In 2018 I’ve probably read at least 200 novels from cover to cover . A few I decided not to finish. Many were entertaining but not outstanding. Some were excellent, but I didn’t have time to review them. Here are the books that had the deepest impact on me in 2018 with links to their reviews:
These are the books I’ve read during the first four days of 2019. I will include some brief thoughts on each.
Until Now by Cristin Cooper
Billy met Bridget when she came into the diner he had unwillingly inherited. She was pregnant at 16 and homeless. She was hungry for the love her father never gave, and he kicked her out when he discovered she was pregnant. The college boy who seduced her thinking she was over 18 was not ready for marriage and told her to get an abortion. She had refused. It was in this situation she sought a warm place and a bit of food in Billy’s diner.
Billy was also lonely and unhappy, searching for love in the wrong way. He, too, had been rejected by one he thought loved him. Once Billy and the waitress Diane were aware of Bridget’s situation, they took her in and gave her work and a place to live above the diner. She raises her daughter Katie there and never marries. Billy hasn’t married any of his women friends, either. He wants to marry Bridget and she wants to marry him, but both are afraid to confess their love so they keep their relationship platonic. They center their attention on raising Katie, the one who brought them together.
The book opens on the day Katie is about to leave for college. Both Bridget and Billy wonder what will happen to their friendship then. The book jumps back and forth between time periods and relationships that both Bridget and Billy have as Katie grows up. I found the book engaging, but like most romances, a bit unrealistic. The ending, however, satisfied me.
Alert: There is some adult content.
The Rogue Reporter (A Police Procedural Mystery)
Written by Thomas Fincham (a pseudonym for Mobashar Qureshi, this is #2 in the Hyder Ali Series I started in 2014 with The Silent Reporter. The Rogue Reporter has many of the same characters, and I couldn’t put either book down. Fincham uses many of the same techniques he did in the first book. You can read my review of The Silent Reporter here. If you like suspense this author will keep you turning the pages.
Although I couldn’t stop reading this book, I had a tough time with a couple of torture scenes. They were brief, but it was hard to get through them. I don’t remember such scenes in the first book and I’m hoping the next books won’t have more than the normal violence and suspense you would expect to find in a detective novel. As I write this, the entire series is available in Kindle Unlimited where you can read it for free. You could probably finish it during the free trial period.
Eleventh Street: A Story of Redemption by Steven K Bowling
We first meet Lucas as he fights the Japanese Imperial Army and reminisces about the attack on Pearl Harbor he survived. We continue to see him fighting for his life in battlefield after battlefield throughout World War Two as he experiences the continual horrors of war. He had prayed plenty of genuine foxhole prayers, but after leaving the service he didn’t even go to church.
His older sister had married the brother of their church’s pastor, Buck Johnson, who simply called himself Pastor. As jobs got scarce in Kentucky, Pastor and most of those in his church, including Lucas’ other surviving siblings, moved to Hamilton Ohio to find work in the steel mills. Pastor converted the East Side Dance Hall into a church.
When he went to war, Lucas had left Maggie, the girl he loved, behind. She would not date him because she wanted to marry a God-fearing man and he didn’t appear to be one. When he returned to Hamilton, he sought Saturday night amusement at the East Side Dance Hall, since friends had recommended it. But it was quiet — except for a voice he recognized from the past: “Do you know the Lord today?…”
Maggie’s love had motivated Lucas to try to act like a Christian, but it was the Holy Spirit and Pastor that finally made him give his life to Christ at what had become the Eleventh Street Church. Lucas met the power of God through the ministry of Pastor. Pastor had no formal theological training, but it was obvious the Holy Spirit had called and equipped him.
We follow Lucas’s life and the life of Eleventh Street Church through three very different pastors. After Pastor’s death there was a gradual transition as new members joined the church and and older ones left. It becomes apparent to readers that the third pastor of the church after Pastor retired is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is leading the flock astray.
This book’s message is relevant for today’s church. Often pastor search committees may be more interested in a candidate’s advanced degrees and administrative abilities than in his dependence upon God. So many churches today that want to grow look to new music, new methods, and even new doctrine, to attract new members. They sometimes begin to depend more on these new ideas than on the Holy Spirit.
What happened to the Eleventh Street Church could happen to any church that begins to depend upon and follow a charismatic leader more than Christ himself. This thought-provoking novel will be of most interest to Christians.
Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar by Carol Guthrie Heilman
Agnus Hopper did not move to Sweetbriar Manor retirement home willingly. But when her forgetfulness causes the home she had shared with her late husband Charlie to burn down, she became homeless. She moved in with her daughter, Betty Jo, but Betty Jo could only handle that for three months. She then took Agnus to Sweetbriar, assuming that she would make friends and soon be happy there. Agnus knew better.
Within a few days Agnus knows something is very wrong with Sweetbriar and that the manager is hiding something. She is determined to find out what is really going on as she gets to know the other residents. She is especially concerned about her best friend from high school, Pearl, who no longer recognizes her.
Throughout this book and its sequel, which I’m still reading, you’ll meet a quirky cast of senior citizens trying to make the best of where life has put them. Agnus and her friends do their best to bring down their crooked manager so they can live in peace. In the sequel, Agnus finds the body of one of her husband’s friends not far from his grave. She is determined to find out who killed him and why.
Why does a person decide to become a surrogate mother? What makes a woman want to carry a child that belongs to someone else? To help a barren friend become a mother? Or as a way to earn money to start a new life?
When young Emily’s employer, Mrs. Stevenson, offers to pay her $100,000 to become her surrogate, Emily jumps at the chance. The cash would help her realize her dream of starting her own cafe.
