Sunday, February 26, 2017

Down and out with a nasty cold

Usually, I'm not the one in our family to get laid low by a cold, but this time I confess that I am laid low and miserable.  I am not sleeping well and the stuffy sinuses are making it difficult to even read.  Luckily, I do not have any deadline reading for a few days, and by then I hope the cold is long gone.  I do feel badly about how the cold is affecting my reading enjoyment because I have just started MURDER ON THE MOOR by Julianna Deering, the fifth mystery novel featuring Drew Fathering, a British mystery author, and his elegant American wife Madeline.  Billed as a return to the Golden Age of Mystery, I think Deering's series would make a perfect television show.  The settings in old British estates and countryside villages rival Downton Abbey, the dynamics between Drew,  Madeline, and the antics of Drew's sidekick Nick would transfer to the small screen brilliantly.
To me, their antics have a bit of 1920's Fitzgerald flair.

For now, I am going to post a link to the Celebrate Lit website and their kickoff information for
a blog tour featuring Deering's new novel MURDER ON THE MOOR.  Hope you can grab yourself a copy and enjoy.  At least, stop back when it is my time on the tour!! And stay well.  Me, I'm making a cuppa (tea, that is) and then I'll see if Drew, Madeline, and Nick can take me away from my stuffy head miseries.
 Murder on the Moor






http://www.celebratelitteam.com/current-tour-information/murder-on-the-moor/

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley



Jana Kelley has written a pair of contemporary novels that draw upon her years living in Africa and the Middle East, resulting in a look into a world few Western Christians have experienced.  In SIDE BY SIDE, readers are introduced to Mia, a young Texas housewife, who has moved to Northern Sudan with her husband and three children when Michael accepts a position with a health care foundation.  Slowly, Mia finds her footing and even begins to make friends with the local family next door.  Young children do not understand barriers and their desire to play together gives Mia and  neighbor Hanaan a chance to share their cultures with each other. Readers get honest peeks into shared family time, women's get-togethers, celebrations, and special foods. While Mia would like to share her faith, she knows the laws in Sudan, and so she waits.  Meanwhile, across the city, a young Muslim college student, faces an uncertain future.  Knowing that her education will soon end and then her father will seek a spouse from among the family's cousins, Haliman feels drawn to the small New Testament a professor had given her months before.  In stolen moments of alone time, she reads and re-reads the book, knowing that Jesus's words call to her.  When her new faith is discovered, Haliman is beaten by her father and disowned.  Before her father has time to send her away, or worse kill her, Haliman flees.  Friends find a place for her to heal -in the home of Mia and Michael. Side by side, Mia and Haliman learn much about life and God.
In the second book, DOOR TO FREEDOM, Mia adjusts to life after Haliman has been smuggled out of Sudan for a new life.  While having read the first book made the start of this book a smooth transition, I don't think a reader would have much trouble jumping into the second book without the first.  Just like the first book, DOOR TO FREEDOM is told from two viewpoints, one being Christian Mia and the other, a young Muslim woman.  Mia and Michael have found other Sudanese friends, including a couple who want to know more about Jesus.  But then it seems that the government is threatening to shut down the medical foundation where Michael works, and the couple begins to fear that they are being watched.  Beth, an American nurse, who had been Mia's first friend in Sudan warns Mia and Michael that they should not be so bold.  Meanwhile at Haliman's home, her younger sister is experiencing the aftermath of her sister's flight.  Now held up at the only daughter, Rania, is held almost captive in the family compound. Her father, fearing any influences that might corrupt this daughter, he quickly searches for a suitable husband, not caring that Rania hopes to study art.  Feeling hopeless, Rania remembers the tiny book of scripture Haliman gave her to hide, begging her to read someday.  Will fear rule over Mia and Rania, or will they see God's hand in what lies ahead?

