The Kindle edition of Dating, Dining, and Desperation — the second book in Melody Carlson’s “Dear Daphne” series — is now on sale for 99 cents (USD), down from the list price of $7.99 (USD). (NOTE: Sis reviewed Dear Daphne 21 July 2016, click here to see that review.)
Description: Daphne Ballinger has learned to accept her deceased, eccentric aunt’s strange request that she marry in order to inherit her estate, along with taking over her aunt’s hometown paper’s advice column.
But knowing and accepting that God’s will be done becomes harder when a new neighbor, a divorced socialite, learns of Daphne’s predicament and takes on the task of finding her the perfect man, even if it includes speed dating. When God does open Daphne’s heart, it is instead to take in a young girl left parentless and in the care of her dying grandmother. It may be a temporary arrangement until the girl’s uncle returns from the Marines, but God uses Daphne to speak His heavenly love and protection into the life of the child — whom Daphne soon discovers has a very handsome and single uncle.
All six books are available in ebook, from Amazon and other retailers, as well as a tradeback edition for readers who prefer printed books. The Death of Amelia Marsh is a Kindle freebie, and I reviewed it on Amazon when MaryJo was no more than an online acquaintance. She’s now a treasured friend who has allowed me to read final drafts of her last two mysteries, and I readily admit I am biased about her work.
That said, I do recommend Sally – it’s such a relief to encounter a sensible, instead of a silly, sleuth in a more or less cozy mystery. More, because MaryJo’s mysteries do feature amateurs who solve mysteries (not all of which are murders!) without vulgar language or gruesome grit. Less, because the characters are more developed and the insights much deeper than those in most of the current crop of cozies.
Still, it’s best to let someone who can be impartial review Ending the Varney Curse. Instead, let me introduce you to MaryJo, if you don’t already know her, or, if you do, perhaps tell you more than you already know.
MaryJo, like Sally, had a satisfying career in nursing, most of it in obstetrics. I suspected as much while reading her first mystery, because the descriptions and details resonated with authenticity. I didn’t know, though, that, like me, she was initially inclined toward literature and history. She backed into nursing.
“The profession chose me,” MaryJo recalled. “My parents were stunned when, after a year of college, I chose to apply to nursing school. My main reason? It was less expensive. We had little money, and my dad was going to borrow so I could so on with my education.”
Nursing school, especially back then, allowed students to work while pursuing their education.
“There were times during those three years that I wavered in my choice. But God was looking out for me, because throughout my life, with its many ups and downs and different locations, I was always able to get a good job,” MaryJo recalled.
A native of Wisconsin, MaryJo has lived and worked in many places from Maine to Mississippi. She now lives with her husband, Bill, in a small town at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in southeastern Colorado.
MaryJo also draws from her own background in creating what I call fiction for Christians (or Jews, or just those who want a clean read). Her stories aren’t really Christian fiction – you won’t find heavily moral messages or preachiness and the references to prayer are subtly matter of fact.
“Throughout the series, the lifestyle (Sally) believes in and lives pops up consistently. It is essential to who she is, who her best friends are, and how the various mysteries are handled,” said MaryJo, who was not only brought up as a Christian but who has, as I have seen firsthand, become a woman of a deep and abiding faith.
Readers who are hostile to religion might not find as much to like as those who are more welcoming, but faith isn’t exactly a theme in these mysteries. Instead, it is a part of who Sally (and recurring characters Anne and George) are, and MaryJo shows us this, rather than tells us so.
Perhaps it’s no wonder that one of the writers who inspires her is Dorothy L. Sayers, best known today for her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries but whose serious writing includes many works of Christian non-fiction. Other influences and inspirations are Josephine Tey (whose Brat Farrar is a personal favorite), Rex Stout, and the husband-and-wife team of Brock and Bodie Thoene.
You won’t find MaryJo on Facebook. She doesn’t blog, or maintain a website. She does participate in Amazon’s Meet Our Authors Discussion Forum, which is where I first encountered her, but she limits her time online, striking a balance between activities there and offline.
“There are only so many hours in a day. I can’t spend them all on the computer, nor do I want to, so picking and choosing became a necessity,” MaryJo explained.
When she’s not writing, you might find MaryJo in her garden or on a walking path. She calls herself a “pretty boring person” and says she’s very comfortable with that. She loves family and friends, home and hobbies, and she knows something about exquisite chocolates . . . as I know firsthand!
