Pages & Paws

Writing, Reading, and Rural Life With a Border Collie

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‘Little Dirt Road’ Offers PNW Pizzaz

Little Dirt Road

Bad Men on Whidbey Island

By Ted Mulcahey, 2022

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 242

Kimber the Magnificent here.

Bet you’re wondering why Mom and I agreed to jump on the blog tour for this murder mystery/action/adventure thingy. Glad you asked. We joined for two main reasons:

  1. The sub-title. As Californian transplants to the Pacific Northwest, Mom and I know exactly where Whidbey Island is. Ditto Bellevue, San Diego, and most of the other West Coast settings for this clever action/adventure/whodunit. But the Real Reason for joining the tour? See below:
  2. Emma the German shepherd. (You know who voted for that furry friend, right?)


The Story

Kevin and Jenne (“Jenny”) O’Malley are “trouble magnets.” You won’t find that on their business cards. But the Washington-based interior designers seem to draw trouble wherever they go, even on vacation. That’s what happens when a cantankerous ex-client turns up dead in their room at a swank lodge in Napa Valley.

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‘Finding Grace’ and Peter Pan

Paperback Finding Grace BookFinding Grace

By Maren Cooper

Publisher: She Writes Press, 2022

Genre: Fiction

Pages: 333

Remember that line from the Mel Gibson movie The Patriot? The one about being a parent? While debating whether or not South Carolina goes to war against the crown, Gibson, portraying colonial militia captain Benjamin Martin, says he’s a parent and he hasn’t the luxury of principles. In other words, family first.

At about 3:55:

Caroline Booker never got the Martin memo.

Peter Pan?

Indeed, Caroline thinks she’s Peter Pan. Don’t give me that “bold and unapologetic” horse hooey. Caroline the “gifted ornithologist” just doesn’t want to grow up. Or assume responsibility for anyone. Or anything. She just wants to live a life of travel and adventure unencumbered by bothersome little details like her husband, Charles. Or her daughter, Grace.

A foundling child, Charles yearns for a family. Caroline doesn’t. He tricks her into getting pregnant (long story). Caroline’s pretty ticked with this unexpected turn of events. And not interested in her child. At. All.


Chuck hopes Caroline will change her mind. She doesn’t. You see, Caroline’s waaaay too busy “being me” to be a parent. She holds Chuck to his promise to parent their daughter Grace without her, so Caroline can travel the world and follow her birds.

Unsurprisingly, a rift develops between husband and wife. Think Grand Canyon with Toxic Mother a la mode. And Grace grows up caught in the middle of one ginormous familial schism. It leads to her mental illness.

Life Membership?

Kimber here. Telling you Mom’s nominating Caroline for life membership in the Big Kitty Litter Box in the Sky Society. In fact, one of us was ready to chuck the book after a few chapters. As in, So don’t have time for this.  (Hi, Mom.) But cooler heads and paws prevailed. So we gave it another chance. With mixed results.


Overall, Finding Grace is an absorbing, intense, and complex read.  It’s peopled with flawed but carefully crafted characters. Some grow and learn. Others don’t. (More on that in a min.) The title has a double meaning.

Masterfully written and expertly paced, it traces the complicated ties and effects of commitment, community, abandonment, emotional neglect, and hope. It’s a searingly heartrending story about a father’s unconditional love for his daughter and a cold, calculating “mother” who never got the Martin memo. Caroline’s more interested in birds than she is in her own daughter. And that’s a problem. Cuz Caroline the Majorette Jerkette is as appealing as an overcooked cabbage.

For example, in a rare twinge of conscience, Majorette Jerkette flies in from Lisbon after Grace attempts suicide. Following years of physical and emotional abandonment , M.J. sweeps into the hospital like she owns the place. She demands to see her daughter because she’s Grace’s “mother.” Oh, really? When did that start, you overcooked cabbage on Peter Pan steroids?

Another example: On page 130 Charles and Caroline are “on vacation” in – where else? – the Canary Islands. It doesn’t go well. Demanding and utterly self-absorbed per usual, Caroline wonders, “Where has my adoring Charlie gone? And how do I get him back? What’s wrong with him?” Well, sweetie. Try looking in the mirror.

Later in chapter 27, Charlie finally realizes that “the mathematics of marriage to Caroline had been exposed,” and “he refused to participate in her rigged equation any longer. But what damage have I done to my daughter?” The answer is: Plenty.

This isn’t a bad read if you can get past Caroline and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Century. And a triumphant note of hope, grace, and Serenity is sounded toward the end. But Majorette Jerkette overwhelms the story. We just wanted to slap her. And lose the cabbage.

Scene stealers: Dr. Riley and Daisy. Also the Booker dogs Abigail and Bailey. So there’s that.


