Book Review: Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders
A Woman of WWII Mystery #1
by Tessa Arlen

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical cozy mystery

Newly trained Air Raid Warden Poppy Redfern takes up her post in the small English village of Little Buffenden, where an American Air Force airfield is about to open. The airfield could make this otherwise quiet hamlet a target for an air raid, but the Germans aren’t the only danger to Little Buffenden; trouble is much closer to home when two women are murdered only days apart. When suspicion is cast upon the Americans at the airfield, distrust for the “friendly invaders” surges in Little Buffenden. Poppy begins to investigate while continuing her duties as warden and trying not to end up as the next victim.

This book was all sorts of great! The descriptions made the story come to life, and though there were quite a few characters from the village and neighboring airfield involved, the author did a great job of helping me keep them all straight as I got used to them. Poppy had a wonderful mixture of spunk, loyalty, compassion, and intelligence, with a little quirk thrown in (it’s not that strange to have the main character of the novel you’re writing pop into your head with observations or admonitions now and then…or so I’ve heard).

I really liked the feel of this small town in 1942 England, where they’ve been at war for much longer than their American allies, not to mention more directly affected. The things the Air Force men take for granted, like having sugar and beef readily available, were luxuries to the locals. The attempts made by Poppy and her grandparents to help their fellow villagers see the Americans in a different light showed the great wisdom of this family. And though there are some bumps along the way that were a little frustrating, the American pilot that works with Poppy, Griff, was one of my favorite characters. Also, I’m not a dog person and don’t normally care much about dogs in fiction, but Bess was pretty great.

I would classify this as a cozy mystery–it has all of the earmarks. I had guessed who the murderer was much earlier than I normally do, but I wasn’t quite certain, and the reveal was still done really well. However, the book does probably have a little more description of violence and disturbing images than you’d normally find in a classic cozy mystery. That’s not to say that it’s very much–it didn’t bother me at all, and I don’t have a very high tolerance for some of that kind of thing–but enough that I thought it was worth mentioning if I’m classifying it as “cozy.” All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience this book provided and would recommend you give it a try if either of the genres interest you. There’s a second book in the series so far, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Find out more about Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Weekly Writing Update: 1/17

I’ve started to focus more on revision again finally, after the slump that started around the holidays. I had a conversation with the younger sister of Leahna, one of the main characters of book #3. Somehow that ended up involving the sisters’ brother too, and in the end, I had so much more insight on both of these two side characters, especially the sister. And then I finished one of the brand new scenes that I’ve slated to add into the story, all of which focus on Leahna and her family, a group of characters that were sorely under-represented in the previous drafts.

Over the next week, I will probably continue to work on the new scenes, saving my new full revision until after all scenes I’ve already planned are done. Then I can start at the beginning and get an idea of how things are flowing so far.

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited).


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Book Review: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line
Veronica Mars #1
by Rob Thomas & Jennifer Graham

My rating: 4.5 / 5
Genre: Mystery

Picking up soon after the Veronica Mars movie, which in turn is set about 10 years after the same-name television show, we have a brand new, stand-alone mystery. During Spring Break in Neptune, two young women go missing from the same house, on different nights. Veronica is hired to look for them, but she doesn’t expect to be confronted with a face from the past. With the help of some old friends, Veronica is determined to find the missing women. But will she be too late?

As one who has seen the show several times, this is just about everything I’d want from a book continuation. The only real downside is that a book can’t span as long of a time as an episodic show does, and so the mystery, characters involved, and side plots can’t be developed like they were in the show, which is what made each larger mystery (i.e. each season) have such a big punch at the end. However, the rest of what I love about the show is here–Veronica’s wit and sass, Keith’s very existence, a twisty plot with a dangerous conclusion, and a whole cast of friends and frenemies to help or hinder Veronica.

For Veronica Mars fans, I would say this is definitely worth a read. And I highly recommend the audiobook, as it is narrated by Kristen Bell herself, which notches the whole thing up to as close to a life-action show/movie as you can get, especially considering that the show is narrated by Veronica along the way too (though this is in 3rd-person, a minor detail). And Kristen Bell does a spectacular job with the voices of her once-co-workers. For one who has seen the show a lot, it’s so easy to hear Wallace, Keith, Mac, even Cliff coming out of the “pages.”