She didn’t really like working for the Stevensons. She knew Mrs. Stevenson was cruel and manipulative. Emily had seen her falsely accuse and fire good employees who had done nothing wrong. She tried not to get on Judy Stevenson’s bad side, because she couldn’t afford to lose her job as housekeeper and cook for the rich couple. They even provided her with living quarters and she had nowhere else to go.
Emily discusses the Stevensons’ offer for her to become Judy’s surrogate with her best friend and fellow employee Brandon. He doesn’t understand how one becomes a surrogate. First she explains how the egg is implanted into her womb, adding that the doctor will explain more details after she signs a contract with Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer.
Brandon: …If you go through with this implant, they’ll hand you a hundred thousand dollars?….Just like that?
Emily: As soon as the baby is born, they’ll give me the money….They have a contract and everything….Don’t you see? I can leave here and find a place of my own. This is my only way out. A new start.
As Emily tries to convince herself it’s the right thing to do, it seems simple. She gets the implant, carries the baby to term, gives birth, and collects her $100,000. Brandon urges her to think it over for a couple of days before signing anything. He warns her that she could form a bond with the baby and not want to give it up. She dismisses the idea. She knows she’s not old enough at nineteen to raise a baby.
Into this discussion walks Mrs. Stevenson herself, but they hadn’t noticed at first that she was listening. She tells Brandon to get back to his gardening duties. As he’s leaving, this scene unfolds. Here’s how Emily tells it:
‘Oh, and Brandon, ‘ Mrs Stevenson pauses, awaiting his full attention. He turns and glares at her in complete defiance. A look I’ve never seen from him before. If you’ve ever heard the saying tension so thick you could cut it, then you understand my current situation. ‘I don’t pay you to give advice. If you would like to stay employed in this household, I suggest you mind your own business.’
‘But he was—‘ I start, but she silences me with a mere glance. She’s the type of woman who can smile at you and stare daggers into your soul at the same time. Something about her gives me the chills.
After Brandon leaves, Emily regrets ever telling him about the offer and her intention, thus provoking the confrontation. She is very fond of Brandon and is drawn to him. He has always been caring and gentle with her, unlike the many men her mother had brought home when she was growing up.
Her mother had kicked her out of the house the day she turned eighteen. She had worked at a diner until Mrs. Sevenson employed her and gave her a place to live.
Emily recognizes she’s attracted to Brandon, but is afraid he just sees her as a friend. He has been sharing his Christian faith with her.
Now Mrs. Stevenson approaches her, asking if she’s having second thoughts. She also tells Emily that if she decides not to become the surrogate, they will no longer have a place for her to stay. It will go to the person who does become a surrogate. Emily assures Mrs. Stevenson she will go through with the plan.
That night Brandon turns up in her living quarters unexpectedly and they continue the conversation. When Brandon leaves, the two are still at odds. Emily knows Brandon disapproves of her decision, but she hasn’t changed her mind.
Emily is anxious to talk to Brandon again, but try as she might she can’t find him anywhere on the grounds. At first she assumes he’s mad at her. She later discovers he’s been fired. She feels terrible. And she misses him.
Red Flags Emily Tried Not to Notice Before Signing the Surrogate Contract
Mr. Stevenson’s admonition to think about it at least overnight and his seeming discomfort over the transaction.
The provision in the contract that the money will be paid when she delivers a healthy baby
The lawyer’s statement that the contract is unconventional and that such transactions are normally done through an agency
Mr. Stevenson’s haunted look while urging Emily to think carefully before signing
The behavior of the doctor leading Emily to believe Mrs. Stevenson has had other surrogates
The words of Nurse O’Neill while giving Emily her medications, and the words the nurse mutters that she thinks Emily can’t hear, as well as the stories she tells Emily about Mrs. Stevenson’s past.
Her own observations of Mrs. Stevenson’s character, manipulative behavior, and selfishness
My Review of The Surrogate
I couldn’t put this book down from the moment I started reading. The main characters were well-developed, though I thought the plot was unrealistic. However I was so interested in what might happen next I was willing to overlook that. I believe the author’s main intent was to show how what seems to be a simple decision can be incredibly complex and even dangerous.
Emily appears to be a new Christian. She is blinded by her desire to escape Mrs. Stevenson’s employment and start her restaurant with the money she will get when the baby is born. She assumes everything will go as planned. It doesn’t.
After early testing, the doctor tells Mrs. Stevenson that there’s a chance the baby may be born with Down’s Syndrome, and Judy insists on an abortion. By this time Emily is bonding to the baby and she runs away with Brandon’s help to try to save the baby’s life. As it turns out she also needs to save her own. The reader is in suspense until the end as Emily and Brandon try to escape from Judy’s thugs . The action doesn’t stop.
The story reflects the author’s pro-life position and Christian values. There are plenty of Christian characters besides Brandon whose lives impact Emily’s in a positive way.
The book is suitable for both young adults and their mothers who want to read clean fiction with lots of suspense and a touch of romance. It delves into the ethical and emotional issues surrounding surrogate motherhood and abortion without being preachy. I recommend it.
Here are some of the other Christian novels I have reviewed that you may enjoy:
How Sweet the Soundby Amy Sorrells: The author uses this Christian novel to reveal the destructive patterns that can lead families and individuals to despair, but she also show us the way to Abba’s love and healing.
Tabitha by Vikki Kestell — A historical novel in which a young lady’s bad decision caused pain from which only the grace of God could deliver her
Inescapable: The Road to Kingdom: Is it possible to escape one’s past by running away? Lizzie Engel, born Amish, tries.
