Sunday, December 10, 2017

WHITER THAN SNOW by Sandra Dallas


A few weeks ago my cousin and I met for a long overdue lunch date and then she graciously invited me to her book club group.  I enjoyed both the discussion of the book ORPHAN TALE by Pam Jenoff and the opportunity to meet this strong opinionated (in a good way) group of readers.  Like so many encounters with readers, I came away with suggestions of even more books to read.  One lady mentioned that one of  their first group reads over two years ago had really impacted her, and her mind traces back to the book WHITER THAN SNOW often.  When I discovered that the book had been written by Sandra Dallas, I knew I had to read the book  and soon.  I’ve read several Dallas novels, including PRAYERS FOR SALES, and have never been disappointed. 

WHITER THAN SNOW is the story of an April avalanche in a Colorado mining town in 1920 just as school lets out for the afternoon.  Nine young children have already started their walk across the town to their homes and are caught in the slide that rumbled down Jubilee Mountain.  Only four will survive.  Sandra Dallas’s craft is fine-tuned and her works always stand out as unique gems of story- telling.   As the book opens, Dallas describes a normal day in the mining town, speculates on what happenstance may have caused the avalanche, and then ends the first chapter  with the shock that only four of the nine children trapped will survive.  
Then for the next 200 pages, Dallas ignores all mention of the avalanche, instead telling the stories of individual adult residents of the town, sharing with readers their youthful dreams and the broken paths that brought each one to Swandyke and the Fourth of July Mine.  Soon we will realize that we are learning the back stories for the parents and guardians for the nine children who will soon be taking that fateful walk home from school.  For the last 80 pages, the author returns to the subject of the first chapter – the avalanche, the nine trapped children, the effort to rescue them and then the tragic recovery of the five bodies.  After the earlier chapters which jumped around the country and across decades, these last pages center on only a few hours and very little is written about the children’s experience in the snow. This is really a book about the parents (in one case, grandfather) and how these few hours change their lives as they realize that no one is “whiter than snow.”  This is truly a story that shows that tragedy and grief brings together people who believe they have nothing in common. It can also lead to forgiveness, acts of courage, and new paths, as people realize that no one is "whiter than snow."  One of the greatest levels of praise I can give to an author is to say that I cared about the characters as if they were real people. WHITER THAN SNOW will stay in my memory in the months ahead.  I checked out this book from the library system.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson


Amelia Richards and her baby's father were like hundreds of other couples in the early days of World War II as they found their romance pushed into overdrive by thoughts of the distance that would soon keep them apart.  When a
last minute change in orders makes it impossible for the couple to marry as planned, they go ahead with the honeymoon.  When she finds herself pregnant, Amelia moves in with a friend, keeps her job as a hairdresser, and tells everyone that she is married.  Then comes the news that James has been killed in the war, and Amelia feels
she must travel to the rural town where James lived, meet his parents, and tell them the truth so they can know their grandchild.  Just as Amelia and James's marriage did not happen according to plan, Amelia's new plan does not go smoothly.  But could a decade old manger scene, crafted by a young teenage James, be an answer to Amelia's needs?

Every Christmas season, I try to find at least one new holiday novella to read.  The short length is perfect for busy times when I still need some reading time for my nightly "unwinding."  And though many of these novellas lean to the predictable (from early in the book, I was quite sure how this one would end), I am always up for the positive, heart-warming vibes that the authors present.  Melody Carlson, author of more than 200 books, does not disappoint.  The World War II setting adds an additional layer of nostalgia; Amelia and baby Jimmy's trip on the train, an old fashioned creche scene, a quaint boarding house each add to that special feeling.  Really, everything in this book is ready for filming a Hallmark period movie.  On this anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I recommend this short title that captures a bit of our country's sacrifice in a very readable story.


Friday, December 1, 2017

CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall

Some stories are evergreen, their themes and lessons standing the test of time and connecting with readers generation after generation. Reconnect with Catherine Marshall’s beloved Christy as it celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new edition! As nineteen-year-old teacher Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home of Cutter Gap, some see her—and her one-room school—as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families of the Cove. Yearning to make a difference, will Christy’s determination and devotion be enough?
Celebrate the new 50th anniversary edition of Christy by entering to win one of TWO $50 Visa cash cards (details below) and by attending a Facebook Live party on December 5!