If you haven’t watched any Veronica Mars but are interested in this book, I would first ask why you’re not just starting with the show. But as for whether or not you’d enjoy this book or if you’d be lost, it’s hard to say from my perspective. Things that happened in the movie months before that affect the book are explained well enough, I think, but that also means the movie is spoiled in some parts. I do think that some of the larger characters are represented well enough for a newbie to get a feel for them, but smaller ones, like Weevil, definitely shine more if you already know them. That’s not a fault with the book, though, because he’s simply a smaller character in this story. So if you’re interested at all, I’d recommend the show first (the first 3 seasons), then the movie, then this book and its follow-up, which I haven’t read yet but will. And then maybe the 4th season…maybe.

Find out more about The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Review: The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus
by Jaime Jo Wright

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Historical suspense

Pippa, 1928 – Daughter of circus workers, abandoned and raised by the owner’s family, Pippa is now considered “circus royalty,” above the grit and grime of the circus, yet still feels like she belongs down in the community. Pippa has felt a presence nearby all of her life, watching her, protecting her, calling to her. When The Watchman, as she calls him, begins to step out of the shadows, Pippa will have to decide who to trust.
Chandler, present day – Niece of the new owner of the old circus train depot, Chandler is tasked with determining if the building is a candidate for renovation or if it should simply be demolished.
When the ghosts of the circus’s dark and foreboding past threaten Chandler in the present, she finds herself digging into the story of a serial killer who preyed on the circus in the past. But even in the present day, there’s a very real danger that leads Chandler to be uncertain of who she can turn to.

I had a very difficult time reviewing this book. The idea of an old-fashioned circus as the setting/backdrop, solving a bit of a mystery in the past that connects to the present, it all sounded really intriguing. And though the title certainly doesn’t scream Christian fiction, it’s billed as such. However, there is so much about this book that I struggled with, and in the end, I just don’t understand how it was released like this. I’m going to try to sort out my thoughts in sections below, to at least attempt to keep this review coherent.

Story – The past storyline on its own was decent, if a little muddled. The question of who The Watchman was and what he wanted from Pippa definitely kept me going throughout the book. There was not nearly as much exploration of circus life as I expected, as much of the story takes place in Pippa’s family’s house or in the elephant house, where Pippa is helping to care for an injured baby elephant. But that story on its own was pretty good, from beginning to end.

However, I found the present-day storyline completely pointless. I thought that, as the reader, some of the answers of the past mystery wouldn’t be revealed there in the past, but would come to light when discoveries were made almost 100 years later. I was wrong. It was basically an entire story in itself, with the past storyline a somewhat unnecessary background. And I didn’t like the present-day storyline at all. Seriously, Chandler just needed to put surveillance cameras in the buildings and that would’ve solved an awful lot of her trouble.

Characters – There’s an interesting dynamic between the two main characters. Chandler is fiercely independent, and Pippa is fiercely subordinate to all of the men in her life, even the one in the shadows, obeying his every secretive whim. And this is something the book did mostly well with, as both of these women found their way to a more neutral stance, allowing themselves to breathe a bit and have a bit more freedom. Overall, though, Chandler just drove me crazy. She had some issues that weren’t necessarily unrealistic, but man was she hard to like. In some ways, I felt like the only reason the author included her part of the story at all was so that she could create Chandler, who was perhaps a reflection of the author herself.

One glaring coincidence that I’m surprised more people aren’t bothered by is that both storylines have practically the exact same male romantic interest. They were both large, well-muscled, gruff, brooding men with long hair/beard, and even had the same basic goal driving them. Their names were even similar (Jake & Hank). The author even set up a really easy explanation for this coincidence, but then quickly shoved it aside and let it be just that–pure coincidence.

Writing – I don’t know who edited this book, but it needed a little more work. There were some strange inconsistencies here and there. For example, right from the first chapter, I got the feeling that Pippa was already accepted within the circus and its workers. It mentioned her dear friends in the circus, even listed them by name. Then we proceed through the story to find that most of these people she barely knows. Barely has met. Some of them barely acknowledge her or don’t like her (she’s “above” them, after all). If this was simply meant to show us that Pippa is delusional, imagining these people as her friends because she’s lonely, that never came across to me. Instead, I found myself wondering if the story was written out of order.

Additionally, Linda Pike is said to have disappeared when she was 12. Then later it says she went missing at 18. And I noticed an observation that Pippa made about Jake regarding how good he looked smoking a cigar that was then repeated, almost word-for-word, a few chapters later. There are others, and these aren’t tiny typos, but fairly noticeable mistakes, so many that it took me out of the story quite a bit.