Grief impacts individually uniquely. A sudden death in an accident or suicide affects the survivors differently than a slow death from cancer or dementia. A violent death is different than a natural peaceful one. The type of loss often affects how survivors will respond. So do the beliefs of the dying person and their family about an afterlife. Grief has many faces, depending on the person grieving. Only one character in these three novels seems to value religion.
Luke, the protagonist of When I’m Gone, a widower with young children, has watched his wife die of cancer. In The High Cost of Flowers, an already dysfunctional family with adult children deals with a mother who has dementia. In The Storied Life of A.J Fikry, a widowed bookseller discovers a toddler a mother has left in his store’s stacks with a note, and it changes his life.
When I’m Gone, by Emily Bleeker
Luke, arrives home from his wife Natalie’s funeral with his children — Will, 14, May, 9, and Clayton, 3. Will’s eyes are red and wet. May says she’s hungry. Clayton is still sleeping in the car seat. Natalie’s mother, Grandma Terry, has left food for the family before making her escape. She has never liked Luke and had never wanted Natalie to marry him because Luke’s father was an alcoholic wife-beater.
Natalie had planned the perfect funeral for herself and took care of all the details before she died. She knew that Luke would have trouble coping with the house and children after her death so she planned that, too. When Luke walks into the house he finds the first of many almost daily letters from Natalie on the floor in front of the mail slot. They were definitely from Natalie, but who was delivering them?
The continuing letters help Luke cope with his life as a widower. Natalie’s best friend Annie helps out a lot, but she has her own secret.
Natalie knew Luke would need more help with the children than Annie could provide, so in one of her letters, she urged him to hire 21-year-old Jessie to watch the children after school. Why was it so important to her that Luke hire Jessie?
Luke also keeps running into a Dr. Neal in Natalie’s letters and as a contact on her phone. He doesn’t like the jealous feelings and suspicions that rise up in him. Who is this Dr. Neal? Why was he so important to Natalie?
Follow Luke and Annie’s grief journey as they get to know each other better. Find out Annie’s secret and who has been putting Natalie’s letters through the mail slot. Discover the secrets only Dr. Neal can reveal. Don’t miss When I’m Gone.
The High Cost of Flowers by Cynthia Kraack
Dementia is hard enough to for a family to deal with when there is an abundance of love between family members. When siblings alienate each other and fight constantly, it’s almost impossible to share the care and decision making.
Family matriarch Katherine Kemper and her neighborhood friend Janie had done everything together before Katherine had a stroke. The stroke left Katherine with dementia. Her husband Art tries to care for her at home with some help from Janie and his children Todd and Carrie.
As the book opens, Art reflects on the old pre-stroke Katherine he loved and wishes she were back. His old life of puttering in the garden and seeing friends is gone. He feels the pain and frustration of all who care for loved ones with dementia.
Art’s Life as Katherine’s Caregiver
Janie tries to help out, but the demented Katherine berates her and accuses her of stealing her diamond and trying to poison her with the food she often brings over. In the first chapter, Janie has brought over some chili, and Katherine refuses to eat it. She often has tantrums now.
As Art prepares to heat the chili, Katherine says: ‘That’s not one of our containers. Did that woman make that food? Are you going to eat out of it or is it poisoned just for me?’ Katherine is itching for a fight Art doesn’t want.
She crashes a soup bowl on the end of the granite counter sending shards flying everywhere. Then she stomps on the bowls, cuts her feet, and attacks Art with a piece of the glass. She then smashes another dish and picks up pieces of it to throw in Art’s face. One piece connects with Art’s forehead. When he demands to know what she’s doing, she replies:
I’m trying to make you ugly so women won’t want you. So you won’t put me away. I want you to bleed. like me.
Then she cries and reaches out for him. He gets a sharp pain in his chest and calls 911.
Meanwhile, their estranged older daughter Rachel is running along the shore of Lake Michigan in Chicago. She fights loneliness after her separation from her husband David since he had an affair. She is a trained therapist who has written family self-help books.
Later that evening she sits pondering the changes in her life as she eats dinner and works at home. Her parents’ physician, Dr. Wagner calls to inform her that both her parents are in the hospital and her siblings are both out of town. He asks Rachel to come to Minnesota and help out. He wants to place Katherine in a care facility for patients with dementia. Katherine, as well as Rachel’s siblings, have always opposed this, so Rachel anticipates a family fight.
A Portrait of a Dysfunctional Family
Katherine has always been domineering and abusive. Both her husband and children have been her victims. Rachel’s siblings Todd and Carrie are already alcoholics when we meet them in the book. Catherine has told Rachel not to call her “Mom” and doesn’t want her around. At family functions, Catherine has tantrums mixed with episodes of dementia.
It’s evident to the reader that Catherine is too sick for Art to be able to continue to care for her at home. Art, Todd, and Carrie try to pretend this isn’t true. After Catherine attacks Art with the broken glass, he realizes she needs more care than he can give and Art and Rachel move her to a care facility. Rachel supports him, but her siblings still resist.
They blame Rachel for moving to Chicago where she’s not close enough to help. She has really moved to keep herself and her son Dylan away from the Kemper family dysfunction. Except for Rachel, all of the adult Kempers drink too much. That’s how they deal with the family problems.
Families in Crisis, Hurting People
Author Cynthia Kraack offers us a window into the unhappy lives of the characters. We see their family dysfunction clearly whenever the family or siblings gather. It’s one thing to know about dementia and abuse intellectually. It’s another to see it happening as family members push each other’s buttons and use words to manipulate and hurt each other. Sibling rivalry hangs over all family interactions.
