Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Recent reads and why I haven't been blogging

Summer has drawn to an end; the official beginning of fall is here, and I wonder how I have been spending my time.  Why haven't there been any blogging posts?  Traveling?  No, but we certainly hope to do some over the next few weeks.  Busy putting up veggies for the winter? Well, I did freeze a bushel of tomatoes, part of which had been made in yummy Italian tomato sauce.  And in mid-August, I froze that creamy sweet corn that the grandkids love at the holidays.  Sorry no appetizing photos to make all readers sigh with envy.  I always make a mess of my kitchen and I had
no intentions of sprucing it up for photos.

Last week, just as Russ and I were leaving for a bit of shopping and lunch out, he noticed a wet spot on the garage floor near the freezer.  Closer inspection showed that the door was ajar abit and the freezer was in shut down mode.  I spent the rest of the morning emptying the freezer, totally defrosting it and restarting it.  Luckily the cooling kicked in and everything is saved.  Now we have a neatly stacked, clean freezer.  But I certainly did have the time to post to the blog that day, nor did I feel like it.

I have been reading and shared some reviews with you, but I have not written about everything I've read in the last weeks.  Our book club read A STAR FOR MRS. BLAKE, a fictional account of a group of Gold Star mothers (mothers who lost sons in WWI) who are given the opportunity in the late 1920's to travel to Europe to see the graves of their children.  We found lots to discuss -- differences in treatment between races, social change, and of course, how one handles grief.  I've had a hold on the new  book WINTERING, set in Minnesota's boundary waters and Canada's Quetico by Peter Geye ever since I heard him talking on NPR about the book.  A father takes his teenage son on a winter camping experience in 1963, an event that changed both their lives.  When I heard Geye talk about the book, I thought it would be about winter survival, and in a way it is, but it is so much more than that -- jealousy, unfaithfulness, revenge.  In a way it reminds of last year's movie Revenant.  Before I read the book, I was sure it was one I would recommend to my sons who canoe an area of Quetico every year, but now I know I won't be.  Did I like it?  Am I glad I read it?  Still not sure.

This month our book club is reading Young Adult literature; we are each picking a book from the reading list for Wisconsin's High School Battle of the Books.  I decided to read GIRL AT WAR by Sara Novic.  This is a powerful tale of a young Croatian girl who sees her parents killed in 1991 as they return from taking their very ill infant to a mission plane that will transport the baby to America for emergency treatment.  Miraculously Ana survives and becomes part of a cell of fighters, eventually returns to their hometown, where her godparents manage to secure a way for her to flee to America.  As the book opens it is 2001, after the September 11th attack, and Ana is a college student in New York city.  She can't escape her memories of the war, although none of her friends know about her past.  Her adoptive parents do, but even they do not totally understand the conflicts she feels.  Ana makes the decision to return to Croatia.  The book flips between 1991 and 2001, but in a way that makes sense.  This is a powerful, realistic book, one that tells a special coming of age story in a honest, frank way --- just the way YA readers like.

So, for now that's my update.  I could mention our 7 week  hunt for a new car, but I won't.  The new car is now in our garage, and I hope we will be pleased with it.  And I do have some sewing/quilting to share, but I will save that for a post later this week.

Monday, September 12, 2016

To Follow Her Heart by Rebecca DeMarino

To Follow Her HeartRebecca DeMarino has written a trilogy of novels based on the 1600's history of Southold (Long Island, New York) and her own ancestors, Barnabas and Mary Horton.  The three books include A PLACE IN HIS HEART, TO CAPTURE HER HEART, and TO FOLLOW HER HEART.  Although any of the books can be read as a stand-alone book, there are connections among the books and I would recommend that readers plan to read all three books.  The daily flow of life -- the ginger cakes, the way the women supported and encouraged each other, even the "dame" school and its lessons for the little girls -- captured my attention, and I enjoyed them more than the romances that are the essential plots of each book.

