Friday, December 9, 2016

Scripture Doodles by April Knight

Image result for april knight scripture doodleEven in my wildest dreams, I am not an artist.  No one has ever called me that, and I doubt that anyone ever will.  That gene and the musical one did not make into my genetic map!! Still, I am a doodler and evidence of that could be found across all my high school, college, and grad school notebooks, if I still had them, that is!  Agendas from decades of teachers' meetings would show the same, but alas those have been long tossed.  And I have been known to keep tiny grandkids amused with my renderings of silly animals and outrageous bald headed men.  Then last year, I jumped on the adult coloring craze which I find most relaxing, but really don't allow myself to do very often.
And for the longest time, my thoughts would flow most readily when writing in long hand, not on the computer.  Often those thoughts began as a sentence or two (or even a few fragments) on a scrap piece of paper, and ended up morphing into the assigned paper.

Why all that personal sharing?  I wanted to set the stage for why I was attracted to April Knight's two new devotional books: Scripture Doodles, God's Promises and Scripture Doodles, a Six Week Devotional Experience. Both begin with several pages of basic instruction on how to use a visual devotional book. Really there is no right or wrong way; those instruction pages are really encouragement and creativity driven.  The rest of the books are set up with a devotional page including key Bible verses and directions (creative prompts) for the following doodling page.  The devotional page and the doodling page always have April Knight's own art to start the creative juices flowing.   These devotional journals provide an opportunity to connect with God's word through your own drawing, coloring, and written words.  Just as God does not expect a literary masterpiece when we pray, he is not expecting that we fill the pages with Renaissance-quality art, but that we take the time to express our feelings and move closer to understanding his will for our lives.

I received copies of these two books from Litfuse for my honest review.  I plan to gift at least one of them to a daughter in law so she can share it with a nine year old granddaughter who I spied doodling the other day.  They may not have the time for these devotions 90 days consecutively, but over the year I think they will find using the book together very meaningful.

More about April Knight and her works"

about ScriptureDoodle God’s Promises}

ScriptureDoodle God’s Promises: A Six-Week Devotional Experience (David C. Cook, December 2016)
Some of the most incredible stories in the Bible are of God’s promises and faithfulness to His children.
ScriptureDoodle God’s Promises refreshes believers who are feeling burned out or stuck in a rut in their relationship with God. Each of the creative worship prompts in this interactive guide includes biblical encouragement and ideas for worship through art. Artist April Knight includes creative lettering tips, color ideas, and completed examples to inspire readers to respond to promises in Scripture related to trust, faith, and the power of God’s Word in all circumstances.
This unique blend of Bible study and creative expression provides the opportunity to connect with God as Creator in a new, life-changing way.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
April Knight

{More About April Knight}

April Knight is a worship artist based in Asheville, North Carolina. Knight’s work includes live worship painting and leading ScriptureDoodle workshops online and at conferences and retreats around the country and internationally. Her family of four is her greatest joy, along with serving alongside her husband at their local church.
Find out more about April at https://scripturedoodle.com




For your entertainment, a video clip about the devotional. If you look quickly you can get an idea of the layout of the books.




Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti

 Image result for cynthia ruchti restoring christmas

It was while reading Cynthia Ruchti's AS WATERS GONE BY, set on Madeline Island just off Bayfield, WI, that I first learned that Ruchti resided in Wisconsin.  A new to me Wisconsin author? One who wrote multi-layered hopeful, yet realistic contemporary stories set in places that I adore?  What more could I ask for?  How about characters that spanned the generations and Christian themes?  How about quality writing?  Could I have possibly found an author who delivered on all these points?  I quickly searched out previous titles and have followed her new releases ever since and I can confidently say that Cynthia Ruchti delivers on all counts.  (Check out my review of SONGS OF SILENCE here for my perspective on that novel.  )

So when I read early this summer that Ruchti was working on a Christmas novella, I had hopes that the story would rise above the sweet, but not profound quality of most holiday works.  For her story RESTORING CHRISTMAS, Ruchti travels to Lake Michigan's western shore and the small town of Algoma just south of Door County and Green Bay.  Once a hardy fishing village (I believe there are still some commercial fishermen who leave from this area and there are definitely fishing charters for the sports fishermen), Algoma today is a bit of a quiet tourist area.  As the book opens, Alexis Blake, a struggling Chicago interior designer, has just arrived in town for what may be the job that will thrust her into national recognition and her own Heart and Home television show (think HGTV channel crossed with Hallmark).  Her task is to remodel a stone country home, decorate it for the holidays, and end the filming with a "homespun"get together with the owner and her family.  Immediately, two huge obstacles stand in the young designer's way.  First, the videographer she has hired is a no-show and Alexis is not sure if George Langley's son Gabe is an able replacement.  Second is the homeowner herself, Elsie Raymond.  Quiet and reclusive, Elsie never entered the contest that selected her home for a remodel.  Thanks to a neighbor, she has won and now must put up with a work crew tramping across her yard and into her home. But that does not mean she has to like what is happening and she certainly does not have to be cordial.

