Thursday, November 15, 2018

100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls: Unforgettable Tales of Women of Faith by Jean Fischer

 100 Extraordinary Stories for Courageous Girls: Unforgettable Tales of Women of Faith  -     By: Jean Fischer

Jean Fischer's 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES FOR COURAGEOUS GIRLS offers hopeful and thought provoking reading for Christian girls.  Independent readers of ages 9-12 would be the ideal audience, but certainly girls a bit younger would find interest, perhaps when read with an adult. 
Each "story" is a condensed single page with an accompanying one page colorful illustration.  I would best describe the art style as somewhat cartoonish with large, distinctive eyes for each woman. (Think Disney princess eyes or popular animated movies.)  The 100 women are drawn from the Bible, long ago history, and more recent history.  Many of the women were missionaries or had their faith challenged.  A few, such Joni Eareckson Tada and Bethany Hamilton Dirks are contemporary. 
When I began the book, I anticipated that I would read one or two per day, but found myself so interested that I often read about 10 to 15 women before setting the book aside.  I also kept glancing ahead to see if there were women that I recognized.  When I was a public school elementary librarian, I loved finding new nonfiction books that introduced this age group of girls to good role models - women and girls who had made a difference, tried a new path, and used their talents.  I am delighted to find a book based on faith showing the same.  This would be a lovely gift book, and at this time of year, a perfect stocking stuffer.  If you do give 100 EXTRAORDINARY STORIES FOR COURAGEOUS GIRLS, take time to read together with the recipient.  Each vignette ends with personal questions, ones that should be discussed.  Perhaps the title could be used as a Mother (or Grandmother)-Daughter devotional. With today's bombardment of negative lifestyles and people making poor choices gaining fame, a book like this one is much needed.  And I could even see gently giving this title to a pastor/youth pastor whose illustrative stories of faith and courage tend not to include female examples.   One note -- many of the historical women lived (and died) during times when Christians were fractured and intolerant of others.  It would be good for an adult to discuss that with any young reader.  I received a copy of Jean Fischer's book from the publisher.  All opinions are mine. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Miles from Where We Started by Cynthia Ruchti

Image may contain: people sitting and text

Quest stories cross the ages and cultures.  Mythology is filled with them.  Native American leaders repeated tales around the campfires of their young seeking their true names and destinies while hunting or conquering nature's challenges. And doesn't everyone know the King Arthur stories?  Contemporary fiction readers latch onto series like Richard Paul Evan's THE WALK knowing ahead of time that the journey will be part of a growing and a healing.  Nonfiction shelves offer such quests as Bill Byson's A WALK IN THE WOODS.  Last year, I was awed and inspired reading I'LL PUSH YOU: A Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheel Chair.  It is with that kind of  quest in mind that Cynthia Ruchti begins her latest book MILES FROM WHERE WE STARTED.   
Mind you, Mallory Duncan and her husband Connor know nothing about this life-changing undercurrent to their story.  Well, in a way they do know something in their lives is going to change.  But they think it is the upcoming end to their brief marriage --- a parting of the ways because Connor cannot commit.  What began as a love story fit for fairy tales is withering faster than a dry pumpkin vine.  Ruchti has used the couple's several week journey across the rural spots of the southeast US in a tiny teardrop trailer with a tag-along, challenging 11 year old foster kid, to take Mallory and Connor to a quest destination that neither knew they needed or wanted.  I won't say anymore.  Don't want to add any spoilers.  It will suffice to say that this is another one of Ruchti's wonderful, hope-filled books.  Like real life, the hope is hard-earned, requiring attitude changes and more.  Like the classic quest stories, characters with just the right "back story" or wisdom cross the couple's path at the exact moment needed --- almost as if there was a divine hand in this story. (Are you seeing the real purpose for this story yet?) Ruchti has said she's written this story for millennials, a group she admires for their strength and gifts.  I hope they appreciate the book.  We older readers recognize that first years of marriage are far from blissful and what priorities emerge during those months lay the foundation for all the years and the challenges to come. That Ruchti found a way to tell that story using a tear drop camper (we own a tear drop camper just a bit bigger than one described in the book) and a visit to a community of tiny homes ( I must confess I watch every tiny home reality show there is)  is icing on the cake.  There must be a tiny home/camper/quest analogy I could use here, but right now I can't find one.  I recommend this novel to all that have read other Cynthia Ruchti books and to those who have not discovered her yet, I say,"What are you waiting for?"   I received a copy of this novel from the publisher.  All opinions are mine.

For those who would like to know about Cynthia Ruchti and her latest novel, I suggest this interview with the author.

