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Mary Jane Hathaway’s Murder at the Mayan Temple

Murder at the Mayan Temple (A Christian Cozy Mystery) (Starling and Swift Book 1) by [Hathaway, Mary Jane]

Kitty Swift travels around the sunny Yucatan peninsula assisting luxury cruise ship groups as an interpreter for the deaf. After a disastrous broken engagement, she’s perfectly content to spend her days with her service dog, Chica, and a motley crew of wealthy vacationers. Her life revolves around playing Bingo, enjoying the chocolate fountain, and passing along the occasional complaint about the quality of the bed sheets. On a cruise ship the food is good, the music is lively, and everyone is friendly.

Life is quiet, just as it should be… until murder arrives in the night.

At the top of a Mayan pyramid in the humid jungle, one of her tour group is found sacrificed to the gods. A clue left at the scene makes it clear this is a deeply personal act of revenge― and the killer may have another victim in his sights.

As the entire tour group is brought in for questioning, Kitty and Chica find themselves in a race against time. A hurricane is bearing down on the city, the cruise ship is set to depart, and they’re sequestered in an embassy house with a vicious murderer.

The only person standing in her way is an enigmatic attaché to the American embassy who doesn’t take kindly to all her questions― especially about himself.

Should Kitty be on guard against the mysterious detective, or are they birds of a feather in search of a killer?

Review

I’ve enjoyed several of Mary Jane Hathaway’s novels before so I decided to pick up the first book in her Starling and Swift series. My thoughts:

What I Liked

Diversity. I love that the main character works as an interpreter for the deaf. In fact, most of the characters in this book are deaf. Without being told, you learn a lot about the purpose and value of service dogs, the deaf community, and different causes that lead to deafness. It was just very nice to be introduced to a different world for a different group of people. It also adds an interesting twist to a mystery novel.

Mystery. The book is advertised as a cozy mystery and it is exactly that. The mystery isn’t complicated, it’s not over the top. It’s a basic who-done-it and there’s a lot of fun trying to solve it.

Kitty Swift and Chica. I will say, that I am not an animal person (sad, but true) and I was not initially interested in a book that had a dog on the cover (I know, I know). I figured if the dog is on the cover, it’s going to have a main role and while the dog did have a main role, it totally worked for the narrative that was being told. So, if you’re like me, never fear, the dog has a purpose here. Also, I really liked Kitty Swift. She’s kind and giving, and yet she has a past and secrets that I think will be slowly unraveled over time.

Romance. This is one of those series (and I haven’t finished it) that appears to introduce the couple in the first book and take them slowly through the rest of the series. So, the best kind of romance because it’s one based on friendship and shared interests.

Spiritually, the main character prays and seeks God.

What I Didn’t Like

The mystery. Honestly, the only thing that made me roll my eyes was how the bad guy/gal was revealed. They straight up confessed in spite of the fact that Kitty really didn’t have any evidence. It made the novel feel a bit less serious.

Romantic scale: 6

Overall, a very nice, cozy mystery to read.

 

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Siri Mitchell’s State of Lies

State of Lies by [Mitchell, Siri]

The secrets of those closest to us can be the most dangerous of all.

Months after her husband, Sean, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, physicist Georgie Brennan discovers he lied to her about where he had been going that day. A cryptic notebook, a missing computer, and strange noises under her house soon have her questioning everything she thought she knew.

With her job hanging by a thread, her son struggling to cope with his father’s death, and her four-star general father up for confirmation as the next secretary of defense, Georgie quickly finds herself tangled in a web of political intrigue that has no clear agenda and dozens of likely villains.

Only one thing is clear: someone wants her dead too. And the more she digs for the truth, the fewer people she can trust.

Not her friends.

Not her parents.

Maybe not even herself.

Review

This was a highly entertaining book. I had problems with it (see below), but for someone who is in the midst of a serious book slump, I finished it, and I must give it props. I am a huge fan of Siri Mitchell’s contemporary novels. My thoughts:

What I liked

Georgie. Mitchell writes fairly unique heroines. They’re always a bit odd (usually serious introverts) and that’s why I like them. Georgie is smart, straight forward, and very focused. She manages to come off as real from her experiences with grief, her day to day actions, and raising her son. I like that Georgie was not one of those silly heroines who pushes forward ahead without thought or care of the danger she might put herself or her family in. She’s very conscious of the choices that she makes and how it might affect her.

