Tuesday, September 19, 2017

MERCY TRIUMPS by Jana Kelley

Jana Kelley has written a complex contemporary trilogy following Mia Weston as she and her family live in Sudan, hoping to make a difference through her husband's work at Kellar Hope Foundation.  Nothing about life there is what Jana expected, but the family finds a "new normal" and Mia is determined to carefully share her Christian faith with the women she meets.  Each of the three books shows both how perilous and how rewarding telling others about the forgiving love of Christ can be.
MERCY TRIUMPHS has Mia, her husband and their children preparing for a visit back to Texas, but unsure if their travels will be approved by the Sudanese government.  Meanwhile Halimah, a young convert whose story is told in the first two books, is working with refugees in Kenya.  Living under the name Sara, the new believer fears for her future but finds assurance that God will protect her.
So when her younger sister living in Dubai with an aunt and uncle asks her to visit, Sara believes God is leading both women to a new safe life.

Based on true events, Kelley's novels show how complicated life is for Christians living in Muslim dominated societies.  The stark differences between American society and life in Sudan is clear, and while it may be difficult to understand, we see that Mia truly comes to love the place which was home for three years.  As Jana Kelley writes on her website, she write(s) about faith and culture and about living a life that meshes the two," and she does it with an authenticity that is eye opening, entertaining, at times suspenseful, but mostly inspiring. I received a copy of this title from LITFUSE.  I was not compelled to write a review.  All opinions are mine.

Sunday, September 17, 2017



Debbie Macomber is one of America's most beloved authors of hopeful, contemporary novels, aimed mostly at women. Over 200 million copies of her books have sold with many of her stories  made into television movies and even a recent television series.  Set in close knit communities, her stories of overcoming adversity, finding love often make one want to find one of those cozy communities, purchase a big welcoming home, and sit on the front porch.  It has been quite a while since I've read one of Debbie's novels, so I looked forward to sinking into the pages of ANY DREAM WILL DO, her latest novel. Shay Benson knew she was making a huge mistake, but her brother needed her, or so she thought, and now five years later she has to start life all over.  Sure all chances of a normal life with someone to love or a job where people trust her have been destroyed, Shay shields her fears with a chip of her shoulder.  But something brings into the sanctuary of Pastor Drew Douglas's church on a cold winter's night. When he sees the young woman in the pews, his pastoral sense of duty kicks in and Drew takes the young woman to a shelter which works with women to give them a fresh start. But something keeps Drew checking back on Shay's progress and a friendship ensures, something both the widowed pastor and the determined Shay need.

While this book has all the hallmarks of Macomber's success -- a community with interesting, distinct characters  ( in this case, Drew's delightful young daughter); a hopeful story; and the expected romance,  too much of the story was expected, right down to the secret which Shay will not reveal.  I found this story almost like easy listening music or an often watched television series.  The story flowed quickly; I really did not need to engage my mind much to keep track of the story, and soon it was over.  I took this book along on a bus trip, and it was a good choice for that purpose.  I could read for a half hour or so on the bus and then leave the book alone to talk to my seat mate.  Then later I could pick up the book again and find myself right back into the story. Yes, I will continue to read Macomber's stories, but next time I am hoping for a bit more complexity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND by Jane Kirkpatrick

 Product Details

Whenever I read a new Jane Kirkpatrick historical novel, I know I am going to meet a remarkable woman from our country's past, a lady who somehow stood up against the status quo and lived a life that changed the fate of families to come.  Jennie Pickett Parrish is that woman in Kirkpatrick's newest book ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND.  Married young to Charles Pickett, Jennie soon finds that the life of promise she expected is peppered with heartache.  Charles becomes moody and abusive, which Jennie attributes to drink and perhaps to a head injury; hoping to help support the family, Jennie begins distilling botanicals for healing essential oils.  Deep within Jennie is a desire to pursue the healing arts, perhaps even to be a doctor, but doubts and obstacles over shadow her dreams.  Few women have successfully entered the medical field, especially here in the new state of Oregon.  A learning disability, probably what we would call dyslexia, sets her apart from her siblings who all learned quickly.  For her, all book learning has been a burdensome challenge, so Jennie concentrates on raising her son, who even as a young child shows the signs of an addictive personality.

As we all experience, what is ahead in life is a complete unknown, and soon Jennie's life takes many twists, leaving her a divorcee, needing to find a way to support herself and her son. An opportunity to work as a nursing companion to an ailing wealthy woman allowing Jennie to pay back a loan her husband has defaulted on, and  ultimately leading to the chance to be the doctor Jennie always dreamed of being.  This isn't really a book about the world wanting to deny Jennie Pickett Parrish the opportunity to practice medicine; once she and her second husband decide she should pursue this dream, a pathway to the medical college opens for her --- possibly because her new husband (much older than she) was an influential Oregonian.  No, this is about the personal sacrifices necessary to pursue a quest for knowledge and a quest to improve the basic health of families.  The demons of addiction play a huge role in this book, and it is clear that Jennie Parrish sought the medical answers behind addiction, something we still seek.