Author Jana Kelley's style reads like nonfiction.  These tales of persecution are powerful and truthful, yet Kelley is respectful of the Muslim women and their lives.  She beautifully explains many of their customs, foods, and everyday life.  I learned much from reading these two novels.  Both are published by publisher New Hope whose mission is bringing to print books that challenge Christians in their beliefs  and their roles in God's mission.  I received copies from Litfuse and all opinions are my own.


More about the book.



Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley


Can you imagine the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law? Jana Kelley explores modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan in her new book, Door to Freedom. In the Islamic country of Sudan, Mia has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.
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{More about Door to Freedom}

Door to Freedom (New Hope, February 2017)
It’s rough and it’s smooth. It’s dark and it’s light. It’s a masterpiece. It’s us. Here in Sudan. We are scared of it and drawn to it. There is an open door, and there is much opposition.
In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia, who is raising her family in a Muslim country, has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.
Part of New Hope Publishers’ line of contemporary missional fiction, Door to Freedom, the sequel to Side by Side, opens the reader’s eyes to modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan. Based on real-life events, Door to Freedom also reveals some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as for the salvation of the persecutors.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Jana Kelley

{More About Jana Kelley}

Author of the captivating novel “Side by Side,” Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend East Texas Baptist University. She and her husband married a month after she graduated, and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. After 13 years living in Africa and the Middle East, Jana, her husband, and their three boys moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.
Find out more about Jana at http://www.janakelley.com.





Sunday, February 19, 2017

JUSTICE DELAYED: A Memphis Cold Case Novel by Patricia Bradley

Justice Delayed (Memphis Cold Case #1)Andi Hollister has overcome much in her young life to become a rising star on Memphis news television.  Eighteen years earlier, at age 13, heart surgery saved her life.  But that surgery could never mend the heartache left by her sister's murder just days before Andi's surgery.  Even though Stephanie's sometime boyfriend confessed to the murder and sits on death row, the family still has unanswered questions.  So when a former roommate of Stephanie's contacts Andi and requests a meeting just 3 days before Jimmy's execution, Andi consents.  When the roommate fails to arrive, Andi soon finds herself pulled into a police investigation that leads to the possibility of opening Stephanie's murder case. 

Whenever a cold case is solved in real life, it makes headlines and gets plenty of television coverage; that coverage has translated to cold cases being popular fodder for movies, series television, and now fiction.  I've read other crime novels by Patricia Bradley and she does excel at mixing romance, police drama, and suspense.  In this novel, she reaches back to the real-life 90's headlines and the  scandals of the African blood diamonds and makes diamond smuggling the base for this thriller.
What I liked most about the book is that we the readers have significant knowledge of Stephanie and her activities that would clarify what really happened to her, but it is information that no one in the family or law enforcement have discovered, even 18 years later.  But someone else, someone dangerous, knows the facts and will do whatever is necessary to keep the case "cold."  Bradley plays the romance key in this romantic suspense in a subdued manner, and I appreciate that.   Andi finds herself reconnecting with Will, a family friend, who now works on Memphis cold cases.  At one time, Andi was just a pesky younger sister of Will's best friend, and Will was the older teen who always hung out at Andi's home because his own home life was lacking.  Now both successful adults, Andi and Will are attracted to each other, but finding the answers to Stephanie's death is what gets priority.  Be prepared for lots of twists and turns, and a finale that would play out successfully on the big screen.  I was given a copy of this title from Revell Reads.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul by Ruth Soukup

Image result for unstuffedHints and methods for decluttering and tidying can be found almost anywhere these days -- magazines, videos, televisions and dozens and dozens of books.  Organizing experts have sprung up across the country, even in mid-sized towns.  Truthfully, our home isn't the scene for the next hoarders episode, but there are areas of disorganization and overabundance that could use some work.  So when I see new books and articles about taming the stuff, a bit of guilt begins to gnaw, and perhaps that it is why I borrowed UNSTUFFED by Ruth Soukup through interlibrary loan. 

