Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wives of Henry Oades

Later this week our book club will be meeting for the last time of 2011.  Our book for discussion is The Wives of Henry Oades bu Joanna Moran.  I actually read this book a few years ago, and I think I might have been the person who nominated it as a book club pick.  Because our discussions dig deep into the details, I had to set aside time to reread the book.  I would still give the book a strong recommendation, so I am anxious to learn everyone else's reactions.

The book begins as Henry Oades, his wife Margaret, and his children leave England for work in New Zealand.  Margaret is not prepared for the ruggedness of late 19th century New
Zealand and counts the days until the family will be able to return to England.  Believing the children will fare better if they can get out of the dingy, crowded city, Margaret and Henry rent a small cottage miles from his job.  One day as Henry works, Maori tribesmen, bent on revenge against the white race, ramsack the Oake's cabin and set it afire.  Margaret and the children, which now include infant twins, are taken captive and dragged away.  Henry returns later that day to the ruins.  Despite everyone's belief that a charred body found near the property is his wife's, Henry sets out to find her and his children to no avail.  Eventually, he must accept their absence and death.  Work and New Zealand have no meaning for him, and even after a couple years, he cannot rise above his grief.  Returning to England, something he had promised Margaret, now seems intolerable, so Oades books passage to California.  Even the chapter titles in this section are heart-wrenching - Inconceivable, She Speaks to Me Day and Night, and Alone.  

America brings a slow recovery to Henry and eventually a new chance for a loving family. Many stories would end there, but is just the starting point for this drama.  For one day, the new Mrs. Oades (Nancy) will open her farmhouse door to Mrs. Margaret Oades and her surviving children, who are expecting to be reunited with Henry.  Oades cannot turn away his adored children or their mother; but neither can he set aside his young wife, who know owns his heart. Within weeks, they will be charged with bigamy.  What can the courts do since each marriage had taken place within the limits of written law?  Townspeople care nothing for the law; they want Oades to abandon one wife.

Both times I read this book, I felt Henry soon dropped away as a major character as each wife found her own strength and place within the household.  He is still important to the story, but I was so caught up in each woman's feelings that I saw Henry as a background player.  This is one of the most unique stories you'll read.  You'll admire Nancy's compassion and Margaret's strength.  In the end, you will wish both happiness.  Make sure you read the interview with author Johanna Moran to find out about the newspaper article that inspired this book.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A new devotional for grandmothers

Authors Kathyrn March, Pamela Ferriss, and Susan Kelton have written a devotional book for grandmothers based on verses from Proverbs. The purpose is to guide grandmothers to pray daily for their grandchildren. Prayers are specific to the quality described in the daily verse from Proverbs. At the end of each devotion is an activity that a grandparent can have with a grandchild. The activity may be a discussion starter, a role play, or an object lesson. Although the book was written for grandmothers, I could see a Sunday school teacher or pastor using the activities.

I think the idea of giving grandparents specific qualities and topics that they can focus on as they pray for their grandchildren is an excellent idea.
I was given a digital copy for review purposes. I found the prayers and activities so well thought out, that I want a personal copy so my grandchildren can say, "My grandmother is praying for me."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cobbled Court series

Today I am going to blog about the first title in Marie Bostwick's Cobbled Court series.  Currrently there are four stories in the series; the fourth installment, Threading the Needle, remains on my "to-read" list.
When I finish it, I will review it for you. While Bostwick's other books I've reviewed have been unique historical fiction stories, the Cobbled Court series is contemporary fiction with characters you'd find interesting neighbors.  If you've enjoyed any of Debbie Macomber's books, you will like Bostwick's series.

Evelyn Dixon leaves Texas when her marriage ends and decides to follow her dream to open a quilt shop.
Deciding to get as far away from Texas she drives north.  When the charm of New Bern, Conn. captures her heart, she settles there.  The business steadily, but slowly develops.  Among the customers are Abigail Burgess, her niece Liza, and Margot Matthews.  Abigail, wealthy and tough, is dragged to quilting classes by her niece, who rebels against anything her aunt embraces.  Margot seeks solace in the quilting class after losing her job to downsizing.  Soon after opening the store, Evelyn discovers she has breast cancer.  It will be her new friends that rally aournd her, help her maintain the fledging business, and provide the emotional support she needs.