Ever since I read my first book about Elizabeth Blackwell, I have been fascinated by the women who forged their way into the medical fields.  And I have been a Jane Kirkpatrick fan since I picked up my first title written by her, one that just happened to be set in Wisconsin, my home state.  ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND seemed a sure win for me and it was!  I must say that ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND is quieter than some of her books.  Set in the 1870's and after, this is not a book with lots of physical action -- no Indian/white settler disputes,  wagon trail treks, or starvation winters.  This is about the baby steps of change that lead to societal change.  It also shows that sometimes we have to accept that we cannot change other people, that we cannot heal them of their demons. And with that acceptance, we can move ahead to a life where we can make a difference. It is also a story about a love that defies age barriers.  I received an advanced reader's copy of ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND and I was not required to write a review.  All opinions are mine. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Broken Road by Richard Paul Evans

 The Broken Road

Richard Paul Evans is probably best known for his heart-warming Christmas fiction, beginning with THE CHRISTMAS BOX, the book that started my annual quest for a new Christmas novel to read during the holiday rush.  Last year, I read and listened to his four-book series THE WALK which features a grief-stricken young widower who walks his way across the country, finding reasons to live along the way.  Recently I picked up the audio version of his new book BROKEN ROAD which resembles THE WALK series only in the fact that someone eventually ends up taking a walk, this time along Route 66 - LOL.  Charles James began life in poverty and abuse; his Saturday mornings always began with his father and he searching the restaurant and area dumpsters for food and goodies.  When his father's oppression and cruel discipline became too much, the teen-aged Charles left home, changed his name, and headed for California.  Determination, chance, and a drive to succeed propel Charles through the next decade.  A (fictional) encounter with the author Evans has Charles agreeing to tell his story.  Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how he met the love of his life and how he scrambled to the top of the high-profile financial presentation world.  You know what I mean, even though I can't grab the correct term for it -- those flashy presentations that promise instant wealth if you just buy their special books and programs, available today only,  all for a hefty fee.  With millions in his pockets and a face that everyone recognizes, Charles has begun to have nightmares and second thoughts.  His retelling of his success in book one of a trilogy ends with a cliffhanger, of course, leaving readers ready and eager for book two.

BROKEN ROAD was an easy and relatively short listen which I enjoyed while quilting and then driving to an appointment.  The only downside is the same one I always have with series books.  I wish I had discovered this title after all three books were released; then I could have had a continuous, smooth listen to the details of Charles James' life.  Oh, for just another teaser, did I tell you that Charles James claims to be the great grandson of Jesse James?

Monday, August 28, 2017

A TIME TO STAND by Robert Whitlow

 Image result for a time to stand whitlow

Campbellton, GA is the setting for Robert Whitlow's timely legal thriller.  The relationships between its black and white citizens go back generation to share cropper days and even to slavery.  When one of Campbellton's young black male's is shot by a new-to-the-city white police officer, the town divides its loyalties.  Just minutes after receiving a dispatch call that Deshaun Hamlin is a suspect in the robbery at the QuikMart, Officer Luke Nelson approaches Hamlin on a nearby street.  Sure that the young man is reaching for a gun when the youth puts his hand in a pocket, Nelson shoots.

As Deshaun teeters between life and death, it is learned that he never had a gun and probably was not involved in the robbery.  Luke is placed on leave and waits to learn if he will be indicted.  A family man, he is supported by his church and others in the community, while at the same time, dozens of others, especially the church members of Deshaun's grandmother's church, demand justice for the boy.

Meanwhile, a perfect storm of life events brings African-American attorney Adisa Johnson back to her hometown of Campbellton.  At first, Adisa's race and loyalty to her neighborhood have her leaning toward supporting those who want Nelson tried for assault and attempted murder, but her legal experience pushes her to see that the officer must get fair treatment.  Never did she consider defending him, but that is what happens.  Robert Whitlow is one of my favorite authors for legal fiction, and he does not disappoint in this timely novel. He fleshes out the town, making its history almost a distinct character in the book, and that helped me see that "place" is an important part of the stories behind the headlines of today's news.  There is prejudice at every turn in this book, but Whitlow shows that even strongly held prejudices can come down when a few people take a stand for fairness, forgiveness, and the truth.
I received an e-copy of this book from Netgalley.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are mine. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The Silver Star | Book by Jeannette Walls | Official Publisher Page ...