Friday, November 9, 2018

God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World by Irene Sun

 God Counts: Numbers in His Word and His World by Irene Sun

"In the beginning, God created numbers.  Numbers declare the glory of God."  Thus begins Irene Sun's colorful picture book about numbers in God's word and His world.  Using appropriate Bible references for each number 1-12, children will be learn about creation, God's place in our lives, and more.  From the turquoise hardcover to the full two page art work throughout, this is an eye appealing book.  Most adults expect the message in a children's picture book to be simple, but not in this title. That means there is much to talk about beyond the rhymes.  For example, the number 10 refers to the parable of the woman and her lost coin.  The real message for that two page spread is that God does not want even one of his children to be lost.  It may take an adult reader to help a child, even an independent reader,  to understand the message behind the number and the parable.  After a powerful look at the symbol for infinity and the lesson that God is infinite in his power, the book ends with the message that God "counts" every fish, every star, every hair on your head and He also knows your every cry,  your every step and your every day -- the real message of the book.

This book would be a welcome addition to a children's church library or a church-affliated pre-school/kindergarten.  I received a copy of this title from New Growth Press.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

GATHERING OF SISTERS: a year with my Old Order Mennonite family by Darla Weaver

Gathering of Sisters
Plainspoken is an imprint of Herald Press which specializes in providing a place for Mennonite, Amish and Hutterite authors to tell their stories.   A glance at most bookstore will show that Amish/Mennonite fiction (romance and mysteries) are popular, but as anyone with a bit of knowledge about these religious communities can tell you, the accuracy within those stories varies widely.  The make up of our rural Wisconsin neighborhood changed significantly thirty years ago when many farms were bought by the Amish.  Now, the area is known for its Amish produce and craftsman more than the "English" dairy farms and small businesses.  Having Amish neighbors from whom we buy produce and furniture has fueled my interest in their way of life and their beliefs.  A summer concert by members of a Mennonite church in a nearby town sparked my interest in all Anabaptist groups.  That was fueled by the Canadian blog MENNONITE GIRLS CAN COOK. When Plainspoken published Linda Maendel's HUTTERITE DIARIES, I welcomed the chance to read and review this wonderful book which not only gave us a peak at a large Hutterite colony on the Canadian plains, but also explained the history of the group.

So when given the chance to read Darla Weaver's GATHERING OF SISTERS, I hoped that I would learn more about this Anabaptist group and how it differs from others.  Darla Weaver answers some basic questions about the group at the end of the book, but mostly this book details her visits with her sisters over a year. It was a treat, a warm, welcoming read.  Every Tuesday Darla, married and the mother of 3, travels to her mother's to spend the day.  Her three sisters, also married and mothers of young children, do the same.  Each comes with a craft or sewing project.  They bring food for a shared meal and magazines and books to exchange.  And of course, they bring the youngest children.  And as a wooden sign in our great room says, "Grandma's house, where cousins go to become friends."  When the summer months roll around and the older children are out of school, those cousin friends number over 20.  What a houseful.  As Darla writes about each month, you will appreciate the rhythms of the seasons and feel how they affect our daily lives.  If you're caught up in the rat-race of career, over-scheduled kids' activities, and more, you may be missing those close ties to the seasons.  The simpler way of living of these sisters and their families will make you remember
A new jig-saw puzzle each week, sharing in the task of making new dresses for a brother's wedding, taking turns doing the noon dishes by hand, new recipes (both successful ones and failures), holding a new niece or nephew for the first time -- all these events  will never make news headlines, but they are pieces of a solid, affirming way of life.. Darla explains the importance of these Tuesday visits and talks in this way: it wasn't that our topics were of any momentous importance, It was simply a sharing of daily moments, thoughts, lessons learned or in the process of being learned.  As long as we breathe there are things to learn, and sometimes we can benefit from sisters' lessons too.

Perhaps my favorite part of each Tuesday's retelling was Darla's tales of the preschoolers and their antics.  Many of them reminded me of get togethers decades ago with my cousins on our farm -- playing in the mud, searching the barn for baby kittens, tricking the moms with a plastic snake, and cutting up the zucchini for canoes.  No need for cartoons or i-pads. And never a dull moment!!  I think this title would a lovely gift book for an older reader, someone who is recuperating from surgery, or anyone who has forgotten that the simple things in life are the important ones!!

I was given a copy of this book by the publisher and Audra Reads.  All opinions are mine.