Genre – Now for the thing that bothered me the most throughout the book. It’s listed as Christian fiction, and I’m not sure who decided that was a good idea. I get that for Christian authors, it can be difficult to find a good middle ground sometimes. You don’t necessarily always want to write a book where there’s a solid Christian message, but if you include any Christian talk, it’s deemed too religious to be secular. But wow, the characters were so incredibly confused about their own faith that it could easily leave a reader confused too. I think that if you’re going to write a book where there’s a hint that ghosts and hauntings might be real, and call it Christian, you should definitely come down on one side or the other about whether or not it was a real haunting. At least that way Christians who read the book can agree or disagree. But the “supernatural” events in the present day were really never explained, more just “hand-waved” away at the end. I was left feeling incredibly unsettled (not because it spooked me, but because it was so unpleasant), and I don’t think I’ll read another book by this author.

I don’t read only Christian books, and I don’t necessarily expect every book by a Christian author or in the Christian genre to have a solid Christian lesson or message. But to call it Christian and have one of your main characters this confused over what the Bible even says about what’s going on, or whether or not she should let a psychic contact the spirit world on her behalf, because maybe the psychic was sent by God and Chandler was wasting the opportunity because of a Sunday school lesson (wow!)…to me, this is not a good message anyone should be reading.

Thank you to Netgalley and Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Find out more about The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Notebook Collection, part 9

I won’t say too much as an introduction, since I posted about this same thing only last Saturday. In this post you will find 4 more recent additions to my notebook collection, and if you want to see more, you can click on the links directly below this.

Past posts about the collection I have so far: Post #1  |  Post #2  |  Post #3  |  Post #4  |  Post #5  |  Post #6  |  Post #7  |  Post #8

This is one of the very few notebooks in my collection that came from a thrift store, because as you can imagine, used notebooks aren’t particularly helpful. But now and then apparently someone donates a notebook that they never wrote in. This is actually more of a notebook cover, with a magnetic clasp. Inside is a plain spiral notebook that can be replaced, along with a slot for papers, a clear slot that looks like it’s for a business or ID card, and a pen holder. I like simple covers like this so that I can put my own notebooks in them and keep them safe when they travel in my purse or luggage. Also, it only cost 50¢, so you can’t go wrong with that!


In a nearby city, there’s a store that is only open during Christmas shopping time. They spend the rest of the year gathering things to sell, like overstock from other businesses, things like that, and they sell most of their inventory really cheap. So what they have is very hit-or-miss from year to year. I was a little sad at their selection of notebooks this year–a lot of very plain things, repeats from last year, or oddball notebooks like one with Benjamin Franklin quotes all through it. The notebook above, however, was an immediate grab for me, because I knew it would be absolutely perfect for me to write my character interviews in. After all, what says “split personality” more than talking to myself as a writing exercise?


I watched Jurassic Park in the theater as a teenager. My parents took our whole family, thinking it was going to be more of a light-hearted comedy (what trailer did they see?!). I don’t remember what I thought about it then, but I do remember watching it at my friends house shortly after it came out on VHS. We watched it at least 2-3 times into the night, determined to watch until it didn’t scare us anymore. Maybe that’s why I’m such a huge fan of the whole franchise now. I love them all, even the cheesy ones. I have also read both books, though it’s been a while, which is why I will be reading them again sometime soon.


This was a Christmas gift from my husband last month, a journal cover that he had custom-made for me. It’s the name of my first full-length book, as well as the name of the book series, and also the name of the country most of the series takes place in. As you can see from the spine of the book on the left, it’s in the same font as the title on the book, too. It’s basically a refillable travel journal, which means that there are multiple smaller notebooks inside, held in by elastic bands, that can be replaced as needed. It looks beautiful, smells wonderful, will hold up to all sorts of use and abuse, and can be reused forever. Words cannot express how this cover makes me feel.


Stay tuned for one more post with 4 more notebooks, at which point I will be caught up (for now).

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!

Book Review: A Noble Masquerade

A Noble Masquerade
Hawthorne House #1
by Erica Vetsch

My rating: 3 / 5
Genre: Historical Christian romance

Lady Miranda Hawthorne has never appreciated the “lady lessons” her mother has forced upon her since childhood. She copes with these frustrations by journaling in the guise of letters written to her elder brother’s school chum, a man whose antics, as told by her brother, make her think he’d be of a similar mind to her. She never mails the letters, keeping them locked up in a trunk. But when her brother’s new valet accidentally mails one and Miranda receives a reply from the Duke of Marshington, it sets off an unlikely, if tenuous, friendship. There’s just one problem–no one has seen the duke in 9 years…but on the other hand, maybe he’s actually right there at Hawthorne House.