TO CAPTURE HER HEART begins in 1653 as Heather Flower, a Montaukett princess, is rescued from her captors, another native tribe.  Having witnessed her husband tortured and killed by the kidnappers, Heather Flower must adjust to her life without him.  As she begins to heal at the home of her aunt, she finds that both her rescuer Dutch soldier Dirk Van Buren and longtime friend Benjamin Horton are interested in her.  Although this books begins with a heroic rescue and Heather's kidnapping is high drama, I found that the rest of the book read a bit slow.  TO FOLLOW HER HEART begins on a similar point of excitement and drama.  Word has reached the Southold village that Barnabas Horton's brother, ship captain Jeremy Horton has certainly died when his ship went down. While the family prepares a memorial service, his long time girl friend Patience cannot accept his death.  Soon all will know that indeed he has survived, and although he vows when he returns home that he will finally marry Patience, he keeps giving other responsibilities priority. I am not sure what the difference is between these two books, but I found TO FOLLOW HER HEART read much more quickly. Both Heather Flower and Patience are likeable characters, but perhaps it is that I liked Jeremy so much that I liked the second book more.

Like the small things of daily life that intrigued me, De Marino excels at showing the great separation between Europe and the colonies.  Families like the Hortons may still own land back in England, but most probably would never see their homeland again.  And then there was the politics. While the British and the Dutch had a contentious power struggle across the sea and wanted the colonies to fight, the settlers themselves had found ways to co-exist.

I received copies of both TO CAPTURE HER HEART and TO FOLLOW HER HEART from Revell Reads for my honest review. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Cultivate Kindness Lap Quilt finished

For a true quilter turning this CULTIVATE KINDNESS panel into a lap quilt would be a simple, no-thinking project.  For me, it took much longer and more effort than I thought it would, but I am so happy with the results.  First reason I am pleased is the cost; I found the panel and enough coordinating lavender floral print at a thrift store.  I love finding quality material at a bargain price.  Then when I decided to do a wide purple border and a 5 inch "piano key" border, I searched my stash and found just what I needed.  Not having to run to the store for a particular fabric and not having to piece a backing are always pluses.  For quilting, I outlined each of the rectangles and squares with a decorative running stitch found on my Janome machine.  Then for the first time, I quilted the whole quilt using my embroidery machine.  Each square/rectangle has a quilted design and then there are designs all along the purple border.  In all I had to hoop and sew 31 times.  The designs themselves stitch out very quickly, but the time it takes to hoop the thick fabric sandwich and get everything centered TAKES TIME.  Then while the machine stitches, I needed to hold the quilt carefully so that it did not pull against the machine.  By the time I was done, I had a sore shoulder and neck.  It seems that no matter what quilting method I try, I get aches and pains. 

This will be a donation quilt and I hope that the recipient is a flower lover or a former gardener.  On to a new project! If you've got a panel you purchased but never used, find it and turn it into something.  They make colorful lap quilts which can always be donated if you don't need one.

 Here is a closeup of the panel and the piano key border.  I wish the quilting designs showed up on the panel, but with my camera, it doesn't.
Closeup of the quilted embroidery design I did along the purple border.

Thursday, September 1, 2016


When Mountains MoveCantrell is a strong voice in the Christian fiction market whose first book Into the Free won two Christy Awards, and who now returns to complete the story with When Mountains Move.
This  novel set in the early 1940s takes up exactly where Into the Free leaves off. Seventeen year old Millie (Millicent) has decided she will marry Bump (Kenneth) and leave with him to run a Colorado ranch for Mr. Tucker.  She's put aside any dream of reuniting with the young gypsy boy River, but cannot quiet the nightmares that remind her of Mr. Miller's cruel attack.  As the young couple work tirelessly to restore the long abandoned buildings on the ranch and prepare it for the cattle and horses that will soon arrive, Millie finds herself pregnant.  Wishing she had told Bump about Miller's attack before their wedding, she tries to hide her pregnancy as long as possible.   Shortly after their arrival in Colorado, her grandmother joins the young couple in their rough new life, and Millie begins to learn more of her family history, including the generational violence that haunted her childhood.  When a beautiful neighbor seems to be seducing Bump, Millie wonders if she will ever have a chance for a happy life.

