Saturday, October 21, 2017

Review: Best-Laid Plants




Best-Laid Plants
By Marty Wingate
A Potting Shed Mystery #6
Alibi, 2017


Summary

A trip to the English countryside turns into a brush with death for Pru Parke, the only gardener whose holiday wouldn’t be complete without a murder to solve.

Pru and her husband, former Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Pearse, are long overdue for a getaway. So when Pru is invited to redesign an Arts and Crafts garden in the picturesque Cotswolds, she and Christopher jump at the chance. Unfortunately, their B&B is more ramshackle than charming, and the once thriving garden, with its lovely Thyme Walk, has fallen into heartbreaking neglect. With the garden’s owner and designer, Batsford Bede, under the weather, Pru tackles the renovation alone. But just as she’s starting to make headway, she stumbles upon Batsford’s body in the garden—dead and pinned beneath one of his limestone statues.

With such a small police force in the area, Christopher is called upon to lead the investigation. Pru can’t imagine anyone murdering Batsford Bede, a gentle man who preferred to spend his time in quiet contemplation, surrounded by nature. But as her work on the garden turns up one ominous clue after another, Pru discovers that the scenery is more dangerous than she or Christopher could have anticipated.

Marty Wingate’s captivating mysteries can be enjoyed together or separately, in any order. The Potting Shed series:
The Garden Plot | The Red Book of Primrose House | Between a Rock and a Hard Place | The Skeleton Garden | The Bluebonnet Betrayal | Best-Laid Plants


My thoughts

English village setting, quirky characters, lots of dry humor, and a murder, of course … Best-Laid Plants is the perfect cozy mystery. From the beginning, I was enveloped in idyllic village life as Pru and Christopher blend business and vacation in the Cotswolds. Wait, did I say Cotswolds? Yes! While most people would fangirl over celebrities, I fangirl over the Cotswolds with its thatched-roof cottages, village lanes, and flower gardens. The story is well written, dialogue snappy, and setting vividly conveyed. Those who love flower gardening will especially enjoy all the bits of detail the author weaves into the narrative.

In addition to the setting, what makes this series so appealing to me is simply Pru – loving wife, loyal friend, dogged investigator, intuitive, gardener extraordinaire, and a great sense of humor. That she and Christopher are in their fifties, very much in love, and good at what they do, whether it be floral design or crime solving, is wonderful. She can come to my home and cook her apple/pork chop dish any time (great opening scene, by the way).

Suspects are plentiful, but fairly easy to keep up with. It was fun to use my detecting skills right along with Pru, but was still surprised at the resolution. I thoroughly enjoyed Best-Laid Plants and hope for many more stories in the series.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Great Escapes Tours. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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Marty Wingate is a Seattle-based writer and speaker who shares her love of Britain in her two mystery series. The Potting Shed books feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and Birds of a Feather follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village.

Marty writes garden articles for magazines including Country Gardens and the American Gardener. She is a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Crime Writers Association. She leads garden tours to England, Scotland and Ireland, spending free moments deep in research for her books. Or in pubs.

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Friday, October 20, 2017

Review + GIVEAWAY: Secrets and Pies




Secrets and Pies
By Jenny Kales
Callie’s Kitchen #3
Self Published, 2017


Summary

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Callie’s Kitchen! Greek-American restaurateur Callie Costas faces down another killer in the small waterfront town of Crystal Bay, Wisconsin. Recipes included!

Summertime in Crystal Bay means tourist season for Calliope “Callie” Costas, owner of Callie’s Kitchen, a Greek-meets-Midwest from-scratch eatery. Business is booming but so is the stress. Callie can barely keep up with the demand for her famous summer fruit pies and savory Greek delicacies, plus she’s agreed to bake dozens of “pitas” for the annual Greek Fest.

When Callie is asked to deliver cast party treats for a Murder Mystery Night at the historic Harris House, it seems like a welcome break from her hot stove. That is, until she finds herself an unwilling player in yet another suspicious death. Worse yet, the victim is a family friend and graduate student working on a project involving Crystal Bay’s colorful past.

