Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ann Brashare's Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series began with a young adult novel by the same name and quickly captured the attention of teen and preteen girls. Four best friends, who will be separated for the summer, pledge to stay close by sharing one pair of jeans. As the story unfolds and the pants are mailed from one girl to another, you learn about the lives and aspirations of Lena, Bridget, Tibby, and Carmen, best friends since before birth. How can that be? The girls mothers' were all enrolled in the same pregnancy exercise class and the women bonded before they ever gave birth. Eventually their friendship is overshadowed by the deep bond among the four children. I first read this book when it came out and I bought a copy for the high school library. It was an easy sell to the girls. The book was followed by three other novels, each covering a succeeding summer. I have to admit I did not read the last two books of the series, but I did see the movie adaptation of the first book and found it sweet. So this spring when I read that Ann Brashare had written a new book about the foursome set just before they turn 30, I wanted to read it.

Sisterhood Everlasting will be most enjoyed by someone who "met" the girls as teenagers, although the book can be read as a stand alone. I am not sure that teenage readers will enjoy the book as much as someone who has left their teen years behind and has faced the challenges and disappointments of adulthood. Career, boyfriends, and simple physical distance have created small fissures in the forever friendship. Finally Tibby who has been in Australia for over a year arranges for all four to meet in the small Greek village where Lena's grandparents had lived. What was meant to be a reconnection and renewal is cut short by one woman's death. (I don't know how to proceed with the review without that spoiler, but I will NOT tell who it is). The remaining three friends are left to face their grief alone. Each feels abandoned by the one who died and none reaches out to support the other two. With the grieving comes self-realization, maturation, and hope.

At my age, I am not usually interested in books about 20-somethings, but this book held my interest, possibly because I was part of a foursome throughout junior high and high school. And in our twenties, school, jobs, and eventually boyfriends/husbands caused us to eventually drift apart. And like in the book, totally unexpectedly one of our foursome died. In our case, it was Sweet ChamBaby (Sue Channing Yahnke) who died in a car accident at age 21, just a year after she married. Sue was our class Valedictorian and the smartest person I ever knew. Although the reactions of the three remaining friends (Chris, Karolyn, and myself) were different than the sisterhood women, we were affected. It so happens that Sue's gravesite is only a few feet from my grandparents' and my mom's, and I cannot visit the cemetery without stopping by
Sue's gravestone and wondering what would have happened to our friendship if she had lived. I imagine her succeeding in her chosen journalism career,finding time only occasionally to get together because she would be traveling the world.
And then before I leave, I say a prayer thanking God for the time to experience each phase of my adult life - marriage that lasted 40 years, motherhood, career, and now time to be an oldster!

Give Sisterhood Everlasting a try. I guarantee you'll appreciate the honesty and realism of her writing, and maybe you'll be taken back to old friendships.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Recipes, Espresso and a mystery?

If you live in any suburb of Denver (and you are a fictional character), NEVER hire Goldy's Catering. Not because Goldy is a poor chef, but because a dead body or some other catastrophe always happens at her events. Diane Mott Davidson's spunky caterer/sometime sleuth can never leave the crime solving to her cop husband. Goldy will brew an extra strong expresso, load her old catering van,maneuver the winding Colorado roads to check out all the suspects, and still manage to cook some delightful dishes. Accompanying recipes at the back of the book add spice and interest. In Davidson's latest book Crunch Time, Goldy helps fellow chef and friend Yolanda Garcia find out who has torched Yolanda's house and possibly killed their mutual friend and ex-cop, Ernest McLeod who had been investigating Yolanda's troubles. Or was he killed because he was also investigating a puppy mill? If Goldy is going to solve this one, she will need to do it while prepping for the church's fundraising dinner, helping plan a memorial dinner for Ernest, and serving a special lunch to all the athletes at her son's school. You'll need the calendar feature on your smartphone to keep track of Goldy's movements.

I discoved this mystery series about 10 years ago and loved that there were multiple books to read right away. Then I had to start waiting for Davidson to write new ones - about one a year. I've been a little disappointed in the last few books. In my memory the first ones had a little more humor and were just more "fresh." The series has recurring characters (Goldy's son from her first marriage, her endearing husband, and a best friend who also had been married to Goldy's first husband,known as the jerk. In this last book, I felt these characters were mere walk-throughs. I recommend this series to readers who like mysteries, but I suggest you start with earlier books before this one.