We had not been to a movie all summer, so last Friday I talked my husband into a mid-day trip to the Marcus theater in Sun Prairie, WI to see THE GLASS CASTLE.  I was a bit leery because I knew what the movie was a serious topic, plus hubby is not a big Woody Harrelson fan, but figured the popcorn and recliners were enough to keep him happy.  From the first moments both of us were pulled into this well executed drama based on Jeanette Walls' dysfunctional family.  It was over a hour into the movie before Russ whispered in my ear, "Is that Woody Harrelson?"  Needless to explain, Harrelson is superb at portraying the domineering, eccentric, alcoholic father who despite all his faults loves his family.  But topping his acting is the sensitive, heart wrenching acting done by the two girls who play the young Jeanette.  I seldom watch a movie twice, but I think I will rewatch this one on dvd or streaming when available.

Throughout the movie, I kept wondering why I was not making stronger connections between the book and the film.  Finally I came to the conclusion that indeed I had NOT read THE GLASS CASTLE, but had heard about it when our book club discussed HALF BROKE HORSES which is a fictionalized account of Walls' maternal grandmother's life.  That led me to the decision that I needed to read THE GLASS CASTLE (or reread it, if perchance I have read it).  When on the computer to place a hold for THE GLASS CASTLE through the library system, I found that our library had a copy of THE SILVER STAR, a fiction title by Walls released after CASTLE and HORSES.  Next time at the library, I picked SS up.

THE SILVER STAR shows again that Walls is an expert at revealing the trauma, the bravery, and the love that can be tangled together within dysfunction.  Sisters "Bean" and Liz find themselves on their own in 1970's California when their mother takes off.  With money running out and afraid that social services will realize they are alone, the two take off for Virginia and their Uncle Tinsley.  Liz remembers Uncle Tinsley and his wife as loving and happy, but Bean was only a toddler when they left Virginia with their mother in a frantic fugue.   After a harrowing cross-country bus trip, the pair arrive in Virginia to find that Tinsley has been living virtually a hermit's life since his wife's death.  Over the summer the trio meld into an unusual family while the girls wait for what they are sure will be their mother's return to her daughters.

Walls captures the 70's, but it is her depictions of children who shoulder the responsibilities of an adult world, while the demons of alcohol, mental illness, loneliness, and failure prevent the adults from fully participating in life that kept me reading.   But children are children that should be protected and nurtured and this book makes that point very clearly.  THE SILVER STAR was a fast, entertaining, but thoughtful read.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating and other adventures along Lake Superior by Mary Dougherty

Title: Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating, and Other Adventures along Lake Superior, Author: Mary Dougherty

In the throes of a vacation in a charming, almost dreamy, village with views and beaches that defy description, have you considered giving up your "real" life and just staying in that heavenly spot?  I think we have all had those day dreams, but for Mary Dougherty, her husband and their young family, those dreams over several summer sailing trips to Bayfield, WI became reality.  After moving to Bayfield from Minnesota,the family expanded, Mary opened (and closed) a restaurant, and the whole family grew attached to this tiny town that leads into the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Known for its fish, orchards, closeness to nature, and its famous Chautauqua Big Top music, Bayfield can almost claim its own culture.  A photographer and a foodie, Mary's book combines her thoughts on the place she now calls home, the meals she prepares using local foods, and stunning photography into a delightful book.  While smaller than a traditional coffee table book, LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN goes way beyond a regional cookbook and offers more than a book of photographs.  In fact, many of the photographs are a bit small, making me wish each had their own full page spread.  Arranged around the seasons, Mary's book gives us an insider's look into what it might be to live along the big lake.  Imagine, getting a late summer day call from your spouse, saying, "Let's take a sail tonight.  Gather the kids, pack a picnic, grab a bottle of wine, and let's go."
Within an hour, you and the whole family are out on an uninhabited Apostle Island beach, and while the kids jump into the water from the rocks, you and hubby are unwinding!  Or, how about taking Saturday morning excursions to find the unmarked waterfalls of the area and then returning home to your own special chili simmering on the stove?  Those are just a few normal life-special memory stories that the author shares.

Poetry and carefully selected quotations underscore Dougherty's musings on valuing one's friends, taking time to savor what one eats, and even planning now for winter's needs.  While I must admit that I will probably only make a few of her recipes because most contain spices that aren't part of my diet scope, I still loved reading the stories behind each recipe.  Despite already having a special affinity for the Apostle Islands and Bayfield (the spot where we honeymooned and have visited several time since), I gained a whole new layer of "LOVE" for the town.  And just maybe we all need to think about our real hometowns, little or big, in a new light.  What evening picnic surprises are we missing?  Where are our Saturday morning adventures and what favorite food can we share with neighbors and friends? This book was published by the Wisconsin Historical Society
and I borrowed a copy from the Winnefox Library System.