The first part of the book has some very simple commonsense steps for decluttering your belongings, most of which I had already heard.  What stood out is Soukup's written time schedule for going through one's house in ONE full weekend.  Clearly this would be a full, exhausting weekend, but if her plan is followed, you'd end up with a neat pantry, orderly pots and pans, and no orphan plastic dishes or lids.  And that's just the kitchen.  Imagine a medicine cabinet with no expired pills, lotions, or nasty, unwanted creams and a bedroom closet with no lone socks or skirts two sizes too small. 

What makes the book even more useful is the author's perspective on our over-scheduled hectic lives.
She points out the connection between unrecognized anxiety/exhaustion and our compulsion to always be adding more to our plate.  I am quite sure my husband and I have passed that exhausting phase of life now that we are retired, but just reading this book brings back memories of the late nights finishing laundry, the severe headaches that wiped me out for a day or more, and whole weeks without an evening sans activities.  And I felt we tried to see that our lives were NOT overscheduled. All families with working parent(s) and kids in activities could benefit from reading Soukup's book, even if you have heard similar messages elsewhere.  Soukup goes on to show how our compulsions to shop, to have more, and to keep abreast of the newest technology all work to make our lives more complicated, not better. 

Again, I can't say that the author said anything that I had not already read or thought myself, but still I really enjoyed the book.  I am thinking perhaps I need to read something similar every couple months to keep me focused on simplifying our lives.  And now for my goal for this week -- going through all the bathroom drawers and linen closet.  Threadbare washclothes and broken combs, you will be tossed!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story  -     By: Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines
   To set the record straight, I am a HGTV and DIY network addict. Remodeling shows, house hunting anywhere, and even tiny house construction, I gobble it all up. But none of the shows provide the silly boost of positive energy to my week like FIXER UPPER with Chip and Joanna Gaines.  So often we learn that the television persona is just a charade, so I was a bit hesitant to start reading their new book THE MAGNOLIA STORY, fearing that my image of them  might become a bit tarnished.  I should not have worried.  Chip, Joanna, and co-writer Mark Dagostino have written a delightful look at the couple's separate childhoods, their courtship and early marriage, but mostly they've focused on the love, dreams, and entrepreneurial spirit that made their small Waco construction/decor businesses take off.  Unlike so many reality tv stars, it wasn't their outrageous behavior that got them noticed; instead it was Joanna's unique family friendly decorating style featured on her modest blog.  And it was their loving, but crazy couple dynamics that cinched them a spot on HGTV's prime time line up. 

The book is narrated alternatively by either Joanna or Chip, and their differing perspectives on the same topic is often funny.  What's that line - women are from Venus, men are from Mars??  But behind every comment,  you can feel the genuine love and respect that each has for the other.  And then there is their ability to not only let the other person dream big, but also to support the dream in a fashion that both are involved in making it a reality.  The book describes this process happening not once, but over and over.  And now with their hit show, they are not just flipping houses for profit; they are restoring parts of Waco for new generations and helping other families' dreams come to fruition.  I'm delighted I read the book, and now, even more than ever, I am ready for another dose of Chip's antics and Joanna's shiplap!


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Christmas BellsWe are six weeks into 2017 and I have finally finished (I think) my Christmas reading for 2016.  Despite being a late read, THE CHRISTMAS BELLS by Jennifer Chiaverini was an entertaining, well constructed read.  I first read Chiaverini's writing when I began her popular quilting fiction series ELM CREEK QUILTS.  I loved the characters, the continuing stories, the connections to quilts, and that she was a Wisconsin author just made the books better.  A few years ago she expanded her writing to historical fiction.  I love historical fiction which has been well researched, and find fascinating stories which include real people.  That means I should have loved SPYMISTRESS and MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER.  Both books were extremely well researched, but perhaps that was the problem, as I found the writing in both books a bit stiff and textbook-like.  Many of my bookclub members felt the same.  For more details check https://thoughtsfrommillstreet.blogspot.com/2013/03/mrs-lincolns-dressmaker-by-jennifer.html.

