A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

a-killing-at-cotton-hill-by-terry-shamesA Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames
Series: Samuel Craddock Mystery #1
Genre: Mystery
Setting: Jarrett Creek, Texas
Published by Seventh Street Books, 2013
E-book, purchased
231 pages
Grade: A-
Synopsis: The chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in. He discovers that a lot of people had it in for Dora Lee. The conniving rascals on the farm next door want her land for nefarious purposes; her estranged daughter could be seeking vengeance; her grandson wants money for art school; and then there’s that stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. Does Craddock still have what it takes to find the killer? In this debut novel, the strong, compelling voice of Samuel Craddock illuminates the grandeur and loneliness of the central Texas landscape and reveals the human foibles of the residents in a small Texas town-their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues.

The two highway patrolmen are wearing their hats and sunglasses like they think a TV crew is going to come barreling up any second and they want to be sure they look the part.


One problem with being a widower is that old women have us outnumbered. Right after Jeanne died I was scandalized and soon terrified at how quickly women started sniffing around. I’m no Gregory Peck.

Initial impressions

  • This is the type of mystery I really enjoy reading. Interesting characters, a strong protagonist with a moral compass and a good mystery. It’s one of my favorite books of the year!

The story

  • Samuel Craddock is the former Chief of Police of the small town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. His wife died of cancer a year ago. He misses her a lot and doesn’t have too much to do other than spend a lot of time with his small herd of cattle.
  • When a lifelong friend–Dora Lee–is murdered he feels the need to find out what he can about what happened.
  • The current police chief–Rodell Skinner–is no friend of Samuel’s. He was appointed to the position by a relative and is a drunkard who takes the easy way out.
  • Rodell is convinced Dora Lee’s grandson Greg killed her, but Samuel isn’t so sure. There are plenty of other suspects around.
  • Samuel convinces the best lawyer in town to take Greg’s case and she convinces Samuel he needs to investigate the case.


  • Written in present tense, first person POV. Made the voice of Samuel Craddock really come through. I love the wry thoughts Samuel has about the world around him.
  • I like the cover. To me it has a rural vibe about it.
  • The small town Texas setting and lonely Texas countryside is really well done.
  • Samuel’s wife Jeanne got Samuel interested in modern art and they collected it during their marriage. They bought from unknown artists, but some of them have since become famous and their art collection is insured very well.
  • The art collection means a great deal to Samuel since it’s something Samuel and Jeanne shared and loved.
  • The plot gets more confusing when a fire starts at Samuel’s home. The house and Samuel’s art collection are saved, but the fire is arson and a painting was stolen.
  • Samuel is amazed when he sees the art Dora Lee’s grandson Greg is painting. He hasn’t had much training, but Samuel thinks he’s very talented. Of course, this makes one more reason Greg might be guilty–he wanted money so he could go away to art school.
  • Samuel is an honest man. I really like that and an author who writes a character like that.
  • A good mystery. Plenty of characters had motive and opportunity. I didn’t figure out for sure who had done it until the end.
  • Even though some characters are sympathetic that doesn’t keep them from being brought to justice.


  • None I can think of!

And concluding thoughts . . .

  • I’m ready to read the next book in the series! I’m glad several books are already written.
  • So happy to find another new series and author to enjoy.


  • Macavity Award for Best First Mystery, 2013

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Terry Shames grew up in Texas, and has an abiding affection for the people she grew up with and the landscape and culture of the town that is the model for Jarrett Creek.
  • She graduated from the University of Texas and has an MA from San Francisco State University.
  • Terry now lives in Northern California with her husband, two terriers and a regal cat.

