expressing affection and treating their spouses with respect. Anne’s observations and conversations with her new friends and her mother help her see that she must change her interactions with Geoffrey. How that relationship will turn out is still up in the air at the end of the book.

We see more examples of growth through interaction  throughout the book.  The relationship between Henry and Christine leads to the reconciliation between Christine and Hannah. Madeline’s words influence almost all the main characters.

Madeline is  good at discerning who can help whom and then doing her best to bring them together and plant scenarios in their minds until they see new possibilities. This results in the idea that the garden might produce the vegetables used by the Clovers in the kitchen at the  Bay Tree Inn. Later Hannah comes up with the idea of using that relationship between the inn and the vicarage garden to gain added revenue for both by giving garden tours in cooperation with Margaret Clover, ending with lunch back at the inn.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Martin is interacting with a new community of people. Their influence, and a frank letter from Hannah,  are helping him see himself and his marriage in a new light, and he wants to save it. 

 

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

My Recommendation

I got very involved in this book. I began to really care about these new book friends. If you enjoy books that are more character than plot based, if you like watching people examine their lives with a mind to understand themselves and others, you will find this a rewarding read. You will see people falling in love, reconciling their differences, and experiencing spiritual and marital  renewal through relationships begun in a garden. 

Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin
Book Review: Greening of a Heart by Stepheny Houghtlin

If you thrive on relationships with people and like to observe positive changes in their lives, you will want to read Greening of the Heart. It will make you think about your own life and relationships as you watch the drama unfold. If you are also a gardener, this book will have an added layer of meaning for you. If you enjoyed reading the Mitford Series or Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fanny Flagg, I would also expect you to find Greening of the Heart appealing. If you haven’t read any of these, what are you waiting for? You won’t want to miss any of these books.

 

 

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

I doubt if people ever forget the first person who steals their heart – that precious first love. Few people forget losing that love, either. When Aiden tells his significant other Liv over dinner one night that he wants to break off their relationship so he can find himself and explore the world without being tied down, etc., she is crushed and unable to understand why she wasn’t adventure enough for him after they had been soul mates for a year. This review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney explores some of the complications of the many emotions we call love.

The relationship with Aiden is past history when Liv Caleghan marries Douglas Hood, a surgeon she met when he tended to her tonsils during an emergency room visit. It was only later, after they were married, she realized he was an alcoholic. As the book opens Liv is just planning on a quiet evening in, waiting for Doug to get home from a business trip when the phone rings.

She already knows the caller will tell her that Douglas is drunk again somewhere and she will need to come get him. This time he fell asleep on the train ride home and missed his station. She goes to pick him up, all the time thinking about the letter her father gave her with the keys to her Nanna’s home in Ireland, which she had just inherited. They represent freedom to her – a chance to get away for a breather to decide what to do about Douglas, her, marriage, and her life.

She has always wanted to be a mother, but Douglas had denied her that. Instead she has had to mother him and enable him, and she constantly wonders how long he can keep his job if he doesn’t get help. He has made half-hearted attempts to stop drinking, but they never succeed. She loves him, but she is tired of living this way. He has promised to make one very serious attempt at a live-in rehab spa while Liv is in Ireland, deciding what she will do with Glenkeen, her grandmother’s house. Her hopes aren’t very high that Douglas will succeed this time. She is not sure they can fix their broken marriage. ‘How is it she, wonders, that I love him but I can’t wait to get away from him?”

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

Meanwhile, Aiden also married. His wife Maeve is a reliable, faithful woman and a wonderful mother to their children, whom he also loves very much. He had just left a successful computer career because he hated the job and had moved his family from Manchester, over Maeve’s protests, to Castlegray to sell vegetables in the market. He also supplies his his mother in-law, Eileen O’Donovan’s grocery store at Redden’s Cross, the closest place to Glenkeen to buy provisions. By now you have probably guessed that Aiden has discovered Liv is now in the area.

Aiden loves his wife, but has never felt the same way about her as he did about Liv. He doesn’t like the way she decorates the house and doesn’t feel comfortable there, but doesn’t say anything because she sees to feel he owes it to her to let her make decisions about the house since he uprooted her life when they moved. He now regrets breaking off the relationship with Liv, and especially the cowardly way he did it. Now that he has seen her again, he can’t stop thinking about her and he also dwells more on the ways he and Maeve are different. The reader will soon pick up on his selfish streak. He can’t resist going to pay Liv a call at Glenkeen.

Liv is vulnerable, and although she knows it’s not right, she allows Aiden back into her life and Glenkeen to become their love nest, feeling confident they won’t be found out. When they are, Aiden moves in with Liv and the two plan to continue the repairs on Glenkeen, grow a garden for Aiden’s vegetables, and spend the rest of their lives together there. That’s when things get really complicated.

The author does a great job in developing the characters enough so that you will feel for all of them as the plot works itself out. The author has injected enough realism into this novel to make a happily ever after ending impossible. Aiden’s rash decision to dump Liv years ago has limited his options once they find each other again. When married people who have affairs also have children, there are consequences beyond one’s own feelings.

