Book Review: The Lost Melody by Joanna Davidson Politano

“The Lost Melody” is an excellent example of Christian historical fiction. Set in England in the 1880s, this is the story of a young musician who is searching for an inherited ward in an asylum. The asylum claims to have no record of the patient in question, and Vivienne goes to great lengths to figure out what happened to this mystery woman.

Most of the story is set in Hurstwell Asylum, and the author sheds a great deal of light on what conditions were typically like in that type of institution during that time period. I found her descriptions of locations, staff, patients, and practices to be historically accurate and interesting. I appreciate Ms. Politano’s efforts to research and write about such a difficult topic, and share her knowledge with the reader without making the story feel depressing. I also liked reading about some of the earliest attempts at music therapy.

I enjoyed just the right amount of suspense as I tried to figure out the answers along with Vivienne. It was interesting to watch her navigate the asylum and see firsthand how it was run. I enjoyed the missing ward storyline, as well as Vivienne’s personal growth and development, throughout the novel.

The author has a unique way of bringing characters to life that make them simultaneously fascinating and relatable. There is just something special about the way she writes that draws me in to her work in a very personal way. In addition to Vivienne, other characters added a great deal to the story. Patients and staff, as well as a couple of “outsiders”, all add depth to the plot and draw the reader into this world even more deeply.

Vivienne’s personal faith journey adds an important element to the story. From her childhood acceptance of God through some doubts as she navigates a difficult situation, I found her faith and thoughts to be realistic. I liked the way her faith was portrayed throughout the novel, and seeing how it guided her in her choices.

The book ends with a satisfactory resolution of the plot, while leaving room for the reader to imagine what comes next in the lives of the characters.

As an added bonus, a quote by a musician starts each chapter. Many are from familiar historical names, but some are from Vivienne herself.

Definitely five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

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Book Review: Murder and an Irish Curse by Melissa Bourbon

I have loved every book in this series so far, and “Murder and an Irish Curse” was no exception. It definitely lived up to the high standard set in earlier books, and I am eagerly anticipating the next installment!

This time around, Pippen is still working with her friends and family to find a way to end the family curse. In addition, a local reporter is harassing Pippen with questions about rumors of her bibliomancy, and she may have personal ties to the Lane family. Things don’t end well for the reporter, so Pippen has to deal with that mystery in addition to working on the curse and running her business. One note: The murder mystery is a very minor part of the story. In fact, it’s not so much a mystery as something that happened; the reveal of who/why is provided, but not as a result of Pippen trying to solve the crime. This book is much more heavily focused on researching and trying to end the family curse. This story could work as a stand-alone, but I think you’d be far more invested (and be able to follow the past research more easily) if you’ve read the series in order.

The reader gets to know Grey and Lily a bit better in this installment; personally, I was glad to see more of both of them. Cousin Cora also makes her first in-person appearance. I like seeing the major characters, as well as their relationships, evolve over the course of the series, and getting to know more of Pippen’s family members better added to this. Temporary characters like the inn guests are given enough unique characteristics that each stands out as an individual. Just as in the previous books, Pippen’s dog Sailor steals every scene she appears in.

The main mystery (trying to end the curse) was very well written, with lots of details and information about Irish lore. Pippen continues her investigation using both regular techniques and her bibliomancy. (This is a special gift she has in which books reveal information to her magically.) She’s fairly methodical about this, and I liked following the clues along with her. I won’t share exactly what is figured out in terms of the curse to avoid spoilers, but the murder aspect was resolved as part of this storyline.

Five out of five slices of spicy Pepper-Jack!

Book Review: The Overlook Murder by Patrick Kelly

“The Overlook Murder” is the excellent second installment in the Wintergreen Mysteries series. It definitely lived up to the high expectations set by the first book. Retired police detective Bill is an instantly likeable main character, and I enjoyed learning more about him as the story progressed. I appreciated the way local law enforcement asked him to help with the murder investigation, acknowledging his past experience and admitting they needed his help.

Due to Bill’s past experience, he is able to conduct his investigation in a methodical, efficient manner. I liked following his process and gradually learning more about the victim, the accident (or murder?), and the potential suspects and motives along with Bill. There was plenty for him to look into, and once everything was revealed in the end, it all made sense based on what we learned along the way. I found this book to be the perfect blend between a cozy mystery and a police procedural; while the crime is serious and the investigation fairly classic, there’s no gore or other hard-core content.

This time around, we spend more time with Bill’s girlfriend Cindy (a local caterer) and get to know her better. Other characters from the first book also make appearances, and I enjoyed the continuity this provided. Readers who are new to the series should be able to pick up everything they need to know fairly quickly, and should be able to follow the story without having read the first book.

As an added bonus, the book is set in the beautiful Wintergreen, Virginia area. Having lived in Virginia for most of my life, I can confirm that the author’s descriptions are accurate and will truly allow the reader to envision the surroundings. Mentions of other local areas added even more to my enjoyment of the story.

As another added bonus, Bill spends some of his non-investigative time trying to befriend the groundhog that lives on his lawn. Just when I thought I couldn’t love Bill any more….this fine gentleman is a friend to rodents!