We watch as Katherine goes in and out of the real world within seconds. One minute she’s lucid and the next she’s wondering who that stranger in her room is or seeing long-dead family members around the dinner table. She may become suddenly violent, then wonder how her victim got hurt, and then cry like a baby. An observer might see all these behaviors within an hour. We see Katherine’s pain and confusion and her family’s pain as they watch.
Learn to recognize early signs of dementia in the video below.
My Personal Response to the Book
This book grabbed my attention from the first pages. The characters were so well developed you could almost predict what they would say or do by the middle of the book. The plot, though, had some twists I didn’t expect. I won’t give any spoilers.
The focal point of the book was Katherine and her dominance in the family. Everyone had to focus on her when in her presence. She was the elephant in the room when she wasn’t present. Ironically, at the end of the book, when Katherine finally dies, what’s left of the family is celebrating July 4 together, and no one was answering their phones when the nursing home called to notify them of her death. They had started a new tradition of turning them off when together.
I would recommend this book to those who have grown up in dysfunctional families or who give or have given care to those with dementia. Those who have alcoholics in their families or are grieving lost loved ones will probably identify with characters in this book, too. The book may also help those who need to make a decision about getting institutional care for a loved one unable to continue living at home.
Of all the main characters, the only ones I might have enjoyed spending time with were Rachel and Art. The others would tend to suck away my energy.
The book is well-written except for a couple of typos in the eBook that weren’t caught by an editor. The plot moves swiftly and many of the characters become more functional as the book progresses. Those who depend on alcohol and or drugs find that they aren’t a lasting cure for pain. Those who are willing to forgive hurts and face their problems honestly discover there is hope.
Get The High Cost of Flowersat Amazon for a revealing peek into the lives of a dysfunctional family caring for their mother who is no longer herself.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
No bookseller or bibliophile should miss this book by Gabrielle Zevin. Every chapter is prefaced with A. J. Fikry’s thoughts on specific stories which turn out to be significant in the plot. And who is A .J. Fikry?
A. J. Fikry is a grieving bookseller who lost his wife less than two years prior. She died in an accident driving an author home from a signing. He’s become a grumpy 39-year-old man who tries to drown his grief in drink, and he’s lost interest in his life and his bookstore Island Books on Alice Island. He has a very rare copy of Poe’s Tamerlane which he plans to sell someday to finance his retirement. Meanwhile, he keeps it in a locked glass case in the store below the apartment where he now lives alone. He has few real friends but very specific book tastes.
A Bad Start for a Relationship
Amelia Loman, a new sales rep with Knightley Press in the Boston area, is about to call on Fikry for the first time. She is the replacement for former rep, Harvey Rhodes. Although she has made an appointment to see Fikry, he doesn’t seem to be aware of it. She gets off to a bad start on the way to his office when her sleeve catches on a stack of books and knocks down about a hundred of them. Fikry hears the commotion, approaches her, and asks, ‘Who the hell are you?’ He tells her to leave.
A.J. says they have no meeting. He’d never gotten word of Harvey’s death. He reluctantly does let her in so she can pitch Knightley’s winter list. She doesn’t expect to get an order. She begins to tell him about her favorite book, Late Bloomer, but he says it’s not for him. He said Harvey knew what he liked and Amelia challenges him to share his likes and dislikes with her. He does.
Grief Leads to the Loss of Tamerlane
Later that night A.J. regrets treating Amelia so badly. He goes up to his apartment and reminisces about past book discussions with Harvey. He puts a frozen dinner in the microwave to heat, as usual, and while waiting he goes to the basement to flatten book boxes.
By the time he gets upstairs again his dinner is ruined. He throws it against the wall as he realizes that although Harvey meant a lot to him, he probably meant nothing to Harvey. On further reflection, he realizes that one problem of living alone is that no one even cares if you throw your dinner against the wall.
He pours a glass of wine, puts a cloth on the table, and retrieves Tamerlane from its climate-controlled case. Then he places it across the table from his chair and leans it against the chair where his wife Nic used to sit. Then he proposes a toast to it:
‘Cheers, you piece of crap,’ he says to the slim volume.
Then he gets drunk and passes out at the table. He “hears” his wife telling him to go to bed. One reason he drinks is to get to this state where he can talk to Nic again. `
When he wakes the next morning he finds a clean kitchen, a wine bottle in the trash, and no Tamerlane. The bookcase is still open. He hadn’t insured the book because he had acquired it a couple of months after Nic had died. In his grief, he forgot to insure it.
He runs to the police station and reports the theft to recently divorced Chief Lambiase. He admits everyone he knows is aware that he had the book. The police find no prints and the investigation goes nowhere. A.J. knows he’ll never see the book again.
After news of the theft gets out, Island Bookstore’s business picks up. After a day of rather difficult customers, A.J. closes the store and goes running. He doesn’t bother to lock the door. He doesn’t have anything worth locking up anymore.
J.J.’s review of Bret Harte’s Story “The Luck of Roaring Camp” introduces this chapter. In his review, he calls it an “Overly sentimental tale of a mining camp that adopts an ‘Ingin baby’ whom they dub Luck.” He admits not liking it much in college, but that it had brought him to tears as an adult.
When A.J. returns from his run, he hears cries coming from the children’s section. As he investigates the source, he sees a toddler holding the store’s only copy of Where the Wild Things Are. As A. J. asks her where her mother is, she cries and holds out her arms to him. Of course, he picks her up. Then he sees the Elmo doll on the floor with a note attached. The child is two-year-old Maya and the mother wants her to be raised in the bookstore.