Who Pays the Price of an Affair? A Review of Out of the Blue by Gretta Mulrooney

As I read this book, I bled in my heart with each character who was hurt. The characters had to deal with love, responsibility, lust, and selfishness as they lived out their lives in the book. The love nest at Glenkeen was invaded and Liv and Aiden could not ignore making hard decisions that would affect more lives than their own. It is only after Liv makes one of those hard decisions that her Great Uncle Owen reveals an old family secret that explains much that Liv had wondered about.

This book raises many questions about the nature of love. When the chemistry is right between two people, does it justify their following their feelings when doing so will break up one or two families? Who is to know if this kind of love will last any longer than the love for the previous partner lasted? Should people in love expect to always love everything about their marriage? If they have differences does it justify looking elsewhere for happiness? And what about the cases where people fall in love accidentally without ever really wanting to find someone else? Is an affair ever right? What can one do to affair-proof a marriage?

 OUT OF THE BLUE a gripping novel of love lost and found How to Help Your Spouse Heal From Your Affair: A Compact Manual for the Unfaithful How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage Intimacy After Infidelity: How to Rebuild and Affair-Proof Your Marriage Recovering Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity

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Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge

The Family Dynamics

Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge deals with a dysfunctional family, and specifically the relationship between three sisters and their mother. During the book we learn that the oldest sister, Monica, a famous actress now in wheelchair,  had been sexually abused by her father while a child. Her mother Betty, a battered wife had known, but not stopped it.

 

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge
License CCO, https://pixabay.com/en/dependent-dementia-woman-old-age-441406/

Anna, who is in the process of losing the pounds that have always made her feel ugly in comparison to her gorgeous sister, cares for Monica by day and their mother Betty by night. Monica pays Anna very little but makes heavy demands on her time and energy. Anna puts up with it because it’s the only way she can afford to pay for help in caring for Betty, who has dementia and can’t be left alone. Anna would love to be free to live her own life again, but in spite of Edna’s urging, Anna simply hasn’t the heart to put her mother in a nursing home. 

Anna pays Edna to help Betty in the daytime, but Monica’s money makes that possible . Arcela is paid to help Monica during the night when Anna can’t be with her. The third sister, Liz, does very little to help Anna with Monica or her mother. She is divorced and has a child.

Anna resents having Monica dominate her life while constantly putting her down, especially about her plump figure and unstylish clothes. As the book unfolds you soon understand as you watch Anna and Monica interact what a toxic situation Anna is in.

 

The Intervention

Book Review of Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge
Public Domain courtesty of Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/drink-glass-alcohol-beverage-1031701/

Monica is an alcoholic.  When Anna can no longer face dealing with the drunken Monica, she finally persuades a reluctant Liz  join her for an intervention to insist Monica enter a live-in rehab program.

Liz resists but finally agrees, and she and Anna participate in group therapy during family week as part of the treatment plan. In the therapy process Anna and Liz learn much more about each other and begin to build a better relationship.  Anna also falls in love with Marc, one of the therapists there. He reveals he has a wife he still loves who is in a mental institution.

Murder?

After Monica comes home from rehab, she seems to be abstaining for a while, but then starts drinking again. After a confrontation where Anna hands in her resignation, she returns home exhausted physically and mentally and goes to bed early.  It is  Arcela’s night off, so Monica is alone. The next morning when Arcela arrives at  work, Monica is found dead in her swimming pool. Anna is arrested for her murder. As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.

Ironically, just as it appears Anna might finally find happiness, it seems she may have to spend the rest of her life in prison. You’ll have to read the book to see what happens next — to Anna, to Liz, to Mark,  to Betty and to all the characters in the subplots I didn’t introduce.

My Response to the Book and Recommendation

This book held my interest from beginning to end. I so wanted to see Anna stand up to Monica, who uses every bit of her acting talent to continue to manipulate Anna and keep her from having a satisfying life. Anyone who has ever lived with or had an alcoholic in the family can relate to Anna’s discouragement and frustration.  The romance with Marc,  Anna’s arrest, their search for the real killer, and watching the murder hearing made it hard for me to put the book down until everything was resolved.

I would  recommend this book to anyone who has suffered at the hands of alcoholics or been abused as a child or by a husband or boyfriend.  Friends and those trying to help such people will also find this book meaningful. Even if you’ve led a fairly normal life, you will find it easy to become emotionally involved with the well-developed characters in the book and enter into their lives.


After reading Wish Come True, I’d like to go back  and read the other books in the Carson Springs Series . Although Wish Come True can easily stand alone, I wish I’d read the two earlier books in the series first. I just stumbled upon this book, but you can start at the beginning. You can also save by buying all three books at once for your Kindle. I have a Kindle Paperwhite, which I reviewed in Should You Buy a Kindle Paperwhite? 

I also reviewed The Replacment Wife by Eileen Goudge – another book you might enjoy.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, A Book Review

From Fig Tree to Hospital

Many of us can’t wait to get to heaven, but most of us can’t come back to  earth and talk about what we see there. Mrs. Elner Shimfissle of Elmwood Springs, a small town in Missouri, has that opportunity. As this comedy/mystery novel unfolds, readers experience everything with Elner in Heaven while her neighbors think she is dead.

