Live and let dust . . .
Now that Tallie Graver’s cleaning business is starting to shine, she’s ready to go squeegee to squeegee against Audra McNeal for a major contract at the Astercromb mansion. Tallie’s not afraid of a little friendly competition from the new cleaner in town. In fact, Tallie likes Audra, though she wonders how her glamorous rival manages to clean house and maintain her fancy manicure. Tallie has her rubber-gloves full staying one step ahead of her nemesis. Until she finds a well-polished hand poking out of a rolled-up carpet, rendering her competition . . . dead.
Though it lands Tallie the big job, there’s nothing tidy about Audra’s death. So between polishing and scrubbing, Tallie’s determined to find the killer. Hopefully the police chief doesn’t mind her cluttering up his investigation with the filthy dealings she discovers. Turns out Audra was not as squeaky clean as she appeared. And confronting her killer could bring Tallie to a very foul end indeed . . .
Tallie Graver never thought her life would be fulfilled by cleaning toilets, dusting bunnies, and vacuuming with a perfect top of the line vacuum. Tallie loves her vacuum, her clients are generally quite lovely, and Tallie’s business, thanks to those lovely clients, has grown to include an actual crew of cleaners. Yeah, when you throw in her awesome boyfriend, Taliie’s life is quite fulfilled.
And then . . . .
Feeling feisty and all kinds of confident, Tallie decides to throw her hat in the ring for a HUGE local cleaning contract. Once upon a time, Tallie and her ladies were the only game in town, but now she has some friendly competition. Tallie totally knows her crew are the best in the business and a little friendly competition never hurt anyone . . . . except the actual competition. Shortly after the maid service auditions, Tallie finds the body of her only competition, her precious vacuum is caught up in the fray, and the sheriff is once again very displeased. Very. Displeased.
Being sucked into another investigation means less time with her handsome boyfriend, grief from her family over her involvement and the possible danger, and the incredible displeasure of the sheriff. To be fair, Tallie didn’t go looking for a new investigation, only her vacuum! What’s more, even with the sheriff’s great displeasure, even he has to admit, people will talk to Tallie and reveal things they simply won’t say or reveal to the police. As Tallie begins to poke around and aske questions, she uncovers on inconsistency and lie after the next leading her to believe, her friendly competition wasn’t as friendly as she initially believed.
In the midst of all her investigating, Tallie also has to deal with the fallout from her family and the ever-evolving nature of her relationship. Her family is, yet again distraught over Tallie’s investigative inclinations, the funeral home is in desperate need of Tallie’s help (UGH!), and her boyfriend is contemplating some big life changes that will absolutely impact Tallie and their future together. Juggling forty-two balls at the same time isn’t easy and if Tallie drops even one, her very fulfilled life may just come crashing down all around her.
The Bottom Line: I truly believe this series is picking up steam with each new installment. Tallie is becoming not just a character I like, but a beloved character whose world I very much enjoy returning to time and again. There’s no stagnancy in this series; in fact, every aspect of this series is evolving, and this is something I find I must have in my reads. Tallie’s personal life takes a significant turn in this book, her business is becoming a small empire, and her relationship with the sheriff and involvement in murder investigations is changing too. The evolution I’m seeing in this book/series is making it stronger and creating a real connection to the characters for me. I want to know more about these people, the town, and the next investigation Tallie is going to find herself a part of. In all, the Tallie Graver Mystery series may be one of my favorite cozy mystery series.
Camilla “Cami” Chandler comes home from France to take over the Chandler Hill Inn and Winery for her recently-deceased grandmother, Lettie, as she’d always promised. Determined to succeed in this new venture, she finds herself in trouble from the beginning when she discovers most of her grandmother’s estate intended for maintaining the inn’s business expenses was lost in a Ponzi scheme. She forges ahead to provide her guests with wonderful experiences and to produce the best wines in Willamette Valley. After being ditched by her French boyfriend, she decides that being friends with Drew Farley is the safest way to proceed. He loves grape growing and winemaking as much as she does and isn’t looking for anything beyond friendship.