A.J. reports the abandoned child to Chief Lambiase. Lambiase and A. J. decide that A.J. will keep the child until Monday when social services will arrive. The next day, the mother’s body washes to shore.
Are you wondering
What will happen to Maya?
Who is Maya’s father?
What happened to Tamerlane?
It’s fairly easy to guess the answers to the first two questions. The clues are there. As to the last, I don’t want to be a spoiler.
I will admit I loved the book, but I didn’t love all the characters. The author introduces Maya’s father early in the book. I didn’t like him then and didn’t change my opinion. He appeared in the book long before A.J. found Maya.
Grief and loss appear in many forms: bereavement, infidelity, suicide, terminal illness, and material loss. Yet there is also love. We watch as love for Maya transforms A. J. Fikry as surely as “Luck” transformed a mining camp’s residents.
Bibliophiles, writers, and booksellers will relate to A. J.’s constant references to and opinions of well-known books. He also describes events in his own life in terms of writing techniques and plots. Booksellers will be quite familiar with the problem customers Fikry deals with. They may or may not share his opinion of book signing parties.
All parents of toddlers will relate to the challenge that faces A.J. as he learns to care for Maya. Foster and adoptive parents will enjoy watching A. J. interact with Jenny, the young social worker who is stuck with Maya’s complicated case. By this time Maya and A.J. had developed a relationship. He was not ready to put her in the system unless he had a say in her placement. You can imagine how that went.
There is too much gold in the book to display in this small space. The characters are very well-developed. Several subplots and characters I have not described will also captivate readers. I loved the book even more the second time I read it. Please don’t miss this treasure if you love people or books.
Don’t miss our other reviews that also deal with how people face grief and loss.
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
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 had never 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.
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.
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.
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 fundraiser 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.
Wish Come True by Eileen Goudge deals with a dysfunctional family, and specifically the relationship between three sisters and their mother. Their father had sexually abused the oldest sister Monica when she was a child. Now she is a famous actress confined to a wheelchair. Her mother Betty, a battered wife, had known about the abuse, but not stopped it.
Anna, the most responsible sister, is trying to lose the extra pounds that have always made her feel ugly in comparison to her gorgeous sister. She cares for Monica during the day and their mother Betty at 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 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 Anna hasn’t the heart to put her mother in a nursing home.
Monica’s money enables Anna to hire Edna to help Betty during the day. 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 a divorcee with a child.
Anna resents the way Monica dominates her life and constantly puts her down. Monica belittles her 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.
Monica is an alcoholic. Anna can no longer face dealing with the drunken Monica. She finally persuades a reluctant Liz to join her for an intervention. She wants to insist Monica enter a live-in rehab program.
Liz resists but finally agrees. 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.
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 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, the search for the real killer, and watching the murder hearing made it hard for me to put the book down until the end.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has suffered abuse from alcoholics or family members as a child or adult. Friends and those trying to help such people will also find this book meaningful. Most people will find someone in this book that reminds them of someone they know.
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?
Many of us can’t wait to get to heaven. Most of us, though, don’t expect a return trip to earth to talk about what we saw there. Mrs. Elmer 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.
The wholeCan’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.” She had promised her niece Norma she would not climb the ladder to pick figs anymore. But she didn’t want to bother Norma’s husband Macky for just the few figs she needed. She didn’t know until she accidentally poked it that there was a wasp nest in the fig tree.
Next thing she knew 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.
Let’s flashback to Norma, who is nervous anyway. She 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.
Less than an hour after she started her nap, Elner wakes up in a dark room. Aware of hospital sounds, but not seeing anyone, she begins to wonder if they have all forgotten about her. Maybe Norma doesn’t even know she’s there. She doesn’t hurt, but after an hour she wonders 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 gets in. It starts going up before she even pushes any buttons.
Elner is Declared Dead
Meanwhile, back at the hospital in St. Louis, the doctor in charge of Elner’s case declares Elner is dead. Norma collapses and they barely catch her before her head hits the floor. The neighbors back in Elmwood Springs had already gotten the news of Elner’s death though a nurse at the hospital. They set to work caring for Sonny and turn off everything at Elner’s house and secure it.
We see and hear all the gossip between the neighbors and Elner’s family as they absorb the news. At the mortuary, they have already started the arrangements. Cathy at the Elmwood Springs Courier is considering what to write in Elner’s obituary.
Elner Discovers She’s in Heaven
Meanwhile, Elner comes 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. They’d even 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. You will see them yourself if you read the book. They ended quickly enough when Elner was sent back. Norma, Macky, and Norma’s daughter Linda silently say goodbye as they wait for the mortuary to pick up Elner’s body for cremation. 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.”
That’s when all hell breaks loose at the hospital. The nurse screams and the doctors and staff run in from all directions with machines. They take Elner 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. The neighbors call the funeral home, the newspaper, and anyone else involved in funeral arrangements.
The Hospital Calls in the Lawyers
Meanwhile, the hospital administrators lawyer up.
They expect to face 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. They pressure Norma immediately to sign a release in which she waives 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. Elner had already promised Norma not to mention the trip to Heaven to anyone. When Winston asks Elner for the whole truth about the events of the day, she only mentions one out-of-body experience. She describes 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 does not intend to sue anyway.
Norma Is Still Not Sure There’s a Heaven
Norma, meanwhile tries 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
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 change 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. Then 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. Tot Whooten, the hairdresser will probably offend readers who aim to be politically correct. Most people, though, will realize that Tot is simply who she is, expressing her own opinions. They realize that the author doesn’t necessarily share the opinions of her characters. Most people will find this a hilarious read. Why not pin the photo below to share this review with your friends.