Every aspect of this house transformation is a struggle, but with Gabe's help, Alexis learns that restoration is not just a term for house design, but can also applies to the brokenness of human life.
And we all have our own tales of brokenness.  In this season when we remember the greatest healer, the one who came to restore each of us, it was a joy to read this hopeful, gentle novel. I loved that we got to experience Elsie's gruff manner and mysterious ways without a bit of explanation until the end, so that we could come to care for her despite her rough edges, just as Gabe and Alexis do.  I loved that the book, like Ruchti's other writings, provide characters of many ages.  While twenties and thirties will like this book, so will other ages of readers, even an oldie like me.  This book would be a great stocking stuffer for the readers in your family, book club gift exchange, or a Sunday School teacher.  I received a copy of this book from Worthy Publishers for review purposes.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Christmas reading 2016

Anyone who is an avid reader has one --- a tbr (to be read) pile.  In my case, that usually means two tbr piles.  One is the noticeable pile, the physical books -- usually checked out from the library-- stacked up on a shelf in the great room.  The other pile, hidden away from view, is the electronic pile -- the books downloaded on my nook, many free or almost free, deals too good to pass up and certainly good reads for the future.  An avid reader must always have back up reads for those emergencies when a library is not nearby. 

This early morning is close to being one of those emergencies.  I finished a book last night right before bed.  I actually do NOT have any more library books checked out at the moment, although I do have a Christmas novella in print version I need to start reading, but I am saving that for later this weekend.  So now that it's been an hour and half since I awoke at 4:00 am and a return to sleep seems unlikely, I can either start a sewing project or start one of almost 200 books on my Nook.  But before I do that I think I should confess that I've been taking time in this busy season to read  Christmas stories.  Most are stories I downloaded last season but never found time to read then. Many Christmas books are classified as novellas because they are shorter; often between 150 and 200 pages, they fit an evening's reading perfectly (okay more like an evening and a bit more, unless I stay up late).

Here's my record of what I've read so far this season ---

From A CHRISTMAS TREASURY OF YULETIDE STORIES AND POEMS, edited by James Charlton and Barbara Gilson, I read "Is there a Santa Claus," the full letter that appeared in the New York Sun in 1897.  Next in the book was a British tale called "The Water Bus" and then my favorite was "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus" excerpted from a Laura Ingalls Wilder book. On a more serious note was a description of Washington's troops and their frigid Christmas at Valley Forge.  My daughter gave me a used, but almost pristine copy of this treasury last year knowing that I always try to find time for holiday reading.  Perhaps I will find a few moments for more reading from this volume before it returns to the family room bookshelves.  The variety of stories and authors in the anthology is wide, so something appealing is likely.

But on to the Nook titles -- First is Vanetta Chapman's CHRISTMAS AT PEBBLE CREEK. This follows the Pebble Creek Amish novels and is really a sweet, simple short story.  Then came my favorite, THE CHRISTMAS CAT by Melody Carlson.  As stated by a fellow blogger, all Melody Carlson books would make good Hallmark movies, and this one definitely fits.  Garrison, 30ish and single, receives news right before Christmas that his grandmother who had helped raise him has died. Since Garrison had been overseas engineering wells in Africa for a decade, he really had not seen her in quite awhile.  But one thing he knew for certain; in his absence, she had befriended a few cats and they now needed new homes.  Being highly allergic to the furry bundles, he dreaded even traveling to the home to meet with the lawyer.  When he finds out that his grandmother wanted him to personally find a home for each cat, and then do "home visits" to assure that the new owners are really worthy cat people, Garrison begins to wonder whether his grandmother loved the four footed children better than her only grandchild. Sneezing aside, this is a delightful quick read, complete with the expected bit of romantic comedy.

