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February 23, 2020

What Happened to February?

by Donna Huber

Here we are at the end of February. I know that there is still a week left of the month, but it has flown by. It's all been a blur; I'm not even sure what went on this month.

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I know I've been enjoying my cats (if you follow me on Instagram you would see some of their cuteness). The newest one, Ginger, has really come out of her shell and is playing well with the others and she even curled up on the couch with me and few of the other cats one day. We had a brief day of snow. It was beautiful - big, fluffy flakes. But pretty much as soon as it stopped falling, it started melting and was gone almost as quickly as it came.

Work has been busy, but my hours should go back to normal so that's a good thing (I like routine and feel out of sorts when it gets messed up). I went to a really big charity thrift sale yesterday. My mom and I go every year because it has great stuff at good prices. I picked up a pressure canner, a mirror, and a metal planter along with some fabric I'm hoping to use with the cats' climbing wall. I'm looking forward to going to Biltmore next month to see the Downton Abbey exhibit.

On the blog

Our most viewed post was my discussion of bookish television shows on PBS this winter. Popular reviews included MK's review of Shadow of the Batgirl, my review of The Light After the War, and Susan's review of American Dirt.

In addition to my discussion of bookish TV, I also took a look at best-selling ebooks for Presidents' Day reading. Alison listed her thoughts on the 2020 Oscars.

See what books we named Best of the Bunch for February 2020.

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What I read

I read 10 books this month: 6 ebooks (all ARCs), 1 print galley, and 3 audiobooks. How am I doing on my reading goals?

  • Goal 1 - Read as many, or more, review copies as non-review copies: 7 of the 10 were ARCs. (YTD: 12/19)
  • Goal 2 - Read at least 12 nonfiction books this year: 2 nonfiction books this month (YTD: 4).
  • Goal 3 - Read 12 backlog review copies: 0 for the month (YTD: 0).

So I'm doing well on the first two goals. I only have 3 ARCs that publish in March so I'm hoping to get caught up on Goal 3.

The Light After the War by Anita Abriel

I liked how this book was focused on immediately after WWII and how survivors made new lives for themselves. The characters were great and you couldn't help rooting for them. I received an ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

Inspired by an incredible true story of two Jewish friends who survived the Holocaust, this sweeping novel of love and friendship spans World War II from Budapest to Austria and the postwar years from Naples to Caracas, perfect for fans of The German Girl and We Were the Lucky Ones.

It is 1946 when Vera Frankel and her best friend Edith Ban arrive in Naples. Refugees from Hungary, they managed to escape from a train headed for Auschwitz and spent the rest of the war hiding on an Austrian farm. Now, the two young women must start new lives abroad. Armed with a letter of recommendation from an American officer, Vera finds work at the United States embassy where she falls in love with Captain Anton Wight.

But as Vera and Edith grapple with the aftermath of the war, so too does Anton, and when he suddenly disappears, Vera is forced to change course. Their quest for a better life takes Vera and Edith from Naples to Ellis Island to Caracas as they start careers, reunite with old friends, and rebuild their lives after terrible loss.

Moving, evocative, and compelling, this timely tale of true friendship, love, and survival will stay with you long after you turn the final page. (Goodreads)

 Buy The Light After the War at Amazon

The Clutter-Free Home by Kathi Lipp

If you are having trouble controlling the clutter in your home this is a good book. A lot of the advice you've probably already heard buy Lipp presents it in an easy to follow, no judgment manner.  I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

When it comes to your home, peace is possible...

Longing for a place of peace from which you can love others well? The Clutter-Free Home is your room-by-room guide to decluttering, reclaiming, and celebrating every space of your home.

Let author Kathi Lipp (who once lived a life buried in clutter) walk you through each room of your house to create organizational zones that are not only functional and practical but create places of peace that reflect your personality.  Kathi will help you tackle the four-step process of dedicate, decide, declutter and “do-your-thing” to reveal the home you’ve always dreamed of, and then transform it into a haven that reflects who you truly are meant to be.

If you’re also feeling overwhelmed by the care and upkeep of all the stuff under your feet or sense that your home is running you, instead of the other way around, come discover how to create a space that doesn’t have to be showroom perfect to be perfect for you and the people you love. (Goodreads)

Buy The Clutter-Free Home at Amazon

Fudge Cupcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Fudge Cupcake Murder
A fun read. I think I liked the mystery in this one better than some of the others. I checked out the audiobook from my digital library.