Reading Challenges

Cold in the Earth by Aline Templeton

cold-in-the-earthCold in the Earth by Aline Templeton
Series: DI Marjory Fleming #1
Genre: Mystery, police procedural
Setting: Southwest Scotland–near Galloway
Published by Witness Impulse, 2005
E-book, purchased
372 pages
Grade: B+
Synopsis: Death is in the air. Death is on the ground. Death is everywhere for the people of Galloway. As a catastrophic virus devastates the Scottish countryside, killing cattle and destroying lives, Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming finds herself at the stormy heart of a troubled, trapped community. Pyres are built, infected animals are burnt, and farmland is dug up as burial ground. But the all-pervasive stench of death develops a horrifying, unfamiliar edge when human remains are dug up near the small market town of Kirkluce. Thousands of miles away in New York City, a woman called Laura resolves to unearth the dark secrets of her past. Determined to discover the truth behind her older sister’s disappearance fifteen years ago, her journey takes her back to Galloway, to a world of suspicion, fear and menace. A dead body, a missing girl, and a mysterious family’s dangerous obsession with bull running provide a sinister backdrop to DI Fleming’s first murder investigation. And as the cold shadow of death looms ever larger over this quiet corner of rural Britain, one thing becomes clear: it won’t be her last.

Act as a spy on her own community? How could she? And if she did, would she ever be forgiven? In the country memories are long, with grudges handed down from one generation to the next.


Cat, under Janet’s influence, was rapidly becoming a Fifties throwback. Marjory rarely saw her without a pinny on and she had even said reproachfully, ‘Mum, why don’t you pull out all the beds to clean behind them every week? You can’t have a clean house if there’s dust under the beds.’ Like her grandmother, she’d taken to waiting hand and foot on the menfolk and her brother was rapidly becoming a male chauvinist piglet.

Initial impressions

  • First book in a police procedural series set in Scotland! Very good!

The story

  • The book begins with a prologue. The details aren’t clear–but it seems a young woman is murdered.
  • DI Marjory Fleming is both a farm wife and a detective inspector in the local police force.
  • When foot-and-mouth disease shows up in their area of Scotland she’s pulled both ways. She wants to be with her husband on their farm, but she has to stay and do her job as a police officer.
  • When diseased cattle are killed on a property and a pasture is used to bury the cattle a body is discovered buried in the pasture.
  • Now DI Fleming is heading a murder investigation.


  • I love chapter 1–shows the farm wife feeding her chickens and then transforming from farm wife and mother to a police detective inspector.
  • The book has several story lines and character view points. We’re not sure how all the story lines will meet up at first.
  • The first part of the book shows the lead up to foot-and-mouth disease coming closer and closer to southwestern Scotland. That part of the book reads more like general fiction than a mystery, but I really liked it. Finding out about these people’s lives really made me feel invested in the characters and their lives.
  • There are horrific images in this book–farms forcibly entered, animals slaughtered even if they don’t show signs of the disease, the stench of dead animals.
  • The human cost of killing animals which farmers have poured their lives into is shown in this book. It’s heartbreaking to read about, but I thought it was well done. The worry of the farmers as they face having their sheep, pigs and cattle killed and the preparation of the police for trouble from farmers as well as the possibility of suicide by farmers.
  • Because Marjory can’t get compassionate leave to stay at the farm with her husband she and their children have to stay in town with her parents. Her husband is more and more despondent and distant as she talks on the phone with him.
  • Marjory pays a personal price as her neighbors see her siding with the government against them. Plus she can’t see her husband since farms are quarantined and she worries about him.
  • Marjory heads up the murder investigation of the body found buried in a farm field. The investigation is difficult and complex. The case is old, the body unidentified at first, police resources spread thin and Marjory’s supervisor wants her to wrap up the case quickly.


  • The way a few characters act seems exaggerated. This didn’t make me like the book any less, however!

And concluding thoughts . . .

  •  I really enjoyed this book. I thought the mystery, most of the characters, setting and writing were all very well done.
  • I’ve bought the second book in the series and am eager to read it.