So for the first half of this book, things were good. Maybe not 5-star good, but still good. Though Ryland (the duke) is a little manipulative, it really did start out innocent, and I think his motivations were sincere, if a bit flawed. But then around the halfway point, things went downhill for me. Miranda goes a bit batty, scenes are really confusing and plodding, and the whole angle of the duke as a spy is sort of shoved in the background, while also sort of being a big part of what’s happening.

Miranda, who is described in the synopsis as acting “every inch the lady” is never really shown to be acting like a lady. She’s always bucking against that role, barely able to keep her mother from chastising her, or doing whatever she wants when her mother isn’t there. But in the second half of the book, she throws all pretenses of being a lady out the window, threatening or attacking men in anger, sneaking out of the house to visit an unmarried man, and a host of bad decisions that only seem to be okay because they’re helping her to go against her mother’s lessons. I didn’t have an issue with her internal struggle with the slot she’s being forced into, but it did get a little ridiculous in that second half.

There is a purportedly tense game of whist played at one point that was just a long, confusing, pointless scene for me, because apparently a lot of unspoken communication hinges on the way the game is played, and…well, how many of us modern people know anything about the game of whist? Then Miranda’s family rehashes the game on the ride home and boy is Miranda’s brother shocked…but I have no idea why, nor what the implications are. Less time should have been spent on that and other less plot-driving endeavors, and more time on showing us both of the MCs’ anxieties about their places in life. Because they each had realizations near the end about how their life is better than they think it is or something, but both of these anxieties were not particularly founded in the earlier parts of the book.

The romance was clearly the driving force of the plot, which is certainly allowed in a romance story, but I prefer those where the rest of the plot, even without the culmination of the romance, stands on its own as a good story. This isn’t one of those. In fact, in the end, I’m not even completely certain if the suggested head “bad guy” was actually a bad guy, because that whole storyline was left behind in the build up to the climax, which, no, wasn’t even from the main plot.

This is the 2nd Regency romance I’ve read in less than a month where the male MC is a duke who is also a spy for England. I really liked the angle of the letters that Miranda had never meant to send being the catalyst to a relationship. Again, I liked the first half or so, though the more I think about it, the more I wish Ryland had been more sensitive to Miranda’s trust issues instead of using them against her. But back to the letters, I did love the culmination of that plot thread in the epilogue, though I won’t explain more due to spoilers. I just wish the rest of the book had held up to the good parts. It’s definitely not high on my list of favorite Regency romances, and I likely won’t read it again. I did like the novella that starts off this series, and the male MC in the next book intrigued me in this one, so I plan to go on to book #2 and see how that one goes.

Find out more about A Noble Masquerade

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Book Birthday!

Pithea cover, Kindle

Guess what! Today is my book birthday! One year ago today, my first full-length novel, first in a series I’ve been working on for many years, was released out into the world! Eleven months later, I did it all over again with book #2, but nothing will ever be quite as exciting as the day that Pithea was released. (Go here to see what the book is about.)

I know many people were looking forward to the end of 2020 and the beginning of a new year, but let’s not be too quick to dismiss last year. I have a feeling that, despite the mess the year became, each of us could find something to celebrate from 2020. What’s yours?

Weekly Writing Update: 1/10

I didn’t do much of any revision work during the holidays at all, and only just finally managed to get back into it. So far, all I’ve done this year, mostly during this last week, is a character interview with one of the main characters of book #3, Leahna. She’s one that I always thought I had a decent handle on, but has always been in the background. Now that I want to bring her to the front more, of course I realize that my understanding of her is far too shallow. So I spent some time fleshing her out a little.

I did learn some details that I think will give her a lot more depth in the book. I also realized that I need to conduct another interview, though, with Leahna’s sister. Though the sister will only be in the book a little, I’m noticing how much she has to do with the Leahna’s background and her dynamic arc. I’ll work on that this coming week, and hopefully take some time to finish writing the first new scene for the book that I’ve started on for this revision, but didn’t get very far with due to Christmas-related activities taking so much time in December.

While I work on continuing the series, if you’re interested in reading where it all starts, Pithea is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback (it’s also on Kindle Unlimited).


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Notebook Collection, part 8

6 1/2 years ago, I started this blog and promptly posted about the small collection of notebooks I had just realized I had. Since then, the collection has grown into a bit of a monster. As an author, I like to write by hand as much as possible, but it’s just so much faster to type. Try it; you’ll probably agree with me. Even still, I handwrite when I can, and I love gathering notebooks. I also love sharing about my notebooks.