I really wish Diane Mott Davidson would get her books made into a television series or several TV movies. Like many mystery books, the violence is really
"off-stage" and the side characters make the story. In this case, I would love to see Goldy's catering kitchen in her country home, complete with her fully stocked walk-in cooler and the always-in-use expresso machine.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Her Daughter's Dream

I just finished Francine Rivers second book Her Daughter's Dream loosely based on her mother and her maternal grandmother. Picking up in the early 1950's where Her Mother's Hope ended, Hildie's TB has returned. Fearing that she will die, she finally allows her mother Marta to come and care for the children. Little does she realize that another cycle of mother-daughter alienation will follow. Little Carolyn bonds with her Oma Marta but never seems to gain her mother's love. Francine Rivers continues this realistic, multi-generational story, taking us through the tumulant 1970's right up to 2001. Never did I expect to find a Haight Asbury hippie in a Christian fiction novel, but hopelessly lost Carolyn is definitely a character deserving of God's redemptive second chances. But even with God present in her new life,she still fails to forgive herself and others enough to repair past hurts. Will she and her mother ever experience a true relationship? Can her daughter be the one to finally mend the family?

I loved that I discovered this two book series after both books had been published. I read both within the same month and the stories were stronger because of the continuity. I found that I cared deeply about each of the women in the story even when they made destructive decisions. Francine Rivers shared some personal connections at the end of each book, and although the story is largely fictional, I applaude Francine for using her own family as a starting point.

For those of you who read Christian and inspirational fiction, do not miss this series. At first you may be detered by the length of the books, but I insist you
give them a try.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Walk

I first encountered author Richard Paul Evans' work when I read his novel
The Christmas Box and then delightedly watched the holiday movie by the same name. I consider him the patriach of touching holiday stories, so
last year I eagerly requested from our library system a copy of his new novel The Walk . Twenty eight year old Alan Christofferson had everything - a successful business, a gorgeous wife,and a lifestyle that would rival a Hollywood star's. But like a modern day Job, Alan loses it all. His wife McKale is left paralyzed after a horse riding accident and then tragically dies from complications. Determined not to leave his wife's side, Alan neglects his business and counts on his long time partner to shoulder the responsibility. But that trust is misplaced, and in the days following his wife's death, Alan finds himself without home, business, or family.

With no plan or purpose, Alan starts on a journey from Washington state to
Key West, Florida simply because that is the furthest spot he can go.
Alan may see no purpose for his life, but he will discover that God does, but not before Alan faces more trials. Actually the book which covers only twelve days of the walk is the first in a series of books that will follow Alan across the country. I said in my last post that I would explain why I often get frustrated with series. Here it is --- I had to wait from last year until this year for the next book to come out. One whole year, but in the time frame of the story it moves ahead only a few days. When the next book Miles to Go came out, I checked it out from the library and in a few short hours I had caught up with Alan, his continuing difficulties, the beginnings of his healing, his safe arrival at Yellowstone, and alas -- the last page with a note that the next book would debut in spring 2012. Yes, I will probably read the next installment when spring arrives, but by the time I finish the series I may not care about Alan nearly as much as I did in spring 2010. My recommendation is that you read Richard Paul Evans' books, but in this case, consider waiting until the series is completed or at least nearly completed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Too hot to read??

Since there were no posts for this week, you might think the heat has kept me from reading or posting. However that is not quite accurate. We have been gone for a few days to our little cabin in the north woods. Unfortunately, the heat followed us there and it was a struggle to keep cool. Usually retreat time there means plenty of reading, but this time our granddaughter accompanied us so days were filled with swimming, fishing, and board games. We made some great memories so I gladly postponed reading my next book.