Bakery owner Hannah Swensen just can't keep her hands out of the batter when murder stirs things up in Lake Eden, Minnesota, leaving the sheriff dead, an innocent deputy accused, and a killer still on the loose...

For Hannah, life seems to be lacking a certain flavor. It's not that she doesn't enjoy teaching a weekly "Potluck Cooking Class" at the community outreach center. Or that she's not excited about her sister Andrea's bun in the oven -- watching the very pregnant Andrea try to sit on a stool at The Cookie Jar is worth it every time.

Maybe it's this year's sheriff's election that's got her down. For years, Sheriff Grant's been the iron hand in town. But now, Hannah's brother-in-law Bill is giving the old blowhard the fight of his long, dubious career -- and Grant's not taking it in stride, especially once the local polls (and The Cookie Jar gossip) show Bill pulling ahead.

But before anyone can get a taste of victory, things go sour. Just as Hannah's emptying the trash, she makes a very unappetizing discovery: Sheriff Grant's body in the dumpster behind the high school where she's teaching her cooking class. And if that weren't bad enough, the poor man still has fudge frosting on his shirt from the cupcake she gave him earlier. She'd been trying to find the secret ingredient left out of the recipe. Now she has a more important mystery to crack.

The number one suspect is none other than Bill. In fact, he's the only suspect. But Hannah's not swallowing it. Plenty of people had reason to hate Sheriff Grant, starting with all the deputies whose cases he stole during election years just so he could take the glory. Soon, Hannah's dishing up scandalous secrets, steaming hot betrayals, and enough nastiness to keep the gossip mill at The Cookie Jar going through several pots of decaf. And the closer Hannah gets to the truth, the closer she gets to smoking out a murderer with a very nasty recipe for silencing people. Will Hannah be able to stand the heat when someone wants her out of the kitchen... for good?  (Goodreads)

Buy Fudge Cupcake Murder at Amazon

Above the Bay of Angels by Rhys Bowen

It was a bit different than the other books I've read by Bowen. There is a bit of mystery but it is a little side story. The real story is about a young woman finding her way in Victorian England. Like all the books I've read by Bowen, it was well-written and enjoyable. I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

A single twist of fate puts a servant girl to work in Queen Victoria’s royal kitchen, setting off a suspenseful, historical mystery by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and The Victory Garden.
Isabella Waverly only means to comfort the woman felled on a London street. In her final dying moments, she thrusts a letter into Bella’s hand. It’s an offer of employment in the kitchens of Buckingham Palace, and everything the budding young chef desperately wants: an escape from the constrictions of her life as a lowly servant. In the stranger’s stead, Bella can spread her wings.

Arriving as Helen Barton from Yorkshire, she pursues her passion for creating culinary delights, served to the delighted Queen Victoria herself. Best of all, she’s been chosen to accompany the queen to Nice. What fortune! Until the threat of blackmail shadows Bella to the Riviera, and a member of the queen’s retinue falls ill and dies.

Having prepared the royal guest’s last meal, Bella is suspected of the poisonous crime. An investigation is sure to follow. Her charade will be over. And her new life will come crashing down—if it doesn’t send her to the gallows. (Goodreads)

Buy Above the Bay of Angels at Amazon

A Palette for Love and Murder by Saralyn Richard

It was a good mystery novel. It was kind of slow to get started and some of the phrasing was odd. I enjoyed the characters. I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

A theft, a murder, a treasure hunt, and a palette-full of secrets.

“In the Brandywine Valley, a delicate balance exists between the very wealthy and those who serve them, but the murder of a famous artist threatens this tenuous equilibrium. In her second outing featuring Detective Oliver Parrott, Saralyn Richard offers readers a compelling story of worlds in collision. A Palette for Love and Murder probes more than the mysteries of the art world and the motives for murder. It also delicately plumbs the depths of love and the human heart. Another winner for Richard.” -- William Kent Krueger, author of This Tender Land

In this riveting sequel to Murder in the One Percent, Detective Oliver Parrott delves into the art world of Brandywine Valley, where two valuable paintings have been stolen from the studio of the renowned artist, Blake Allmond.

