Category: Books

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!

Black Hat/White Hat by Glenn Della-Monica

“Black Hat/White Hat” is the action-packed story of two lovable sociopaths, Alex and Lara Cutter. It is also the story of the law enforcement officials who try to catch them. The story moves quickly as it covers the Cutters origin story, their exploits, and the efforts of FBI officer Cody and his colleagues as they try to uncover the identities of the culprits.

There is a lot going on in this book. The major focus is on the elaborately planned actions of Alex and Lara. I appreciated seeing all the details that are considered in order to pull off each scheme. If you enjoy intricately-plotted covert actions, you will absolutely love this book. It was also interesting to see the story from the other side, that of law enforcement in multiple countries trying to track down the mysterious people or group behind the string of bizarre events. (The intricacy and level of detail put into this book was truly impressive. After reading this book, as well as the author’s bio, I am definitely glad that he decided to put his knowledge and experience to work for good instead of evil!)

Character development never takes a back seat to the action. Main characters Alex/Lara, Cody, and Haley are each provided with enough background and unique personality traits to seem like true individuals. The reader can easily understand each person’s mindset, and this makes the choices they make and actions they take seem entirely realistic.

There was a surprise near the end that I didn’t see coming. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but I loved the way things came together. I also liked the semi-open ending, and hope that it means more adventures to follow in future books.

This book is much more than just an exciting adventure novel, however. It also gives the reader something important to think about, both during the reading and afterwards. What truly is good or evil? How does the motivation behind an action affect the rightness of that action? How much should long term benefits offset short-term “bad” actions? If you’re familiar with the DeathNote series, this book provides more to ponder about the good vs. evil dynamic.

Overall, an exciting, fast-paced, incredibly well-written story!

Book Review: Roscoe and Muldoon: The Mayor is Mad by Don Mayhew

“Roscoe and Muldoon: The Mayor is Mad” is the delightful first book in a new canine detective series geared toward middle-grade readers. As you may have guessed, Roscoe and Muldoon, as well as their friend Jackson, are dogs. The author brings them to life with color photos on the cover, and plenty of sketches throughout the book. Other animals are also part of the story.

Even though they’re all animals, each character in the story has a distinct personality, and it’s easy to understand the choices they make based on what the reader has learned about them. I particularly enjoyed Jackson the maltipoo puppy and his friend Penny the cat. These two had some great dialog, and it was fun watching them meet, get to know each other, and become friends.

The story is told in alternate POV chapters, with the Jackson/Penny antics interspersed with the Roscoe/Muldoon chapters dedicated to solving the mystery. In this case, it’s the Mystery of the Disappearing Dog Toys/Clothes/Etc. These two are diligent in tracking down clues, and each brings something unique to the crime-solving table. It was fun to follow their investigation to its ultimate conclusion.

Everything in the book is entirely appropriate for the middle-grade readers for which it is intended. There is some positive messaging about how all animal lives matter that could lead to good discussion about the similar issue in real-world society.

Great characters, a fun story, and delightful animal antics…what more could you ask for?*

Five out of five chunks of yummy cheddar.

*Personally, I could ask for a mouse character in an upcoming book! Mouse lives matter!

Book Review: Murder Through an Open Door by Melissa Bourbon

I loved the first two book in this series, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review this third book, “Murder Through an Open Door”. I am happy to say that it was every bit as good as the first two, and has left me eagerly anticipating the next installment!

This time around, Pippen focuses more on the series-wide mystery of her family’s curse. One of her inn guests turns up dead, and Pippen quickly learns that he was actually in town to see her, and might have had information about the curse and her father’s research. I enjoyed watching her investigate in an effort to learn the truth, and appreciated her methodical approach, as well as the fact that she sought out help from family and friends instead of trying to do it all herself.

The reader gets to know Pippen and Grey even better in this second book. We also meet a potential new permanent character in Hazel, as well as spending more time with series favorites like Jamie, Cyrus, and (of course) Sailor. I like seeing these major characters, as well as their relationships, evolve over the course of the series. I especially appreciated the evolution of Pippen’s relationship with Jamie this time around.