Before long, a motley crew of suspects makes things as juicy as the succulent berries strewn around Callie’s Kitchen. And that’s not all Callie’s got on her plate. Add family obligations, a deepening romance with a local detective and unexpected personnel problems to the mix. One thing’s for sure: Callie’s got the recipe for a long, hot summer!




My thoughts

Secrets and Pies is a delightful cozy mystery and I enjoyed it very much. I have to confess that in the beginning, I thought this was just going to be an average story. However, it wasn’t long before I was pulled right in and found myself wanting to spend more and more time with these characters. If you’ve read the previous two books, then many of the characters in the Crystal Bay community will be familiar to you, whereas I was getting to know them for the first time – but this works well as a standalone also. And best of all, this is a wonderfully clean story with no profanity or graphic scenes.

The Crystal Bay setting, inspired by Wisconsin’s Geneva Lakes, and Callie’s Greek-American restaurant play such a key part that they literally become main characters. Food-related settings are so much fun, and nothing could be more cozy than Callie’s Kitchen with its Greek dishes prepared by Max. And I would love to visit the Crystal Bay community with its lovely historic mansions.

Family is another theme, and the relationship between Callie and her dad, George, is touching. It always brought a smile to my face when he called her “Calliope.” The important characters are well drawn; I enjoyed Max’s personal story and Callie’s romance with police detective Sands. Add in a little historical detail going back to the Guilded Age and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it all comes together for a great read.

The mystery plot was well crafted, with an emotional touch because the victim was the beloved teacher of Callie’s daughter. I never had it figured out, but everything made sense as it was revealed. Having become fully invested in these characters, I hope for many more Callie’s Kitchen stories.

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Great Escapes Tours. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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Award-winning writer Jenny Kales is the author of The Callie’s Kitchen Mystery series. Though she’s worked as a writer and journalist for years, fiction writing is her first love and her marriage into a Greek-American Midwestern family inspired The Callie’s Kitchen mysteries, featuring Calliope Costas, food business owner and amateur sleuth.

The setting of the story, “Crystal Bay,” is inspired by a favorite family vacation spot – Wisconsin’s beautiful Geneva Lakes. Kales is an avid reader, cook and baker and she’s addicted to mystery TV, especially anything on Masterpiece Mystery or BBC America. She lives just outside of Chicago with her husband, two daughters and one cute but demanding Yorkshire terrier.

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GIVEAWAY

Winner will receive an e-copy of Secrets and Pies.

To enter the drawing, please click on this link and share my Facebook post, then leave a comment here letting me know that you did. Are you a fan of cozy mysteries that have a food theme? If so, do you have a favorite series?

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Sunday, October 29. Winner will be chosen by random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Review: Bringing Maggie Home


Bringing Maggie Home
By Kim Vogel Sawyer
WaterBrook, 2017


Summary

Decades of loss, an unsolved mystery, and a rift spanning three generations

Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.

Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can't understand her mother's overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother's inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan-a cold case agent-cherishes her grandmother's lavish attention and affection.

When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel's painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that's been lost?

Learn more and purchase a copy.


My thoughts

Bringing Maggie Home is a creative masterpiece. Captivating, poignant, riveting, suspenseful, spiritual … I could keep going, but all the adjectives I might come up with barely scratch the surface of what you’ll find within these pages. There’s a complexity in this character-driven, multi-layered story. I don’t cry easily, but experienced several tearful moments while reading – joyful tears for the most part.

Maggie is actually a minor character, yet her presence is felt on every page as a 70-year-old secret casts its shadow over three generations of women. Flashbacks to 1943 and the ensuing years are skillfully woven throughout, providing insight and understanding. The relationship between Hazel and granddaughter Meghan is precious, but it’s the dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship of Hazel and Diane that drives the story emotionally.

