Early Spring

With all due respect to Puxatawney Phil, I have decided Spring is here, at least on this blog. The days have been warmer and I’m ready for flowers, so I brought them here. My husband has started tilling up the garden and I have my tomato seedlings started. I plan to expand my garden this year. Last year it was mostly just tomatoes and cucumbers. This year, we plan tomatoes, zucchini, green and red peppers, green beans, and maybe some pumpkins. We don’t plant until May here, after the last frost, so I’m getting ready now.

I’m still trying to figure out where I was when I took the picture above. When I figure it out I’ll put in an update. But it certainly makes me ready for Spring.

Comment below and let me know what you are looking forward to this Spring and Summer. Gardening? Vacationing? Something else?

Band of Sisters

Kate Moran, a Smith College alumnus and former scholarship student, has graduated and is trying to earn her living when she is contacted by her best friend Emmeline Van Alden. Kate is asked to join a group of Smith alumni who are going to help French civilians during World War I. She can’t imagine being able to go, but when she is asked to take the place of a girl who dropped out, she agrees. The Smith group meets a scene of devastation far worse than they ever imagined, but they pitch in and do their best to help. Along they way, they are shelled by the enemy and hampered by bureaucracy at every turn. Kate and the others learn to face and beat these challenges and more. But Kate’s biggest challenges may be learning to trust her fellow Smithies and rising beyond the label of “scholarship girl.”

This is a well written novel based on the true story of the Smith College Relief Fund and their work in France during World War I. Each chapter starts with an actual letter from one of the alumni. Some of the events described in these letters are incorporated into the book. The characters are well developed and interesting. The concept of class in the midst of war is fascinating. Will the privileged hang on to their prejudices while people are suffering and the Kaiser is trying to kill them all? Willig expertly, through her well-crafted characters, shows the conflicts between classes and shows that people are not always as they seem. In many different ways, Willig reveals Kate’s struggles to see the truth about herself through her own eyes and not her perceptions of what others might be thinking. A little humor and a love story are also threaded nto this captivating tale, which fans of historical fiction and World War I fiction will enjoy.

I received a free advance review copy of this book from William Morrow and Custom House via Netgalley. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

Band of Sisters will be released on March 2, 2021.

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About the Author

Lauren Willig is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than twenty works of historical fiction, including Band of SistersThe Summer CountryThe English Wife, the RITA Award-winning Pink Carnation series, and three novels co-written with Beatriz Williams and Karen White. Her books have been translated into over a dozen languages, awarded the RITA, Booksellers Best, and Golden Leaf awards, and chosen for the American Library Association’s annual list of the best genre fiction. An alumna of Yale University, she has a graduate degree in history from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School. She lives in New York City with her husband, two young children, and vast quantities of coffee.

Lauren Willig’s website

Link to My Goodreads Review

Love’s Ragged Claws

First, before proceeding with the review I must say that there are some current political opinions in this story.  I don’t normally touch on current politics in my reviews on this blog.  Some of you will agree with the opinions in this story and some of you won’t.  That’s as much as I will say on that topic.  

The story opens with a man, Gabriel,  entering confessional and telling the priest he hasn’t confessed in 50 years.  He has only three sins to confess, all of which are sins of the flesh. He confesses to sexual sins outside of marriage with three women.  All of these revolve around the 1960s hippie/commune culture and women he met there, some of whom he still sees. 

I was interested in the redemption aspect, although I am not Catholic and have never gone to confession.  The 1960s hippie culture is not something I’m really interested in, so I will focus on the writing of this story, which is nicely done.

This is well written literary fiction, and the author is a very skilled writer.   The title of the story is “Love’s Ragged Claws.” The phrase “ragged claws” is taken from and attributed to  a poem by T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.   “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”  The protagonist and one of the women discuss this line during the story.  Using “Love’s Ragged Claws” as the title suggests to me that the protagonist feels unloved, incapable of love,  or that he has not experienced real love, so he may just as well scuffle along silently, forsaking love forever.  I will not say if this is his path or not, to avoid spoilers.  There are other literary references in this work and a strong theme of redemption runs throughout.  There is some epistolary content as well.

While I appreciate the literary skill, I just don’t feel the plot was interesting enough for me and I did not connect with the characters. As I mentioned, I’m not into the 60s hippie culture, so many of you may very well feel differently about this story. Since this story is not my cup of tea, I don’t feel it would be fair for me to give it a rating.  

I received a free copy of this book from the author.  My review is voluntary.

Love’s Ragged Claws will be released on February 1, 2021.