TWO grand prize winners will receive:
  • One copy of Christy
  • One $50 Visa Cash Card
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 5. The winner will be announced at the Christy Facebook Live Party. RSVP for a chance to connect with authors who’ve been impacted by Christy and other readers, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and Facebook Live party via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 5th!

Catherine Marshall

{More About Catherine Marshall}

Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), “The New York Times” best-selling author of 30 books, is best known for her novel “Christy.” Based on the life of her mother, “Christy” captured the hearts of millions and became a popular CBS television series. Around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, as her mother reminisced, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders. Catherine shared the story of her husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, in “A Man Called Peter.” A decade after Dr. Marshall’s untimely death, Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, Executive Editor of “Guideposts,” forging a dynamic writer-editor partnership. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine’s enduring career spanned four decades and reached over 30 million readers.
Find out more about Catherine at


Knowing that CHRISTY is a timeless story with both romance and life lessons as powerful today as they were fifty years ago when Catherine Marshall's book first hit the shelves, the author's family has decided to publish a special 50th anniversary copy.  I can't pinpoint the exact time that I first read the novel set in the mountains of Cutters Gap, but I know it was soon after its publication, and I always felt everyone should read it. And when the book was made into the popular television series starring Kellie Martin, although not a consistent viewer, I did like the series.   So when given the chance to reread the book and write a current review, I anticipated that I would enjoy the book and be able to easily write a glowing review.  Little did I realize that this reading would captivate me in a totally different way.  Already remembering the basic story line of 19 year old Christy Huddleston's arrival in Cutter's Gap to teach at the Appalachian mission school, I found my attention was drawn more to the details about the Scots-Irish people who settled this section of Appalachia -- what brought them to America in the 1700s, the Old English language which morphed into a dialect unlike any other area of America and the music that brought a bit of brightness to a mostly dark existence. As every page turned, it seemed that another ramification of their isolated way of life was presented for us to examine.  Their love of poetry, music, and even Latin seemed a glimpse back into an earlier time, one more suitable for the British upper class than these impoverished hills.  And as mission worker Miss Alice points out again and again, these people had an emotional sensitivity that ran deep within their veins, but too often instead of being used for creating or appreciating beauty, the sensitivity led to petty smallness, blowing up into destructive feuding.  How perceptive that seems now, with all the recent research on emotional sensitive people.

With this reading, it seemed that Christy became more and more my ears and eyes, a pathway to witness the beauty of the hills (one description of a hike to the top of a mountain had me almost believing fairies would start dancing at the summit), but also its harsh realities.  An eerie darkness seemed to hover over the tiny cabins, almost imprisoning the women to a life of hardship and grief.  And then the reader, along with Christy, must contemplate God's role in this poverty and along with the purpose and value of charity.  The lessons that Christy, Alice, David, and Dr. MacNeil learn are the same ones that missionaries, teachers, and social workers even today must face.  How do you help a single person or a whole group better themselves without destroying or invalidating that which makes them individuals, unique and valuable in their own right?   

Throughout the first 200 pages, I found myself jotting down quotations, little nuggets from
Miss Alice's perspective and then later,from Christy herself.  First there is Miss Alice's thoughts about the difference between a religion of fear versus a religion of joy.  Then there is the "staking" or "claiming" of our gifts from God.  And I had to stop and contemplate Miss Alice's observation that sometimes we have to accept that someone was meant to be our "bundle."  Those of us who have worked in education, who have raised children, and then cared for aging parents will know what she meant -- we've had many bundles over the yeasr.  Then later as I watched Christy experience so much illness and sudden death, I better understood the phrase "grief not my own."  Don't you think that in today's world we often face grief not our own, and we need to find a way to work through it to find God's joy?  

So my review of this book is much deeper than I ever anticipated.  I would highly recommend this as a Christian book club choice or as an accompaniment to a Bible study.
There is a lot to discuss here, much more than romance and coming of age. If you read Christy years ago, why not read it again.  You will not be disappointed. I received a copy from the publisher and Litfuse; all opinions are mine. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