I recently downloaded a lengthy compilation of Christmas stories called ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS which was put together as a diabetes research fund raiser.  It includes stories by Debbie Macomber and more than 10 other authors.  While I am sure there are some good stories in here, the ones I've read so far have not been great.  For one thing, some of these authors are predominately romance authors -- heavy on the "romance", if you get my thought. Guess I needed to do more research before I hit that "buy" button.  I have not read Macomber's story yet and I am sure I will enjoy that one at least, but I am not sure how many other stories in this collection will get read.  This time of year, I especially need stories with an evident message and the spirit of Christ's love, and I which stories here will deliver.

More to my taste was Melissa Tagg's light-hearted tale ONE ENCHANTED CHRISTMAS about a first time author who believes she has fallen in love with the model who posed for the cover of her book.  In her mind she equates Colin Renwycke with the heroic leading man of her debut novel and a year after meeting Colin (and sharing a romantic sleigh ride), she still holds hope that she will hear from him again. 

A member of a Facebook group I recently joined who is a widely read Christian book review blogger asked others what their Christmas readings were this year.  I pose the same question,
"What are you reading right now?  Anything seasonal?"

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer

Image result for saffire by sigmund brouwerHave you ever watched a suspense move (think James Bond) and find that you never quite get a good grip of whether a character is a "good guy" or a "bad guy"?  In fact, you find that neither you or the protagonist can get a handle on what is happening around him?  That is how I felt when reading Sigmund Brouwer's new novel SAFFIRE.  Having read and loved Brouwer's Christy Award novel THIEF OF GLORY, I knew that staying with this book until the pieces fell into place would pay off, and it did!  Set in 1909, the novel opens as James Holt, a South Dakota cowboy, is sent secretly by outgoing President Teddy Roosevelt to the American Zone of the Panama Canal for a secret errand.
James does not want to leave behind his young daughter, but knows that he cannot turn down Roosevelt.  Plus there is a payment which could save his ranch from foreclosure. History buffs will like the political intrigue and the descriptions of one of the world's greatest engineering feats.  Suspense readers will not be disappointed as what seems as an unlikely task of helping an orphaned girl plunges Holt into a world of intrigue, deceit, danger, and possible revolution.  I received a copy of this title from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR: A COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS BY ACE COLLINS

Image result for ace collins the most wonderful time of the yearAce Collins, author of more than 60 books, has written a countdown book which delivers 31 short devotionals, each accompanied by the story of a Christmas carol and a simple craft or food gift. Pampering those you love is the theme behind each gift idea, and the stories behind the hymns are ones you probably do not know, but the strongest section are the uplifting and encouraging devotionals.  Most of us, especially moms, are so busy during the Christmas season that any new task can be a burden. Don't look at Collins' book as one more thing to get done; instead see it as a well deserved break.  Read it while having a cup of tea or cocoa.  Share the message by reading it out loud with an older child, or savor the quiet time alone. I guarantee Collin's thoughts and observations will
help you see this Christmas season in the right light, and that might just make the next few weeks go more smoothly.  Even the tiresome task of Christmas cards could have new meaning after you read the December 13th entry.  Collins encourages us to revive the card habit, but instead of sending that accompanying "family brag" letter, he suggests that we follow Paul's example and take time to thank each recipient for what they have meant in our life.  What a powerful, simple gift. Whether you make one or all or none of the homemade gift ideas in this book, whether you sing any or all of the songs mentioned, you will be glad you spent time with Ace Collins; THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.
I received a copy of this book from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

Following Ace Collins' advice about Christmas cards, I want to stop and thank anyone and everyone who stops by this little site and reads my reviews.  I look at this endeavor as a way to keep my writing and thinking skills a bit sharper.  Writing (reports, essays, tests, graduate school papers, articles, reviews) was an important part of my job and so was teaching of writing.  Being able to continue to use those skills a bit is a joy.  That anyone would stop by and read what I write is unbelievable.  Thanks again!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi PicoultJodi Picoult, the author of more than 25 novels, most of which sparked some kind of controversy or made us look at issues that made us uncomfortable, has returned with a new novel SMALL GREAT THINGS, which the author herself believes is her most important book yet.  What elephant in the room does she tackle this time?  Racism and prejudice, and by the time I was done reading the book, I began to see the essential difference between the two. Before I give even the slightest summary, I want to clarify a few things which Picoult shared at the end of the book.  Number one,  Picoult is not Black and understands that many will criticize for trying to tell a story from a black point of view (as well as from a white supremacist).  Picoult points out that all authors take on characters, points of view, and roles that they have never lived; that is the definition of fiction.  But then she goes on to share the in-depth research she did including the case of a group of Afro-American nurses who sued a Detroit hospital for discrimination and interviews with a former white supremacist who know teaches tolerance.  Although I was often uneasy with the words and thoughts I read (truly, I could feel my skin begin to crawl when I read Tuck and his wife's thoughts), I never felt anything was portrayed inaccurately or exaggerated for fiction's sake.

Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse of more than twenty years, arrives at work one morning and takes over the care of an infant boy born during the night.  As she examines the baby for the preliminary health report, she senses that both the mother and father are extremely tense.  Still she is taken aback when the father Turk shouts not to touch his wife and demands to see a superior.  Soon Ruth learns that Turk and his wife are white supremacists who demand that no black is to be involved in their son's care.  Since Ruth is the only black nurse in this small maternity ward, the restriction, which her supervisor agrees to, clearly means Ruth is NOT to touch the infant.  Ruth is called in a day later to cover for a sick colleague, and when all the other nurses are called away from the unit for an emergency C-section, Ruth finds herself watching the little boy who is recovering from a circumcision. When he begins to show respiratory distress, she must make a split-second decision that ultimately leads to a murder charge when she is "thrown under the bus" by the hospital.

The book's narration alternates between Ruth, who is trying to process how she who has always done everything right and has overachieved her entire life can suddenly come so low simply because she is black; Turk, whose grief transforms quickly to hatred and revenge; and Kennedy, the defense attorney who finds herself drawn into Ruth's saga.  Privilege, hard work, perceptions, hatred, and race all come under close scrutiny in this powerful novel.  Like most Picoult novel's, SMALL GREAT THINGS offers surprises and twists, producing a powerful and soul searching read.
This book just released in October and I was fortunate enough to score an e-copy through
https://wplc.overdrive.com/ our state's library for digital books. 








BIRDS IN THE AIR by Frances O'Roark Dowell

When I selected BIRDS IN THE AIR as my next read, it was because the book's press had
promoted it as a warm, a  humorous books about discovering the world of quilting and fitting into a new community.  Naturally this wanna-be quilter was attracted, especially when I saw recommendations from a favorite television quilter.  It was not until I was almost done with the book that I really looked at the author blurb (Sorry, Frances) and realized Frances O'Roark Dowell is a children/tween author, most widely known for her books DOVEY COE, THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS, and CHICKEN BOYS -- all books I "booktalked" and promoted when I was a school librarian.  So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.

Emma Byrd, her husband and their two children have just moved to Sweet Anne's Gap, a small mountain town.  Excited to have escaped the stressful pace of suburbia, Emma is sure she will be able to start writing her long-awaited novel --except she has no idea what to write.  As the children attempt to settle into school, 10 year old Sarah experiences the pains of being the new girl with no friends.  When the queen bee of her grade receives word from her mom that she should have nothing to do with Sarah (reason for this is part of the novel's small town plot so I won't spoil it), it appears the quiet newcomer will remain on the outside for a long, long time.  As Emma considers how to help her daughter, she experiences her own immersion into small town culture.  A next door neighbor, obviously a recluse, closes the door on Emma, but the lady's granddaughter shows up at Emma's soon after and encourages Emma to explore the old trunks hidden in the attic.  There they find a fragile quilt and a mysterious photo of a young woman.  A trip to the quilt store helps Emma identify the quilt's age and pattern (civil war BIRDS IN THE AIR), but more than that, the trip brings about Emma's own attempt to quilt and an avenue to meet new people.  But all is not smooth.  Not everyone is ready to accept a newbie, especially someone who just might consider herself better than the mountain folk that surround Sweet Anne's Gap, and who just might be in possession of a valuable, stolen quilt!

The book was a really fast, entertaining read.  It was not until I started to write this review that I realized that there is a lot to think about in the themes of the book.  I commend O'Roark Dowell for entering the world of adult fiction and I felt laid the ground work for this story to continue in more books.  That said, I still wish this book had been a bit longer with more character development and depth.  I got the feeling that Emma was "colored in" but other characters never moved much beyond the pencil outline of who they were and how they affected the story.  I want to visit this town again, hear more of their stories, and perhaps watch Emma finally write her novel.  There are so many colors and layers the author could bring to Sweet Anne's Gap. I received an e-copy of this title from Netgalley.  All opinions are mine.