The actual mystery was very well written. Pippen delves into 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. One mysterious character from the second book made a reappearance, and I hope we see more of him in the future. Once the culprit was revealed, it all made sense based on the clues uncovered throughout the story. Of course, more information about the curse, and how to potentially break it, was uncovered along with solving the murder.

As an added bonus, we spend some time with a member of Pippen’s extended family, and learn more about her family history.

I feel that this book could be read as a stand-alone. The author provides enough information about what has already happened that the reader should be able to figure everything out fairly quickly. However, due to the underlying family curse storyline, I would recommend reading the books in order if at all possible.

Five out of five chunks of creamy Brie!

Book Review: The Last Speaker of Skalwegian by David Gardner

I have so many good things to say about “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian” that I’m not even sure where to start. How about this: I’ve already added this book to my list of nominations for my Top 10 of 2022 list. There are only four books on the list so far, so that’s saying something!

Why did I love “The Last Speaker of Skalwegian” so much? First, because it’s unique. I’m always drawn to books that offer me something different and unusual, and this one definitely fits the bill. It tells the story of Lenny, a quirky college professor who is helping his friend document the almost-dead language of the Skalwegian people. While this may not sound like a delightful premise for a novel, I can assure you that it truly is.

Lenny is the perfect character to headline the story. I loved every single peek into the inner workings of his mind that that author shared with us. His backstory is interesting, and I felt that it helped me understand the man Lenny has become by the start of the book. His development during the course of the story is interesting, and I was pleased with where he ended up. I adored Lenny so much that I’d happily read a sequel, even if nothing much happens in it. I just want to learn more about Lenny and his linguistics projects, present and future.

Other characters, particularly Daniella, Charlie, and Henri, add humor and life to the story. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention The Widow Bahr and Angel Warrior/Warbler…this pair were both hilarious and (ultimately) quite useful. Of course, there were also the “love to hate” characters like Dean Sheepslappe, Luther, and Elspeth. Without them, there wouldn’t have been a story, and each brought their own special brand of dislike-ability to the table.

The story itself was wonderful. Although I would happily read about Lenny and Company in any scenario, I very much enjoyed the Skalwegian plotline, along with the question of Charlie’s inheritance and the various dangers that come into play for the characters. By the last few chapters, I knew I wouldn’t be able to put the book down until I knew how everything ended up. Thankfully, the author gave us a solid conclusion that left me feeling happy for everyone, but sad that the story was over.

I also enjoyed Mr. Gardner’s clever naming of certain characters, which called to mind the genius that is Jasper Fforde. Throw in some Forrest-Gump-ish moments where things happen around our hero to which he is mostly oblivious, and perhaps you can begin to understand why I was so delighted to have had the chance to read this book.

Five out of five chunks of the most perfect sharp Cheddar!

Book Review: The Last Roman: Exile by B.K. Greenwood

I enjoyed everything about “The Last Roman: Exile”. It’s an exciting, fast-paced combination of thriller, historical fiction, and magical realism. Since I’m a fan of all of those things, this book couldn’t have been a more perfect choice.

The story toggles between two timelines. The present-day plot deals with main character Marcus and his partner Sam trying to thwart a centuries-old plot to wreck havoc on humanity. The historical timeline moves from Marcus’ mortal days and follows him through some key moments of his immortal life. Usually when I read a dual-timeline story, I find myself rushing through one to get to my preferred plotline. In this case, both timelines were so enthralling that I honestly couldn’t choose a favorite. I find myself looking forward to the next book in the series to see what happens in the modern-day crisis, as well as to learn more about Marcus’ past adventures.

Main character Marcus was given a detailed backstory, and lots of information to help the reader understand who he was, who he is today, and how that transformation occurred. His motivations are clear and the reader feels a true sense of who this character is. Minor characters added a lot to the story as well. I particularly enjoyed Sam, and the relationship between the two.

The historical story begins in Biblical times, and I appreciated the author’s use of religious people and events in the book. I enjoyed the unique take on what may have happened to people who had noteworthy interactions with Jesus, and what happened to some of those people after the Biblical events were over. Please note that this book is NOT to be read as a theological treatise. It is a “what might have happened if…..” exercise, not a suggestion of philosophical possibility.