LONG WAY GONE by Charles Martin

 Long Way Gone

I've never read a book by Charles Martin that did not pull me in with its haunting beauty, spiritual lessons, and unforgettable characters.  LONG WAY GONE, a modern and yet ageless retelling of the Prodigal's son, is Charles at his best.  What delights me most right now is that I have NOT read all of his titles and I will not have to wait for a new release to taste his writing again -- I can simply find one of his previous novels that I haven't read and put it on my to-read pile.  Meanwhile, LONG WAY GONE continues to fill my mind.  LWG tells the story of a musically talented 18 year old who, tired of his father's strict upbringing and tent revival ministry, rejects all his father's values and steals not only his father's savings, but also his precious gifted guitar, and flees to Nashville.  Expecting to be
welcomed into the music scene for his unique talent, instead Cooper O'Connor finds himself homeless and penniless after two robberies.  For years he works at menial jobs, regretting the pain he has caused his father, but "too far gone" to return home.  Martin has written a superb book that weaves together family love, romance, regret, redemption and more. 

Recently, Charles Martin's book THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US was made into a movie, which has led to many discussions about what Hollywood does to books when they change the story line. Most people expressed their disappointment in the film version of that powerful story.
In the same time frame, Hollywood released a remaking of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, a mystery classic.  When I saw ORIENT EXPRESS, I was actually quite pleased with the production and found the visualization of the train and the blizzard plus the portrayals of the suspects made Agatha Christie's words come alive.  Since then I've been reading more with an eye and ear for what would translate from book to movie successfully and what would be lost in a move from one medium to the other.  Although there is enough drama to make LONG WAY GONE a powerful movie, I think Martin's continual narration about music and its role in Cooper's life would fall flat on the screen. My husband is an amateur musician, while I am woefully tone deaf and without one single bit of rhythm, but Martin's characterization of music really brought me into my husband's world for a bit. His words made the music come alive; something that I think a movie, even with its sound capabilities, would fail at doing. And I won't even begin to explain the author's powerful descriptions of what can only be called a guardian angel, or perhaps, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  

LONG WAY GONE will remain one of my favorite reads for 2017.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE SEAGULL by Ann Cleeves

 Seagull (Hardcover) (Ann Cleeves)

More and more, I watch British television via PBS.  Sometimes, however, I don't catch a series
on its first run.  The mystery series VERA  is one of those that I did not watch when it ran on PBS,  but I discovered it later and have watched all 5 seasons via streaming and DVD.  I love that libraries in our joint library system often purchase whole seasons of British tv on dvd.  I have now have seen so many episodes of VERA that I forever have her dented, rusted Land Rover and her green vest etched in my memory.  But what remains even stronger is her voice, softly calling a victim or potential witness, "Pet," a combination of sympathy and support.  I knew from the beginning that the television series was based on a series of books by Ann Cleeves, but it was not until I had exhausted all the dvds that I decided to try one of her novels. THE SEAGULL is the latest novel, just published in the US in September, 2017.  At 393 pages, I found the book slower than the 90 minute television shows, but I was surprised that I saw and heard the tv Vera on every page, especially when she called someone "Pet."  The entire television series has an underlying thread regarding Vera's rocky relationship with her father, now deceased.  THE SEAGULL brings Vera back in contact with some of her father's old mates and brings to the forefront again that her father's activities were not always legal. 

While I would have liked this mystery without ever watching a single VERA episode, I found the book so much richer because I had.  Beside visualizing and seeing Vera herself and her young colleague Joe, I could imagine the seaside town which is the setting for the book. When the action moves to Vera's isolated cottage, the place where the lonely girl and her father co-existed, I know what it looks like.  I can almost feel the misty rain and the wind that always seems to surround it.  I will certainly try another Ann Cleeves novel, either another Vera Stanhope mystery or perhaps one from the Shetland series, which have also made their way to the tv screen.  And I hope both television series continue production.

I obtained my copy of THE SEAGULL through the Winnefox Library System.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

You've heard of the Rosie Riveters who toiled on the production lines during World War II, and if you're a historical fiction fan like I am, you've probably read a book or two telling about the women who flew new aircraft to their home bases, a real need for the war effort.  And thanks to the movie HIDDEN FIGURES, you now probably know more about women's role in the early days of the space race of the 1960's.  Recently we took a trip to Dayton, Ohio and while at a museum, we discovered that Dayton and the Sugar Camp of National Cash Register Company, and hundreds of WAVs, played an instrumental role in building the BOMBE machines.The American  4- cylinder BOMBE machines were similar to the British 3 cylinder effort, but could decode German ENIGMA messages faster. Immediately, I said to my husband. "I wonder why someone hasn't written a book about this?" and we talked a bit about the Bletchly Circle effort in Great Britain. That was on Wednesday, October 18th.  Little did I know that on October 10th, Liza Mundy's in-depth nonfiction book CODE GIRLS was released.  Somehow, (I honestly don't know how) the book came to my attention a few weeks later, and when I did my normal check of our library system catalog, I found a copy had just been purchased by a nearby library.  You can imagine that soon the book was in my hands!

