Saturday, October 22, 2016

Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace by Jody Hedlund

Newton and Polly Almost all of us recognize John Newton's moving hymn AMAZING GRACE, and when we sing it or hear the lyrics, we are awed by the hymn's redemptive message.  Many of us know a bit about Newton's later-in-life decision to become a minister and that the hymn documents some details of his conversion and redemption.  We may even know that in his youth he worked on and commanded slave ships, but there still remains much we do not know about Newton.

Jody Hedlund's newest historical fiction NEWTON AND POLLY gives us the opportunity to learn more.  Newton, still a teenager himself, meets Polly, the daughter of his mother's cousin and falls instantly in love.  Being an impetuous, immature youth, Newton fails to make an appointment to start a job his father has arranged for him, instead staying extra days at Polly's home.  His failure to set sail on the appointed date and loss of an excellent marine opportunity deepens a chasm between father and son which started years before when Newton's mother died.   The Newton we see throughout most of this book is one who disappoints all around him.  He has an instant charm and humor which secures Polly's interest, but he quickly gives in to his own vices -- drinking, carousing, and gambling, causing Polly's father to banish him from their home.  At one point he is "impressed" or forced into naval service for the queen as the British prepare to fight the French.  While at sea, he continues to be obstinate and foolish, leading himself into deeper trouble and further away from any hope of winning Polly's affections, and definitely further away from a relationship with God.

Readers will be enthralled with the turn of events which change Newton's life -- a storm which should have killed him, a father who should have deserted him, and a woman who should have left him behind.  Like Hedlund's recent novel LUTHER AND KATHARINA, the author has imagined much about the interactions between Polly and John, but she does follow closely the actual life happenings of the two.  And historical details such as the prevalence of smugglers, Polly's father's job as a custom official, and the beginnings of anti-slavery sentiments among the Quakers make the book all the more authentic. I highly recommend this title for my historical fiction friends.  I received an e-copy of this title from NetGalley.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

THE ROAD WE TRAVELED by Jane Kirkpatrick

Jane Kirkpatrick remains one of my favorite historical fiction authors.  Her books revolve around real life strong women who defied society's norms and so much more to make a place in America's expanding frontiers.  Many of her books center on the women of the Northwest, and THE ROAD WE TRAVELED, her latest work, features yet another mostly unknown heroine.  As Kirkpatrick reveals in her author notes, Tabitha Brown is not totally unrecognized in Oregon, having earned the title "Mother of Oregon" from the Oregon legislature in 1987. However, that honor did not make her a household name, even in Oregon, and few know much about her trip from Missouri to Oregon, a trip which had her wagon and several others deciding to take a cutoff (Applegate cutoff) that almost cost their lives.

From the first page I connected with Tabitha.  At age 66 and being a widow and somewhat handicapped from a childhood injury, Tabitha was viewed by her adult family as too old and feeble to make the difficult wagon trip west.  Tabitha knew she did not want to be a burden, but she did not want to remain in Missouri, even when one son's family decided not to go west.  Tabby's pioneer spirit, fueled by memories of her life with her minister husband and the years she struggled as a widow with three children, prevailed and she bought her own wagon, found a driver, and consented to take her brother-in-law (much older than she was) along.  Being just about Tabitha's age, I certainly can't imagine traveling by covered wagon across the country, leaving all my possessions behind, but I also would bristle if my family deemed me too old or too feeble to do anything.

I've read many books and watched numerous movies portraying wagon trains, but I have to place this one among the best.  Readers will grieve with Tabitha's daughter Pherne who reluctantly leaves behind a tiny grave, bolstered by her husband's declaration that their tiny son lives on in their hearts.  And I found Tabby's granddaughter Virgilia's excitement over the promise of an unknown future represents the feelings of so many children who had no say in where they traveled, yet met every day with wonder.

Like she has done in her other books, Kirkpatrick did extensive research which is incorporated into the story, then the characters are "fleshed out" with words, thoughts, and experiences that fit the historical framework.  That the Applegate cutoff which Tabitha, her son-in-law, and others decide to take is a total disaster is fact; that they almost starved is fact.  Kirkpatrick paints the day by day pictures of broken wagons, dying oxen, and constant stops to bury yet another member of the group in such a way that you too will feel their despair. It is also fact that during the same months that the Browns and others travel across this cutoff, another group (some of them former members of their group) attempt to make it across the mountains to California.  By simply mentioning the name given to that group, the Donner party, we all know their fate.  Kirkpatrick's book does not end with the group's rescue and arrival in Oregon; besides being a story of a journey, this is also a book about family and relationships.  The author continues the story with details of how Tabitha finds a purpose in the new land, reconciles with a troublesome son, and also how Pherne and Virgilia find their places.