Recent reads include:
Dead Wake by Eric Larson, which was selected by her book club
Subscribers: Leave a comment for a chance to win a Kindle edition of MaryJo’s latest (or substitute an earlier book if you prefer). Refer a friend who subscribes to MiddleSisterReviews.com for an additional chance. The winner will be chosen by a random method, which may involve the caprice of a cat or another four-legged friend, from comments posted by midnight CDT.
The central storyline – whether Daphne can comply with the eccentric terms of her late aunt’s will and inherit the sizeable estate – isn’t resolved and, from all appearances, won’t be until the end of the series. That irks some readers, yet Melody Carlson gives us so much reason to care about Daphne (as well as her family and friends) that I think most will want to continue. I do.
I don’t read a lot of chick lit, and even less romance, but I confess I did enjoy this one. I found myself disappointed to see how close I was coming to the end, and I initially felt a little disappointed with the ending, wishing it had been stronger. Upon reflection, though, I decided the story ended exactly where it needed to end.
Daphne Ballinger, a 34-year-old The New York Times wedding writer who has all but given up on dreams of her own wedding, returns to Appleton for her Aunt Dee’s funeral. Afterwards, her aunt’s attorney stuns the family by announcing that Daphne is the sole heir to her aunt’s estate. He’s got more surprises in store for Daphne, who learns the bequest comes with a few strings.
The premise is, frankly, implausible. No attorney would prepare such a will because any court would overturn it. But this premise is unfolded quite early in the story, and those who read books like this should be prepared to suspend disbelief and get ready to be entertained. And they will be.
Daphne is a darling. The premise may be incredible, but she isn’t nor are the other characters. And certainly Carlson can tell a story. She doesn’t preach. She doesn’t proselytize. But she does share a message, and one that you won’t find in most romances. Daphne hears it when she accepts an invitation to join a singles group at a local church.
“I realized with complete and utter clarity that I was looking for a human being to fulfill me and make me whole. When what I needed to do was to allow God to fulfill me and make me whole. Suddenly it was crystal clear that until I reached that place where God was making me whole, I wouldn’t have all that much to offer a soul mate anyway,” the pastor tells the young men and women in the group.
The book ends shortly after this scene, and some reviewers object. I don’t agree with those who claim it ends with a cliff hanger, because Carlson does resolve the conflict within Daphne even if she doesn’t resolve the question of whether Daphne can fully inherit her aunt’s estate. To find out that, you’ll have to keep reading . . . but I think you’ll want to anyway.
Description: With high hopes, Daphne Ballinger lands her dream job at The New York Times. But it’s not long until writing about weddings becomes a painful reminder of her own failed romance, and her love of the city slowly sours as well. Is it time to give up the Big Apple for her small hometown of Appleton?
When her eccentric Aunt Dee passes away and leaves a sizeable estate to Daphne, going back home is an easy choice. What isn’t easy is coming to terms with the downright odd clauses written into the will.
Daphne only stands to inherit the estate if she agrees to her aunt’s very specific posthumous terms — personal and professional. And if she fails to comply, the sprawling old Victorian house shall be bequeathed to . . . Aunt Dee’s cats.
And if Daphne thinks that’s odd, wait until she finds out an array of secrets about Aunt Dee’s life, and how imperfect circumstances can sometimes lead to God’s perfect timing.
Also in this series:
About the author: Melody Carlson has written more than 200 books (with sales around 6.5 million) for teens, women and children. That’s a lot of books, but mostly she considers herself a “storyteller.” Her novels range from serious issues like schizophrenia (Finding Alice) to lighter topics like house-flipping (A Mile in My Flip-Flops) but most of the inspiration behind her fiction comes right out of real life. Her young adult novels (Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the world. Her annual Christmas novellas become more popular each year. She’s won a number of awards (including Romantic Time’s Career Achievement Award, the Rita and the Gold Medallion) and some of her books have been optioned for film or television. Carlson has two grown sons and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Lab dog.
Note: Sis received a complimentary reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. She is grateful for the opportunity to read and review it.
After months of investigating the brutal homicide of a young girl, Detective Abby Hart has the evidence she needs. But when the arrest goes terribly wrong, Abby begins to doubt her future as a police officer. As she wrestles with conflicting emotions, old questions about the fire that took her parents’ lives come back to haunt her. “There is proof.” PI Luke Murphy can’t stop thinking about what Abby’s former partner, Asa Foster, mumbled just before he died. When he uncovers a clue to the murder of Abby’s parents and his uncle, he’s reluctant to tell Abby, despite his growing feelings for the beautiful detective. A decade-old abduction case brings Luke and Abby together, but will his secret tear them apart?