Monday, October 15, 2018

GOD MAKE ME AND YOU: Celebrating God's Design for Ethnic Diversity by Shai Linne

God Made Me and You: Celebrating God's Design for Ethnic Diversity

Author Shai Linne and illustrator Trish Mahoney have delivered a thoughtful children's book about celebrating the ethnic diversity in God's great creation.  The book begins  with an all too frequent classroom scene - the teasing and bullying of some students while the teacher is out. Just as one boy begins to cry because others are laughing at the color of his skin, Ms. Preston, a wise teacher returns to the room.  Grabbing onto the opportune moment for a lesson, she shows the students that our differences are all part of God's design for the world, just as the sun, planets, stars, and moons are each different.  Told in brief rhymed stanzas, this book a fun read-aloud, but also a starting point for serious discussions on accepting others.  Because of its picture book format, the book can be used with young audiences, but I can also see it as a non-threatening book for slightly older kids.
I think this book would be an excellent buy for church school libraries, parochial schools, and even family libraries.  I received a copy of this title from New Growth Press.  All opinions are mine. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018


River to Redemption

When I first listened to the audio version of ANGEL SISTER by Ann H. Gabhart, I knew I had
found an author who captured the intricacies of young women, their families, and their dreams.  Her sense of time and place especially shine in this novel and the ones that follow.  Besides that  ROSEY CORNER series of three novels, I've read two of her mysteries and a historical fiction set after WWII.  That her latest story was again a tale of a young woman on the cusp of adulthood was a draw for me. So was the gorgeous cover.  But what should draw people to this book is the nugget of history on which the book is based.  In 1832-33, cholera broke out in the Kentucky city of Springfield, causing the death of more than one tenth of its population.  Those who remained healthy fled the town as quickly as possible.  A person could seem well in the morning and be dead by dusk.  Bodies of loved ones were left behind; no time for services or burials.  One who fled was the local hotel owner who left the keys to his business with a slave Louis, whom he told to continue running the business.  Louis. along with a slave cook Matilda, took it upon themselves to feed and care for the living left behind.  Neither were affected by the disease.  At a time that he could have likely succeeded in running away to freedom, Louis chose to stay behind and burial the dead.  When his owner died 12 years later and Louis would be put up for sale, the towns people banded together, purchased his freedom, and set him up in a blacksmith business.  When Ann H. Gabhart came across that story, she decided to construct a fictional story of who organized the drive to obtain Louis's freedom.  Her version?  It is the story of orphan teenager Adria Starr who years earlier was nursed to health by Louis and Matilda after watching her parents and brother die from the cholera.  As she grows up in the care of the local school teacher, widowed by the disease, Adria grows in her knowledge that slavery is wrong.  And she knows that she must obtain Louis's freedom.  This is a book of personal sacrifice, doing the right thing, discovering one's heart -- all with a strong message of faith. 

I obtained a copy of this book from our library system.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

SECOND-CHANCE DOGS: true stories of the dogs we rescue and the dogs who rescule us edited by Callie Smith Grant

Cover Art

We cannot deny that pets play a larger role in the lives of Americans now than they did at any earlier time.  Childless couples refer to them as their "fur-babies."  And if you are a frequent HGTV viewer like I am, you've seen countless people select a home because it meets the specific needs of their pet, whether it's a large backyard, a quick walk to the dog park, or large windows for Miss Kitty's daily sunning.  A decade ago, courageous people might try taking their animals on a camping trip, but seldom on any other vacation.  Now hotels promote being pet friendly and many pet owners would never leave Rover behind.  Just a few days ago my husband and I took a fall color tour from Wisconsin through Michigan's UP across the big bridge and out to Mackinac Island. On our ferry were several dogs, including a young puppy with the softest fur -- definitely a loved and pampered "fur-baby."  It is only natural then that people sharing their pet stories has made its way into the publishing field.  Callie Smith Grant has gathered a delightful assortment of tales about  how owners found their dogs (or vice-versa) and how that event changed everyone's lives.  Now, I always pack several books when I travel and besides SECOND-CHANCE DOGS, I took two novels on this short trip to Michigan.  Although I tried, I could not make any headway in either of the novels, despite one author being a favorite of mine.  SECOND-CHANCE DOGS was a different story.  Reading this book was like opening a bag of potato chips.  I planned to "eat" just one or two entries, but soon found that I had read for over an hour and totally missed going to the hot tub.  This would be a wonderful gift book for any dog lover. And the book transcend age levels.  A good solid middle school reader would delight in some of the stories.  But if they cry over every sad dog movie like my two middle school granddaughters, they may shed a few tears.  But mostly they will grin and perhaps enjoy their own pet relationship more than before.  And older adults, like me, will reminiscence about all the family pets they've had.
 I received a copy of this book from Revell and all opinions are mine.