The mystery. There were so many twists and turns with this one. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I never knew from one second to the next what was going to happen. Kudos to the author for the amount of research she must have put in. I never once felt like she didn’t know what she was talking about (and there are some seriously heavy topics).

The romance. I was hesitant to pick this one up only because I wanted a cute romance too and well the premise doesn’t exactly lend itself to that. However, you get a lot of meet-cute moments between Georgie and her deceased husband, and a fairly interesting portrayal of marriage. Let’s just say my romance heart was satisfied.

Spiritually, I’ll be honest, not sure why this is considered Christian fiction per se. I believe the characters mention praying once…it was ‘clean’ though.

What I didn’t like

I had a couple of problems with this book, the first being that with all the twists and turns, the ending was still too big of a surprise. It would have worked better if there had been a few more breadcrumbs leading up to the conclusion. I was fine with the ‘bad guy’, I just had difficulty buying the way everything went down.

While investigating, Georgie begins to suspect that someone who is close to her may have done wrong, I found it very strange that never once did she think they were innocent, or possibly setup. She was so driven on the truth, that her relationship didn’t come into play at all. Like not at all. Let me just say that I liked that she was focused on the truth, I just didn’t understand why none of it affected her emotionally.

Georgie is not alone in trying to solve this mystery. I did, however, find it odd that her partner didn’t seem as invested in solving the mystery as much as she was when they had the most to lose. Georgie was all in. I didn’t get the same vibe from her partner.

Lastly, the details did get a bit overwhelming. Not going to lie, I skimmed many paragraphs.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, while problematic, highly entertaining and I would still read the next Siri Mitchell book.

 

 

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Rachel Fordham’s Yours Truly, Thomas

Yours Truly, Thomas by [Fordham, Rachel]

For three years, Penny Ercanbeck has been opening other people’s mail. Dead ends are a reality for clerks at the Dead Letter Office. Still she dreams of something more–a bit of intrigue, a taste of romance, or at least a touch less loneliness. When a letter from a brokenhearted man to his one true love falls into her hands, Penny seizes this chance to do something heroic. It becomes her mission to place this lost letter into the hands of its intended recipient.

Thomas left his former life with no intention of ending up in Azure Springs, Iowa. He certainly didn’t expect a happy ending after what he had done. All he wanted to do was run and never look back. In a moment of desperation, he began to write, never really expecting a reply.

When Penny’s undertaking leads her to the intriguing man who touched her soul with his words, everything grows more complicated. She wants to find the rightful owner of the letter and yet she finds herself caring–perhaps too much–for the one who wrote it.

Review

I really enjoyed Rachel Fordham’s debut book. She really brings a fresh voice to the small-town romance genre. My thoughts:

What I liked

It was different. I have to give Fordham credit for doing something unique. This novel is part epistolary, part mystery, part western. It’s a lot going on without feeling like a lot is going on.

Romance. Fordham actually presents more than one romance to show that romantic love can come in many different ways and forms…even with Penny. Penny had one way that she was looking for love, but her romance came to fruition a bit differently than she thought.

Mystery. There is one mystery that’s a bit obvious, but then there was a twist in the book that I didn’t see coming.

Spiritually, the characters pray, deal with grief, and how to attain peace.

What I didn’t like

This book started slow. I’m not sure why, but it took quite some time before I found myself invested. But, the thing that got me, was that the heroine makes a decision that I think was supposed to be kind of romantic but came off to me as creepy and stalkerish. I had serious second-hand embarrassment that made me put the book down. I know I was supposed to suspend disbelief but I couldn’t.

Lastly, (and this is bit a of a pet peeve), I will never understand what authors are trying to say when they glorify these small towns and vilify big cities. I cannot tell you how many times I was told just how great Azure Springs was and how awful Alexandria, VA/Washington DC was (which is funny because coming from Chicago, those cities seem rather small townish to me).

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, if you’re looking for a cute romance, than this is for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

 

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Elizabeth Camden’s The Spice King

The Spice King (Hope and Glory Book #1) by [Camden, Elizabeth]

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it’s too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience.

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Review

I will admit that this book didn’t sound all that interesting to me, but I trust Elizabeth Camden to tell me a good story. My thoughts:

What I liked

Gray Delacroix. Camden writes some of the best heroes and it’s because none of them are cookie cutter. Gray is brilliant and wealthy, and yet largely vulnerable. In spite of everything that he has, there is a large amount of aloneness that he constantly experiences. I felt for him the entire book. He’s not perfect (none of Camden’s heroes ever are). He’s very opinionated and oftentimes wrong, but he had a code of ethic that I respected.