 Code Girls

In the early days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a plea went out to colleges and schools across the country.  Needed were women who were good at math for the war effort.  Not much was said about what they would be doing, but colleges selected their best and many school teachers were also recruited.  Tests, mostly consisting of math problems and puzzles, were administered and offers of government employment, with wages clearly better than school teaching, were extended to the best students.  Some were employed as civilians, others for the Army, and others for the Navy.  All were administered oaths of secrecy.  A former girls' finishing school, Arlington Heights, was retrofitted for living and working quarters for those who worked for the Army.  Soon it would be clear that the women would be working as cryptologists or code breakers.  While Great Britain and its famous Bletchly Circle were trying to break the German Enigma code, America worked on both the Japanese Army and Navy codes.

I am NOT a mathematician, and my foray into cryptology has never gone beyond a simple substitution code or a bit of pig-latin, so I really struggled with some of the descriptions in the book.  The Japanese Navy used multiple layers of code and actually more than one code within their messages, but the men and women working on these intercepted messages would build on what they had already discovered, often finding that even a name or a place would prove vital information.   It was the personal stories of the women that I found so fascinating. While their families and friends believed the women were working as administrative assistants -- basically paper pushers, the women were actually discovering positions of submarines, planned sea attacks, and more. After the war, most returned to civilian lives, never speaking about their war work,  Ann Zeilinger Caracristi stayed on in Washington D. C.  The separate Army and Navy security efforts would join after the war and become what we know today as NSA, the National Security Agency.  Caracristi would become NSA's first female Deputy Director.  The work of the "Code Girls" was only declassified in recent years, and a few women, now in their nineties were able to be recognized by their families and communities for their efforts. 

If you are like me and love finding those times, places, and people that the history books have chosen to ignore, you will want to read CODE GIRLS by Liza Mundy.  Right now, I am wondering if the movie rights to this book have already been sold and when we will all be seeing these women acknowledged on the big screen.  I suggest you read the well researched version before we are treated to the Hollywood version.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ordinary Graces:Word Gifts for Any Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

{More About Lucinda McDowell}

Lucinda McDowellLucinda Secrest McDowell is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she offers “Encouraging Words” to all on the journey. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, Cindy is the author of 13 books, including “Ordinary Graces,” “Dwelling Places,” “Live These Words,” “Refresh!,” “Quilts from Heaven” and “Role of a Lifetime.” Whether co-directing the “reNEW – retreat for New England Writing,” mentoring young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages.
Find out more about Lucinda at
Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Ordinary Graces
  • A $75 Etsy gift card
  • A grace bracelet
  • A set of Ordinary Graces greeting cards

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 24. The winner will be announced November 27 on the Litfuse blog. (Plus, you can read a free sample chapter.)


{More about Ordinary Graces}

Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Read a sample chapter for FREE!

This past year,  I savored Lucinda Secrest McDowell's book DWELLING PLACES:WORDS TO LIVE IN EVERY SEASON.  By the end, the book was worn, pages ruffled and marked up with notes of who to share the two page devotions with and messages to myself to reread.  While it is  always a sense of satisfaction to finish a book, I was sad that the there were not as many devotions as there were days of the year.  I am delighted that I will be able to start 2018 with a new book by
Lucinda Secrest McDowell.  ORDINARY GRACES:WORD GIFTS FOR ANY SEASON again follows the two page format.  Each entry begins with a
Bible verse and then focuses on how to recognize the daily gifts of grace, how to accept it, and how to extend it to others.  Like DWELLING PLACES, each devotion ends, not with a prayer to God, but with a message from God to the reader.  Some may think putting words in God's mouth is presumptuous, but I found those simple, warm passages to be most encouraging and settling.  Arranged under four major topics - Grace, strength, gratitude, and life- ORDINARY GRACES promises to be again a book that will end up tattered and marked up with insightful notes.  I think this book would make a wonderful small gift for loved ones this season or for someone battling one of life's rough spots.  I received a copy of ORDINARY GRACES from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.