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
In public domain courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/wasp-tree-nest-insects-animal-87900/

The whole Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven adventure started when the elderly widow Elner had just wanted pick a few figs to make some preserves “for that nice woman who had brought her a basket of tomatoes.” Even though she had promised her niece Norma she would not climb that ladder to pick figs anymore, she didn’t  want to  bother Norma’s husband Macky for just the few figs she needed. What she didn’t know until she accidentally poked it was that there was a wasp nest in the fig tree. First she found herself “with some boy wearing a green shower cap and a green smock, all excited, talking a mile a minute to five other people running around the room, also in green shower caps, green smocks, and little green paper booties on  their feet.”

I quoted these sentences to give you a feel for Elner’s way of describing things. We follow her thoughts on past hospital experiences, nurses no longer wearing white, whether she’d turned her oven off before climbing the tree, and whether her cat  Sonny had eaten his breakfast.  All the while she wondered what all those medical personnel were saying, since she didn’t have her hearing aids in.  She is afraid of facing Norma and losing her ladder privileges for life. As she is reflecting, she finally decides to take a nap.

Meanwhile, we peak back at what has happened since Norma, who is nervous anyway, learns from a neighbor that Elner has fallen from the tree again and almost faints. We watch the town react to the news and we get to know Elner’s friends and the rest of her family.

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie FlaggLess than an hour after she started her nap, Elner woke up in a dark room, aware of hospital sounds, but not seeing anyone. She begins to wonder if they have all forgotten about her and whether Norma even knows she’s there. She doesn’t hurt, but after an hour she is wondering why no one has come to get her. She gets up and begins to walk toward the voices she hears. At the end of a hall of empty rooms, she sees an elevator, and it started going up before she even pushed any buttons.

 

Elner is Declared Dead

Meanwhile, back at the hospital,  which is in St Louis, the doctor in charge of Elner’s case informs Norma and Macky that Elner is dead. Norma collapses and they barely caught her before her head hit the floor. The neighbors back in Elmwood Springs had already gotten the news of Elner’s death though a nurse at the Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagghospital. They set to   work caring for Sonny, and making sure everything at Elner’s house was turned off and secure.

We see and hear all the conversations as the neighbors and what’s left of Elner’s family absorb the news and do a bit of gossiping.  At the mortuary, they  have already started the arrangements, and Cathy at the Elmwood Springs Courier is considering what to write in Elner’s obituary.

Elner Discovers She’s in Heaven

Meanwhile, Elner has come to the end of her elevator ride, gets off, and has no idea where she is. As she looks up and down the clean white marble walls, someone who looks just like Ginger Rogers walks by carrying some black tap shoes and says ‘Hey!” to her before moving on.  Elner finally gets to a reception desk and discovers her long dead younger sister Ida sitting behind it.

She asks Ida what she’s doing there after they all thought she was dead and had had a funeral and everything. Ida confirms it’s really her and tells Elner, “…if you recall, the last thing I said to Norma was ‘Norma, when I’m dead, for God’s sake, do not let Tot Whooten do my hair.’ I even gave her the number of my hairdresser to call, paid the woman  for my appointment in advance, and what did Norma do? The first thing she did when I died was to let Tot Whooten do my hair.”

They continue to discuss the circumstances surrounding the hair issue as Elner is convinced this is indeed her sister Ida. Finally Ida gets it across to Elner that she is also dead and this is Heaven.

Elner Returns to Life

I will not tell you anymore about Elner’s adventures in Heaven, for will see them for yourself if you read the book. They ended quickly enough when Elner was sent back. As her body is about to be picked up for cremation and Norma, Macky, and Norma’s daughter  Linda are silently  saying goodbye, Elner startles them by saying “I know you’re mad at me, but I wouldn’t have fallen if those wasps hadn’t gone after me.”

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Photo ©B. Radisavljevic

That’s when all hell breaks loose at the hospital. The nurse screams, the doctors and staff run in from all directions with machines, and Elner is taken for an MRI. The same nurse who had told the neighbors back in Elmwood Springs about Elner’s death calls back to announce she didn’t die after all. The neighborhood grape-vine goes into reverse to call the funeral home and the newspaper, and anyone else involved in funeral arrangements.

The Hospital Calls in the Lawyers

Meanwhile, the hospital administrators are lawyering up sure they will be facing a lawsuit for declaring Elner dead too soon. We learn a bit about what goes on behind the scenes in hospitals and see hospital politics in action. Norma is immediately pressured into signing a release that includes waiving all rights to sue.

Just to be on the safe side, a sleazy lawyer, Winston Sprague, and his paralegal get to Elner alone for a deposition. Norma, the only one Elner has told about her experience in Heaven, is scared to death Elner will tell someone else and be considered crazy. Since she had promised Norma not to mention the trip to Heaven to anyone, when Elner is asked by Winston for the whole truth about the events of the day, the only out-of-body experience she mentions is being above the hospital, looking down, and seeing a brown shoe with spikes beside the chimney. What the lawyers don’t know is that Norma has no intention of suing anyway.