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • “I grew up in  the fishing village of Anstruther, on the east coast of Scotland not far from St Andrews.  The memories of beautiful scenery and a close community inspired me to set the Marjory Fleming series in a place very like that – rural Galloway, in the south-west of Scotland..
  • I went on to Cambridge University  to read English – three wonderful years when I couldn’t believe my luck that it was my duty to read books all day. And it still left a lot of time for the  social life a girl could  have in the days when we were in a 10-1 minority…
  • It seemed natural to want to share my love of literature, so I taught for a few years.  Then came marriage to Ian and two children,  Philip and Clare and three memorable dogs, most recently the greatly-mourned Lucy, a wonderful Dalmatian who always kept me company while I wrote.  Now we live in Edinburgh in a house with a balcony built by an astronomer to observe the stars, with a splendid view of the castle and the beautiful city skyline.  I have grandchildren living in Kent now, so I seize every excuse for a trip south.”
  • (the rest of the article Ms. Templeton wrote about herself is really interesting, too, as she talks about why she writes about crime.)

Reading Challenges

February reading challenge updates


February updates

When I look at these stats I come to several conclusions…lol.

  • You can see the specific books read and reviewed (or not read) in each category if you check out my “Reading Challenges” Pages.
  • I’m reading more mysteries than fantasies or science fiction so far this year.
  • I’ve read and reviewed quite a few NetGalley books–and thus new releases–so far this year (so I haven’t read any TBR books yet).
  • I’ve read books in several categories, but just haven’t reviewed the books yet. That should change in March.

Audiobook Challenge

  • Audiobooks read and reviewed: 0
  • Challenge Goal: 20 -30 audiobooks
  • I’m listening (or rather not listening) to an audiobook. I only listen during certain times and haven’t found those so much.

Cloak and Dagger Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 6 mysteries
  • Challenge Goal: 31+ books

Goodreads Challenge

  • Books read: 20 books
  • Challenge Goal: 100 books
  • I’ve only reviewed 7 of the 20 books I’ve read in 2016. I’m doing better reading than getting some of my books reviewed.

I Love Libraries Reading Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 0
  • Challenge Goal: 18 books

Netgalley and Edelweiss Reading Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 6 books
  • Challenge Goal: 25 books

New Author Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 7 books
  • Challenge Goal: 30 books
  • All 7 books I’ve reviewed so far this year are from new authors

New Release Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed:  6 books
  • Challenge Goal: 31 – 45 books

Science Fiction/Fantasy Bingo Reading Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 0

TBR Pile Challenge

  • Books read and reviewed: 0
  • Challenge Goal: 31 – 40 books

What about you? How are your reading, reviewing and challenges going so far this year?

The rest of the short reviews from 2015

I’ve finally finished all my reviews for 2015 with these last six shorts. Three of these are short stories, one is a book of short stories and the other two are novels. I have two science fiction, three fantasies and one contemporary fiction. These are very short snippets of reviews…lol. At least I have a post about them which makes me happy!

“Earth and Fire” & Earth 2788 by Janet Edwards

  • Earth and Fire” is a prequel novella. It’s a story about Jarra when she learns to fly a plane (takes place before the trilogy Ms. Edwards wrote). I enjoyed the glimpse into Jarra’s life before the books began. Grade: B
  • Earth 2788–Eight prequel short stories about some of the characters in the trilogy who come from the colony worlds. I really enjoyed reading about how these characters ended up in the class with Jarra. Grade: B

Chasing Christmas Past: An Airship Racing Chronicles Short Story” by Melanie Karsak

  • Another short story–this one very short (only 30 pages)–but I thought it was a fun story that gave me a flavor for what the series is about. I haven’t read anything else by this author, but this science fiction steampunk has fun characters in an interesting alternate world. Grade: B

Magic Stars” by Ilona Andrews

  • A short story set in the Kate Daniels world about Derek (a shifter wolf) and Julie (Curran and Kate’s ward) both of whom we’ve seen grow up while reading the Kate Daniels books. Both are very likable characters so it’s fun to read a story about them. I loved this! Since this is listed as Grey Wolf #1 (and Kate Daniels #8.5) I’m hoping there are more stories about Derek and as well as Julie. Grade: A-

Radiance by Grace Draven (Wraith Kings #1)

  • I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected. It’s a fantasy romance and was a lot of fun to read. The characters are enjoyable and the story is good. I recommend it! Grade: B+

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

There is no dishonor in losing the race. There is only dishonor in not racing because you are afraid to lose.