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. Had I known about it , I probably would have read it first.
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 seea 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.
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.
One of my challenges is that if I read a lot, I don’t always have time to stop and review a book I’ve finished, and these books tend to pile up because reading is more relaxing than writing about what I just read.
I finally read the Girl with the Dragon Tattooand I wish I hadn’t. Although I enjoy mysteries, I don’t enjoy people being tortured and mutilated as recreation. If you like thrillers, this is likely to keep your spine tingling, especially near the conclusion .
Much of the book is set in Sweden. The two main characters are Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who was convicted of libel, and a brilliant but unconventional helper, Lisbeth Salander, who is a genius at internet research, legal and illegal, and a master analyzer of the data she finds. Mikael has been hired by a wealthy Swede, Vanger, with a large and dysfunctional family to find out who in his family killed his missing niece years ago. Mikael is to live on the Vanger estate under the pretense of writing a biography of Vanger, with access to most of the family.
The only character I liked very much in this book was Lisbeth, who was a ward of the state whose appointed guardian was raping her as a condition for giving her access to some of her money. The only part of the book I sort of enjoyed was when Lisbeth used her wits to fight back and get her revenge and get free of him.
I pretty much agree with this New York Times review of the book. It shows me again that being on the Best Seller List does not mean a book is worth the time spent reading it. It seems to me that too many people are putting poison into their brains. I will not read more by this author. But if you don’t mind rape and torture scenes as a mystery is solved, and seeing some sexually abusive sadists in action, you might be able to stomach this better than I did. To each his own. I don’t recommend it.
I recently finished The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King. I checked it out from the library because I needed a book to take to a waiting room and my Kindle battery was dead. It’s another book I think was a waste of my time. The major problem was that the characters were not developed very well and I didn’t really care about any of them.
The plot was also unrealistic, at least to me. It was set in San Francisco, and the victim, William Gilbert, was an eccentric Sherlock Holmes fan whose living room was like a replica of Holme’s Victorian sitting room. The murder appears to be related to a manuscript Gilbert believed was an undiscovered Sherlock Holmes story by Doyle and he was trying to authenticate it when he was murdered. Suspects included his friends in the Sherlockian Dinner Club that met once a month, some of whom knew about the manuscript and had even read it.
The manuscript described a murder that very much resembled Gilbert’s murder, right down to the place the body was discovered. The reader is treated to a chance to read it along with Detective Kate Martinelli – a story within a story. Unfortunately, when I read this I wasn’t in the mood for long descriptive passages, intricate subplots, and having to work to keep all the characters straight. To top it off, I’m not a Sherlock Holmes fan. There was just nothing in this book to grab my attention and make me care. I finished it because I had started it, but I had to force myself. The book gets mixed reviews on Amazon. I suppose we get out of a book what we bring to it. If you like all things Sherlock Holmes, this book may interest you more than it did me.
I was more interested in Elliott Roosevelt’s mystery novels. I just learned they were actually written and researched by William Harrington, who also wrote novels I’ve read listing Margaret Truman as the author. I just did a bit of research on both Ellliott Roosevelt and William Harrison and have concluded neither is someone I would enjoy knowing.
Harrison was a competent researcher, and from what I’ve read in memoirs of other figures mentioned in Murder in Georgetown, many incidents mentioned may well be true. They are certainly realistic, except for the part about Eleanor Roosevelt getting personally involved in solving murders.
Much of the book was set in the White House in 1935. Prohibition has ended, but it’s obvious the White House didn’t take it very seriously even when it was law. We meet Joseph Kennedy, who sees that the White House always gets the best booze when it’s important, and the author often brings him into the story .
A major part of the plot turns out to be bank corruption at the highest level. The real killer of Sargent Peavey, a member of the federal treasury board, tries to frame a young Jewess, Jessica Dee, who had been smuggled into the country from Poland. Mrs. Roosevelt had recommended Senator Huey Long hire Jessica as a secretary. Since he was F.D.R.’s main political opponent, Eleanor was hoping Jessica could keep her informed about what was happening in Long’s office.
When Jessica was arrested for Peavey’s murder because her earring was found at the scene, and some other non-conclusive evidence, Mrs. Roosevelt works with the detectives to try to find the real killer. She doesn’t believe for a moment Jessica is guilty,
The reader witnesses some of the political intrigue behind the scenes in the Roosevelt White House and is party to the local gossip. We learn that politicians and the people who are involved with them are as crooked as we suspected.
I learned outside this book that Elliott himself, the credited author and the son of Eleanor and F.D.R, was involved in his own share of scandal, and that was not fiction. He ( and Harrington as well) probably shared the casual morals of his characters. It seemed most characters believed it didn’t matter what you did, as long as you were discreet enough so that no one who wasn’t supposed to know ever found out. Jessica could have been cleared much earlier had she been willing to reveal whom she had been with when two of the three murders with the same weapon had been committed.
This was not a thriller – just a picture of discrete police investigations, including some in the White House, and some visits to dives and dark alleys. The reader sees more questioning than dangerous pursuits of criminals. I prefer novels like this that let me see what the investigators see so I can draw my own conclusions and see if I was right. In this case, I had it solved by the time the police did, though I didn’t have all the motivations until the last scenes.