All in all, I loved everything about it, and eagerly await the next installment.

Book Review: The Devil Pulls the Strings by J.W. Zarek

My main thought after finishing “The Devil Pulls the Strings” was….”That was a lot of FUN!” This is definitely an enjoyable read, has a little of everything…action, excitement, secret societies, fantasy, mythology, magical realism, romance. I enjoyed every moment of this story!

First of all, main character Boone Daniels is great. He is instantly likeable, and I found myself rooting for him from the very beginning of the book. What I found interesting was that the author found a way to get me very invested in Boone, and feeling like I knew him, even though fairly minimal time was spent on his backstory. Perhaps Mr. Zarek is a member of a secret society, and has magical powers of his own? This would not surprise me.

However, virtually everything else surprised me! This book provides non-stop action and plenty of unexpected characters, events, and reveals. Something new was always happening, and I was always discovering the next new idea right along with the characters.

I particularly enjoyed the way the writing style changed based on the scene. Some parts were written traditionally, but this alternated with a more staccato style that gave a sense of urgency to more intense scenes. I also appreciated the updated take on the Baba Yaga legend. I very much look forward to seeing what’s next for Boone and company in the next installment!

So. Much. Fun!

P.S. I will never think about hailing a cab the same way again!

P.P.S. I’d be happy to beta read the next book if the author wishes to contact me through this site.

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Breathe Underwater by Erin Bartels

I was initially drawn to this book because it is about an author who is having trouble writing her next book after the success of her first. I enjoyed that aspect of the story….one cause of writer’s block, the author’s attempts to move past it, and how she eventually found her voice again. However, there is SO MUCH more to the story.

I loved the way the author deftly interwove Kendra’s present-day story (writer’s block, revisiting her childhood retreat, working with her German translator) with the story of her childhood past in a lakefront cabin in Michigan. Both stories are beautifully told, and I awaited new developments in both timelines with equal anticipation.

There is so much attention to detail, both in plot and description, that I felt like I could actually see the world through Kendra’s eyes. Kendra herself is a likeable main character, and I appreciated the way the worked through her past with honesty and an open mind. I found myself truly invested in the outcome of her stories, and was pleased with the endings of both timelines.

One note: This story deals with sexual abuse. Nothing is graphic or gratuitous, and I felt that the topic was handled with sensitivity and integrity. However, if this is a trigger subject for you, please be advised that it is part of the story.

Definitely five out of five slices of perfect Provolone!

Book Review: Fatal Fantasy by Jane Tesh

First off, after reading book 7 last year, I was a huge fan of this series when I started this book. Now, I’m even more crazy about it. (I have Book 1 waiting for me to find time to pick it up and start the earlier adventures of Randall, Camden, and crew.)

One thing that makes this series stand out for me is that there are multiple mysteries to solve. Main character David Randall is a private investigator, so it makes sense that he has more than one case going on at a time, and that things he learns while investigating one thing can lead to new mysteries. I love the way he goes about his sleuthing, taking a professional, methodical approach. He considers all the angles, talks to all the witnesses/suspects, and follows all the leads. He sometimes has help from his psychic best friend Camden, but this paranormal element is never used as a “cheap” way to solve a case. (By this, I mean that Camden doesn’t have a vision at just the right time that clearly and easily reveals the guilty party.) Instead, Camden’s gift sometimes guides David towards or away from a theory, but never spells out the answer directly.

Both David and Camden are interesting characters, and their genuine friendship and care for each other is heartwarming. Additional major characters are also intriguing, and this time around we learned more about Kary’s tragic backstory. This book also featured the Enforcettes, a group of costumed warriors who both help David and add to the mysteries he needs to solve. They added some delightful humor to the otherwise-serious murder investigation.

The book is mainly set at a local convention similar to ComiCon. I enjoyed reading about the various activities and events that were part of the convention, and was impressed by the number of fictional fandoms the author created, as well as the attention to detail given to each of them.

Of course, most of the mysteries are solved by the story’s end, with one interesting line of inquiry still open for further development.

I highly recommend this book (and series) to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, PI story, or quality fiction in general.

Five out of five chunks of perfect cheddar!