  • This book made me cry. I have to admit I didn’t like it very well. I had trouble finishing it. I don’t like sad books. I can find enough to cry about in real life.
  • I listened to the audiobook and thought the narrator was great, but I thought the book was one sad scene after another. And I felt my emotions were manipulated some of the time. Grade: C+

Have you read any of these books? What’s your opinion?

2015 Reading Challenges

  • 2015 Goodreads Challenge
  • Audiobook Challenge
  • New Author Challenge
  • TBR Pile Challenge

Mystery Reviews


I have a few books I read in 2015, but didn’t get reviewed. I’ve decided to group them together in three or four posts. Mysteries come first!

A Man of Some Repute by Elizabeth Edmondsona-man-of-some-repute-by elizabeth-edmondson

  • A Very English Mystery #1
  • Published 2015, 306 pages
  • Historical Mystery–England, 1953
  • I really enjoyed this mystery. I haven’t read too many books written in this time period.
  • Real events are the background for this historical mystery. Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess defected to the Soviet Union in the summer of 1951. They were both part of what later became known as the Cambridge Spy Ring because they were recruited in the 1930’s when they were at Cambridge. More people were ultimately accused as more evidence came to light. Kim Philby defected to the USSR in the early 1960’s. It still isn’t known (publicly at least) how many spies there might have been–but at least five.
  • The main character in this historical fiction mystery–intelligence officer Hugo Hawksworth–wounded on a secret mission and now assigned to desk duty. His job is to read through personnel files and see if he finds anyone else besides Maclean and Burgess who might be Russian spies. He isn’t very happy with this assignment, but has little choice because of his injury.
  • He is the guardian of his teenage sister and together they are staying at a castle in the country near where he is working. The Earl who owns the castle disappeared one night during a snowstorm seven years earlier. Soon after Hugo arrives the Earl’s bones are found under the flagstones of the castle chapel. Hugo (and his sister) and the Earl’s niece begin investigating the case.
  • There’s a hint of romance and the characters are interesting. The mystery is well-done and I recommend this book especially is you like historical mysteries set in an unusual time period.
  • Grade: B+

Murder Fir Christmas by Joyce & Jim Lavenemurder-fir-christmas-joyce-and-jim-lavene

  • Christmas Tree Valley Mysteries #1
  • Published 2015, 202 pages
  • Contemporary Mystery–small Tennessee town
  • I enjoyed this mystery a lot, too. When I picked it up I was afraid it might be a little “cutesy.” But it wasn’t. I thought it was well-written and I especially liked the main character–Federal Wildlife Agent Bonnie Tuttle.
  • She arrives in Tennessee where she grew up to take over from another wildlife agent who is retiring. As soon as she arrives she and the agent she will replace are called out to an island fire to help rescue animals. While on the island the retiring agent is murdered.
  • Bonnie must juggle the new job, new people to work and interact with while investigating a murder, helping her mother who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and helping run the family Christmas tree farm. She has a special gift with animals, too! And she has to deal with the reasons she left home in the first place. It all sounds like a muddled mess! But it works!
  • A lot to deal with, but even though this is a short book, it didn’t feel too short. I do hope to read another book in the series. I want to find out more about Bonnie and the people in this book. The mystery is pretty good, too. There’s a hint of romance in this book, too. I like the Christmas aspects of the book, too.
  • Grade: B