When a bride planning a wedding at the inn tells Cami that she looks exactly like her best friend, life becomes even more complicated. Never having known even the name of her father, Cami searches for a connection and comes to realize how complicated love and family can be.
Cami Chandler has spent the better part of her life preparing for her inheritance. As a child, she spent her days wandering through the grape vines of her family’s winery, studied both oenology and viticulture, and learned valuable lessons at her beloved grandmother’s side. Oh yes, Cami Chandler has been preparing for her future, but she certainly didn’t expect to arrive as quickly as it has.
With one phone call, Cami’s life is turned upside down. Her beloved grandmother, Lettie Chandler has died, and Cami is now the sole owner and proprietor of the Chandler Hill Inn and Winery. Nothing reveals a person’s inabilities faster than being thrown into the deep end, and that’s exactly where Cami finds herself. From a financial crisis she wasn’t anticipating to a dishonest inn manager, Cami has more than one plate in front of her and every one of them is overflowing. As she learned from Lettie, Cami begins to rely on the people around her that she knows, and she trusts. Though many are of her grandmother’s age and on the verge of retirement, they help Cami find her feet and find good, solid, and honest people who can take their place and work alongside Cami.
Above all else, Cami is determined to right the ship and maintain the hard-earned reputation of the inn and winery. With nothing but the best of intentions and a very strong will, Cami dislodges the dishonest manager and takes the reins as she has always expected to do. Though her changes and ideas are large, Cami has a great support network in place to help her realize her dreams for the inn and winery. If things go as planned, Cami will be able to offer more than even her forward-thinking and industrious grandmother ever could have conceived of.
And then, the universe steps in . . . . .
Just like her grandmother before her, Cami’s road isn’t an easy one. Her soulless ex-boyfriend has reappeared in her life and is causing problems both personally and professionally, her ex-inn manager is a menace, there are some disastrous staffing issues, and Cami’s own love interest doesn’t seem to realize what he has right in front of him. To make matters far worse, the universe isn’t content to drop these nuggets of awful in small chunks but in large heaping piles, simultaneously. Oh, and on top of everything else, Cami may have inadvertently discovered the identity of her biological father. Because life just isn’t crazy enough for poor Cami.
The Bottom Line: As you can see from my star rating, I didn’t love this book as much as I did the first and that is for one reason and one reason only, the whole biological father bit. This whole thing felt too far-fetched and wild for my liking and really brought down my overall enjoyment of the book. Now, on to the better bits! This book doesn’t cover near the time that the first book did, but it has the same overall feeling of a sweeping and emotional family saga. Cami is, like her grandmother was, a very young single woman trying to make her way in life at both the personal and professional levels. In so many scenes, I felt the presence of Lettie guiding Cami and helping her navigate a world she was only partially ready to inhabit. Also like her grandmother, Cami has to forge her own path and she does so in spectacular fashion and surrounded by a wonderful group of people who want what Cami wants, a successful, happy, and fulfilling life and career. Even in the bad moments, Cami always has her team, her support network, and people willing to come to her aid. In this way, the legacy of Lettie and Chandler Hill is still very much alive and inspiring the next generation.
In 1970, Violet Hawkins’ only wish at eighteen is to escape her life in the Dayton, Ohio, foster-care system and make her way to the west coast to enjoy a mellow life and find the love she’s been missing all her life. She makes it to San Francisco, but soon learns she needs a job if she’s to live properly. A kind, young man named Kenton Chandler offers her a sandwich and a job at his father’s inn and vineyards. With nothing to lose, Lettie takes him up on his offer and begins a whole new life in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. She immediately falls in love with the land and is fascinated with the idea of growing grapes in order to make wines. She, Kenton, and Rafe Lopez become friends as she learns about running the small inn on the property.
