Monday, April 30, 2012

Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann

When Lance's beloved grandmother, Nonna Antonia, has a stroke which leaves her unable to speak, he is devastated and willing to do anything to help her recover.  Trying to make her hospital stay comfortable, Lance looks for something from her home to bring to her.  An old bundle of letters brings a strong emotional response but no words.  With almost pance, Nonna pushes one particular letter into Lance's hand - an old letter with a return address of a convent in Italy. Lance interprets her insistant pointing at the address that he should travel to Italy to meet the writer, a distant cousin, now an elderly nun.

Lance's mystery journey then takes him to California, to an old home, once part of a winery, and with secret connections to Nonna Antonia's Italian family.  Lance finds the home now the property of Rese Barrett, a renovation expert who hopes this project will be her last.  Rese carries her own secrets - fears birthed in a childhood with a mentally ill mother and a perfectionist father, grief raw from her father's recent accidental death, and scars from being the tough woman in a man's career.  Her dreams of turning the house into a Bed and Breakfast seem an impossibility, not because of the house's condition, but because of her condition.  She is edgy, inhospitable, and cannot cook.  What hopes does she have for success?  Then Lance shows up on her doorstep and he seems to be a miracle - he can cook, he knows carpentry, and he is a talented musician.  Plus he is willing to work reasonably.  It seems to be the ideal business arrangement.  Lance, without telling Rese, can investigate his familiy's history in the Sonoma Valley and its connections to this house.  Rese gets the help she needs to open the inn on time. Neither counts on the emotional connection that develops between the two.  At every turn their relationship changes, bouncing between strictly business and budding romance, but always with secrets on both sides.

Of course, this is the basic boy meet girl, boy gets girl, couple messes up, couple makes up plot, but I found the Rese's underlying story and Lance's secrets to be intriguing, plus the book was peopled with interesting minor characters.  An elderly neighbor, Evvy, is a spot of humor and helps deliver the Christian message of the book, while Rese's troubled friend Star adds depth.  Young romances are not my favorite type of reading, but Secrets has enough problems, glimpses into the past, supporting characters, and SECRETS to make it an interesting read.  I always find Heitzmann's books fast paced with a strong Christian message. .Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann  If you have never read a Heitzmann book, I recommend you check outKristen Heitzmann's website to learn more about her life and her books.

I blogged yesterday that I realized I had already read ths book, but went ahead and finished it anyway.
Secrets is part of a three book series, and I am sure that I read book two Unforgotten which continues Rese and Lance's story (and Nonna's recovery).  Again I really don't remember the details, and I really don't remember reading book three Echoes.  Will I find the time to read them?  Who knows?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Twice told tales (or twice read tales)

I'll just admit it right away.  Sometimes I read a book a second time - not because I LOVE the book and want to read it again.  No, sometimes I find a book description intriguing and I check out the book or get it through interlibrary loan, start reading it, and then after many pages, I figure out that I've already read the book.  Well, fellow readrers, what is it?  Old age with failing memory or just the likely consequences of reading more than a hundred books a year?  A few years ago I started keeping a list of each book I read that year.  Sometimes I actually go back and search the lists, find I have read a certain book and save myself the frustration of starting a book a second time.  But too often, I don't check the lists and then when I discover I've already read a book I must decide whether to finish the book (and refresh my memory about what happened to the characters) or just close the book.  I truly believe a wise person would realize that there is just so much reading time in a lifetime and would close the book.  However, I like the characters in most books I read, and I just can't leave them without knowing again what happened to them. If I do remember what happened to them, I still want the enjoyment of reading the author's depiction.  So I have to admit that I am often not a wise reader.  If I start a book for the second time, I will probably finish it!