Over the next week I will need to get caught up on some reading and select some suitable titles for future posts. For now a little preview of the next three posts. For many of us, finding a favorite author or a new series means a guarantee of future satisfying reading. Much as I like a good series, I've hit some roadblocks with them over the years. The first problem might be mine alone, and if it is, I apologize for mentioning it.
I read a lot of different types of fiction and sometimes some of the mystery and "hometown" series begin to run together. If I go a year or even a few months between books from the same series, I forget characters and must spend close to the whole book trying to sort out the relationships and past histories. Sometimes the characters aren't distinctive enough to separate them from other characters in similar series. Is this a problem with my memory or mediocre writing? The second problem is discovering a new series right at the beginning of it. Why is that a problem? Read my post later in the week about The Walk and Miles to Go by Nicholas Paul Evans to find out why

I tried to add a photo of our cabin several times and although it appears
that blogger added it, the photo does not show up. Sorry, I'll try another day.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Diamonds, anyone?

Jonell McLain was captivated by the $37,000 diamond necklace in the jewelry store window. Clearly she knew the difference between need and want, and the price alone precluded any real consideration of buying it. But isn't there an element of need in all our wants? So when Jonell saw that the store was having a huge sale, she returned to dream about the impossible. That's when the plan unfolded. What if she could talk a few of her girlfriends into purchasing the necklace as a group and sharing its ownership? The store owner offered a steep discount (learn more about this in the book) and Jonell was off seeking partners.

Cheryl Jarvis relates what happens next in The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment that Changed Their Lives. Readers get a glimpse into the past of all thirteen women, witness their experiences with the necklace - complete with a photo of each wearing the necklace, and listen to their dreams for the future. For those of you who think this partnership was an experiment in total vanity, you need to read the book. You'll meet the jeweler's wife who joined the group only because her husband made a condition of the sale. Shy, serious, and totally dedicated to job and family, she had denied herself friends or any life outside her well constructed safety perimeter. For her, the group parties that marked the transfer of the necklace from one member to another became her entrance into the world of female friendships and new horizons. And the necklace itself became a way the members could reach out
to their communities. Read the book to find out who chose to share their time with the necklace and who used it to add some spark to a stalled marriage. This is light nonfiction reading that will put some sparkle in your summer.

I obtained my copy of this book from our local library, and I am sure other library systems have it. Of course your favorite bookstore can order it for you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If You Lived Here I'd Already Know Your Name

With a book title like If You Lived Here I'd Already Know Your Name: News from Small Town Alaska and a book cover with a big moose on it, who could resist wanting to read it? This nonfiction paperback was
an impulse buy for me, as I almost never actually purchase books, but it ranks as one of my favorite reads over the past two years. In fact, I also read her second book Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs.

Author Heather Lende and family make Haines, Alaska(population 2,400) their home where her husband runs a lumber yard and Heather writes the obituaries for the local paper and also works for Alaskan Public Radio. Heather is the type of person that I would like to have for a neighbor. She is witty, compassionate, energetic, and talented. Determined that every person has a unique story to tell, Heather took her job as the obituary writer seriously. She would interview family members and friends, and it was during those emotional times that her caring nature is evident. The human interest vignettes that emerged from those interviews become the backdrop for her book on small town Alaska. Woven among the stories of life and death is a look at Alaska's beautiful, but sometimes harsh lifestyle. Doctors and hospitals can be hours away and almost everyone has lost a child or relative to either a fishing accident or a small plane crash. Yet the heart of Haines comes across so strongly in this book that I actually looked up the city's website on the internet. For just a few moments I fantasized about living there!

Each chapter in this book is really a complete story in itself making the perfect book for nighttime reading. You can comfortably stop and then pick it up another day. Shortly after Heather Lende published this book she was in a near fatal bicyle-truck accident in which she broke her pelvis and sustained other extremely serious injuries. Her second book chronicles this accident, the trauma of being rushed to mainland USA for surgery, and her remarkable recovery and return to her beloved Alaska.
Heather is currently writing a monthly column for Woman's Day magazine; readers can "taste" her style and perspective by reading one of her columns. I am hoping for another book soon.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Where am I Wearing?