Then there is Annabelle. She is a typical Camden heroine: smart, has a specific (scientific) niche, and is living right on the edge of cutting new technology of her times. As a reader, I always learn so much from Camden’s heroines. I found Annabelle to be a good foil to Gray. She’s very excited about life, eager to help, and there’s a kindness that just oozes out of her.

Historical facts. Camden has a gift for taking an issue that America has since resolved and shining a light on it at the peak of when it was not solved. I learned so much without feeling like I was being taught a lesson about the spice trade, food labels, the Department of Agriculture, the Smithsonian, and even the Civil War.

Secondary characters. I am hoping, so hoping, that the rest of the series involves Gray’s siblings. What an interesting dynamic duo. At first, they seem very silly and almost superficial, but by the end of the book, there is such depth there. And such mystery.

The political intrigue. At first, I didn’t care too much about the details, but then the book takes quite the turn. I feel like the mystery here is going to continue in the next book (I hope it continues in the next book).

Spiritually, characters pray and read the Bible. Annabelle specifically relies on God during tough times.

What I didn’t like

Okay. This book deploys my least favorite trope in it: deception. It was almost painful to read (why can’t people just work together?). However, the thing that saved it, the thing that made me keep turning the pages (other than the fact that I had agreed to read this book for review) was that the deception did not play out in the usual deception-timeline (i.e. the big reveal is at the 70-75% mark and it’s always revealed by someone who is not the main character). Still, the character doing the deceiving (no matter how good a reason or excuse) always looks bad in my book. I’m not sure they redeemed themselves so much as they were forgiven. It affected the romance a bit…duh…and that’s my favorite part.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, in spite of my quibbles with this book, I read it in one day and I could not believe it was over when it concluded. I’m very much looking forward to the next one!

*I received a copy from Netgalley via BethanyHouse. My opinion was not affected in anyway.*

***

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Eva Marie Everson’s The One True Love of Alice-Ann

The One True Love of Alice-Ann by [Everson, Eva Marie]

Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves.

Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé in the Great War. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters cease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear history repeating itself.

Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops into something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?

Review

I was in the mood for a WWII fiction novel and stumbled across this one. My thoughts:

What I liked

Alice-Ann. Though Alice-Ann isn’t perfect (she has her whiny moments), I very much enjoyed being in her head. This is very much a coming of age novel. Alice-Ann starts off at sixteen years of age filled with all kinds of romantic notions, but the war and time forces her to grow up and to learn truth vs. fiction. But more than that, she comes across as real. A lot of her concerns and the things she deals with feels genuine and manages to translate across time and page.

The romance. It was lovely and my favorite kind: one based on the foundation of friendship.

History. You don’t get a whole lot about the battles (though you learn a bit about the happenings in the Pacific), but you do get to see how the war affected small town America…especially when everyone knew everyone there was to know in that town.

Relationships. The novel isn’t just a romance. You get Alice-Ann’s relationship with her father, her sister-in-law, her friends (old and new). The relationships are complex and fully nuanced so that no one comes across as one dimensional.

Spiritually, the characters often pray and attend service.

What I didn’t like

There is something that happens in regards to the romance that is predictable–especially in war time romance novels. That said, I thought the author did a lovely job of dealing with it.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, I very much enjoyed it. It did exactly what I wanted to do and gave me an entertaining wartime romance.

 

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Natalie Walters’ Living Lies

Living Lies (Harbored Secrets Book #1) by [Walters, Natalie]

In the little town of Walton, Georgia, everybody knows your name–but no one knows your secret. At least that’s what Lane Kent is counting on when she returns to her hometown with her five-year-old son. Dangerously depressed after the death of her husband, Lane is looking for hope. What she finds instead is a dead body.

Lane must work with Walton’s newest deputy, Charlie Lynch, to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when that truth hits too close to home, she’ll have to decide if saving the life of another is worth the cost of revealing her darkest secret.

Debut novelist Natalie Walters pulls you to the edge of your seat on the first page and keeps you there until the last in this riveting story that will have you believing no one is defined by their past.

Review

Even though I had never read this author before, I requested this book because sometimes I’m in the mood for a mystery. My thoughts:

What I liked

The characters. The setup is pretty familiar: girl in a small town plus a handsome deputy equals solved mystery. Except not. Lane is not out here trying to solve mysteries. She’s trying to get through each day. And the deputy (while handsome) is new on the job and trying to learn the ropes. These small differences to a common refrain served to add a new spin on the trope. Lane’s personal problems are intense and yet something I think everyone has encountered. In spite of her issues, I found her to be a very likeable and relatable heroine. The same with Charlie Lynch. He’s not your typical know-it-all police officer and he has his own past which serves to make his narrative rich. Further, both characters have family issues that serve to push the narrative along.