Now my confession, I just finished reading a Kristen Heitzmann book for the second time.  It was about 50 pages into the book when I knew for sure that I had read it several years ago.  This time I had downloaded the book on my NOOK (through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium), and the preview blurb did not seem familiar.  Despite having a stack of new books on my NOOK and in paperback, I HAD to finish the story of Lance and Rese. Check back tomorrow to hear what I thought of their story.  For now, let's just say their's is a story of Secrets.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Making Piece: a memoir of love, loss, and pie by Beth Howard

“Pie is comfort.  Pie builds community.  Pie heals. Pie can change the world.  My name is Beth Howard.  I’m a pie baker and I’ve always believed that pie can change the world.  Now I have to put my theory to test as I attempt to heal from the unexpected death of my forty-three-year-old husband.  I’m packing up the RV my husband left behind and hitting the American highways in search of the real healing powers of pie.  Be it teaching others to make pie, exchanging recipes and tips with other pie bakers and pie lovers, visiting orchards to pick fruit for filling or seeking out the perfect slice, the journey , no matter how bittersweet, is sure to be a delicious one.  So grab a fork and join me for the ride.”  From Beth Howard’s  book Making Piece and her pilot for a tv show about  pie.

When I saw there was a memoir focused around pie, I was ready to read.  Like Beth Howard, pie has been a central dynamic in our family culture.  My mother was an awesome pie baker.  Her specialty was apple pie, especially the ones made with our own summer transparent apples or the later season McIntosh/Empires.  She taught me to mix my pie dough with my fingers – no forks or pastry blenders for us.  Like Beth, I think pie-making skills had something to do with the romance that sparked when my husband and I first dated.  Now our much larger family demands blueberry, apple, and pumpkin pies on the winter holidays, and no one will turn down a fresh rhubarb or strawberry one come spring.

As the quotation above indicates, Beth’s husband died totally unexpectedly and she is deep in grief and guilt when she has the opportunity to film a television pilot about pie.  A few years before, Beth had ditched a successful career in the industry to immerse herself in a low paying job baking pies, often for the top Hollywood celebs.  Searching out the best pie makers and pie stands seemed like a way to honor her husband and to begin to heal.  As you read the book, you will follow Beth to Florida where she judges the National Pie Competition, to Iowa to judge their famous state fair entries, and finally to her own little pie stand outstand a famous landmark in Iowa. (Read the first pages of the book to find out just where she was).   Despite my great love for pie, I struggled  reading this book.  At times, Beth’s language was a little too crass for me, but that didn’t stop me from continuing.  In the beginning of the book, I felt the pie analogies were too frequent and too forced, but they diminished as the book progressed.  Also, I felt Beth lost some of her edginess as the book progressed.  Perhaps it was the return to her Iowa roots or it could be the healing process at work.  When the book ended, I felt Beth was in a good spot, a place I’d like to visit if she was serving pie!  I love that such a simple part of Americana helped her heal and has such an important role in many  lives.  If you want to learn more about Beth Howard and her pie journey, check out  Beth Howard's blog and website 
I received an e- copy of this title for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Blind Hope – An Unwanted Dog and the Woman She Rescued by Kim Meeder and Laurie Sacher

VIDEO: Blind Hope – An Unwanted Dog and the Woman She Rescued

Kim Meeder took an abandoned rock quarry in Oregon, rebuilt its landscape and purpose into a shelter for rescued horses. From that came a ministry that pairs caring for the recovering horses with children in need. Called Crystal Peaks Youth Ranch, Kim and husband Troy rely heavily on trained volunteers to keep their dream functioning. Laurie Sacher, one volunteer who stayed on to become an employee, found her very life change as she settled into life at Crystal Peaks.

Kim narrates this short, but powerful book of Laurie's acceptance of God's love and care, all because she adopted a battered, extremely ill dog. Renamed Mia by Laurie, the Austrialian sheepdog looked nothing like the beautiful, long haired specimen that Laurie imagined would become her new companion. Instead Mia was underweight, had halitosis, needed to have an infected eye removed, and needed insulin injections daily. But from the first full face lick, Laurie could not turn away from her new family, and such began the daily lessons and analogies Laurie learned. When Mia became totally blind, the two trained so Mia would follow her master's voice. Lesson: "What faith . . . to follow a master . . . you cannot see." When vets gave Laurie a way out from the responsibility and cost of caring for such an ill animal, the woman saw instead another lesson: "Love is not a feeling but a choice."