This book is out of print and there are some cheap copies left on Amazon as I write this. If you enjoy murder mysteries with some political intrigue set in the White House, I think you might enjoy Murder in Georgetown. Since I’m currently so busy, I was glad that I could read a couple of chapters at a time to relax without feeling I had to rush to the end. If you need a real page-turner, this is isn’t it, but it’s just right if you want to take reading breaks during the day and be able to go back to what you were doing without being frustrated.
I’m a great fan of cats, and I’ve also become hooked on cat mysteries. The Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas is my favorite series in this genre. The human characters are as fascinating as the main cat character, Midnight Louie, a large black tomcat, who by this book in the series has received a vasectomy so he can have his fun without making kittens. How this happened is explained in an earlier book. I have read all the books in this series up to and including this book, and wrote about the series itself in Why I Love the Midnight Louie Series by Carole Nelson Douglas.
I was looking forward to this book because the last one, Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme: A Midnight Louie Mystery (Midnight Louie Mysteries)
left me hanging. Max, the ex-fiance of Temple Barr, had disappeared. Everyone thought him dead back in Las Vegas, including Temple. Meanwhile, Temple began to return the love of her friend Matt Devine, who lived in the condo above the one she and Max had shared. It appeared that Max was dead and gone forever, and finally, Matt and Temple became engaged. The reader of the previous book, however, knows that Max has narrowly escaped death and been whisked away to a clinic in Switzerland by his friend Garry, who was also thought to be dead earlier. Temple, in fact, though she had witnessed Garry’s death. The reader also knows that Kathleen O’Connor, who had tried to kill both Max and Matt, who was also supposed dead, may also still be alive. The previous book ended with Temple receiving an international phone call from none other than Max, who though alive, had lost his memory in the attack that almost killed him.
So this book opens with Temple anticipating picking up Max from the airport. Garry had told Max that Temple knows him and can help him know who he was. But now Garry really is dead and Max is totally alone, knowing very little about his past life. Matt was in Chicago interviewing for a new job when the phone call came. Temple cannot refuse to help, but neither she nor the reader can help wondering what will happen when Temple and Max meet again.
Cat in a Vegas Gold Vendetta: A Midnight Louie Mystery (Midnight Louie Mysteries) included the usual cast of characters readers have gotten to know, including Lieutenant Carmen Molina, her ex-husband Rafi Nadir, Detective Alch, her right-hand man, and Dirty Larry, an undercover narc officer. On the loose is still the deadly Barbie Doll serial killer, who may be a threat to Molina’s teen daughter, and Molina and company are working hard to stop him before he strikes again.
As Temple is getting ready to meet Max at the airport, she receives a call from one of her least favorite people, aspiring actress Savannah Ashleigh, owner of two cats Louie had once loved, and who was responsible for Louie’s vasectomy. She is definitely one of Louie’s least favorite people. Savannah wants to hire Temple, whose real work is public relations, as a private investigator to look into the death of her Aunt Violet’s hired hand who cared for her many cats. Violet is very sick, on what is presumed to be her deathbed, and is very concerned that her cats be taken care of after she dies. Pedro, the yard man who was found dead, was the one taking care of the cats. Savannah is convinced he has been murdered and wants Temple to find the killer.
As the book progresses, the three plots intertwine. As usual Midnight Louie offers his perspective throughout the book, and his supposed daughter, Midnight Louise, assists him in helping to solve the mystery at Violet’s house and save the cats who have been disappearing from it.
I confess to starting the book yesterday afternoon and finishing it this afternoon. I find the books in this series hard to put down, but I wanted to see how Temple, Max, and finally Matt would interact when they got together. For me, the human elements in the plot are the most interesting and I like to follow the characters and their lives throughout the book.
At the end, both Louie and the author, Carol Nelson Douglas, encourage readers who have pets to consider what will become of them if they outlive their owners. She encourages pet owners to make arrangements for their pets’ care after the death of their owners.
An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas
I watched two video interviews with Carole Nelson Douglas. This one was the best, even though it didn’t say as much about the Midnight Louie series as I would have liked. Most of the conversation deals with the newer Delilah Street Paranormal Mysteries. I got a much different impression of the author in the interview than I did from the Midnight Louie books. Maybe that’s because I was so wrapped up in the stories.
Have you met Midnight Louie yet? If you love cat mysteries and you haven’t met him, don’t deprive yourself any longer.
Don’t start reading The Silent Reporter unless you have time to finish it the same day. I couldn’t put it down. The characters were introduced scene by scene and at first the scenes seemed unrelated. But you saw the relationship by the time you knew who everyone was. To make it easy, I will introduce them all at once here.
Cast of Main Characters
Hyder Ali, American-born Muslim of Pakistani descent, who works as temporary reporter at The Daily Times
Lester Glasgow, works at the technology desk at the The Daily Times, Hyder’s friend
Caroline Dunny, Hyder’s boss, AKA Dunny the Killer Bunny
Amanda Hansborough, an accountant at TriGate Management Group, whom we see die in an auto accident when her brakes fail
Peter Hansborough, Amanda’s husband
Tom Nolan, a police officer whose wife died in that same accident who had turned into a alcoholic since his wife’s death and been on leave from the police force
Police Captain ‘Rudy” Ross, who cares for Tom and wants to see him back on the force
Sergeant Doug Halton, Nolan’s supervisor on the Franklin Police Force, who would love to fire him if Ross would let him.
Detective Angelo Pascale, who despises Nolan and wants him fired
Detective Marina Lopez, who is sympathetic to Nolan, and has his back.
Jessica Freeland, daughter of Professor Eric Freeland, who was found hanging in his home, an apparent suicide.
Charles Marshall, CEO of TriGate Management, which had just been awarded a 1.2 billion dollar contract to build an extension for the city nuclear reactor plant. Nolan had seen the announcement on television when he was drinking at a bar.