There was a six month interval between reading INTO THE FREE and this title, but Cantrell so successfully plunged me back into the story that I quickly remembered Millicent's troubled and emotional story.  Mountain lions, a ranch hand with a mysterious past, memories of the gentle gypsy, an unwanted pregnancy, and tales of her Choctaw heritage all add to this rich story of a young, struggling marriage. Find copies of both books and read them as one story.  You will not be disappointed.  I received a copy of WHEN MOUNTAINS MOVE from BookLook for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Eden Hill by Bill Higgs

In July, I saw a promotion for the release of Bill Higgs's novel EDEN HILL and the 1950s era car on the cover caught my attention. Further investigation revealed the novel had an early 1960's setting.  That was enough to hook me, and I was lucky to find a copy (just being processed) at a library in our system.  It was not until I actually had the book in hand and ready to read that I learned that first time novelist Bill Higgs is the husband of Liz Curtis Higgs, one of my favorite authors of both Christian nonfiction and historical fiction!!  I have actually heard Liz Curtis Higgs speak and followed her online writings for a while, so I feel like I know a bit about husband Bill.  In a nutshell, it meant I was psyched to like this book, and I can honestly say that I did.

Virgil T. Osgood, like many men, has shown his love for his wife and son by being a hard worker.  For him, that work is the tiny one pump gas station and garage he has run ever since coming home from the service.  When his wife shows him a "romance quiz" from a magazine she's taken from local the beauty shop, Virgil doesn't even know the meaning of some of the words, but he gets the general gist -- wife Mavine is disappointed in him! Somehow he has failed to show her that he loves her.  As he begins to unravel just what it is that she expects from him, life throws the couple another curve ball.  A ZIPCO full service super station begins building across the street from his simple cement block station.  Can Eden Hill support two gas stations?  Will the community be loyal to one of their own or be tempted by the penny lower gas prices and the promise of a free coffee mug?

Immediately Mavine fears for the family's future, making Virgil even more unsure of himself.  While she hints that Virgil should take some kind of stand against the new station, Virgil's long time mechanic (and sometime barber) insists that he should treat the competition with God's love and kindness, a sentiment that Virgil's preacher Rev. Caudill heartily agrees with.  As for the owner of the new Zipco, readers quickly learn that Cornelius Alexander is a young husband who wants a solid future for his wife and baby, and  perhaps his dream for that future may have led him to make some unwise choices.

From the movie magazines, Sunday afternoon fishing excursions, and local grocery store that also made fresh bologna sandwiches to Mavine's outrageous gelation creations, this book evokes a feeling of simpler times. Even the sketch of the old fashioned gas pump that begins each chapter tells you are in the 1960's.  But the messages of family love, neighborly concern, race equality, and forgiveness of past mistakes is as up to date as any messages can be.  Job well done on your first novel, Bill Higgs.  I hope that both you and Liz are busy at work on your next novels.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Room for Hope by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Product Details   Neva Shilling's life was comfortable despite the effects of the Great Depression.  Her twins Belle and Bud helped her manage the family's small store during the weeks their father was out on his sales route.  As Neva prepared a modest supper for his return, she was certain that there would be leftovers enough to share with the hobos who often appeared at their back door.  In no way was Neva prepared for the Sheriff's Deputy that would arrive from Beloit, Kansas with news that would change her life forever.  Soon she would learn not only that her husband had died of botulism, but that he was a bigamist with another family.  Having been raised in an orphanage, Neva knew she could not abandon the three children her husband left behind from his other family, but neither did she give them her heart.   As she struggles to provide them a home and protect her own children's memory of their father, Neva learns that she will have to forgive her husband if she is going to move ahead with her life.  As the months pass and the community begins to sense the truth of why the children are with her, Neva's business falters, son Bud rebels, and Neva feels at a loss. It is with the help of the pastor, the deputy, and a neighbor that she realizes that she must love these innocent children as God loves her. 