Burning Proof provides indisputable evidence that a police procedural can be both authentic and clean, with a multi-layered mystery that should satisfy Christian readers without compromising their standards or offending their sensibilities.
Janice Cantore, a retired Long Beach (Calif.) police officer, has created a strong female lead in Detective Abby Hart, haunted by the 27-year-old murder of her parents – a mystery that provides the backstory for the Cold Case Justice series and that connects Drawing Fire, the first book in the series, to Burning Proof and leads into the third, Catching Heat, scheduled for release this fall.
The second story opens with Hart confronting a vengeful father as she and her partner arrest a suspect in the rape and murder of his 10-year-old daughter. The father opens fire, and so does Hart, and the tragic result shatters her serenity. This sets the scene for a spiritual crisis, and faith under fire is one of the themes Cantore addresses in this story – Abby’s as well as that of another victim, a young woman who was abducted and raped as a teenager and whose assailant has never been caught. Cantore writes with authority, both as a cop and as a Christian.
Burning Proof was my first encounter with Cantore and her characters. I had a little trouble at first in keeping track of all the characters, though I suspect that will not pose a problem for those who read Drawing Fire first. (I’m going to go back and read it as soon as I can.) Cantore depicts four kinds of characters – good guys who are Christians, good guys who are not, cops who have been corrupted, and villains who embrace evil – and all four are complex characters, not caricatures.
The story ends without a resolution to the murder of Abby’s parents, but the storyline is advanced considerably and it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. Readers should be satisfied with this story . . . yet want to read the next.
A hint of romance also extends from the first book in the series through Burning Proof and reaching into the future. Abby is engaged to Ethan, a missionary who hopes Abby will give up the quest for justice and follow him to foreign fields. But she’s also attracted to Luke, a private investigator whose uncle was killed with Abby’s parents. Luke is likewise attracted to Abby, but her engagement to Ethan is a boundary he won’t cross. This storyline is slow to develop . . . and all the more authentic for that! Nobody is rushing into anything. If you’re hoping for a quick, happily-ever-after, you may be disappointed. But, if you are yearning for a real romance where men and women take the time to separate style from substance and build a solid relationship, then you should be satisfied to let this one take its time.
One final note: This is Christian fiction. If you don’t care for Christian fiction, you won’t care for this book. I didn’t find the Christian themes to be moralistic or preachy, but I don’t think it will appeal to non-Christian readers. The characters who are Christians read their Bibles and they pray, both silently on their own and together with other Christian characters.
Sis received a complimentary advanced reading copy from Tyndale House Publishers via NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting her own opinion. Anything else would be a sin.
About the author: A retired Long Beach California police officer of 22 years (16 in uniform and 6 as a non-career officer), Janice Cantore worked a variety of assignments, patrol, administration, juvenile investigations and training. During the course of her career in uniform Janice found that faith was indispensable to every aspect of the job and published articles on faith at work, one for a quarterly newspaper called “Cop and Christ”, and another for the monthly magazine “Today’s Christian Woman”. With retirement Janice began to write longer pieces and several novels were born. Janice is excited and honored to now be a part of the Tyndale Publishing House family. Accused, the first installment in her new suspense offering, The Pacific Coast Justice Series, was released February 1, 2012 and kicked off a brand new chapter in her writing career. In addition to suspense and action, her books feature strong female leads. Janice writes suspense novels designed to keep you engrossed and leave you inspired.
Drawing Fire: One case from her past defines homicide detective Abby Hart. With a possible serial killer stalking elderly women in Long Beach, California, Abby’s best lead is Luke Murphy, an irritating private investigator who saw a suspect flee the scene of the latest homicide. When Abby discovers that the most recent victim is related to the governor, she’s anxious to talk to him about a cold case that’s personal to her—one Luke is interested in as well. As she learns more about the restaurant fire that took her parents’ lives years ago, Abby discovers why Luke is so invested in finding the ones responsible. The more they uncover, though, the more questions they have. Can Abby find peace without having all the answers?
Catching Heat: Twenty-seven years after the deaths of Detective Abby Hart’s parents, she’s desperate to find the proof that will put the mastermind behind bars. When she joins a newly formed task force and teams up with PI Luke Murphy, Abby is sent to San Luis Obispo to work the cold case of a murdered college student. Realizing their investigation will bring them near the town where the culprit grew up, Abby decides to do a little digging of her own into the Triple Seven fire. Luke is eager to help Abby close the books on a case they both have personal stakes in. But as she uncovers long-held secrets, Abby stumbles into an explosive situation, and Luke fears that her obsession may prove deadly.