Best of all is that readers will see Jesus in this story as Sawyer’s characters exhibit faith in action – not a perfect faith, but a realistic one that struggles as it grows. Romance is secondary, but I loved the chemistry and bond of friendship between Meghan and her cold-case partner, Sean. So many elements turned my emotions every which way – the heartbreak of loss, misunderstood motives, sharing of faith, redemptive scenes, and the joy of coming home. I found these words of Sean to Meghan such a moving reminder of all that Jesus is to us …

“While I’m here on earth, I have a constant companion so I’m never alone. When I’m not sure what to do, He’s my guide. When I’m weak, He strengthens me. When I’m frustrated, He calms me. I can’t imagine living without Him, and I can’t imagine eternity separated from Him.”

Bringing Maggie Home is an uplifting story that lives on in my heart. “Best of the best” for me.

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

http://litfusegroup.com/author/ksawyer

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Kim Vogel Sawyer is a highly acclaimed, best-selling author with more than one million books in print, in several different languages. Her titles have earned numerous accolades including the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence.

Kim lives in central Kansas with her retired military husband Don, where she continues to write gentle stories of hope and redemption. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters and grandchildren.

Find out more about Kim at http://www.kimvogelsawyer.com/.

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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Interview + GIVEAWAY: Lori Benton, Author of Many Sparrows


America’s Colonial years is my favorite setting and I am thrilled to have finally discovered the writing of Lori Benton. To say that I am a fan is an understatement. Her latest release, Many Sparrows, is a moving story that depicts the harrowing account of a young mother who will stop at nothing to find and reclaim her son after he is taken by a native tribe. Please click on the title to see my review of Many Sparrows.

I am honored to welcome Lori to The Power of Words as she shares some of her thoughts about this story. My deep appreciation also goes to Audra Jennings at Litfuse for making this interview and giveaway possible.



Q: Have you always enjoyed studying history? What drew you to writing specifically about 18th-century America?

       I had no particular interest in history as a subject until around my sophomore year in high school, when I discovered the Sunfire Young Adult historical romance series (Jessica was my favorite) and Christy by Catherine Marshall. That’s all it took to engage my interest, although it wouldn’t be until I started writing historical fiction I began what I’d call studying history.
       What drew me to write about 18th-century America in particular was nothing more profound than a liking for men’s knee breeches. I’d seen the movie The Patriot (starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger) and for the first time, for some reason (Mel? Heath?), paid attention to what the guys were wearing. I’d been thinking of trying my hand at historical fiction and suddenly knew that if I did, I’d want my male characters wearing knee breeches. A quick Google search told me the fashion began disappearing around 1800, so I zeroed in on the late 1700s as I began hunting for a time and place to set a story. Little did I know I’d taken the first step on a journey that has lasted nearly two decades. I discovered a passion for 18th-century Colonial and early Federal American history I certainly didn’t see coming when I sat down to watch that movie.

Q: Without giving away too much of the story, can you share where the title Many Sparrows comes from?

       The title has several meanings. It’s taken from the verses in Matthew 10 quoted in the front matter of the book. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. . . . Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. The title Many Sparrows speaks to the theme of God’s vigilance in our lives and His constant care for us, as well as the fact we are linked to one another. There are many sparrows in His sight, not just one, and He’s concerned for them all.
       It’s also the name given to an important character in the story.

Q: What inspired the storyline for Many Sparrows? How much of the book is based on historical fact?

       Story ideas set on the 18th-century frontier are constantly spinning around in my head as I research whatever novel I’m presently writing — too many to write in one lifetime. The initial kernel/idea for Many Sparrows dates too far back to recall it specifically. For years I had a file going called “The Frontiersman” because I knew I wanted to write about one. From time to time other ideas began sticking to the bits in that file, and eventually I saw the beginnings of a story forming about a man who lived his life on both sides of that frontier. I wasn’t really sure yet why. Still on the backburner, I began thinking about what sort of woman I might add to my frontiersman’s story. Why would she be on the frontier? What might compel her to cross the line, and in what way might my frontiersman’s path get tangled up with hers? As I asked such questions, Clare Inglesby eventually formed. At the same time I started looking at what was happening on the frontier at various points before and after the Revolutionary War, seeking the exact year for the story’s setting.
       I landed on two incidents that occurred in 1774, one to use as the inciting incident from which the rest of the story flows, and the other much deeper into the story. The Yellow Creek Massacre formed the book’s opening scene. The murder of nearly the entire family of the Mingo warrior, Logan, on the banks of the Ohio happened April 30, 1774. It and his subsequent revenge is part of what escalated the brutal conflict between Native Americans and white settlers along the Ohio that year, culminating in Lord Dunmore’s War and the Battle of Point Pleasant in October. Numerous other incidents portrayed in Many Sparrows are drawn from the historical record, but Logan’s tragedy and Virginia Governor Dunmore’s campaign against the Shawnees are the most prominent.