Link to the story on Amazon:

Midnight Sun

I don’t normally do a review on a book I couldn’t finish. I tried to finish it, I really did. But this is a longer, more boring version of Twilight. I actually liked Twilight, but this story is excruciatingly dull. I was never Team Edward, and this just reminded me why. He is a controlling, compulsive, whining, annoying person. Let’s not forget he’s actually over 100 years old, even though he looks 17. So his obsession over the 18 year old Bella is kind of unbelievable and creepy. What I loved about Twilight was Bella’s interaction with her father, with Jacob, and with the other characters, especially Alice and Carlisle. Edward was never the reason. I don’t care about his perspective, and I learned that quickly as I tried to read this. Why Bella chose him over a badass wolf shifter is beyond me. ( I know Jacob imprinted later, but that’s kind of sad too.)

I made it 28% through the book, let it sit for two months, and realized I’m never going to finish it. This doesn’t change the fact that I liked Twilight. It does add a boring, unnecessary fifth book to the series. Would I have liked a fifth book? Yes. I would have liked to have seen the further adventures of Jacob or, even better, Leah. Her story was really unfinished and I would have loved to have seen more of it.

Stephenie Meyer’s Website

Link to Midnight Sun on Amazon

Happy New Year!

Wishing all of you a Happy 2021!

We’re praying for health, peace, and happiness for all of you. May the Lord bless you and guide you in the new year. May he lift up those who are struggling.

A special prayer for those who are ill, including in my own family, with COVID and other illnesses. Praying for healing.

I’m blessed to be spending time with my family this weekend. I’ll be back blogging on January 3rd.

White Christmas

White Christmas

I’m just standing on my porch in Tennessee because it’s very cold and I still have on my pajamas, but I wanted to share the snow! I’ll try and get some better pictures later.

Merry Christmas!

EDIT: My husband went out into the yard and took some MUCH better pictures.

Harold and Hermann exploring

The Twelve Dogs of Christmas

Ally has come to Pine Hollow to temporarily help her grandparents run the town dog shelter after her grandmother is injured. Ben is struggling to handle single-parenthood after his sister and her husband died two years ago, and he became guardian of his niece, Astrid. Their worlds collide when Ben casts the tie-breaking vote in the decision to cut funding for the dog shelter. Anger turns to friendship, as they join forces during the Christmas season to try and find funding for the shelter and adopt out the 12 dogs who need homes. But is there something more?

This is such a cute romance, which immediately transports the reader into the Christmas season. That is my top rule for Christmas novels. The reader must feel as if they are surrounded by Christmas, whatever time of year it might be. Besides Ben, Ally, and Astrid, there are many colorful characters living in this close-knit town. This includes the dogs, who were very much a part of this story, and whose individual personalities are so well described. This is a story about recovering from loss and heartbreak and having the courage to take a second chance. The dogs reinforce the idea of second chances as well, because they are in the shelter waiting for new families to adopt them. I would recommend this for dog lovers, fans of Christmas romance novels, or anyone who appreciates second chances.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley. My review is voluntary.

Buy the Book on Amazon

Lizzie Shane’s Website

Link to My Goodreads Review

And as this is dog-themed, I couldn’t resist including a picture of our wire-haired dachshund, Harold, who will be turning 1 in January. He wishes everyone a Merry Christmas! I’ll get a Christmas picture of all three of our dachshunds up later.

EDIT: Here’s all three of our dachshunds: Holly is the red and white piebald, Harold is the black and white wire-hair, and Hermann is the chocolate and cream young man who was supposed to be a miniature dachshund, but ended up weighing 20 pounds!

MERRY CHRISTMAS

Left to right, Harold, Holly, and Hermann

Gardening to Eat

Gardening to Eat: Connecting People and Plants by Becky Dickinson is such a helpful book for home gardeners who want to eat healthy. Part One talks about the basics of organic gardening. Part Two, Grow and Eat, is broken down by type of vegetable or fruit, and tells you how to plant it, grow it organically, and keep pests away, and then follows it up with recipes. For example, after walking the reader through the process of organically growing green beans, a recipe is immediately provided for Thai green bean curry. After the process of planting, growing, and protecting blueberries, recipes for Yogurt and Blueberry pancakes and blueberry cheesecake are provided. Garden to plate instructions for tomatoes, garlic, kale, leeks, onions, carrots, and a lot more are provided in this book.

I love the way this book is organized and is geared towards healthy growing and eating. From seed to plate, everything you need for healthy family gardening and eating is right here.

I received a free digital copy of this book from White Owl Publishing via Netgalley. However, as a home gardener who tries to eat healthy, I will be buying this book in hardcopy. My review is voluntary. This book will be released May 5, 2021.