Recommended without reservations: Roadkill (Double Barrel Mysteries Book 1)by Barbara Ellen Brink, 294 pp, ebook edition discounted to $0.99 (USD) for a limited time, in celebration of the release of Much Ado about Murder (Double Barrel Mysteries Book 2); list price, $4.99 (USD). Tradeback edition, list $14.99 (USD).
Review: Roadkill (A Double Barrel Mysteries Book 1) is a riot of a read.
It’s a sort of cozy mystery, featuring in one barrel a hotshot homicide detective who survived getting shot by a naked girl while taking down her drug-dealing boyfriend. The second barrel is the detective’s devoted wife, Shelby, a stage actress raised by an alcoholic Shakespearean. A hit-and-run murder in the detective’s hometown, and the shooting that disables him, provide a prologue to a story that brings the couple to the fictional Port Scuttlebutt on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where they are debating whether to buy a derelict bed-and-breakfast.
It’s also sort of Christian fiction, featuring a couple of characters who are ordinary Christians and written without obscenities, profanities or voyeuristic sexual situations, though it’s never preachy nor moralistic . . . so non-Christian readers shouldn’t find anything objectionable.
Brink’s writing is pleasantly polished. The characters are well-developed and, barring the necessary villains, quite likeable. In fact, I look forward with pleasure to getting to know many of them better in Brink’s newly released sequel, Much Ado about Murder. The setting is delightful, too, with everything that makes a small town loved . . . and loathed. The mystery involves a teasing tangle of threads, and Brink is adept at twisting them, then unknotting them. You might, as I did, suspect early on that you’ve hit on the solution, but you shouldn’t be too sure of yourself.
One of the very best features is the dialogue, and, in particular the brilliant way Brink employs Shelby’s bardinage. I, too, grew up in a household rife with Shakespearean references, and my college credits include nine hours of Shakespeare (including all the comedies and all the tragedies, as well as a large portion of poetry). But – and this is what is so spectacular – readers don’t need to be versed in Elizabethan drama to enjoy these references because Blake generously explains them to those sensible characters who have no time for such foolishness. It’s never condescending. Blake apologizes for his wife’s eccentricity, and Shelby, though delighting in the quotations that linger in our language, is no literary snob herself. She simply wants to share the fun, not look down on the uninitiated.
“ . . . I’m the daughter of an alcoholic. I say that up front because it colors everything about me. For good or bad, my past experiences have much to do with who I’ve become. I love eggrolls, big band music and Shakespeare,” Shelby tells readers in Chapter One.
A reader who wants to be truly ticky could cavil over two scenes, the absence of a crowd of cops at the hospital after Blake is shot and the brevity with which volunteer firefighters knock down a blaze and depart. In my experience, the Thin Blue Line always thickens the moment an officer goes down, and even volunteer firefighters linger long enough to ensure a fire doesn’t reignite. I suggest overlooking both. Brink’s choices serve to keep the story free from clutter where realism serves no particular purpose.
Finally, the discount on the digital edition should be good from all online booksellers through Monday, 6 June 2016. Brink told me in an email that the price at Amazon will be the last to revert to the regular $4.99.
About the Author:Barbara Ellen Brink is a multi-published author of mystery, suspense, and young adult novels. Apart from writing she is a wife, mother, and dog walker. She grew up on a small farm in Washington State, but now lives in the mean “burbs” of Minnesota with her husband, their pup, and two adult children living nearby. In her spare time – when she’s not reading – she likes to ride motorcycles, visit local wineries, or catch up on the latest movies.
Much Ado about Murder (A Double Barrel Mysteries Book 2) by Barbara Ellen Brink, 260 pp, list price $4.99 ebook, $14.99 tradeback.
Blake and Shelby Gunner’s plans to renovate the old boathouse go awry when murder comes calling. Autumn in Port Scuttlebutt usually means a stormy Lake Superior, crisp temperatures, vibrant fall colors, and an invasion of deer hunters. This year, there’s also a shallow grave. Someone killed Pete Dugan’s ex-wife and planted her under his woodpile. The police consider him the obvious suspect, but the Gunners have other ideas. What does the death of a pet squirrel, the sighting of a mysterious car, a break-in at the bed & breakfast, and the reappearance of three ex-cons into the community have to do with the murder of a middle-aged legal assistant? No detective worth a grain of salt believes in coincidence. So when things start piling up that seem too quirky to be happenstance, Blake and Shelby have to decipher the clues and come up with the truth before a killer gets away with murder.