Ian Marshall, son of Charles
Terry Scott, President of TriGate ManagementGroup
“Grant” the “fixer” of problems for the Marshalls and TriGate Management
Hyder’s widowed mother, whom he calls Ammi
Hyder’s brother Akbar, a doctor
John Kroft, Jr., Publisher of the The Daily Times
The author brings the characters together in such a way that they advance the plot bit by bit until you begin see it coming together. There are plenty of clues you can grab along the way to the plot’s resolution. Several themes run through the book. As you read, you will probably be rooting for some characters and hoping to see others get their comeuppance. I was most drawn to Tom Nolan and Capt. Ross. I wanted to boo or hiss every time Haldon, Grant or Marshall appeared after I had first met them.
Tom Nolan is an alcoholic detective. He had been headed for a very successful police career because before his wife’s death he had been an excellent detective. After her death he had fallen apart and turned to the bottle, hoping to drink himself to death. After almost a year’s absence, Ross had gone to his house to get him when he wouldn’t answer his phone calls. He had to break his window with a rock to make him finally open the door. He told Nolan to come back to work and clean himself up. Ross would not take no for an answer. Ross let Nolan know he considered him valuable enough to save, even when Nolan could see nothing good in himself.
Nolan’s first case back back at work was to investigate the death of Professor Eric Freeman, reported as a suicide. Freeman had been a mentor to Hyder when he was a student, and Hyder just couldn’t believe it was a suicide. Jessica Freeland couldn’t believe it either. Even Nolan saw a couple of signs that weren’t consistent with suicide, but he was still not completely himself, and when asked to make a decision, he called for the coroner, and handled it as a suicide.
Hyder and Jessica try to convince Nolan it was a murder, but he said he had no proof, so the two work together to try to figure it out themselves. Then Jessica notices she is being watched by someone in a black sedan. She tells Hyder.
We then see Ian Marshall in his mansion discussing Freeland’s death with Grant, who was responsible for it. They wonder aloud if anyone else knows too much. Grant says he’s keeping an eye on Jessica.
Most of the book deals with the investigation. When Nolan is pressured by Halton to close the case in three days or prove it wasn’t a suicide, he takes another serious look at the file. He sees the coroner’s report somehow is missing from the file so he talks to the coroner. Nolan is told someone had picked up the report to hand deliver, but the signature of the one who picked it up was undecipherable, and it had never arrived.
A talk with the coroner revealed that the death was not consistent with suicide. Nolan remembered he inconsistencies he had seen and he retrieved he evidence he had removed from the scene he had filed away. He let Jessica and Hyder know he now agreed with them, and they began to work together to share information. You will have to read the book to see how they finally pieced the solution together.
The second theme is the author’s attempt to portray how an American Muslim family practices its religion in everyday life. This is shown in the scenes that take place in Hyder’s home, which becomes the meeting place for Nolan, Jessica, and Hyder to work on the case. Hyder found it strange that his mother, who wore traditional Muslim dress, prayed five times a day, and regularly read the Quran, could enjoy watching figure skaters in skimpy, tight costumes dance on the ice in front of crowds (on TV.) She had told him “It didn’t matter how someone lived, talked, ate, or even worshiped. What mattered was how they lived their lives.”
Another quote deals with Hyder’s perception of the Muslim view of suicide: “Contrary to what was reported on the news, suicide was also not permitted in Islam. Life was a gift from God and no one had the right to take it away except for God.”
Hyder had talked with Freeland (who was Jewish) “about Islamist suicide bombers and they both had agreed that no God, no matter from what religion, would accept the death of innocent people in his name.” This may be true, but it may also be true that Muslim views on who is innocent may differ both from those of other Muslims and from non-Muslims.
It is clear that the author wants readers to see Islam as a religion not much different than Judaism. “Freeland was Jewish and Hyder was Muslim, but they both shared a common trait: a love for God and an appreciation of his people.”
The third element in this novel is the rehabilitation of Tom Nolan. The beginning of the book vividly shows us the despair and pain Tom suffers and his degradation as he continues to rely on alcohol. We see it is only Ross’s belief in him that makes him drag himself back down to the police department.
We see many scenes that portray his grief. His wife, Simone, had been five months pregnant when she was killed. Her accident was caused in the aftermath of the accident that had killed Amanda. In one scene he is in their bedroom and almost kills himself, but couldn’t go through with it. He sees their wedding rings on top of the dresser.
Nolan kissed her ring and held it tight in his hand.The tighter he held it,the more he felt like he was holding herBut this was not true. She was gone, leaving behind the object that was once a sign of their love.
He then replays in his head the last day of his wife’s life and his reaction of denial when he got the call that she was dead and he had to identify her. When he saw her body, he stopped wanting to live. Though he couldn’t make himself take his own life, he hoped either the alcohol or another person would kill him.
During the course of the year he was on leave, Tom occasionally drives by the Hansborough house and watches Peter with his children. He wonders how Peter can laugh again and live like a normal person when he can’t. He thinks it’s because Peter has his children. Tom has no one. He can’t bear to go into the room of his house that was to be the nursery for his unborn child.
Nolan finally collects his “marbles’ as he decides he will give his all to solving the case of Freeland’s death, which he now believes is a murder. By the end of the book you see that Ross’s faith in him was justified. He demonstrates he is still a sharp detective, and a brave one. Of course it helps that he isn’t afraid to die and that he is convinced the same people who killed Freeland also are also responsible for his wife’s death, and he wants them brought to justice.