Link to Pre-Order on Amazon

Link to Becky Dickinson’s Amazon Page

Link to My Goodreads Review

Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

This is a brilliant, suspense-filled collection of stories from a group of talented, best-selling authors who all put their own spin on what might happen after midnight. These stories run the gamut from crime to horror to psychological thrillers and dark fantasy. There is something here for every fan of those genres. This collection is edited by international best-selling author Jeffery Deaver , and he provides a story as well. My personal favorites were “12:01 AM” by Alan Jacobson and “A Creative Defense” by Jeffery Deaver. I recommend this for everyone who likes the spooky, the thrilling, the suspenseful, and even the horror-filled side of fiction.

12:01 AM (Excerpt Below) by Alan Jacobson is about the last minutes of a serial killer who harbors important information about a copycat. FBI profilers race to save a missing woman before their only source of information is executed.

Cell Phone Intolerant by Kevin O’Brien is the story of Ed, who is so angered by rude behavior of cell phone users that he comes up with a scheme to try and do something about it.

All Aboard by Hank Phillippi Ryan is a psychological thriller about a PR executive on a train who overhears a plot against a woman and becomes part of the game.

Gone Forever by Joseph Badal describes a mass killing.

Night Shift by Linwood Barclay is a psychological thriller with a surprise ending when a man threatens to go on a killing spree.


In Midnight in the Garden of Death, a sleepover in a graveyard turns bloody and bizarre.


Paul Kemprecos’ The Sixth Decoy sees his established series character Aristotle Socarides taking a case from a suspicious man.

Jeffery Deaver writes the brilliant story A Creative Defense about a mesmerizing musical composition and a very unusual murder.

Rhys Bowen’s After Midnight offers two variations on the story of Cinderella. 

Easy Peasy by John Lescroart shows us how antics of high school kids can turn out very badly.

Tonic by D.P. Lyle is about two cousins trying to make a living who decide to employ a new business model.

Shannon Kirk’s Tonight is the Night is a suspenseful ride in a ski resort where one of the worker’s tall tales may catch up with him.

Jon Land’s ATM is about a young man in New York City whose life is about to change

Excerpt of 12:01 AM by Alan Jacobson

12:01 AM

A Karen Vail Short Story

By Alan Jacobson

PHELPS CORRECTIONAL CENTER
CULPEPER COUNTY, VIRGINIA

Stephen Raye Vaughn—no relation to the famed musician—sat on the edge of his death row cot. His “music” was a tune of a different sort, his cauldron of creativity emanating from death and mayhem—and finding new ways to wreak havoc on a city.

With his time remaining on this Earth melting away like a glacier in the throes of climate change, he was now reduced to digging out the dirt from under his fingernails. Why? He had no goddamn idea. He was due to die in 120 minutes and nothing really mattered anymore, did it? 

Did it ever really matter?

Yeah, it did. Back when he was hunting for his prey, he had to present himself as an upstanding, clean cut individual. He had to play the part. Otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to sit undisturbed in his van in parking lots while selecting the 16 women he would eventually murder.

His van. He missed that thing. He didn’t know exactly where it was at this moment, but he knew who had it. Fortunately, he had disposed of it before the police caught him, so it could not be used as evidence against him. And man, was there a lot of evidence in it that could be used against him.

As it turned out, the one victim who got away went to the police and turned him in. It was very difficult to commit the perfect crime, although it did happen on occasion. People did get away with murder sometimes, but there was usually at least one major mistake a guy made that proved to be his undoing. 

Stephen Raye Vaughn was no exception. For him it would be the mistake of a lifetime, one he could not take back. 

But so be it. He was like a star in the nighttime sky, burning very brightly before going supernova. He had made peace with that. Not that he didn’t want to continue living, but sometimes you just had to accept your fortune. It took him a dozen years, but he had finally reached that point.

Time was short, and his lifespan was now shorter, but at least he had lived a helluva ride. And unlike 99% of the individuals populating this planet, he had made plans to ensure his legacy continued on, at least for the near future. If all played out the way he figured it would, he would be forever immortalized in movies, television, books, Internet memes, and American history.

Stevie Ray Vaughn may be famous, but Stephen Raye Vaughn…he was infamous.

Vaughn glanced over at the sterile black and white clock across the way and wondered: Was that enough?

With so little time left to live, it would have to be.

I received a free copy of this book from R&R Book Tours. My review is voluntary and my opinions are my own.

Link to Nothing Good Happens After Midnight on Amazon