At the same time she marries Kenton, a stroke kills his father. And then before she can tell Kenton she’s pregnant, he dies in an automobile accident. Heartbroken and burdened with the gift of the Chandler Hill Inn and Winery, she’s left with the task of making them a success. Struggling to raise a child alone while working to grow the business, Lettie makes a shocking discovery that changes everything.
Lettie Hawkins is now and always has been a child with no real family. As an orphan, Lettie grew up in the foster care system with no real roots and certainly no sense of family or a place to call her own. Through a series of coincidences, a bit of good fortune, and a bigger bit of completely unfortunate events, Lettie finds herself, at the tender age of 19, the mother of a new baby and sole owner of an up and coming winery and inn.
Though Lettie certainly has the option of walking away and starting her life over, the Chandler Hill Inn has felt like home since the moment she stepped foot on the property. To Lettie’s way of thinking, leaving isn’t an option at all, but following through on the well-laid plans left behind is the only option. With more than a bit of determination, hard work, support from her friends and staff, Lettie begins to grow the inn and winery’s reputation until it is one of the most reputable and profitable in the area. With each year and each season that passes, Lettie involves herself more and more deeply in her endeavors and though she is a professional success, Lettie’s personal life has suffered.
For so many reasons, Lettie has never truly looked for a man to replace the two she once held so dearly. One was lost forever and the other simply got away; over the years Lettie has dated some, but no one has ever come close to her two loves. What’s more, dating as a single mother isn’t exactly easy and Lettie’s daughter, Autumn, isn’t the easiest kid in the world. Though Lettie has always tried to be close to Autumn, running the inn and winery has taken so much of her time that she often feels neglectful of her daughter. As Autumn grows, the seeds of that “neglect” begin to bear fruit and Lettie spends years in limbo where her relationship with her daughter is concerned.
In the long years of her life at Chandler Hill, Lettie learns so very many valuable lessons about life, love, commitment, friendship, heartache, and joy. As the universe so cruelly took from Lettie, it also gave and in the latter years of her life, Lettie finds the love and companionship she has long been missing. She settles in to a quieter, less hectic professional life just as she settles into a happier and more fulfilled personal life. For a time, and for the first time in her life, Lettie can truly be happy in the knowledge that she has it all. Because of her background, Lettie is the first to acknowledge her good fortune and life’s blessings; also because of her background, Lettie is the first to know, understand, and appreciate how quickly that which is given can be taken away.
The Bottom Line: What a truly moving and emotional book Going Home turned out to be and I loved every word and every page. This was a single sitting read for me as I just couldn’t let go of this story until I knew how every detail worked out and played out. What a ride this one took me on! From the highest of highs to the pits of despair, Going Home is truly a family saga. Though it covers decades, the story moves at a good pace, plausibly jumps ahead in time as needed, and is more than interesting enough to keep you turning pages. What’s more, the wonderfully full-bodied characters inhabit an environment that is not only beautifully described but completely appropriate for the stories playing out in that environment. Everything important thing about this book – its characters and its setting – feel so very real and that is one of the qualities I enjoyed most about this read. I couldn’t put Going Home down and, in fact, dove immediately into the second installment, Coming Home.
University professor Josef Held has never recovered from the loss of his beloved wife – and has no intention of ever letting anyone new into his quiet, safe world. It is a world where the clock ticks steadily in his mathematics classroom, even as the sinister beat of Nazi soldiers’ boots threaten to drown it out.
Terrified, Josef tries to keep his eyes on the ground as Jews across the city are forced into ghettos. But then Michael Blum, his most reluctant, infuriating pupil, tells Josef Jews like him will no longer be allowed to study at all. Josef can ignore the situation no longer. And, after the shock of seeing his neighbor killed on his own doorstep, he offers Michael a place to hide in an impulsive act of courage.