At first it seems like a routine property crime, but as soon as Parrott investigates, he discovers the Allmond family’s propensity for tragedy. When someone is murdered, it’s a game changer, and plowing through a family’s secrets leads the reader through a murder, a treasure hunt, and a slew of characters who may or may not be trustworthy.

The glamour of the art world and the privilege of the wealthy landowners in Brandywine can’t protect them from trouble, but it takes Parrott to realize that there’s more to an artist’s palette than globs of paint.

A Palette for Love and Murder has all the characteristics of a well-woven mystery, but with the additional layering of multi-dimensional characters and sometimes flawed relationships. Parrott and Tonya make a dynamic modern day Nick and Nora, sure to engage readers’ thoughts and to warm readers’ hearts. (Goodreads)

Buy A Palette for Love and Murder at Amazon

Rapid Falls by Amber Cowie

Rapid Falls
This was a really good story. I didn't like the ending but that's because I always root for the underdog. The audiobook was well done. This was a Prime free ebook with Audible narration.

Forgive and forget? The past and present collide for two sisters who survived a tragedy—and must now survive the truth behind it.

It’s been twenty years since Cara’s boyfriend died in a horrible accident and her sister, Anna, went to prison. The tragedy has become a local legend, but Cara has moved past her grief to have a successful career and a happy family. Pity about Anna. Recently released from incarceration, she’s struggling with addiction, guilt, and shame—a shattered life. Cara’s forgiveness seems to be the only thing that helps her pick up the pieces.

But as Anna pulls herself together, her memories of that night on the bridge start to come into focus. And few of them match her sister’s.

As past secrets unfold and nothing is what it seems anymore, Anna desperately searches for the truth. But what if Cara doesn’t want her to find it? (Goodreads)

Buy Rapid Falls at Amazon

The New Gardener's Handbook by Daryl Beyers

It is meant for the person who knows nothing about gardening (there's a section titled why plants need water). I would have liked more information about laying out a garden and less about biology (but that is probably because I have a degree in biology and took 2 botany courses and a plant taxonomy course in college). The pruning chapter was helpful. I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

Every new gardener has to start somewhere—and the process can be intimidating. Knowing when and what to plant, how to care for the plants once they’re in the ground, and how to keep pests and diseases away is a lot to take on. Luckily, Daryl Beyers—an expert from the New York Botanical Garden—has written what will be a  go-to resource for decades to come. The New Gardener’s Handbook is a comprehensive overview of the fundamentals of gardening, based on the introductory gardening class that Beyers teaches at NYBG. Readers will learn about soil, plant selection, propagation, planting and mulching, watering and feeding, pruning, and weeds, pests, and diseases. The information applies to both ornamental and edible plants. Featuring inspiring photography and helpful illustrations, The New Gardener’s Handbook gives home gardeners a foundation upon which they can grow, and encourages them to apply the lessons they’ve learned in an intuitive, natural way. (Goodreads)

 Buy The New Gardener's Handbook at Amazon

Death with a Dark Red Rose by Julia Buckley

It was okay. I thought the story was too wordy - it felt like it had a lot of filler. There are several characters but they don't have much of a purpose except to be the Scooby gang. I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my full review.

Writer's apprentice Lena London is enjoying life in Blue Lake and being newly engaged, but is soon drawn into the terrifying disappearance of one of her closest friends....

Lena is starting to feel like having it all may actually be possible! She and suspense novelist Camilla Graham are busily plotting their next novel and she's got a brand-new diamond ring on her finger thanks to her fiancé, Sam West. The only blot on her Blue Lake life is a strange new corporation that has come to town called Plastisource. They seem to be intent on gobbling up prime real estate and changing the landscape of Lena's lovely adopted home.

When she and Sam get a call from their good friend (and Blue Lake detective) Doug saying that his girlfriend--and Lena's pal Belinda--isn't answering her phone and missed a date with him, they all head out to her home. The trio is shocked to discover that Belinda's purse and phone are at her house, along with a single red rose on her countertop--but Belinda herself is missing. Has she been abucted? Could the strange new corporation play a role in her disappearance? Lena is determined to find out and rescue her friend because she knows that the truth can be stranger and much more deadly than fiction. (Goodreads)

Buy Death with a Dark Red Rose at Amazon

Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

If you enjoy this series then you will love this one. I thought the ending to the mystery was a bit abrupt. I'm starting to feel overload on this series so I will take a break for a while. There's a Christmas book coming out this fall so I'll want to be ready for it. I received a free ARC via NetGalley. Read my review.