After struggling a bit with those two titles, I have not sought out her books for two years, but then CHRISTMAS BELLS caught my attention at the library and home it came!  I am so glad I made that impulsive book grab.  Set in Boston, both in the present and in the 1860's Civil War period, the book
reveals how Henry Longfellow came to write his poem, later turned to carol, I HEARD THE CHRISTMAS BELLS.  Steeped in grief after his beloved wife's untimely death and worried about his young son's enlistment in the North's military, Longfellow struggled to go on and care for the rest of his young family.  Set against the backdrop of Longfellow's story is the modern, multi-character story of a  Boston Catholic church preparing for the children's Christmas concert.  Director Sophie loves her unpaid work at the church, but the news that she will be losing her full-time paid teaching job
due to budget cuts, along with a broken engagement, has dampened her joy.  Perhaps that is why she does not realize, even though everyone else does, that her accompanist is more than just a supportive friend.   Chosen for the solo on the Christmas Bell song is a young boy who really needs special attention this season.  In fact his whole family does as they try a way to celebrate despite their soldier father's absence.  Filling out the present day story are a grieving Senator's wife, a perceptive nun, and a youthful priest.  One might think that Chiaverini has chosen too many characters for a moderate length novel, but she does a superb job of unveiling each story in the context of the church's preparation for the annual concert.  And while I felt her earlier historical fiction writings were a bit stiff and "too bookish," her telling of Longfellow's grief and fatherly care was spot on.  In fact, for this former English teacher, this accounting made the poet come alive for the first time.  And it gave me a clearer understanding of the role a poet could play in shaping society's opinions -- think modern day blogger.

All said, I think Jennifer Chiaverini is back on my reading list and when checking online, I see there are several historical novels I have missed.  The reading list for 2017 is growing longer and longer!
Oh yes, I want to end this review with a "plug" for the Wisconsin Historical Society which Chiaverini credits for being the source for much of her research for this book.  It is that research that makes this book feel so authentic. 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

THE MARK OF THE KING BY JOCELYN GREEN

The Mark of the King Jocelyn Green takes readers to New Orleans in the early 18th Century as French soldiers struggle to maintain a colony in its infancy.  As they attempt to build alliances with one Indian tribe, another native group sides with the British, and the battle for power which dominates continental Europe raises its ugly head in the New World.  As the book opens in Paris, French midwife Julianne Chevalier, has been given a life sentence for the death of one of her patients following a difficult birth.  Faced with life in the awful prison Salpetriere, Julianne becomes one of the many French prisoners who agree to exile to New Orleans in lieu of imprisonment. Little does she realize that her first duty in this new life will be to marry a male prisoner and procreate.

Marriage to a stranger, a dangerous ocean voyage, arrival to a community lacking food and adequate shelter, and the permanent branded mark on her shoulder telling the world that she was a prisoner, the property of the king -- all these hardships cannot defeat the resilient Julianne who hopes her arrival in the New World will reunite her with her younger brother who joined the French military and the colonies when only 14.   But even she cannot realize what actually awaits her.

I've seen other reviews that mentioned that the readers felt bogged down at times.  Not me!! I felt the action and pace moved quickly.  From the initial birth which resulted in Julianne's prison sentence to the last page of the book, I was drawn into the suspense and the romance, but most of all into the portrayal of one of America's most iconic cities.  Just when Julianne seems to be putting her past behind her, it returns, bringing new hardships and challenges.  From the beginning, I figured the title would come to have a double meaning -- the mark of the king of France and then the mark of Christ our King.  I like how that message is a developing message, a subtle one.  Julianne is never really without faith, but it is a faith that grows and makes demands as the story progresses.

Lake Pontchartrain, a mixed population with differing allegiances and prejudices, a raging tropical storm that threatens to destroy the city are just a few of the details which make early New Orleans as intriguing as the modern New Orleans.  As Julianne fights to survive betrayal, her past, and the storm, so does the infant colony.  I received a copy of this title from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.