The plot line is familiar one, but Bostwick's writing stands out.  Her characters are delightfully realistic, even quirky.  New Bern is one of those fictional towns that you'd like to set as a destination on your GPS and really visit, perhaps even settle down in.    In Thread so Thin and Thread of Truth the stories of Evelyn, Abigail, Liza, and Margot continue with more friends and townspeople.

I recommend the Cobbled Court series for some cozy, fireplace reading over the cold winter months.
You'll be warmed twice.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Fields of Gold by Marie Bostwick

Eva (Evangeline) has accepted that her life will be a "small" life, no different than most young woman on the dusty Oklahoma plains of the twenties.  She has her parents' love and a solid friendship with nearby Ruby.  She doesn't expect anything else, but then one day a plane flies overhead and lands in her father's field.  Amidst the rays of sunlight, tall handsome Slim uncurls himself from the pilot's seat and Eva's life is changed forever.

If you typically read romance stories with the pattern girl meets boy, boy gets girl, boy loses girl over something silly, boy gets girl again, then Fields of Gold by Marie Bostwick is not the romance story for you.  Charismatic Slim does capture young naive Eva's heart, but it is what happens to Eva once Slim leaves that makes Fields of Gold quality historical fiction.  You'll see each parent's love and  support Eva but in different ways.  And the friendship between Ruby and Eva is deep and sustaining, not the wacky "chick-lit" type. 

When I read this I became quickly caught up in the story, its heartbreak, and the resulthing strength.  Life in Oklahoma was captured perfectly.  However, I stumbled when I learned that Slim was supposed to be a real historical figure.  I will not spoil the secret of his identity, but will hint that he was a famous pilot.  Whenever a real person enters a fictional story, especially someone who is a main character, I want the scoop on what is fact and what is fiction.  Not having the answers for those questions somewhat tarnished this story.  Because the characterization of Eva was so good and the plot so compelling, I simply accepted the whole story as fiction and ignored Slim's identity.  That said, the book ends with the reader wanting to know more.  That "want" is satisfied in a follow-up title, On Wings of Morning.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Discover Marie Bostwick

(Marie Bostwick on right, posted with her permission)
Several years ago I discovered Marie Bostwick's Cobbled Court novels, stories of new beginnings bolstered by strong friendships, set on a street of shops in the village of New Bern.  Closing my eyes, I could see the old cobbled courtyard surrounding the rustic quilt shop with the sheltering apartment above it.
However, when I first discovered Marie, she had only written one Cobbled Court novel and I would need to wait months before the next volume was written.  I always hate that about series books. To date she has written four, and I was lucky to meet her at the Quilt Expo in Madison, WI this September.  I realized that I hadn't read the fourth installment, Threading the Needle,which currently remains on my "to-read pile."  At the Expo, Marie excitedly informed readers about upcoming projects, letting us know that her characters become so real to her that she must give them continued life in future books. 

When I finished reading my first Marie Bostwick book, I went to our library system website ( a favorite source of books) and checked what other books she had written.  One by one I ordered them through interlibrary loan and devoured them.  That was several years ago, and so when I decided to blog about her novels, I decided I need a refresher.  I checked the Barnes and Noble website, plus http://www.mariebostwick.com/ to reread summaries of the different titles.  While doing that I noticed the title River's Edge.  Although the cover looked slightly familiar, the summary did not fire any memory synapses, so I decided to request the book from the library.  As I started to read, the unfolding story pulled me in, and even though I recognized that I had read the book previously, I just wanted to relive young Elise's life in America, so I totally reread the book despite the fact that I have at least four more books to read  as soon as possible.
As a young child Elise believes that her piano playing will keep her beautiful mother alive.  When her mother finally succumbs to TB, both Elise and her military officer father are overwraught with grief.  Imagine a close knit family, but extremely proper and with limited expression of affection, and you will understand Elise's background.  Elise never questions her father when he decides to send her to America to distant relatives in Brightfield, MA, but her heart believes he just didn't want her.  Little did she know that he was torn between his duty as a German officer and his fear of the country's new leader Adolf Hitler.  It is his premonition of war that drives him to send his only daughter to safety.  What follows is a story of finding one's place within a new family and a new land.  Only child Elise, who had never entered a kitchen or played with siblings, is suddenly part of Rev. Carl Muller's bubbling family of four sons and one daughter.  Elise will share a room with daughter Cookie, but for years will not share the laughter and secrets that sisters share.  Mama and Papa certainly accept Elise, as does little mischievious Curt, but the other siblings see only a spoiled foreigner.  Elise grows up, excels in school, and makes a place for herself, but as she does, Hitler invades Poland and war breaks out.  Suddenly her German accent and name make her suspect in the town.  And as Brightfield families begin to bury their sons, Elise is seen as responsible. 