Q: What do you hope readers learn about God’s timing and His plans for us while reading Many Sparrows?

       What I love about how God uses a story like Many Sparrows is He’s going to speak to readers in individual ways about things I could never plan or predict. Somehow He does that work in spite of the limitations of both me and my books. I’m so glad He does. He’s a big God, so much bigger than my puny understanding can grasp. His plans, His timing, His purpose for us all are broader, deeper and higher than we can imagine. How easy it is to fail to see beyond the end of our noses, to be so wrapped up in our own circumstances that we lose sight of how connected we are. None of us lives or dies unto ourselves. All our choices have consequences in the lives of those we’re linked to, and each of us is just as important to our Father in Heaven as the next. As we make choices we need to bear in mind how they will affect others. Will they build them up or stumble and tear them down? Can we trust God in those situations where the choice to do good for another’s benefit requires a sacrifice we aren’t sure we can make? Is He truly a good Father? Are we safe in His hands?
       Those thoughts were stirring in my heart as I wrote Many Sparrows, so I hope such themes resonate with readers and provoke conversation between them and the Lord.

Q: There are many things we never learn in history class, and it seems as if students are taught less about history today than ever. What are some lessons from history during this time period that would be beneficial for us to know, especially from a cultural standpoint?

       If I could change anything about the way history is taught in school (or was taught when I was coming up), it would be to add historical fiction to the curriculum. Facts, figures, dates — none of that translates to caring about what people in the past experienced or the choices they made that have shaped who we are as a nation. If you can see the past through their eyes — even fictional eyes — it comes alive in a way that actually makes an impact on our thinking (perhaps on our own choices).
       What I’ve learned in my study of those who lived in the 18th century is, like us, they were flawed human beings, whatever side of the frontier they happened to be born. Men and women on both sides of the 18th-century frontier made selfless choices, and they made cruel and grasping decisions. Brutality isn’t limited to one skin color or another, and neither is grace and love, forgiveness and friendship, or the capacity to have a heart changed and a life transformed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the only One who can with any finality disrupt the cycle of enmity that has been in play across the face of this earth since Cain turned his hand against Abel.

Q: It is well known that traveling west was a dangerous endeavor, and many lost their lives not only to the elements and illnesses, but to native tribes. What added dangers did a pregnant woman face?

       Childbirth was one of the riskiest things a woman in the 18th century could experience. Death in childbirth was common, even in the best of circumstances. Couple that hazard with heading into the wilderness perils you mentioned, and I’m amazed any woman, such as Clare Inglesby in Many Sparrows, survived at all.
       In truth, I know of at least one woman in a similar situation to Clare’s who did survive: Mary Draper Ingles. Mary was pregnant when she and her two young sons were taken captive by Shawnees from her frontier home during the 1750s. She went into labor during the long march to the Shawnees’ Ohio villages. She survived childbirth, the march, months of captivity, an epic escape and retracing a journey of hundreds of miles back to her Virginia home. The courage, strength and fortitude women in far less desperate straits than Mary had to possess to venture westward to settle the frontier is astonishing to consider. I’m thankful they did it and I don’t have to.

Q: What can we learn from the life-altering consequences of the characters in Many Sparrows?

       Father God knows best. His ways lead to wholeness, healing and joy. If we leave Him free to work out His plan for us and cease the fretting that only leads to fruitless meddling, things will go easier for us. We won’t walk through this life on a path of rose petals, but whatever situations He allows into our lives will work together for good, to deepen our faith, dependency on Him and intimacy of fellowship. We should keep our focus on what is eternal rather than on what will soon pass away. Oh, that I would keep such a focus!