Death in a Red Canvas Chair by N.A. Grangerdeath-in-a-red-canvas-chair

  • Rhe Brewster Mystery #1
  • Published 2013, 216 pages
  • Contemporary Mystery–small Maine coastal town
  • I liked this mystery, but it’s not my favorite of the three.
  • Rhe Brewster is a nurse in this small town and she finds a dead body at the end of her son’s soccer game. Her brother-in-law is the sheriff and he asks her to help investigate. Rhe’s husband is quite unhappy about this and I didn’t find him very likable. I also didn’t find it likely that a sheriff would ask a nurse to help in an investigation. By the end of the book they made it more formal, but I still don’t find it very likely. I did find the mystery interesting.
  • Grade–B-

2015 Reading Challenges

  • Goodreads
  • Cloak and Dagger Challenge
  • New Author Challenge
  • TBR Pile Challenge

Have you read any of these books? How did you like them?

2015 reading challenges–How’d I do?


2015 Reading Challenges

I only completed 3 of the 8 challenges for 2015. However, I was 85% or better on 3 more of the challenges so I feel pretty good about that. I’m doing challenges again for 2016–some of the same challenges as the ones below and some new ones. I have fun trying to complete the challenges!

Audiobook Challenge — 85%

  • Goal–20-30 audiobooks
  • How many I listened to –17 audiobooks
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015– 16 books
  • We traveled a lot in 2015 and when I travel I don’t listen to books as much.
  • I’ve signed up for this challenge again.

Cloak & Dagger Reading Challenge — 175% –completed!

  • Goal–20 books
  • How many I read — 35 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 — 32 books
  • I read 15 books more than my goal! YAY!
  • I’ve signed up for this one again.

Goodreads Challenge — 92%

  • Goal — 110 books
  • How many I read by the end of 2015 –101 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 — 90 books
  • I have chosen a smaller challenge for 2016. I started worrying about the number of books I’d read instead of just enjoying the books. I also stopped reading long books since I was trying to meet my goal.
  • My goal this year is 100 books.

Library Challenge — 58%

  • Goal — 12-16 books
  • How many I read — 7 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 — 7 books
  • Since we traveled so much last year I didn’t use the library as much as I meant to.
  • I haven’t signed up for a formal library challenge, but plan to keep track of the library books I read. And plan to buy fewer books since we’re retiring a few years earlier than planned and I need to keep to a budget.

New Author Challenge — 168% –completed!

  • Goal — 25 books
  • How many I read by the end of 2015 — 42 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 — 35 books
  • Lots of really good new authors this year.
  • I’ve signed up for this challenge again. I love finding new authors to keep reading.

TBR Challenge — 92%

  • Goal — 1 book per month
  • How many I read — 11 books total
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 — 11 books
  • I missed my July book–again, I got busy and didn’t finish the book until later in the year.
  • I’m not signing up for this challenge since it’s more romance oriented and I’m not reading so much romance anymore.

TBR Pile Reading Challenge — 116% — completed

  • Goal — 31-40 books
  • How many I read — 36 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 –33 books
  • I have lots of TBR books so this is one I’ve signed up again. I have plenty of books for this challenge!

Ultimate Reading Challenge — 58%

  • Goal — 52 books–each in a specific category
  • How many I read — 30 books
  • Books reviewed by the end of 2015 –30 books
  • There were some types of books on the list I probably wouldn’t have read, but I could have done a little better. In the last months of 2015 I got busy with other things and didn’t think about the challenge and trying to find books to meet the challenge.
  • I didn’t check to see if this challenge is occurring again this year. I signed up for a different challenge that’s somewhat similar, but confined to science fiction and fantasy.

Did you take part in reading challenges in 2015? How did you do?