Our Rating: 3.0


‘Reckless Grace’ Pulls No Punches

Reckless Grace book coverReckless Grace

A Mother’s Crash Course in Mental Illness

By Carolyn DiPasquale

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: E.L. Marker, an imprint of WiDo Publishing, 2022

Pages: 419 + Several pages of Endnotes and Works Cited

How do you help a severely ill loved one who can’t or won’t get healthy? How do you help someone who doesn’t necessarily want help? How do you help someone if you don’t really know they need help, or what kind of help is needed?

These questions and more are raised in this finely crafted, heartrending memoir. Reckless Grace is the shattering true story of a mother’s journey through her daughter’s physical and mental illnesses, told in retrospect following the daughter’s fatal overdose.

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The Dog Days & Children’s Classics


Hello Friends and Happy August!

If you’ve been following Pages and Paws for any length of time – say, 20 minutes or so – you know that Her Momness sometimes says weird stuff about books. (Don’t tell her I said that, okay?)

Sometimes Mom’ll read a “best-seller” that’s topping the charts and go, “Aaaarg! Barf-o-rama and gag me with Meow Mix! Bleeeech and double bleech!!” And sometimes she’ll read an obscure-ish book by an unknown indie author and chirp, “Why isn’t this magnum opus in every library, on every shelf, and in every bookstore in America and the whole world included?! Cuz it’s Seriously Awesome!”

The Children’s Section

Well. You know Mom. (Insert eye roll here.)

She also thinks some of the best writing and coolest stories around can be found in the Children’s Section of the local library. (Not sure what that says about Mom. Can I get back to you on that?)

Pop Quiz!

Anywho, Mom was lumbering back from The Book Place the other day with her usual truckload of To Be Reads. All from the Children’s Section. I’m not making this up. Then she decides it’s time for a Pop Quiz. Like this:

“Okay, Kimmi. What children’s classic opens with these lines”:

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‘Love Ever Lasting’: Austen-esque Historical Fiction With Heart

Love Ever Lasting

By Michelle Helen Fritz & E.A. Shanniak

Bramley Hall Regency Romance, Book 3

Publication Date: July 14, 2022

Genre: Historical Romance/Regency

Isn’t this a cool cover? We almost expect to see Pemberley come into view over the next hill. Or maybe Combe Magna.

Wait. Where were we? Oh yeah. Love Ever Lasting. It’s a newly released historical romance from Bramley Hall Regency Romance.

Here’s the basic plot:

Grace Buchanan is 19 years old and has given up any hope of marrying. She’s been too occupied raising her younger siblings while her widowed father drinks away his wages as the town blacksmith. All Grace wants is an everlasting love. But her family dynamics make that unlikely.

When the much-loved Parson of Bramley Hall dies, his son, Matthew Morten, takes on his father’s mantle and becomes the new parson. Matthew has barely settled in to his new role when a deadly plague sweeps through the town. Grace’s younger brother is afflicted.

Matthew and Grace are suddenly thrown together as they fight for the town’s survival and the survival of their loved ones. How will Grace care for her siblings after her father’s death? Will Matthew’s meddlesome mother and Grace’s mischievous siblings doom their romance before it even gets off the ground? And what about other contenders vying for Grace’s hand? Will the spark between Matthew and Grace kindle and grow, or will responsibilities and family drama snuff it out? And where else will you find a carriage horse named “Obediah”?


Love Ever Lasting is a sweet, gentle read. Period-correct writing, vivid descriptions and historical settings combine with solid writing and rich, full-bodied characterizations to create a story with heaps of heart and wagons of warmth.

Portions of the plot seem a bit contrived, like Grace’s over-the-top response to the bee thing. It seems to have been written for the sole purpose of casting Matthew as a knight gallant. A little thin. 

This isn’t exactly a barn burner. It moves like molasses in January in places. But if you enjoy inspiring historical romances with an Austen-esque flavor, Love Ever Lasting will make a pleasant addition to your summer TBR – or anytime.

Love Ever Lasting is a clean Regency Romance and the third book in a three-story series. Each book can be read as a stand alone, but is best read in release order.

About the Authors

Michelle Helen Fritz was born and raised in Maryland and Arizona with lots of traveling throughout the States. She began her literary career as a personal assistant to Indie authors and loves to see the process of an idea turn into a finished book.

Michelle loves to write about dashing heroes, and the compelling women that tempt them, with a dash of intrigue, an abundant amount of romance, and scenes that hopefully make her readers swoon. She is the mother of four children whom she homeschools and currently resides in Maryland with her own jaunty hero who makes all of her dreams come true.


E.A. (Ericka Ashlee) Shanniak is the author of the successful fantasy romance series A Castre World Novel. She is hobbit-sized, barely reaching over five feet tall on a good day.

When she wears her Georgia Romeoa’s not only does she gain an inch, but she is also able to reach the kitchen cabinets. Ericka loves to write at her desk that her daughter’s cat destroyed. Fortunately for everyone, she can see over it.