All in all, five out of five chunks of my favorite Provolone! Plus a little extra for the groundhog!

Book Review: The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold

I have absolutely ONLY good things to say about this book. It was interesting, inspirational, and even something of a “how to” manual for living. It has been nominated for my Top 10 Books of the Year list.

First, the story was excellent. Aidyn, a young reporter, is supposed to interview an elderly hospice patient to gather information for her obituary. The woman, Mrs. Kip, has other ideas, and soon Aidyn finds herself engrossed in Mrs. Kip’s life story. As a reader, I enjoyed both storylines: present-day Aidyn interacting with Mrs. Kip and trying to move ahead in her career, and the high-impact story of Mrs. Kip’s past. These two are seamlessly woven together, and I found myself as anxious as Aidyn to learn what happened next.

The two main characters are extremely well-written. By the end, I felt like I truly knew and understood both women. Each character’s personality is unique and detailed, and beautiful in its own way. I appreciated how the gentle character moments were interspersed with information about Mrs. Kip’s life story.

As a Christian, the highlight of this book for me was the incredible depth and breadth of Christian content included. Mrs. Kip is a beacon of hope and love, and shares her faith with everyone with whom she comes in contact. I was inspired by both the life she lived and the slow death she was currently enduring. This character is so special, and anyone with an open mind can walk away from reading about her with some new ideas about how to approach both life and its inevitable conclusion.

When reading more about the author, I was stunned to learn that she is quite young, and that this is her debut novel. The quality of the writing, plus the depth of the faith demonstrated in the story, left me imagining an older writer with many (many) more years of life experience to draw from. I’m beyond impressed that someone so young could so beautifully and realistically capture the aging and dying process with such sensitivity.

The Christian Fiction world is definitely lucky to have many more years of Ms. Brunsvold’s work to look forward to!

Definitely five out of five perfectly-arranged cheese platters. (Honestly….this one was TOO GOOD to limit to just one type of cheese in my rating!)

Book Review: Ghost Light by Jane Tesh

I’m a big fan of author Jane Tesh, so of course I was delighted to have the opportunity to read her new standalone mystery “Ghost Light”. Not surprisingly, I loved it!

First, the main character of Teddy (short for Theodosia) was excellent! I enjoyed seeing the events of the book through her eyes, and getting to know her as a character. Teddy is smart, intuitive, kind, and loyal. She also has a touch of OCD that turns out to be quite helpful when it’s time to commit herself to solving a mystery. Her need for order and closure propels her to a find the answer when a local theater employee is murdered.

As an added bonus, Teddy provides the mystery world with something that is much needed: diversity! During the course of the novel, Teddy realizes that she is asexual, and it was wonderful to see a less-stereotypical heroine. Her discovery was treated in a straightforward, non-judgemental manner that I found refreshing. Teddy is a unique voice, and I was thrilled to have had the opportunity to witness her journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

The main focus on the book is Teddy’s attempt to solve the murder of Paula, the former theater stage manager. Since “the show must go on”, Teddy quickly finds herself taking over Paula’s job, despite having no theater experience beyond enjoying the shows. Watching her learn the ins and outs of her new job was almost as enjoyable as watching her investigate the mystery! Both threads were well-written and seamlessly interwoven, and the story flowed perfectly.

As for the mystery itself, there were plenty of clues for Teddy to follow and suspects for her to question and investigate. I liked the way her natural methodical nature helped in her pursuit of the guilty party. The reader follows the leads along with her, and I loved every minute of it!

Sadly, the author has indicated that this is a stand-alone mystery. I hope she reconsiders making it the start of a new series! Teddy has a lot more to offer as a leading character, and with the theater as a backdrop, there’s no limit to the adventures she could have and mysteries she could investigate!

Definitely 5 out of 5 perfect chunks of my favorite sharp cheddar!

Book Review: Grounds for Divorce by Remy Maisel

I have so many good things to say about this book! First, main character Emily is a joy! She finds herself in an unprecedented situation, and handles it with good humor, intelligence, and a lot more common sense than most people would have.

The story is told in three parts, with parts 1 and 3 focusing on Emily’s present-day situation and challenges, and part 2 revisiting her past and her parents’ divorce. All three parts were so well done that I was torn between wanting more of that timeline and being excited to see what happened next in the other one. Both stories were incredibly well-told and interesting. I particularly liked the way the childhood storyline was presented at just the right time to fill in some back story details I was starting to wonder about.

As an added bonus, much of the story is set in Israel. I haven’t read many books set there, and was interested to follow along with Emily as she explores various parts of the country. (She also explores various parts of her hotel, but that’s another issue…)

Honestly, this book has everything: family drama, revisiting a past romantic relationship, career issues, horses, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Someone, the author skillfully weaves all of that into one cohesive story, and everything works perfectly.

Side note: Read the acknowledgements at the end. The last bit is hilarious!

Second side note: If Ms. Maisel happens to read this review, I’d love to read sequels about:

  1. Zara’s college experience
  2. Rabbi Gold’s memoirs
  3. A children’s book about the adventures of Poco

Definitely 5 out of 5 superb cheese blintzes!