Norma Is Still Not Sure There’s a Heaven

Norma, meanwhile is trying to find some assurance there really is life after death. Macky doesn’t believe in an afterlife and tells Norma that people often have these near death experiences. The doctor confirms it. That ruins Norma’s hope that Elner really did go to Heaven and come back.

The Mystery and Changing Lives

Book Review of Can't Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
CCO Pixabay.com

The rest of the book shows us some of the best parts of small town life and how people look after each other even as they sometimes drive each other crazy with their idiosyncrasies. After Elner returns, we learn some of the secrets she’s been keeping for her friends. When Ruby, Elner’s next door neighbor, is cleaning Elner’s house, she decides to empty the laundry basket. She finds a loaded gun hidden at the bottom. She tells Macky, who tries to find out how it got there, but even when Elner returns home, she won’t tell. Only the reader hears the story.

As an indirect result of Elner’s experience, many people’s lives are changed for the better. People are portrayed realistically, and you probably know people much like them. Even Sprague becomes a better person. He is humbled when his curiosity takes him to the roof after getting keys to the locked doors. He searches everywhere and finally, almost hidden, stuck beside a chimney, he finds the shoe. He has to pry it away. Then he researches how it might have gotten there until it all makes sense. He realizes that what Elner told him was true.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven: My Opinion and Recommendation

I loved Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven. The well-developed characters are the sort of people I wouldn’t mind having as neighbors. Their conversations and adventures kept me laughing, though  the gun incident was far from funny. It showed what Elner was made of. The plot was a bit unrealistic, but it was carefully crafted to reveal the facets of each character’s personality. Given the cast of characters, it was believable.

This book will probably appeal most to those over fifty or to those raised in the South. Some characters, though aware of changing cultural values, unashamedly admit to being politically incorrect. Their comments express the values they grew up with. If those who aim to be politically correct read this, they will be sure to find something to take offense at in the things Tot Whooten, the hairdresser, says.  Most people will realize that Tot is simply who she is, expressing her own opinions that the author doesn’t necessarily share. Most people will  find this a hilarious read. Why not pin the photo below to share this review with your friends. 

BOOK REVIEW OF CAN’T WAIT TO GET TO HEAVEN BY FANNIE FLAGG

I also enjoyed Fannie Flagg’s, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I’m looking forward to reading Fannie’s other books, some of which are listed below. I especially want to read Standing in the Rainbow. It has the same characters as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven and had I known about it , I probably would have read it first.


Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
CCO: https://pixabay.com/en/computer-laptop-macbook-work-911165/

I thoroughly enjoyed  this romance mystery, Morning Comes Softly –the story of a lonely Louisiana librarian, Mary Warner, who took a risk to find love. While her library pages were putting newspapers away one day, they happened to see a personal ad for a wife placed by a Montana rancher, Travis Thompson, who was caring for his brother’s orphaned children after he and his wife had been killed in a drunk driving accident. The pages encourage Mary to apply, but she rebuffs them. She had given up on the idea of ever finding a husband and at first she rejected the idea. Then she began to realize she did want marriage and children and the thought of the orphaned children of the rancher’s brother and his wife touched her heart.

Travis loves his brother’s three children, but doesn’t know the first thing about parenting and he can’t cook. He realizes he can’t be a real father to the children while running the ranch, and he’s afraid the social workers who check on the children will put them in foster care if he doesn’t satisfy them that someone capable will be looking after them. He has been persuaded by his friends to place the ad, and as a last resort, he does.

Mary takes the risk of answering the ad, and a correspondence develops between Travis and Mary, in which even the children have input. After several letters have gone back and forth, there is finally a phone call, and Mary goes to the ranch to meet them and marry Travis.

Book Review of Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber
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The wedding is just the first step to turning five people  into a family. I can relate because my husband and I adopted two older children. We also cared for my oldest nephew for the year his parents could not be home with him. It’s never an easy adjustment to build a family from from people who have not all lived with each other before. Love comes softly. Mary learns to love Travis and the children. She is not so sure that all of them love her back. Step-parents have to earn love and trust from their step-children.

Mary’s relationship with Travis is also awkward because neither seems anxious at first to consummate the marriage. Travis really wanted a caretaker for his children more than he wanted a real wife. He is obsessed with finding the drunk driver who is responsible for the death of his brother and sister-in-law, and spends most of his free time doing his own investigation. That is also a major thread in this book. He has promised himself and his brother’s oldest son that he will find and bring that person to justice. Things come to a head when the sheriff closes the investigation.

I had a good idea who the killer was from the time the subplot reached its climax. The author dropped plenty of clues from which the reader can figure it out. The question is whether Travis can forgive. Until he can, it doesn’t appear the marriage will ever become healthy either.

I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book. I admired Mary’s determination to take a risk and commit herself to making a very unusual marriage work. I genuinely liked her as a person. It was a bit harder to identify with Travis’s hatred for the person responsible for the accident that killed his brother, though I appreciated his willingness to commit himself to taking in his dead brother’s children. It’s hard not to love the children as each responds individually and age-appropriately to the loss of their parents and being thrust into a newly forming family. I even felt a bit sorry for the “villain” and his family, though I won’t spill the beans as to their identities. I don’t want to spoil your own detective work.