The title to this post is not a misprint or a poorly worded sentence constructed by me; it is actually the title to the book I am reviewing today. I would imagine close to 100% of American males in their twenties have these five items in their wardrobes: a well worn favorite t-shirt with a logo it, levis or similar branded jeans, inexpensive flip flops, comfortable shorts, and of course underwear. And I also imagine that most of us give little thought to the people who made these same clothes. Not Kelsey Timmerman, author of Where am I Wearing: A Global Tour of the Countries, Factories, and People Who Make Our Clothes. Kelsey, then in his twenties, decided to visit the countries and factories that produced five actual garments from his wardrobe, a journey that took him to Honduras (t-shirt), Cambodia (levis), Bangladesh (underwear), China (flip flops), and back to the United States (shorts).

I read this book as an advanced readers' copy in 2008 and I fully expected to read an expose of child labor, unsafe factories, and extreme poverty. Instead, Kelsey revealed a global economic system that is much more complicated. In some instances, the countries are clawing their way out of their "third world" designation. Kelsey gained entrance to every factory except the one in China, but in all areas he connected with workers. It was this personal look into their lives that made the book so vibrant and compelling. The workers' individual stories show their pride in providing for their families and their hopes that better conditions will develop. Their acceptance of their present lives with an optimism for the future reminded me of our own factory workers in the 19th and early 20th centuries. And their stories make clear that any action we
would take to simply boycott foreign goods would devastate their fragile economic progress. Anyone wanting to further their understanding of social fairness should consider reading Timmerman's observations.

I don't want to share too much of the book, but since it is summer and I see flip flops everywhere on almost everyone's feet, I will tell about the young Chinese couple that Kelsey interviewed. They were proud that their jobs at the shoe factory had enabled to them to build a modest home back in their country village. Their parents lived in this home, taking care of the couple's children. Unfortunately, the couple had no transportation back to the village except by a 3 or 4 hour train ride. They had not seen the children in more than a year because they never had time off for such a long trip. Their eight or ten hour work days were followed by a simple supper at home and a short rest. Then they returned to the factory for several more hours off the clock --basically mandatory, uncompensated overtime. All that for cheap flip flops, but without the flip flops they face a bleaker life in their home village.

It is a rare nonfiction book that I would consider reading again. Too
many books, too little time. I DO PLAN TO READ THIS BOOK A SECOND TIME.
It doesn't provide easy answers, it doesn't condemn American consumers,
but it certainly makes clear that we do have a responsibility to make things more equitable.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Monday's nod for nonfiction

Some people only read nonfiction and say they must have a storyline to keep them interested, while others like my husband read almost totally nonfiction. Such a dedication to one genre over the other really baffles me. If a good movie or television drama keeps you interested, then a good fiction story should also keep you interested. And if you're interested in history, science, the news, or just find unusual people interesting, then there is probably something nonfiction out there that would keep you reading. My reading habits would probably break down to a ratio of 4 fiction titles to 1 nonfiction. However, in recent years I have been drawn to some quality nonfiction writing. This week I will review three of those titles. In a few weeks I will make nonfiction my focus again.

I've decided that about 4 blogs per week will be my limit. I will aim for three book reviews and one general blog. I do have to leave some time for
actual reading or I will run out of books read to talk about!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The fruit is definitely better than the book

I had the opportunity to read a pre-publication copy of the book
Blackberry Summer by Raeanne Thayne. Advance information made this sound like an easy, romantic beach read. Centered in the small community Hope's Crossing, it was evident right away that this was another coming home story - this time it's the young police chief returning to his hometown and his reputation as a former teen bad boy. Add in the typical small town set of businesses so popular in romantic novels these days. This time the highlighted business is bead shop String Fever run by heroine and young divorcee Clare. And of course Clare and Police Chief Riley have a past. Riley was the pesky little brother to Clare's high school best friend. Now a three year age difference does not seem so much and Riley certainly isn't pesky.

Now I am a sometimes fan of authors such as Debbie Macomber who I feel can create an inviting small town and people it with enough interesting
characters for multiple books. And I have actually learned a little about knitting, quilting, book selling, and such from the underlying settings of
these books. Unfortunately, I cannot add this book to that list. I think Raeanne wanted to develop another memorable fictional community through this book, but she falls short. Too often she tells things which should unfold for the reader, and many of the characters introduced have way too small a part in the story. Could they have a more developed life in future books. Possibly, but I doubt that I will meet them again. The only detail that would drag me back for another Hope's Crossing book is the answer to this question ,"Who is the Hope's Crossing Angel?"