Each time I read another Kirkpatrick book, I think it is my favorite, and I think perhaps she has run out of strong women to write about.  Fortunately for all readers, I have always been wrong, and within months she returns with a new book and we are introduced to another piece to our country's heritage.  I received a copy of this book from Revell Reads.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A chance for some autumn splendor in Iowa

Just returned from nearly a week camping in Iowa, our first extended trip there.  We had so much fun just doing some low key sight seeing.  I had my camera clicking all the time.  Over the next few days, time permitting, I will record some of what we saw.  Today's posting is just a teaser of what we saw.  I guess a few days away from the political turmoil and speculation with time to focus on each other, our interests, a bit of history, and some good Iowa pork thrown in is just what we needed.

I must mention, though, that every shop we saw that had special cheese displays was showcasing Wisconsin cheese, mostly Shullsburg.  On the second day of our trip while Russ golfed, I savored my first pumpkin latte of the season, browsed some quilt shops,and did some sight seeing in Kalona, Ia.  This rural town is known for its Amish and Mennonites farms, but it also has a thriving "English" community.  My sight seeing included touring their historic village and quilt museum. 

Earlier this summer we needed to replace our washer and dryer.  I had a difficult time making a decision just what to buy.  The range of prices is quite significant, and there are so many features to consider.  Plus, we are restricted to stackables because of our laundry room configuration.  If I did not have to do stackable, maybe I should have considered one of these lovely domestic machines as seen at the Kalona Historic Village. 
Love the green color
The gray one is quite industrial.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Love's Faithful Promise by Susan Anne Mason

Product Details

Life has been quite busy - who ever said retirement is a slower pace-- and I have been quite lax in both reading and posting reviews.  I managed to squeeze in reading Susan Anne Mason's latest book while at the cabin this weekend between multiple rounds of Word brain, Skipbo, Apple to Apples, and Boogle with two of the grandkids.  Plus, I cooked the meals including a chicken roasted over the campfire in a dutch oven and played fetch the tennis ball with their lab Lady.  Just in case you're wondering, I was the one who threw the ball; Lady did the fetching.  So without saying anymore, you know this book was a good read; otherwise I would have found too many opportunities not to pick it up.

Dr. Matthew Claybourne's injuries from the Great War have, for the most part, diminished to a mere limp, but hidden beneath his professional expertise and promise is a wounded man, a single father who feels he must protect his four year old daughter from all harm and certainly from from any germs that might threatened her weakened constitution.  When he receives a visit from the energetic, Deidre O'Leary requesting that he try his innovative physical therapy methods on her mother, who has residual paralysis from her recent stroke, the doctor at first refuses.  But when his daughter's doctor suggests some time in a country setting may be good for the young girl's lungs, Matthew changes his mind, leaves behind his Canadian practive and travels to Irish Meadows outside New York.

Deidre, a medical student herself, has left her classes to help with her mother's therapy.  Soon she finds herself attracted to the quiet, withdrawn doctor whose methods seem so promising.  And the large brood of O'Leary nieces and nephews soon have little Phoebe  running outdoors, playing with puppies and wishing for a pony.  And Deidre finds herself caring for the little girl almost as she is attracted to the father.  When Matthew shares his declaration that he will never marry again, Deidre's hope for romance is crushed.  Meanwhile her brother Connor, working as the horse farm's foreman and trainer, has a new hire, a young man who seems able to handle a temperamental stallion whose owners want him ready to race within months.  When Connor learns that the young man is hiding his true identity, Connor must decide whether to keep "Jo's" secret and keep the "lad" on or fire the worker.

This is the third and final book in the Courage to Dream trilogy, a series which has kept my interest throughout all three books. As is noted on Susan Anne Mason's website, these are romance books with a "sprinkle of faith." Nothing unpredictable here in the plot, but I really enjoyed the book and the fast pace that I could read.  The O'Leary family was an endearing family, and I am sad that their tales are done.  I received an ecopy of this title from Netgalley for my honest review. 

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.