Q: Can you give a little tease about your next work in progress?

       Tentatively titled The King’s Mercy, the story is set in an earlier time period than any I’ve written before: the first half of the 18th century. I’m returning to Colonial North Carolina as a setting, though the story begins in Scotland. I don’t have a publication date yet, but I’m guessing sometime in late 2018.

Learn more about Benton and her books at http://loribenton.blogspot.com. She is also active on Facebook (@AuthorLoriBenton), Twitter (@LLB26) and Instagram (@lorilbenton).



GIVEAWAY

To enter the drawing, please click on this link and share my Facebook post, then leave a comment letting me know that you shared, and also anything you might have enjoyed in Lori’s interview. If you’ve read any of Lori’s books and have a favorite, please share that also.

BE SURE to leave your name and your email address in a safe format - [at] and [dot] - for the drawing. E-mail required for entry. Contest ends at midnight PST on Wednesday, October 25. Winner will be chosen by random.org and contacted by e-mail.

Eligibility: US residents

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Review: Gathering the Threads


Gathering the Threads
By Cindy Woodsmall
Amish of Summer Grove #3
WaterBrook 2017


Summary

Finally back in the Old Order Amish world she loves, will Ariana’s new perspectives draw her family closer together—or completely rip them apart?

After months away in the Englisch world, Ariana Brenneman is overjoyed to be in the Old Order Amish home where she was raised. Yet her excitement is mixed with an unexpected apprehension as she reconciles all she’s learned from her biological parents with the uncompromising teachings of her Plain community. Although her childhood friend, ex-Amish Quill Schlabach, hopes to help her navigate her new role amongst her people, Ariana’s Daed doesn’t understand why his sweet daughter is suddenly questioning his authority. What will happen if she sows seeds of unrest and rebellion in the entire family?

Meanwhile, Skylar Nash has finally found her place among the large Brenneman family, but Ariana’s arrival threatens to unravel Skylar’s new identity—and her sobriety. Both Ariana and Skylar must discover the true cords that bind a family and community together and grasp tight the One who holds their authentic identities close to His heart.

Gathering the Threads is the third and final novel in The Amish of Summer Grove series.

Learn more, read an excerpt, and purchase a copy.


My thoughts

Gathering the Threads is an incredible story, a moving and thought-provoking conclusion to an equally incredible series. Characterization is rich, the plot engaging. The writing is powerful and impressive, as is the storyline. This is not your typical Amish story, but rather a relationship drama involving two families who find their lives and belief systems turned upside down. Each novel in this series flows into the next, but Gathering the Threads can be read as a standalone because sufficient background is provided early on.

Searching for identity and where to belong are key elements, as is legalism vs. grace. That Ariana and Skylar had been switched at birth wasn’t revealed until their 20th birthdays, and each family desires to know their biological child. Barriers to the outside world fall, and what was once separate now becomes blended. Ariana returns to her Amish family, surprised to realize that it no longer feels like home. While Ariana questions Amish spiritual traditions, the selfish Skylar tries to weaken Ariana’s position in the family.

Don’t be swayed from reading this just because you might not care for Amish fiction, because the whole series is so much more. Truth is relevant to everyone, for all time – and that is the concept presented in this story. Truth opens eyes and speaks to the heart, encouraging questions about human teaching and doctrines. Truth sets us free. Of all that Ariana was exposed to, her greatest joy was in discovering that God could speak to her heart through the Bible without the Ordnung’s legalism.

In the same way that the title is analogous to sewing, Gathering the Threads brings all the physical and spiritual threads together in one beautifully woven pattern. I doubt I’ll ever forget this story.

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

http://litfusegroup.com/campaigns/gathering-threads-cindy-woodsmall

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Cindy Woodsmall is the “New York Times” and CBA best-selling author of nineteen works of fiction and non-fiction with more than a million copies sold. Her connection with the Amish community has been featured in national media outlets such as ABC’s “Nightline,” the “Wall Street Journal,” and a National Geographic documentary on Amish life.

Cindy and her husband reside near the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains.

Find out more about Cindy at http://www.cindywoodsmall.com.

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