All five of Diane Moody’s novellas, gathered in one collection, are offered free right now – but this kind of deal, though often repeated, never lasts long. If you wait, you’ll miss out and either have to watch for a second chance or pony up the $6.99 list price. These are delightful stories, each one capable of standing alone, but connected by a common thread. They are heart-warming Christian fiction, from a talented writer.
Description:Lucy Alexander has a hopeless case of writer’s block. But all that changes when her handsome UPS guy delivers a box of vintage teacups from the estate of her namesake and beloved Aunt Lucille. Happy memories of tea parties they shared when Lucy was young flood her mind. And with them, the forgotten stories her aunt loved to tell over tea and Scottish shortbread. Colorful tales of fascinating characters woven together with the undeniable power of love. Some were true, most weren’t, but it was her aunt’s extraordinary gift of storytelling that first ignited Lucy’s passion to write. Though still grieving the recent loss of her aunt, Lucy unwraps the fragile cups and saucers, and with them, a flood of memories and story ideas.
The Collection includes:
Book One – Tea with Emma
Book Two – Strike the Match
Book Three – Home to Walnut Ridge
Book Four – At Legend’s End
Book Five – A Christmas Peril
About the author: Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, Diane Hale Moody is a graduate of Oklahoma State University. She lives with her husband Ken in the rolling hills just outside of Nashville. They are the proud parents of two grown and extraordinary children, Hannah and Ben. To date, Diane has penned thirteen books with several more projects vying for her attention. She and her husband Ken, who writes as McMillian Moody, founded OBT Bookz in 2011. When she’s not reading or writing, Diane enjoys an eclectic taste in music and movies, great coffee, and the company of good friends.
Veronica Heley has a unique – and beloved – voice in the world of British cosy mysteries, as well as Christian cosy mysteries, because she manages to blend the two without blemish to the other. Once again, her gift is apparent in False Wall, the 10th volume in the Abbot Agency Mysteries series.
The story, and the mystery, open with Bea’s garden wall suddenly collapsing, almost on Bea herself, as an amateur attacks the ivy that has covered the wall in his family’s garden. The disaster destroys Bea’s mature sycamore tree, the one that she has enjoyed gazing upon when perplexed, as well as the wall separating her back garden from the newly purchased home of her friend, and would-be fiancé, Leon Holland. The destruction then sets off an inexplicable hostility between the owners of the garden wall that fell, as well as equally inexplicable attacks on Bea and the Abbot Agency itself.
The reaction to each succeeding event falls fast and furiously, distracting Bea from her efforts to think things through and see what is really going on and why.And that’s no coincidence, but part of the plan to keep her off balance and unable to respond to the efforts to undermine not only her, but also Leon.
I love double entendres and puns, equally, so the title delighted me. It refers not only to the wall separating so many back gardens, but to the walls between Bea and Leon – the false walls that have kept Bea from accepting his many proposals of marriage – as well as to the walls between others. In fact, this is as much British cosy mystery as it is as novel about the relationships between families and friends, although the latter certainly serve to promote the former.
Like both of Mrs. Heley’s mystery series, these books are best read in order – because the relationships between the characters have as much to do with the mysteries as the mysteries themselves. The mysteries do stand on their own, but one would lose so much without understanding the growth and development of the relationships between the recurring characters in the Abbot Agency Mysteries, as well as the Ellie Quicke Mysteries.
I believe this book will appeal most to fans of clean, comfortably cosy mysteries who are not hostile to Christianity. As always, Mrs. Heley writes with a deft hand that makes the Christian fiction part merely a natural part of the stories’ backgrounds, and this is especially true with the Abbot Agency Mysteries, where Bea, a 60ish widow, is herself a fairly new Christian. Readers who are absolutely hostile to Christianity won’t like the book, because some of the characters, including Bea, are portrayed as the average practicing Christian. To all except those, this is a book I highly recommend. Personally, I couldn’t read it fast enough . . . and then I wanted to read it all over again.
I received an advanced reading copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a review reflecting my own, original and unbiased opinions. For what it’s worth, I have yet to read a book written by Veronica Heley that I did not absolutely love, and I bought most of them, regretting only that the exchange rate at the time made me buy them over a longer period than I would have preferred!
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