Hot Toy by Jennifer Crusie

toy-story-by jennifer-crusieHot Toyby Jennifer Crusie
Series: None–part of an anthology
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Setting: United States
Published by St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2006
Paperback, purchased
104 pages
Grade: C+
Synopsis: Get ready for a holiday season you’ll never forget with three of today’s most sensational writers who know what every woman wants for the holidays. You’ll believe in Santa all over again with these seductive stories from:
Mayhem ensues under the mistletoe as a determined shopper grabs the very last hot toy action figure off the shelf, only to find herself plunged into the middle of a real-life spy game–in the arms of a sexy secret agent. . .

Above her, Madonna cooed “Santa Baby,” the ancient store speakers making the carol to sex and greed sound a little tinny. Whatever had happened to “The Little Drummer Boy”? That had been annoying, too, but in a traditional way, like fruitcake. She’d be happy to hear a “rum-pa-pum-pum” again, anything that didn’t make Christmas sound like it was about getting stuff.

Initial impressions

  • Not my favorite story by Jennifer Crusie. Too short for both a romance and a suspense plot.


  • This has the trademark Jennifer Crusie humor. I always like her humor.
  • The romance in the story isn’t my favorite, but I still like it.
  • Trudy meets Nolan a college professor she dated, in a toy store, on Christmas Eve where she’s looking for the popular toy of the year for her nephew. Of course, the toy sold out months ago.
  • Trudy is irritated Nolan never called again after their last date. However, it turns out Nolan is looking for the same toy as he’s a collector. Then a former research assistant of her professor father shows up and they all go on a wild goose chase to try to find the toy.


  • The suspense part of the story seems very unrealistic and just didn’t work for me. I wish there had just been a sweet romance especially with such a short story.
  • Trudy’s sister doesn’t have the right toy for her son so Trudy has to go out and fight the crowds on Christmas Eve to try to find the “it” toy of the year?? And when she can’t find it the sister insists she keep looking??? I don’t think so.

hot-toyAnd a few thoughts . . .

  • I bought the paperback when it came out, but hadn’t read it. Now I’ve read Jennifer Crusie’s short story, but not the other two.
  • A new edition of just Ms. Crusie’s short story was published in October.

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Jenny Crusie is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of twenty novels, one book of literary criticism, miscellaneous articles, essays, and short stories, and the editor of two anthologies for BenBella Press. She lives in a small cottage on a small lake in New Jersey, surrounded by deer, bears, and dachshunds, where she often stares at the ceiling and counts her blessings.

Reading Challenges

  • 2015 Goodreads Challenge
  • TBR Pile Challenge–hosted by the Bookish blog

“You Again” by JoAnn Ross

you-again-by-JoAnn-Ross“You Again” by JoAnn Ross
Series: Shelter Bay #6.5
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Setting: NYC & Shelter Bay, Oregon
Published by Catlelough Publishing LLC, 2014
E-book, purchased
172 pages
Grade: B
Synopsis: A book nerd, a brainiac science guy, and a misplaced killer whale…

Meghann Quinn wasn’t always a hugely successful author. Adam Wayne wasn’t always a marine biologist studying whales. Back in high school in Shelter Bay, Oregon, she was the shy book nerd helping the brainiac science guy pass English. Meghann had no idea Adam would turn into such a hottie. Adam has no idea their once-upon-a-time sweet summer romance inspired Meghann’s popular teen novels.

Two shy geeks didn’t have the courage to share their true feelings back then. But now that Meghann’s back in town, they’re pondering life’s important questions. Such as, will Adam ask her to the Snow Ball? And what are they going to do about the lost Orca who shows up on Christmas Eve? And can two nerds get past their initial insecurity to take a second chance on a once-in-a-lifetime love?

You Again also will appear in a Home for Christmas Duet with Jessica Scott.

Initial impressions

  • A fun, fast read about two people who meet again after 10 years.