A Hint of Mischief by Daryl Wood Gerber

I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review “A Hint of Mischief”, the third book in Daryl Wood Gerber’s “Fairy Garden Mystery” series. I have to say that I loved everything about it….this installment definitely lived up to the high standards set by the earlier books, and I eagerly await the next book in the series.

Main character Courtney comes across as a genuine, real person. She’s smart, hard-working, kind, and loyal; she seems like the kind of person you could meet (and really like) in real life. The fact that she can see and talk to fairies adds a fun element to her character, and to the story. It’s a tribute to the author that these magical realism elements fit right in with the narrative, and feel believable within the parameters of the story.

The mystery element (in this case, the murder of a famous actress in town for a friend’s birthday) was very well done. I enjoy Courtney as an amateur sleuth, because she actually makes an effort to investigate. She is methodical and focused in her approach, and talks openly to the police. (Of course, they want her to stay out of things, but since she’s finding clues they didn’t, they can’t complain too much.) Due to the victim’s disagreeable personality, there is no shortage of suspects and motives for Courtney to research. The mystery takes front-and-center stage in this book, which I really appreciated.

In addition to the main mystery, there are several enjoyable side plots regarding a string of small-scale local thefts, an author’s missing manuscript, and the question of who is responsible for a series of fairy doors that are appearing around town. While this may sound like a lot for one book, I found that all the threads ties together perfectly. These side stories were all interesting, and added a touch of realism to the book. (After all, in real life, aren’t lots of things happening at the same time?) I especially appreciated new insights these stories provided into Courtney’s character and relationships, both past and present.

All the normal cozy elements are represented as well. The reader will spend time at work with Courtney in her shop, and as she interacts with her friends and pet. There are plenty of lighter moments to offset the murder investigation, and I enjoyed them very much.

All in all, an EXCELLENT cozy mystery with a bit of magical flair. Five out of five slices of perfect provolone!

Five Belles Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

“Five Belles Too Many” is the fifth book in the Sarah Blair series by Debra H. Goldstein. This book definitely lives up to the high standards set by the previous books in the series; in fact, it’s my favorite installment so far! This book provides more of everything I love about the series and adds another of my favorite things: reality television programming!

This time around, Sarah’s mother is competing on a reality show to win the perfect wedding, and Sarah has been roped into participating as a chaperone. I really enjoyed the amount of attention paid to the various aspects of filming a reality show, and appreciated the behind-the-scenes glimpses into the process.

Overall, my favorite thing about this series is main character Sarah, who is a caring woman with common sense who approaches cooking (and life) with a philosophy of “the quicker and easier, the better”. She is also not a perfect size 2, and still seems to like herself, which is nice to see in any book. Minor characters (including twin sister Emily and mother Maybelle) are also well-drawn, with distinctive personalities. Even thought they are “temporary” characters, the cast and crew of the reality show are each given enough distinguishing traits to make them easy to keep straight. As always, Sarah’s pets Fluffy and Rah-Rah are adorable, even if they’re fairly off-screen this time around.

Once again, Ms. Goldstein manages to avoid a major cozy mystery romance trope. Five books into the series, and our heroine is still single, and perfectly happy without a serious romantic relationship in her life.

By the end, I had a pretty strong suspicion as to the identity of the “bad guy”, because Sarah is so detail-oriented and organized with her investigating. The final reveal was exciting, and everything made sense based on all the clues.

I have only good things to say about this book, this series, and this author. I think this book could stand alone, but you’ll miss out of some lovely character development. It’s up to you…start with Book 1, or dive right in with this one. You can’t go wrong either way!

Five out of five slices of delectable provolone!

When the Meadow Blooms by Ann H. Gabhart

I have so many good things to say about “When the Meadow Blooms”! Ann Gabhart is a new author to me, and after reading this amazing story, I’ll definitely be seeking out more of her work.

This is the story of Rose, a young single mother in the 1920s. Rose is forced to leave her children in an orphanage while she undergoes treatment for tuberculosis. This book covers Rose’s time in the sanatorium, what her children had to deal with at the orphanage and (most importantly) what happened after they were reunited.

First, I appreciated the historical accuracy of the book. The author obviously did significant research into the various locations portrayed in the story, and provided an accurate account of what those places were like in the 1920s. I definitely learned some things about medical care and the treatment of children that I didn’t know before. As always, I appreciated the chance to discover new things.

The story of how this fractured family was reunited was beautiful to read. The girls and their mother are finally allowed to be together again, but only through the help of Rose’s brother-in-law Dirk. I enjoyed how all four of these characters found emotional growth and healing through each other.

Each of the four major characters was very well-drawn and detailed. They all felt like real people, and I empathized with each of them for different reasons. Calla, the older daughter, was probably my favorite. Her loyalty to and love for her younger sister was beautiful, and she showed maturity well beyond her years.

Overall, this was an incredibly interesting and inspirational story. I was invested from the very beginning, and left with a sense of closure at the end.

Definitely five our of five slices of perfect provolone!