The mystery. You get a lot of police work in this book that I thought was done well. The author doesn’t just skim over how the characters find clues and neither does she pull rabbits out of her hat. Instead, you’re walked through the process in such a way that the mystery almost feels real.

Spiritually, the characters have to deal with truly trusting what the word of God says in spite of their feelings.

What I didn’t like

The author tried to connect the mystery and make it more personal for Lane, but it just didn’t work. And since she wasn’t as invested in it, I wasn’t as involved in it. The book is well written, but I could put it down and not think about it for days. I felt like I was on a journey with Charlie to figure out who the bad guy was but the bad guy didn’t really affect the main characters in any shape or form so I wasn’t worried and I wasn’t on the edge of my seat (though there was one scene…). Now, the bad guy doesn’t always have to connect with the main characters, but it does make a book more interesting if it does. But that’s just my opinion.

Romantic scale: 7.8

Overall, solid mystery, complex characters and cute romance.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Susie Finkbeiner’s All Manner of Things

All Manner of Things by [Finkbeiner, Susie]

When Annie Jacobson’s brother Mike enlists as a medic in the Army in 1967, he hands her a piece of paper with the address of their long-estranged father. If anything should happen to him in Vietnam, Mike says, Annie must let their father know.

In Mike’s absence, their father returns to face tragedy at home, adding an extra measure of complication to an already tense time. As they work toward healing and pray fervently for Mike’s safety overseas, letter by letter the Jacobsons must find a way to pull together as a family, regardless of past hurts. In the tumult of this time, Annie and her family grapple with the tension of holding both hope and grief in the same hand, even as they learn to turn to the One who binds the wounds of the brokenhearted.

Author Susie Finkbeiner invites you into the Jacobson family’s home and hearts during a time in which the chaos of the outside world touched their small community in ways they never imagined.

Review

I’ve never read this author before but I love “war time” fiction novels…especially coming of age war time fiction novels and it was coupled with family dynamics? Yes, please. My thoughts:

What I liked

The characters. Each one was rich and layered and felt like they could step right off the page at any moment. There was obviously Annie, the main character, who is kind and considerate, forgiving and loving. She’s also growing up in turbulent times with a somewhat turbulent family and learning how to deal with it all. But then you have her mom, who has such a dynamic personality, her brothers who are sweet, funny, and caring, her grandparents who go through grandparent-like things, her friend who supports her and who she supports, and her father who is still dealing with the after-effects of the Korean War. Each character almost had their own story to tell. I didn’t feel like the author had any caricatures here. And you know characters are developed well when you find yourself almost praying for them.

Family dynamics. This isn’t a plot driven book. It’s more or less how Annie is dealing with different changes in her life: her brother leaving for Vietnam and the return of a father who was, and kind of is, MIA. I thought that the author did a great job of showing the reality of both. Annie loves her brother and so it isn’t easy to watch him go to war. Especially when said brother has stepped into almost a father-figure role. Then, there is her dad himself. He really was one of the most fascinating characters in the whole book. I loved that the author really took her time to develop him in both the book and in Annie’s life.

The style. There’s a part of this book that is epistolary. I actually really liked the letter writing that went back and forth between various characters. It was a nice way to learn more about certain ones.

Spiritually, the novel deals with prayer and trusting God in the difficult times. And also how faith can sustain you in those difficult time.

What I didn’t like

It was a bit predictable. I grew up reading war time fiction as a child. There’s a bit of a formula for these books. As soon as I read the first three chapters, I leaned over and told my dad how this book was going to end. I was rather disappointed to be right. Further, there was a lot of heavy handed foreshadowing for various facets of the book…so much so I thought the author was going to go in a different direction…

The romance, but not in the way you think. This book didn’t necessarily need romance and I liked how the author played with the fact that the main character could end up with this guy or that guy or no guy. The problem I had was this: one of the possible romances was really complex if you considered all the details and the author tried to make it simple. But, by making it simple, she cheapened the experience of one of the characters. Also, Vietnam.

Romantic scale: 5

Honestly, this book was so compelling I pretty much read it in one sitting. Yes, there were things I didn’t love about it, but overall, it was just a knockout for me.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**