Bakery owner Hannah Swensen is leaving Lake Eden to help a friend in sunny California. But an unexpected phone call swiftly brings her back to a cold Minnesota winter . . . and murder . . .

When Hannah learns that her sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Detective Lonnie Murphy, is the prime suspect in a murder case, she goes straight from a movie studio sound stage to the Los Angeles airport.

Back in frigid Minnesota, she discovers that proving Lonnie’s innocence will be harder than figuring out what went wrong with a recipe. Lonnie remembers only parts of the night he went out to a local bar and ended up driving a very impaired woman home. He knows he helped her to her bedroom, but he doesn’t recall anything else until he woke up on her couch the following morning. When he went to the bedroom to check on her, he was shocked to discover she was dead.

Hannah doesn’t know what to believe—only that exonerating a suspect who can’t remember is almost impossible, especially since Lonnie’s brother, Detective Rick Murphy, and Lonnie’s partner, Chief Detective Mike Kingston, have been taken off the case. Before everything comes crashing down on Lonnie like a heaping slice of coconut layer cake, it’ll be up to Hannah to rack up enough clues to toast a flaky killer. (Goodreads)

Buy Coconut Layer Cake Murder at Amazon

Good Intentions by J.D. Trafford

Good Intentions
I really enjoyed this legal thriller. Usually, legal thrillers are about the lawyers but this one is about judges. I also didn't see the ending coming so that was a nice surprise. I had a little trouble following the audiobook but I don't think I missed too much. It was a Prime free ebook with Audible narration.

Judge Jim Thompson’s world is unraveling. He’s facing public backlash on a decision-gone-wrong for a young boy in foster care and, even worse, he’s just discovered that his mentor, Judge Meyer, has been murdered.

Despite his self-doubt in the face of media scrutiny, Jim is determined to continue his friend’s legacy—and find his killer. As he digs into the mysterious death, Jim comes across a case that had haunted the judge for decades—a case he couldn’t let go of. Judge Meyer had worked hard to find the right solutions for foster children, but rulings in such cases are never simple, and his decisions may have cost him his life.

As Jim searches for answers, he begins to see similarities between his mentor’s past and his own present. Now it’s up to him to learn from his late friend’s mistakes and track down a killer—before he loses everything that matters to him. (Goodreads)

Buy Good Intentions at Amazon

What have you been reading?

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. Look at that snow. It's a major event around here when it snows. So beautiful.

    You certainly got in a lot of good reading this month. I especially like the New Gardener's Handbook. I often think of becoming a Master Gardener. Maybe next year?

    Have a lovely week.

  2. The snow looks lovely!
    I haven’t had a chance to see the Downton Abbey movie yet, I do want to soon though.
    I liked that The Light After the War was inspired by the author’s mothers experience.

    Wishing you a great reading week

  3. Reading clutter or organizational books always make me feel like half the work is done. Unfortunately, this is never the case :)

  4. The Light After the War looks intriguing :) I've given up on the clutter in my house as long as I'm responsible for 3 out of 4 people's stuff here. LOL

  5. I’m glad the cats are getting along! I used to have 3 dogs. They mostly just tolerated each other. They were never best friends or anything. Have a great week!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  6. Nice looking selection of books. Have a good week. My weekly update

  7. I wish that our snow would fall and then melt. We still have a couple of feet of the stuff in our yard even after 3 days in the 30s. You read a nice variety of books in February. I've only read the first in that series by Fluke. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

  8. Boy do I need The Clutter-Free Home!

  9. Eight books in February is impressive. I'm still on my first book! Have a great reading week! I hope you can stop by:


  10. I think I need to pick up The Light After the War. I do love historical fiction set during World War II and this one seems to have a different spin than most.

  11. you seem to have gotten most of the snow this year. A we had some here and there. 8 book and or more is impressive for short month. A few of them seem intersesint to want to read. Come check out my wrap up -

  12. Joanne Fluke's book covers always make my hungry! I'm also trying to get through some of my backlog ARCs, not doing great, but at least doing better about keeping up I think. You can check out my Wrap-Up post HERE.

  13. Oh, I really need to get to the Biltmore for that exhibit before it ends!