I read this book at a fast pace because Bostwick just keeps the story flowing.  You'll feel the strength of family and the power of growing love.  The nature of war brings suffering and heartache, and it will not be avoided in this novel.  I am attracted to Bostwick's writing because of the small details that are so different, yet they are so real.  In this story, nearby neighbors are tobacco farmers and when an early frost threatens the crop, the whole Muller family go to help.  This includes young city girl Elise who finds that she is actually good at the field work.  And when almost no one else feels she is worth much, it is an elderly cantankerous neighbor who decides that Elise needs weekly "homemaking lessons."  From the cooking lessons come valuable life lessons about acceptance and judgement.

You may be wondering what happens to Elise's father, a man whose family had served the military with honors for generations.  Did he support Hitler?  Was he part of the atrocities?  I wondered the same as I read, and so does Elise as she begins to learn what was truly happening in Europe.  Read River's Edge for the complete story.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas you can always count on several new children's movies being released.  And I would bet that between 75 and 90 percent of them are based on children's books -
 the Harry Potter series, Because of Winn Dixie, Tale of Despereaux, Polar Express, and more.
A few weeks ago I first noticed the movie trailer and advertisements for Hugo and thought another outstanding children's book makes a trip to the wide screen.  I sure hope that author/illustrator Brian Selznick had strong input into this movie- his genius and unique approach made the Caldecott winning book The Invention of Hugo Cabret one of my favorite publications during my eleven years as a children's librarian.

The Caldecott award is given to an American published children's book, selected for its  unique or distinctive illustrations.  Usually that means the book is aimed at a primary or early elementary audience.  Not Selznick's work.  His book is thick - over 500 pages and 158 charcoal drawings.  In fact there are pages without words that essentially advance the action of the story.  Skip the pictures and you have lost action of the story, but run your thumb over the pages (like the old-fashioned flip books) and you have almost a silent movie of action.  Then suddenly you will be back into a chapter of text, well-written with a rich vocabulary and suspense.  I have never shown this book to a child (age 9-13) who wasn't intrigued by the format.  How that unique form of story telling will be transferred to the screen I don't know, but I am ready to find out.

The story takes place in the Paris train station of the 1930s.  Young Hugo's father, who is supposed to be maintaining the large train station clock, has disappeared.  Hugo hides in the rooms behind the clock and has taken over "tinkering' with the clock.  Besides hiding from the Parisian police, he has other secrets including a mysterious drawing, a key, and a broken automan (mechanical man).  His life will soon collide with a cantankerous old man who runs a toy booth and a young girl.  And maybe, just maybe they will answer all Hugo's questions.

At the end of the book Selznick provides background on the art of building an automan or mechanical man, work often done by precision clock makers.  And just as the book appears to be partly silent movies, there is a connection in the book to early silent movies and Selznick goes beyond the book to draw his readers into a fascinating history lesson about George Meleis, one of the earliest filmmakers who was also a collector of automans.  Like so many children's authors today, Selznick has a website with background information which enriches the whole experience of reading Hugo Cabret.hene

Whenever a book is made into a movie, new editions of the book usually come out in reasonable paperback.  If you see a copy, pick it up and read it before you see the movie.  The movie may be action packed with special effects, but I still vote for experiencing the author's original creative vision.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Three Cups by Mark St. Germain

Author Mark St. Germain and illustrator April Willy have connected to create a short, but powerful tale of how a simple allowance can bring countless adventures and sound financial footing to a young child.
We can all see the devastating results of the "I want it now at whatever cost" philosophy in American society, so perhaps this book should be a gift for every child.  Simply told, a five year old boy is given three cups on his birthday.  Dismayed, he points out that these cups are chipped ones from the family cupboard.  What could his parents be thinking?  His father explains that he is going to start receiving a weekly allowance and will be expected to divide his money among the three cups, which are then labeled GIVE, SHARE, SPEND.  The story does not indicate how the money should be divided and I like that.  I can imagine the boy determining each time how he will divide the allowance.  Readers will witness his first trip to the bank for a savings account and his first time sharing what he put into the charity cup.  The book ends with the boy, now grown up, starting the process again with three cups for his child.