It has been far too long since I last posted about newly acquired notebooks. Maybe not that long when measured in time (6 months), but definitely too long when measured in notebooks (13), since I try to keep these posts to no more than 5 notebooks per. So I’ll split these 13 into 3 different posts, spread out over the next week.

Past posts about the collection I have so far: Post #1  |  Post #2  |  Post #3  |  Post #4  |  Post #5  |  Post #6  |  Post #7

I bought this notebook at Meijer, of all places. Usually big retail stores like that don’t have much in the way to captivate me, though Meijer does seem to be the exception. I love the ability to customize it with any letter in front. There are also a few other options to fill the window, as seen on the left.


I remember watching my husband play Ocarina of Time back in the early days of our marriage. It’s a fond memory, though I’d never played Zelda before that, nor did I play it after that. Until Breath of the Wild caught my attention, which I’ve now played through all of.

In case you can’t tell from the picture, this notebook lights up. I almost passed on, because the bottom-right corner, where the activation button is, is a bit dented in from all of the people pushing the “Press Here” sticker in the store. But it was a good deal, in the clearance section of Box Lunch, so I went for it. (Box Lunch will be the death of me, I’m pretty sure.)


This is one notebook that is better in person (well, they all are, really). The draw of it is the soft, suede-like hardcover, which of course won’t come across in a picture. It just looks like a plain gray notebook from Half-Price books…they can’t all have interesting stories.


This notebook and the one below it my husband bought on clearance at the Disney Store in Indianapolis on a work trip for me that gave him time to shop thrift stores (which he loves to do). Apparently he also had time to go to the mall.

This first one (above) is from the movie Onward, which we’d watched not long before and enjoyed. It’s meant to be the RPG book the older brother uses, and the back cover text (shown on the right) reflects that too. It also came with a pen that is the wand from the movie. It lights up, but it’s a bit touchy and I couldn’t get it turned on for the picture (it was on clearance, after all).


I have never seen the movie that this notebook is for. My husband was basically aware of that fact, but still thought I’d like the notebook. At first, I wasn’t really sold, but the longer I’ve had it (he bought it around 4 months ago), the more it’s grown on me. First of all, it’s huge–one of only a couple of my notebooks where the pages inside are as big as regular notebook paper. Second, the covers are thick and rigid, which makes it a very hardy notebook. Then there are the accessories. The “hinges” on the left (which are also on the back) are metal and the rivet spots, though fake, do stick out. No, that keyhole doesn’t actually lock. In fact, the latch opens from the spot on the far right, not where the keyhole is. But it’s still metal and just really cool looking. And the bookmark has a tassel on the end! I’ve really come to love the overall medieval look to it.


Stay tuned for more notebooks within the week, including easily my favorite of all of my collection!

Do you collect anything related to reading or writing? Feel free to share!

Book Review: Maus

Maus
Book #1
by Art Spiegelman

My rating: 5 / 5
Genre: Historical non-fiction graphic novel

The story of Polish Jew Vladek Spiegelman, as told to his son, is not an easy one. In this 1st volume of 2, we’re shown in images what Vladek’s life was in the time leading up to and in the early days of the Nazis’ suppression of Jews in Poland. In tandem, Art shows his research process with his father, as he tries to interview him about his past and get along with him at the same time. The 1st volume takes Vladek right up to the gates of Auschwitz, and takes Art to the brink of despair with his tormented father.

The horrific things that happened during the time leading up to the Holocaust (and some of the beginning) is difficult enough to read about, but to see it in this format can make it even more difficult. Spiegelman doesn’t pull any punches in his father’s account or his own. It’s a depressing story, yet I’ve always appreciated reading about the amazing ingenuity of survivors of the Holocaust. Even while we see the depths of human depravity, we also see a shining light as those who are basically safe (the Germans may not have been rounding up the average Polish citizen, but they weren’t exactly making life easy on them either) risk their own safety to help those who are being persecuted.

I’ve always been fascinated by stories like this, preferring real accounts to fictional ones, and it’s difficult not to imagine myself in that situation. While the characters in this book are depicted as animals, in a way, this adds another layer to the realism while also making it a little more palatable (though just a little). I would recommend this to be read by anyone interested in this part of history, even if you don’t normally read graphic novels. I don’t either, but this book, and it’s follow-up, have captivated me for years.

Find out more about Maus

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!