  • Adam and Meaghann are characters I would enjoy knowing.
  • Meaghann tutored Adam in English during high school and they liked each other, but lost track of each other when they went off to college.
  • Meaghann is now a successful young adult author. Adam is a marine biologist living in their home town of Shelter Bay, Oregon.
  • When she’s invited to Shelter Bay for a fund-raising event, Meaghann arrives a couple of days before Christmas. And she and Adam both want another chance at love.
  • I loved reading about the Christmas parade of boats. And all about the orca (killer whales). I thought the author did a good job making them part of the story.
  • Even though I haven’t read any other books in this series I didn’t have any trouble picking up this book and knowing what was going on.


  • The story is quite short and Adam and Meaghann decide they love each other very quickly. But it is home-for-christmasChristmas!

And a few thoughts . . .

  • I bought “You Again” last year as part of the Home for Christmas e-book along with Jessica Scott’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
  • I read this novella as my December review for Wendy’s TBR Challenge (see below).

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • When New York Times bestselling author JoAnn Ross was seven-years-old, she had no doubt whatsoever that she’d grow up to play center field for the New York Yankees. Writing would be her backup occupation, something she planned to do after retiring from baseball. Those were, in her mind, her only options. While waiting for the Yankees management to call, she wrote her first novella — a tragic romance about two star-crossed mallard ducks — for a second grade writing assignment.
  • The paper earned a gold star. And JoAnn kept writing.She’s now written around one hundred novels (she quit keeping track long ago) and has been published in twenty-six countries.
  • Although the Yankees have yet to call her to New York to platoon center field, JoAnn figures making one out of two life goals isn’t bad.
  • Currently writing her Shelter Bay series (set on the Oregon Coast, where her high school sweetheart husband bought her a bag of saltwater taffy, then proposed), along with a River’s Bend Murphy Brothers trilogy spin-off (set in Southern Oregon ranching country, where she grew up), and her award winning Irish Castlelough series, JoAnn lives with her husband and three rescued dogs, who pretty much rule the house, in the Pacific Northwest.

Reading Challenges

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

the-firebird-by-susanna-kearsleyThe Firebird by Susanna Kearsley
Narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Series: Slains #2
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Scotland, Belgium, Russia
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark , 2013
Audiobook, purchased
539 pages
14 hours, 37 minutes
Grade: A-
Narrator grade: A
Synopsis: Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When a woman arrives with a small wooden carving at the gallery Nicola works at, she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird—the mythical creature from an old Russian fable.

Compelled to know more, Nicola follows a young girl named Anna into the past who leads her on a quest through the glittering backdrops of the Jacobites and Russian courts, unearthing a tale of love, courage, and redemption.

There are times when our victories have a cost that we did not foresee, when winning brings us loss.


“If we cannot be what we were born to be–the whole of it–we die a little on the inside every day we live the lie. I’d die for you in every other way,” he told me quietly, “but not like that….”

Initial impressions

  • I love this book. And I love that we hear about and meet a few of the same characters from The Winter Sea.


  • The narration by Katherine Kellgren is excellent.
  • I love the songs sprinkled throughout the audio version of the book. The narrator sings them and it’s lovely.
  • This book is similar to The Winter Sea in the sense that the story has both contemporary and historical story lines.
  • This book is called Slains #2, but I think it can be read as a standalone book.
  • I can understand why Nicola doesn’t want to publicize her gift–that she can sense things from objects when she holds them.
  • Rob is such a likable character–someone I would want as a friend. He really cares about Nicola, but he wants her to accept who she is. Even so, he’s willing to go to Russia with her and try to help her.
  • I love the part of the story in Russia–both in the past and in the present.
  • Parts of the book are heartbreaking–especially the story in the past. The story about Anna is from the time she’s a little girl until she’s a young woman. She is wonderful to read about. The narrator really brings her to life and though she goes through many trials she still emerges a happy and optimistic young woman.
  • I love the way Ms. Kearsley writes. Her writing is really lovely–very poetic. Makes me happy to read or listen to. She makes me care so much for the characters. Sometimes I’m crying and sometimes I’m just so happy to read about these characters.
  • I think I like The Winter Sea a little better than The Firebird.