If you like romance with a touch of mystery and you enjoy watching families with a rough start overcome their relationship problems, I believe you won’t want to miss Morning Comes Softly by Debbie Macomber.

Read my Reviews of two of the Rose Harbor romances pictured  below on Review This!


Legal Thrillers by Mark Gimenez

 

Gimenez The Common Lawyer
Buy The Common Lawyer at Amazon

Does every life matter? Mark Gimenez deals with this question in his legal thrillers. I reviewed the The Color of Law, on Review This recently. I finished The Common Lawyer two days ago.

Each of these books got off to a slow start and then started moving so fast I didn’t want to put it down. In fact, once I reached the point where the action picked up, I couldn’t go to bed until I finished the The Common Lawyer. In each book the lawyer protagonist is faced with a life-changing moral dilemma where he has to weigh conscience against money.

The reason the books get off to a slow start is that Gimenez wants to be sure the reader gets to know the main character very well before he goes into action. So after a short Prologue in which a mother helps her five-year-old daughter escape from a research hospital where she is being used a guinea pig in experiments – we meet Andy Prescott.

Andy is a lawyer who only got admitted to law school because his mother was on the faculty of the University of Texas. He barely made it through law school and only passed the bar on his third attempt. He cannot get a decent job in the legal profession, but stumbles on a way to earn enough to support his biking lifestyle by getting traffic tickets dismissed. He had discovered that if he asked for a jury trial for his clients, the calendar would be backed up so far it might take two years to get to court. By the time of the trial, the officer would not come in to testify and the case would be dismissed. Andy would get tickets dismissed for a $100 fee with a guarantee that if the ticket were not dismissed, he would pay it himself. He had never had to pay a ticket. That’s a good thing, because he never had enough money to pay a ticket.

Andy’s office is in a part of Austin known as SoCo because of its location on South Congress Avenue. It would be helpful to see a map and other information about SoCo as you read this book. A good portion of this book is spent on Andy’s bike rides in the Austin area. You will enjoy the books more if you have a map in front of you, or at least have a map to consult, The web site shows you not only a map, but also a photo of Guero’s Taco Bar, one place Andy was often found. Another place Andy would hang out with his friends was Jo’s Hot Coffee. The Jo’s Hot Coffee Facebook Page will help you visualize that part of Andy’s lifestyle, since it has photos and even a video. It is dog friendly, so Andy often takes his dog Max there at breakfast time and buys muffins for him, too. Geography is more important in this book than in some others because a lot of the action takes place in the restaurants and on bike trails or the streets of SoCo.

Back to Andy’s office. Andy rents a very small office space located above Ramon’s Body Art. Ramon is Andy’s landlord and Andy pays $200 a month for his space and to share Ramon’s computer and restroom. Tattoos are an important part of SoCo culture. Not having a tattoo marks one as an outsider. Andy’s desk is a card table. His advertising is by business card and word of mouth. Many of his friends collect tickets people drop off for him. He appears at Municipal Court to get the tickets dismissed. Andy lives in a one-bedroom apartment in SoCo and can only afford it because it is awaiting renovation, and his landlord was transferred to California and isn’t thinking about it.

Andy lives to ride his mountain bike. He is a daredevil who carries extreme sports to their limits. He has crashed and totaled bikes many times. He runs red lights in the city. Near the beginning of the book he is going full speed with no brakes and has to take his bike over a high ledge on a back trail in the Barton Creek Greenbelt because three elderly lady hikers are looking at a map in the middle of the trail and freeze when they see him coming at them, unable to stop. He either has to hit them or go over the side. He gets pretty beat up, but doesn’t break any bones. He was lucky enough to land in the lake. His bike is history. His wealthy friend Tres was with him and helped him get to a safer place to rest. Andy always rode as fast as possible and took unnecessary risks.

When he wasn’t working or riding his bike, he sat around Guero’s Taco Bar or Jo’s Hot Coffee with his three best friends. Tres had a trust fund and a “hot” girlfriend, the kind Andy would like but only money could attract. Dave and Curtis were friends from Andy’s UT days. Curtis was a math TA at UT, and the friends relied on him for any kind of tech support they needed. While they were consuming food and beverages, all but Tres read the personal ads in the Lover’s Lane section of the online Austin Chronicle, trying to find some girl to go out with. The first chapters of the book focus on watching Andy go about his daily routines, wishing he had more money for a better bike, talking to the judge at court, meeting his buddies, riding his bike, thinking about how to find a “hot” girl, and living a life that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.

Then one day a billionaire, Russell Reeves, well-known philanthropist, shows up at his office with his driver, Darrell, and his life changes. Reeves was referred by his secretary whose ticket Andy got dismissed. Reeves wants to renovate some old properties to create a low income housing development, but is afraid if he sends a high-powered corporate lawyer into SoCo, the populace will fight him just because he’s from the wealthy part of town. So he hires Andy, who is already accepted by the community, to convince the people to approve of the renovation. Russell offers Andy $400 a billable hour for this. Andy accepts, does his job, and gets a great new mountain bike and a motorcycle with money enough left over to buy his mother a proper birthday present and move into nicer living quarters. The girls finally know he’s alive.