Ericka resides in the small town of Coldwater, Kansas with her husband, two kids, two dogs and two grumpy cats. The cats were her kids’ idea.



Our Rating: 3.5


Dystopian Novel ‘Reverence’ Clears High Bar


Book One of the Reverence Trilogy

By Raena Rood

One Foundation Publishing, 2022

Genre: Fiction/Dystopian/Apocalyptic/Christian Fiction

Pages: 305

“Well, doggone it!” says I, Kimber the Magnificent. “You’d think one of us would learn. Never start a Raena Rood novel at night. If you do, you’ll be up till the wee hours finishing it. Cuz you can’t put it down! But you know Mom!” – Insert eye roll here. –

You know we loved Rood’s Subversives trilogy, right? Well, we did. Think nice, thick, juicy New York steak. With a T-bone chaser. And sirloin steak on the side. We didn’t know how this next trilogy would stack up. Which just shows you what we know.

Here’s the 4-1-1:

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‘The Nurse’s Secret’: Compelling Historical Fiction

The Nurse’s Secret

By Amanda Skenandore

Published by: Kensington Books, 2022

Genre: Historical Fiction

Pages: 352

Una Kelly has been living by her wits and her sticky fingers since she was a child. A grifter in the mean streets of 19th century New York City’s slums, Una is on the run from the “coppers” for a murder she didn’t commit. She lies her way into an unlikely refuge: the Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses. Based on Florence Nightingale’s nursing principles, Bellevue is the first school of its kind in the country. But for Una, it’s a place to hide.

An Expert Blend

Then an inebriated ex-friend shows up at Bellevue and threatens to expose Una’s secret past. Una caves to Deidre’s extortion scheme. But when Deidre winds up dead in the hospital’s alcoholic’s ward where she’s drying out, Una gets suspicious. Did Deidre die from an overdose of laudanum, or was she murdered? A certain tall, handsome young doctor also enters the picture in this expert blend of historical fiction, whodunit, romance, and murder mystery.

Gripping & Intense

Emotionally gripping and intense, The Nurse’s Secret is propelled by masterful story-telling, an engrossing plot and lively, three-dimensional characters within a unique historical setting. Think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and Oliver Twist meet Florence Nightingale and The Murders in the Rue Morgue.

A Second Chance

We almost missed this book. It arrived well past our deadline for a review. We just don’t have time for late arrivals. So we were inclined to put it aside. But one us – the four-legged one- said, “C’mon Mom! Let’s shoehorn this puppy into our calendar! I’ll help!”

So we gave it another chance. Glad we did. Cuz The Nurse’s Secret is a winner.

Our Rating: 4.0



Welcome to another edition of TEASER TUESDAY!

Mom and I decided we don’t like the usual rules for Teaser Tuesday. You’re supposed to “grab your current read, open to a random page” and “share “two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page that are spoiler free.”

Too restrictive, we decided. (Well, it was mostly me. But Mom helped. A little. You know how Moms are.)

Anyway, some books/plots just don’t lend themselves to “two sentences.” Sometimes a really compelling thought or plot element can be conveyed in three words. Sometimes it takes three or four or five sentences for same. Sometimes several brief, pithy sentences can fill the bill. But they have to be strung together in context to make sense.

So we’re making up our own rules today. Basically, we’re adding some flexibility regarding the number of sentences used to convey an idea or plot element. We’re keeping the rest.

Ready? Great! Let’s move on to today’s TT feature: Black Ice, by Brad Thor.


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Flat and Fine: 2 Novels by Popular Authors Contrasted

Kimber: Jackpot! It’s a beautiful July day. The sun is shining. The sky is a perfect bowl of blue. The neighbor’s cat is visiting relatives elsewhere. And  Her Grumpiness  is only half as grumpy as usual.

What a deal!

Speaking of “deals,” I’ve got a two-fer for you today. Sort of. One’s a  “repeat surprise.” I’ll let Her Grumpiness tell us about that in a min. So kindly keep your shirt on, okay? The other is a Second Sigh. As in, we loved the author’s first book but this second one is a stinker. Which is why Her Grumpiness is only half as grumpy as…

Well, wait. Here she is now. Mom, is that the second or third bowl of cookies ’n cream ice cream? “Mind your own beeswax;” Mom chirps.

So I’ll let her fill you in on these two books:

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TEASER TUESDAY: ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’

Welcome to another edition of one of our most popular features, TEASER TUESDAY! We’re pretty excited about today’s feature. It’s a twist on one of our favorite authors/novels. Read on for more!

Here are the rules for Teaser Tuesday:

1: Grab your current read 2: Open to a random page 3: Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page that are SPOILER FREE.

Today’s Teaser Tuesday features Death Comes to Pemberley. By P.D. James. Jane Austen fans, unite! Like this: Continue reading