Michael is everything Josef is not: spontaneous, poetic, and unafraid to love. Even though his passionate relationship with a Dutch girl is strictly forbidden – for he is Jewish, and she is not. Somehow, in the quiet gloom of the attic, Josef doesn’t mind things about Michael that annoyed him in the classroom, and a bond begins to grow.
Remembering the pain of his own heartbreak, Josef is desperate to give Michael and his girlfriend a chance. He must go on as if nothing has changed: teaching his class, bowing to the Nazis. Beneath the fear, a thrill of defiance begins to bloom. But then Michael becomes perilously ill, and there is no way to get him the help he desperately needs.
As the dark days of war continue, with danger and betrayal at every turn, no-one can be trusted. If Michael is to survive and get back to the woman he loves, it will be down to Josef – to find the hero inside himself, and do whatever it takes to keep Michael alive. Even if it means putting his own life on the line.
By 1941, three things are happening in Professor Joseph Held’s world: 1) he is twenty years in to mourning the loss of his beloved wife; 2) the Nazi’s have occupied his town of Amsterdam and; 3) he is harboring a young Jewish student in his attic. All three things have the potential to end more than one good man’s life.
As a professor of mathematics, Joseph Held has always found solace in his number, formulas, equations, and algorithms. Math never changes, math never dies, and the knowledge of math can change the way one sees the world. What math cannot do is bring back Professor Held’s wife, force the Nazi’s to cease their madness, nor save the life of the young man hiding in the professor’s attic. For so many years, Professor Held has found comfort and solace in his numbers, his routine, and his loneliness, but with the coming of Hitler and the Nazi occupation, all the professor’s comfort and solace have been brutally taken away.
While Professor Held has never considered himself a particularly brave or courageous man, he has always seen himself as honorable and protecting his young student is simply the right thing to do. The professor’s attic is never used and hardly remembered by anyone who has been to his home which makes it the perfect place to hide. As the years of the war and the occupation stretch on, Professor Held and his fugitive learn of one anothers’ lives, hopes and dreams, of the frustrations and losses they have both experienced, and the toll the interminable war has taken on them. There is never a moment not filled with fear, anguish, paranoia, and anxiety, but some of those moments are eclipsed by small bits of happiness and hope. As it turns out, an aging, lonely mathematics professor can learn to live again and a young, seemingly hopeless Jew can help pave the way in even the darkest of times.
The Bottom Line: I always feel icky saying “I loved this book” when the book focuses on such a desperate and barbarous time of human history. A View Across the Rooftops is another version of a very well-known story and one that is crafted beautifully. While many books in this genre tend to focus on the atrocities of the concentration camps, A View Across the Rooftops focuses on the lives of just a small number of people, a very courageous city, and a spirit that was not to be broken no matter how bleak the situation. While there are no truly graphic scenes in this book, the hardship, the loss, the desolation is certainly still conveyed and felt. One of the strengths of this book and how I feel it best conveyed not only the sadness and desperation of the situation, but also the fierce determination and resilience of the people involved is in how many years the book spans. A View Across the Rooftops spans almost the entire length of the war though the story moves quickly enough that you don’t feel like you’ve spent four plus years reading. In fact, the story moves at quite a good pace and that has to do primarily with the quality of the characters, the quality of the writing, and the overwhelming sense of tension and anxiety. You can’t stop reading for fear all will be found out and lost on the very next page. Amid all the awful, there is also a very real sense of hope – a feeling that despite all the city and her people have been through, there is still strength and love and hope. Those ideals are felt most strongly in the characters of Professor Held and his student; to follow their journey through so many days, months, and years is at times crippling and, at others, positively uplifting. While on the one hand I felt utter abhorrence at man’s treatment of man, I also come away with a renewed faith in humanity and our ability to overcome, to forgive, to help, to care, and to simply be courageous in the face of great fear and imminent danger. This is storytelling at its finest and for those who tend to be drawn to this time period, you will not be disappointed.