Then Russell wants him to take on another assignment. According to Reeves, he has 17 ex-girlfriends he did not treat well in his younger days and he wants to make things right with them. He asks Andy to find them, talk to them to see how they are doing, and take their pictures so that he can make sure they are the right women. He will give Andy a trust fund to pay expenses, including hiring a private detective. As Andy goes down the list, he finds the first six women, each of whom happens to have one very sick child with a condition medical science can’t cure. But the seventh woman can’t be located and the detective says it’s because she doesn’t want to be found.

On his mother’s birthday, Andy visits his parents at their more rural home. They inquire about Andy’s new job. They press Andy for details about the new assignment, which seems rather strange to them. Andy thinks it’s all good, but his parents are wary. They are liberals who don’t trust those who got rich in corporate America. Even though Reeves has used a lot of his money for good, Andy’s parents think Andy is being used and is likely to be caught in a trap. His father warns him that ‘when things don’t seem right, they’re usually not.’ Even Andy has to admit that the cover story for his assignment to find the women doesn’t make much sense.

Here’s more you should know about Reeves. His seven-year-old son Zach has a rare incurable form of cancer. The doctors think he won’t last more than a year. Reeves has spent freely of his billions to try to find a cure. He has even opened The Reeves Research Institute on the campus of UT. So far, it hasn’t helped find a cure any faster. He s despairing, afraid he will lose his son. One study has been published by an anonymous doctor that indicates a “Person X” has stem cells that might help Zach.

Andy’s father, Paul, is also dying of cancer. He needs a new liver, but has at least a two-year wait to get one. Andy would like to save his father. Both Andy and Reeves would do anything possible to save their loved ones. Andy has met Zach and played video games with him. He admires Zach’s fighting spirit. Zach asks Andy for a private conversation and wants to talk about death, since Zach couldn’t get his father to talk to him about it, so Andy tries to answer his questions. Zach has a genius I.Q. but that doesn’t tell him all he wants to know about what’s ahead for him.

Meanwhile, Andy hires a detective who is willing to stray from approved legal practices, unlike the detective Russell had recommended. He does locate the seventh woman. Andy finds her and talks to her, but her seven-year-old daughter is perfectly healthy. He is surprised by this. The woman, though, says she is fine and needs no help. (Andy had given each of the first six women a million dollars from Russell, and Russell had also used his influence to get the very best medical help for the children who needed to get into special facilities. ) By the time Andy gives Russell the address of the seventh woman, she disappears again.

Andy finally confronts Russell about the parts of his story that don’t make sense and accuses him of deceiving him about the purpose of finding the women. Russell comes clean and admits he is looking for the patient with the perfect immune system – Patient X. He is convinced the seventh woman, or her daughter, is Patient X. Andy keeps looking, but becomes unsure it’s the right thing to do. The list was actually the mothers of the children who were part of the experimental research referred to in the Prologue. Reeves had somehow gotten the list of patient names and their mothers, knowing that Patient X had been one of them.

Meanwhile, two people approach Alvin Adams, a research publication editor, in Queens. Adams had edited the research article about Patient X. The first to approach him is a lawyer, Mr. Smith, who bribes him to reveal the confidential name of Anonymous, who did the research. Adams stuffs the envelope containing the bribe money into his pocket and goes out to try to drink away a headache. As he starts home he is approached by someone in a black sedan who demands to know what Alvin told the lawyer. When he refuses, the man pulls a gun and asks him if the confidentiality is worth dying for. He decides not and reveals Tony Falco’s name. The man kills him anyway. Meanwhile, Tony Falco has moved his research to China where the political environment makes it easier for him to conduct his research.

By the time you get to this part of the book, you realize that two parties are both trying to find Patient X. Russell sees her as the only hope of saving his son. The thugs hired by the pharmaceutical companies want to kill her, but Andy doesn’t know about them yet. Andy is still looking for the woman he now knows is Patient X to help Zach, and maybe his father. But when he locates her again, the plot takes a surprising twist.

Andy has to choose between betraying his client, Reeves, and being disbarred while also losing the money that will make life easier for himself, or risking the life of Patient X by making her visible again. By this time Andy has become close to Zach and may also be falling in love with the mother of Patient X. His creative solution to this dilemma will have you on the edge of your seat until the book is finished.

Alerts: Some readers may be offended by the way some men seemed to consider women mere sexual playthings, and others may be offended by the portrayal of the anything goes dress and mores of some of the people. Parts of the plot are highly unrealistic, but unless  extreme biking in large doses and bike chases bore you, you will still enjoy the book.

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Cancer is the Villain in These Youth Novels

Cancer is the Villain in These Novels  for Young Adults

These two books aimed at teens and young adults do not have happy endings, so be warned. The books are very different in tone, but cancer is the villain in both of them.

Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1): The Plot

Viktor and Christine Homeless in Amarillo

The first book, Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1) opens with two homeless people, a father, Viktor Daaé, and his eleven-year old daughter, Christine,  leaving the Greyhound Station in Amarillo, Texas, as it closes on a snowy night. Someone directs them to a shelter. They receive kind treatment.

Before leaving, Viktor takes the stage in the dining hall with his violin, which he always carries in its case, and Christine sings with a voice developed far above what one would expect for her age. When she sings, it’s said to be with the voice of an angel.

Homeless In California

When they leave the shelter, they head for California, where Viktor hopes to find work with his violin.  He hopes to  play in a symphony orchestra someday. He had been a musician in Chicago until his wife died of cancer. Their goal had always been to go to Los Angeles to enroll Christine in the Belen Conservatory of Music. They wanted  Christine to train to develop her vocal talent. Now Viktor is determined to carry on with that dream.

Cancer is the Villain in These Youth Novels

To earn money for food when they get to Santa Monica, father and  daughter  play and sing on the Promenade. A policeman says they need a permit to play there and shoos them away. They discover government policies make it hard for the very  poor to make a living . The process they go through to get a permit is indicative of this. They slept in the park that night.

Viktor Finds Work and a Place to Live

The next day they go to City Hall to get a permit. Viktor gets a part time job in a local coffee shop, but only because the owner sees Christine.  Viktor convinces the owner he will be reliable – that he’s not a drifter. The cafe owner helps Viktor get a room in a transient motel and says he’ll pay the first week and take it out of Viktor’s wages. Christine must stay inside all day and let no one in.

At night they busk on the pier to bring in more cash. Victor had been a professional violinist in Chicago, and Christine is a musical prodigy, so they quickly find an appreciative audience and collect a lot of money in Viktor’s violin case. One whose attention they attract is Zoë, a young woman dressed all in black. Next to her is twelve-year-old Raoul, dressed in a private school uniform.

There are frequent flashbacks in the book. We learn how Viktor met Christine’s mother and what happened to her.  We discover how Viktor, originally from Sweden, came to be in America.  We also find out how other characters introduced in the book become important in Victor and Christine’s story.

My Review of Raoul (The Angel of Music Book 1)

The book is well written.The author provides enough background to help readers of all ages who are paying attention anticipate what will happen next. The end is sad, but there is still room for hope.

I enjoyed watching the characters interact, especially Raoul and Christine.  Zoë is a sort of governess to Raoul and lives with his very wealthy family. All have music connections to the Belen Conservatory of Music. As the book progresses, Raoul and Christine become friends, and we begin to wonder if they will have a future together.

I see one fault in the book from an adult standpoint. Everything falls into place a bit too neatly to be realistic. The characters are vivid and developed enough so that one can predict how they will behave. Although many of the minor characters are no angels, the main characters are all caring people who like to help others.

It’s a heart-warming story, if a bit sentimental in tone, and I enjoyed it. I suppose one could call it a coming-of-age story. It is very sympathetic to the homeless. It will be of special interest to young adult music lovers. The complete trilogy below is a modern retelling of The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. This book is just the first volume.
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Here is the complete  trilogy.

 Raoul (The Angel of Music) (Volume 1) Erik (The Angel of Music) (Volume 2) Ghost (The Angel of Music) (Volume 3)

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James Patterson and Emily Raymond’s First Love: A Review


At first I couldn’t believe Patterson was writing a book whose main characters had no qualms about breaking the law. It stars two teens who are in love and afraid to admit it to each other. It begins in Klamath Falls, Oregon.

The Characters

Axi, the girl, is sixteen wants to run away from home. She wants her close friend Robinson, the boy, seventeen, to come with her. She has the itinerary all planned and has decided they  will go by bus. Robinson agrees to come. He has other ideas about the transportation, though, and wants to ride in style.

He steals a Harley. This freaks Axi out. She is basically a good kid. In fact, Robinson’s pet name for her is GG – Good Girl. She is the more academically inclined of the two. Her name for him is Scalawag.

Axi’s Family

It is three weeks from the end of the school term. Robinson hasn’t been going to school anyway. He doesn’t seem to have a family — at least he never mentions one. Axi is a good student, but she thinks getting away is important enough to ditch those last three weeks of classes.

We learn that Axi’s mom had left after her other daughter, Axi’s little sister Carole Ann, died of cancer. Axi’s dad was an alcoholic. Before she left on the trip at 4 AM, Axi kissed him goodbye, but she didn’t wake him or leave a note. She wasn’t happy with any of the drafts she had written so she skipped the note altogether.

On the Lam

On their travels the two do many wild and illegal things, stealing other vehicles as they go, and even worse. Axi is often terrified at some of the things Robinson does, but she goes along with them. She follows Robinson’s directions, hoping they won’t land in jail. They never did suffer the kind of consequences you might expect for their behavior, but readers won’t really care.

You are far into the book and past the crazy stuff when the real truth of how and where Robinson and Axi met comes out and Axi has to deal with a crisis. I won’t spoil it for you.