I enjoyed this book, and always felt that there should be a romance between Sheriff Jesse Caudel and Neva, but it seems that the author had other ideas ( can't spoil the story). Vogel Sawyer has written a story about surviving with one's head held high without losing one's faith in the toughest of times, a story of recognizing that others are hurting more than you, and that in order to be comforted and loved, one needs to give comfort and love.  ROOM FOR HOPE does end just that way, with room to hope that Neva's life will improve, that the family will bond and become strong, and that there might be someone who cares deeply about her.  I obtained this book from our library system.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Service Tails: Morre Stories of Man's Best Hero by Ace Collins

If you're a dog person, someone who has your own tales of man's best friends, then you will
enjoy Ace Collins second book about four pawed heroes.  Collins shares twelve powerful stories of
dogs whose service training forever changed the lives of their owners.  First was Buddy, a German Shepherd trained in Germany, who became the eyes for Tennessean Morris Frank in the 1920's.  Through a Saturday Evening Post magazine article, Frank learned of Dorothy Eustis and the endeavor to train dogs as working companions for blinded British WWI vets. Frank convinced his family that he could travel to Europe alone, and after training with Buddy, he never again felt the prison like isolation that his blindness had sentenced him to.

Today, we are quite familiar with service animals, but still we probably do not understand the power the dogs have in changing their owners' lives.  Besides doing their "guiding" or "work" activities, they offer a way for those of us who are not disabled to overcome our hesitancy to interact with the disabled.  By approaching the animal or merely asking about the animal, conversation is started.  The ice is broken, and barriers fall down.  Several stories told of connections between dog and owner that went way beyond the initial training and duties.  Dogs trained to aid those with physical limitations developed the ability to identify oncoming seizures or muscle weaknesses.  Perhaps the most heroic story was about a Collie-Malamute mutt named Patches, who was not a service dog, but instead a family pet.  On a cold night in Washington state, Patches accompanied his owner Scott to check on a boat being battered against the pier by the December winds.  When the ice and wind sent Scott into the sub-freezing water, Patches entered the water to save his master.  Before the night was over, Patches would save his master, not once, but twice.  You have to read the book to find out how.

Collins also writes about programs that pair prisoners with shelter dogs, giving both chances to serve.  The prisoners learn how to train animals and use their skills to train the shelter pups.  The trained dogs then are placed with owners needing mobility support.  But perhaps the most "tear-invoking" story was the plight of Salty.  For  seven years Salty gave his all as a guide dog to an elderly Florida woman.  While the two were a wonder to see in action for many years, frailness and probably dementia caused the woman to relinquish the dog to a new owner, someone who chained the dog and was actually abusive.  Salty, who lived a life to please, lost all purpose and hope, until someone from a local collie rescue group learned of the dog's predicament and negotiated a rescue.

I received a copy of this book from Litfuse for my honest review.  I think that any animal lover would enjoy SERVICE TAILS.  The writing is simple enough that even upper elementary school students could handle the book, and I think it would appeal to reluctant readers who are dog people.

More about the book and author:

Service Tails (Abingdon Press, August 2016)

Heart-tugging true stories of the courage, faith, and loyalty of remarkable service dogs.

Not all heroic dogs wildly toss themselves into lifesaving situations. Some save lives simply by their incredible commitment to duty and service. Some lead the way to independence for people whose disabilities were supposed to limit their lives.

In Service Tails: More Stories of Man's Best Hero, prolific author Ace Collins introduces us to leaders whose entire lives are wrapped in the banner of service. Their stories are remarkable snapshots of the value of vision and teamwork, as well as devotion to duty and unconditional love and acceptance---stretching the way we see both canine and human potential. Their training was intense, their loyalty unquestioned and each step of the way they constantly adapt to better serve those they lead. These unforgettable dogs are more than heroes; they are models from which we can learn how to love and serve unconditionally.

Purchase a copy:

About the author:

Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. He has authored more than sixty books that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children's works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and does college basketball play-by-play. Ace lives in Arkansas.