At the beginning of the book someone is anonymously helping people in need within the community. This person or persons is now known as Hope's Angel and the identity is never revealed. In fact, this person seems to drop out of the story.
As for the romance that you know is going to happen from the first page, I don't have to tell you anything more. It is predictable, but sweet, but definitely not as sweet as real blackberries!! If you're in the mood for
a quick, clean romance go for it. If you want deeper, more thoughtful characters try Debbie Macomber or Marie Bostwick.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A great series reborn

Fans of Jan Karon's Mitford series of books were disappointed to see Father Tim retire a few years ago. As much as I enjoyed that quiet, thoughtful series with its wide array of characters, I felt Father Tim deserved a
rest, along with his wife, pets, and adopted son. That is probably why I wasn't an early reader of the Home to Holly Springs books, but I am glad
that book one Home to Holly Springs was on display at the library last week. I admit to being an impulse reader despite my many, many well developed reading lists. Often book covers or even book titles just grab
my attention and demand that I read them.

Imagine getting an anonymous note with just three words,"Come home now."
Add that you haven't been home since your mother's death when you were a young adult and you are now seventy. Would you go? Would you even consider Holly Sp-rings your home after 40 years? Father Tim, accompanied by his attention getting huge lug of a dog, does go home
to an unraveling of long hidden secrets, old acquaintances, and even
a former fiancee. Add in southern charm and a few new eccentric friends
and you have another great story by Karon. Read this book and you'll come to understand Father Tim much better. I have to admit it - I am glad that
Jan Karon did not leave Father Tim in retirement.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers

Ever have a moment when two thoughts just connect in a new and meaningful way? Just a few hours ago I took advantage of the early morning quiet to enjoy a cup of coffee on our deck while I waited for our daughter-in-law to drop off their two girls for me to take to summer school. It was then I thought about how different their personalities are and yet how perfectly God has made each of our six grandchildren.

That acknowledgement connected directly to my next thought- the book I would review for my first review on this blog. Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers, part one of Marta's Legacy, spans Switzerland, Germany, England, Canada, and California as Marta strives to leave behind a childhood marred by the her father's coldness. As Marta marries and raises a family, she fails to see the uniqueness and perfectness in her children and mistakenly (but definitely out of love) treats her oldest daughter Hildemara much more harshly than the others.
Hildemara doesn't recognize the "love" behind the tough love and lives
believing that she cannot count on her mother. Francine Rivers writes
strong characters and I was fascinated by the late 1800's life in Europe and frontier Canada. Even more fascinating are the author's personal comments at the end of the book as she shares that Marta is based on her grandmother and Hildemara on her mother. This two book series is the author's attempt to explain and reconcile with fiction, the real life
saga of two strong women, who despite their Christian faith, failed to
see each other's true hearts and strengths.

I read this book as an e-book which I downloaded from Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC) If you happen to have a Nook or other e-reader, or if you like to listen to audio books and have a MP3 player, I STRONGLY
recommend you find the WPLC website and learn how to download e-books and audio books. Right now ebooks are not available for load for Kindles, but
I believe that will change in future months.
I am a big advocate for using libraries, and I know this book is also available at many libraries. Right now, I have a request in at our local library for the next book in the series. I can't wait to read how the aging Marta and her now ill adult daughter Hildie mend their differences.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day and new beginnings

Our forefathers certainly faced uncertainity and challenges as they contemplated independence in 1776, and America has been a country of risks and new frontier ever since.  This may not seem like much of a challenge to anyone except me, but I see my recent retirement as an opportunity to try some new endeavors.
Whether they are sucessful or not, time will tell.

And that leads to this blog.  I've wanted to write for quite some time and my thoughts always come back to books, home, and the domestic arts (a quaint word for sewing, cooking, and maybe even a little gardening). And of course all of that includes family, especially the grandkids.  Whether this blog will cover all
of these or eventually focus on just one will be seen.  To begin, I am going to pursue sharing my thoughts on some of the best reads I've had this year.  Happy Independence Day!