My Opinion of First Love

 

 First Love

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Readers will enjoy watching Axi and Robinson banter back and forth and tease each other, and they will sympathize with how vulnerable the two feel when it comes to expressing their hidden feelings. The book’s beginning is so humorous that readers are caught off-guard when the first hints of how the book will end come out.

This book is outrageous, unrealistic, and funny at the beginning. The humor continues until almost the end. The characters are engaging and even if you don’t approve of all they do, you will still love them. You will want to grab some tissues as you near the end as you finally come face to face with what is real life for too many of today’s youth.

Review of Resilience by Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards died about five years ago of breast cancer. She had  announced the diagnosis in 2004 after the election in which her husband, John Edwards, lost his bid to become Vice President of the United States. Eight years earlier, in 1996, the Edwards had lost their 16-year-old son, Wade, when the car he was driving was pushed off the road by the wind and he lost control of it. At the end of  2006. Elizabeth learned of what she called John’s “indiscretion”  with another woman, and at the beginning of 2010 the two separated after John publicly  admitting fathering a child with another woman.

Quote from Resilience by Elizabeth EdwardsElizabeth’s first book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, which I have not yet read, was published in September, 2006. Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, followed in May, 2009, a year and a half before her death. In this book, Elizabeth Edwards shares her journey of bereavement, fighting her cancer, and dealing with her husband’s betrayal. She also reveals how hard it was to have planned one kind of life and to face the fact that the life she had planned was going to be much different than she had been prepared for.

Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards grew up in a military family. Her father was a Navy pilot, and she spent part of her childhood in Japan. That was when she first learned a bit about resilience from her tutor, Toshiko. Toshiko had been a beautiful woman. She had trained for a decade in one of the top courses in Japan to become a geisha , and her future had looked very bright. When she finished her course, she went home to visit her parents in Hiroshima in August, 1945. Unfortunately for her,  that was when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on that city.

Toshiko was knocked to the ground and badly injured. Her skin was charred and her hair was burned. After months of treatment, she was able to resume what for some might have been a normal life, but it was not the life she had trained and planned for, since she had lost her beauty — an essential for her planned career. Elizabeth shares Toshiko’s story and what she learned from her.

A large part of the book deals with Elizabeth’s internal processing of Wade’s death and her own grief work. I lost my Jason when he was fourteen, two years younger than Wade, also in an accident. I can identify with much that Elizabeth shares here. I believe most bereaved moms will recognize her feelings as some part of their own. She got more support than many of us had, since she was a public figure who got thousands of letters from the public. She also got support from internet support groups, which did not exist yet when I lost Jason. My support came from my family, church and other home school families.

Bereaved mothers will find much here that may help them keep going as Elizabeth shares her own experience of trying to put the pieces of her life back together. She shares her struggle to understand why her son, who was a good person, who did nothing to contribute to his accident happening, who had a bright future ahead, would die when he did. Why did God allow it?

Knowing what I do about grief, I personally believe that losing Wade may be a contributing factor in the other trials that follow. A major emotional stress, and the death of a child is one of the greatest a parent can face, can make the body more susceptible to disease. Although no scientific research proves a link between stress and breast cancer, Elizabeth mentions a common result of bereavement — not eating normally  and not being able to sleep.  A poor diet and sleep deprivation  can lower resistance to disease.

Here is more information on dealing with the death of a child. This article states that the death of a child can take a toll on one’s health. Research of long-term effects on bereaved parents indicates the death of a child from unnatural causes such as accidents can be associated with mortality of the mother: “Bereavement was associated with long-term mortality due to illness (e.g., cancer) for the mothers, presumably because of stress, a weakened immune system, or poor health behaviors.”

This same study indicates  that divorce rates among bereaved parents are eight times that of the norm. As far as we know, John’s infidelity did not begin until after his wife was diagnosed with cancer, eight years after Wade’s death. No one really ever gets over the death of a child — the thoughts of it just become less frequent over time. Perhaps the double blow of losing his son and the possibility of losing his  wife, added to the side-effects of her treatments and the frequent separations when he had to travel, were all contributing factors to the infidelity.

Be that as it may, whatever the causes, Elizabeth has to deal with it all. She shares from her heart how each challenge impacted her, what she felt, and what she did. She relates the help she got from others and how what she’d learned from her family had helped her face her own situations. She shares her doubts and her attempts to understand her faith in light of Wade’s death. Since the Plan A she had for her life had been blown apart, she tries to construct a Plan B.

In conclusion, Elizabeth makes it clear that each of us must find our  own path through pain and grief. We won’t all be on the same grief timetable. We aren’t competing with each other in the immensity of our grief nor in how well we handle it or how long it lasts. Most people will not have to deal with all three of Elizabeth’s sorrows at the same time, as she did. We will deal with whatever sorrows and challenges life throws at us. They won’t seem less just because someone else may have had more.

This book will not take your own pain away, if you are facing similar circumstances. It will not provide a plan to fix your life. That you will still need to work through yourself. It will give you some company as you work through grief and loss. It will encourage you to know that it is possible to find your own resilience.

 

 By Elizabeth Edwards: Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers

An Enticing Menu for Bookworms