  • None I can think of!

And a few thoughts . . .

  • I was so happy to listen to this book. The narrator is excellent and Susanna Kearsley’s writing is excellent. I’m looking forward to reading some more of her books.


  • RITA Award by Romance Writers of America for Best Paranormal Romance (2014)
  • Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy (2013)

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • Susanna Kearsley studied politics and international development at university, and has worked as a museum curator.
  • Her first novel Mariana won the prestigious Catherine Cookson Literary Prize and launched her writing career. Susanna continued her mix of the historical and paranormal in novels The Splendour Falls, Named of the Dragon, Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms.
  • Susanna Kearsley also writes classic-style thrillers under the name of Emma Cole.

Reading Challenges

  • 2015 Goodreads Challenge
  • Audiobook Challenge–hosted by Hot Listens and The Book Nympho blogs
  • TBR Pile Challenge–hosted by the Bookish blog
  • Ultimate Reading Challenge–hosted by the Popsugar blog (a book set in a different country–Great Britain (Scotland) & Russia)

Christmas is Murder by C.S. Challinor

christmas-is-murderChristmas Is Murder by C.S. Challinor
Series: Rex Graves Mystery #1
Genre: Mystery
Setting: English countryside at Christmas
Published by Midnight Ink, 2008
E-book, purchased
203 pages
Grade: C-
Synopsis: Christmas is murder… when you’re stranded with a killer

Not even a blizzard can keep Rex Graves away from Swanmere Manor, a secluded Victorian hotel in the English countryside owned by the eccentric Dahlia Smithings. But instead of Christmas cheer, the Scottish barrister finds a dead guest. Was it a stroke that killed old Mr. Lawdry? Or an almond tart laced with poison?

When more guests die, all hopes for a jolly holiday are dashed. Snowbound and terrified, no one can escape the cold-blooded killer. Rex takes it upon himself to unravel the mystery. A biography of President George W. Bush found charred in the fireplace might offer a few clues. Could the killer be the sherry-swilling handyman? The gay antiques dealer with the biting wit? The quarreling newlyweds? Surely it’s not Helen D’Arcy, the lovely lass Rex seems to be falling for…

Initial impressions

  • This didn’t work very well for me. There’s not much Christmas cheer in this mystery. And it doesn’t feel cozy!


  • This is the classic isolated country home mystery often written about by Agatha Christie.
  • It was really hard to tell what time period this book takes place. I finally decided it was a contemporary after it mentions cell phones. It also mentions war and the hotel owner’s son killed in Iraq, but that could have been several wars. Part of my puzzlement about the time period is because the hotel is still lost in Victorian times.
  • It doesn’t bother me too much that this isn’t a cozy Christmas mystery. I like mysteries so the time of year didn’t matter.
  • However, I don’t like the characters very much. They were mostly one-dimensional and used to propel the plot.


  • I thought the mystery was far-fetched. The motive doesn’t work for me.
  • Rex Graves is in a relationship with someone who is now in Iraq, but he’s attracted to Helen D’Arcy. That bothered me.

And a few thoughts . . .

  • I bought this book to read last Christmas, but never got around to it.
  • This year I read it as part of the Ho-Ho-Ho Read-a-Thon and as a book for Wendy’s TBR Challenge. (See below)
  • Since this is the first in a series the books written after this may appeal to me more.

Have you read this book? How did you like it?

Author info

  • C.S. Challinor was born in Bloomington, Indiana, and was educated in Scotland (St. George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh) and England (Lewes Priory, Sussex; University of Kent, Canterbury: Joint Hons Latin & French). She now resides in Southwest Florida. Her short stories have been published in women’s magazines in the United States and the United Kingdom. Challinor is a member of the Authors Guild, New York, and is the author of the Rex Graves cozy mystery series featuring Rex Graves, Scottish barrister-sleuth.

Reading Challenges