A website http://www.3cupsbook.com/ provides a short video which will give you a preview of the book and its soft old fashioned illustrations.  A simple idea, but think about the impact behind it.  Just imagine the results that would be possible if we would all embrace delayed gratification and generosity.

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book to review it.  All comments are my own.

Back to reality

The most recent posts have been slightly sporadic, but with good reason.  First in order to write about books read, one must actually have time to READ.  I am always in the midst of at least one books, but sometimes I just need more time to read before I can write.  And then there are those rare times when I just can't squeeze any reading time in.  Last week was one of those times -- with good reason.  We were in Branson with friends and Russ's brother and sister-in-law.  What a memorable time - laughs, superb shows, and great weather.  Despite the 60 degree temperatures and early November calendar, we actually saw Christmas shows.  Now that we are safely home and somewhat caught up on sleep, it is time to plan for the holidays.  How much sewing can I do and for whom?  What will I cook and bake for each of the family get togethers? And of course, there will be shopping that needs to get done.  I admit that I no longer enjoy shopping, so I hope that everyone gives me really good hints.

With all of that activity, it is SO easy to overlook the real meaning of the holidays.  The last few years I've tried to avoid that by making sure that I always set aside time for Christmas reading.  I've already mentioned some children's books that would make quality family reading, plus I reviewed Max Lucado's new collection of his Christmas writings.  I've downloaded the classic story The Other Wiseman by Henry Van Dyke for my Nook and I plan to reread it this season.  Of course, there is no better reading than the Gospel accounts of Christ's birth.

As you look ahead to the next seven weeks and start marking up that family calendar with appointments, parties, dinners, and concerts, don't forget time to keep Christ in Thanksgiving and Christmas each day, not just on Sundays. So many people complain about the lack of Christ in Christmas, but I am challenging everyone to find those beautiful expressions of his love that are evident everywhere - in music, in well written Christmas books, in heartfelt movies, and live performances.

(By the way, the one show that we picked without knowing much about the performer was the show Cassandre: Voice of an Angel at the Americana Theater, and we were all thrilled by her performance.
Of all the shows we saw, I only purchased an cd by Cassandre.  Check out her website if you are going to Branson -  http://www.thevoiceofanangel.com/index.html

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder - a Southern novel of family, friends and love

I first read Rebecca Wells when her novel Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood was a best seller.  For me that was the first experience with the charming genres of "girl friend" and Southern fiction.  It is nice to start with high quality, but it leaves a high bar for other authors to reach.  I have been disappointed by other novels that profess to have the same warmth and depth of the YaYa sisters.  If you have not read this book, check it out or try the movie that followed. 

Recently I read Rebecca's 2010 novel The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder, set in 1950-70s Louisisana.  Readers will follow young Calla Lily as she watches her mother (M'dear) runs a beauty shop from their porch and then join their father in running a dance studio by night.  Calla Lily soon learns she, too, has the magic fingers that do more than just fix hair. At age 8, Calla and her friend's lives are changed forever when a new girl Sukey moves to town with wild tales of jewels, princes and adventure.  This is a book of growing up, deep family love, romance,  tragedies, and second chances.  Throughout the book she draws strength and wisdom from M'dear, LaLuna - the river that runs through their town, and the lady in the moon herself.

I enjoyed the book and the relationships between characters, especially those formed during the years when Calla lived in New Orleans. The writing just flows and the tiniest details make events and people memorable. Other reviews have mentioned the importance of having a "pink collar" heroine in contemporary literature.  I agree that Calla Lily brings hairdressing to the level of healer that I have never seen before (This is not the story of gossip at the beauty shop!!).  However, I just wasn't into the references and prayers to LaLuna or the idea of the Lady in the Moon watching over Calla.  Ignoring that, it was a good read. I also realize that true Rebecca Wells' fans will insist that you can't delete LaLuna as it is integral to Calla Lily's essence.