Soon she was facing her own weaknesses and hang-ups. She realized she had been caught up in a negative self-image, focusing on her body and her popularity, frequently embracing new causes and lifestyles, only to run when anything or anyone challenged her. She described her faith as only strong enough to get her a place with other believers, but never having any substance of its own. All that changed through her role as Mia's caregiver. And as the title shows, it was the blind dog who helped the woman SEE.

Told as if Laurie is telling Kim her story as the two friends hike, ride, and ski over several months, the book is rich with powerful one-liners that echo our relationship with God. However, I found that format of revealing Laurie's transformation a tad contrived. I know that Kim is already a published author who has told other stories of change from the ranch, but since Laurie is an adult, I felt the whole book would have had more power if she had told the story. I would recommend the book to anyone who is an animal lover or to those who seem to be floundering a little.
For more information about Kim Meeder and her writing, check this author bio:

I received a copy of this book for review purposes from BloggingforBooks and Waterbrook Multnomah.  The opinions are my own.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson

House of Secrets by Tracie Peterson  Tracie Peterson's historical fiction are among some of my earliest endeavors into reading Christian fiction.  I was surprised to find a stand-alone contemporary title on our library's shelves and grabbed it for a quick read.  I love series novels, but don't always have the time to commit to multiple books.

Right from the start I will say that this is not my favorite Peterson work.  She has tackled a difficult topic, the serious mental illness and subsequent death of a young parent.  Years pass, the children grow up, scarred by what they believe is a secret they must keep to protect their father.  I credit Peterson for tackling such a pertinent and powerful topic, but I felt the delivery of the story was slightly out of step.  Most of the story is told through oldest sister Bailee's relevations and flashbacks.  If you logically put all she tells into a timeline of over ten years (age 3-13), I find the father's actions and attempts to help to be lacking, despite his explanations throughout the book.  Everyone who has experienced life around someone with mental illness knows the ups and downs, the failure of the medical profession, and the deep desire of everyone within the family that all will turn out okay.  With that in mind, I guess Peterson's story is plausible, yet I kept coming back to my question, "Where is the father?"  Because I felt that way, I never totally embraced the story.

As a lesson  in putting the past in God's hands, accepting that you are not responsible for other's actions, and seeking professional help when needed, this is a worthy addition to Christian fiction. It also clearly illustrates that children are deeply affected by the adult world around them and can be greatly harmend by attempts to protect them by simply ignoring the ugly events of life.  They must make sense of what they've seen and experienced.  When adults do not intervene with help, children will create their own secret versions of truth.  Guilt and blame ensure.  Powerful topic, but not my favorite read.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

I stumbled on Dave Ramsey and his "baby step" approach to financial security quite by accident.
I enjoy listening to Clark Howard, another radio financial guru, and when one Wisconsin radio station quit carrying Clark at the two o'clock slot when I tend to be sewing or working around the house, I decided to find another station that carried him. Now, I listen to Clark Howard on a nearby AM station and have found that I enjoy Dave Ramsey who follows almost as much.  Dave is a Christian who lost his first fortune, worked his way back, and now counsels people all over.

Dave Ramsey ideas in a nutshell:
Cut up your credit cards.  Make a budget and stick to it.  Cut out all unnecessary spending.

Save up an emergency fund of $1000 immediately.  This prevents you from borrowing the first time you have a repair bill or minor emergency.

Then begin paying off all debt, starting with the smallest, one debt at a time. This includes everything except your mortgage.  Paying off one debt at a time gives a sense of accomplishment.  Of course, you have to keep up minimum payments on all debts.

Dave advises having rummage sales, downsizing your cars, taking second jobs -- whatever it takes to get out of debt as soon as possible. 

Once you are out of debt, Dave has a plan for paying your mortgage, building a second emergency fund that would cover 3-6 months of expenses should "Murphy" move into your home. You know the Murphy rule don't you? Then he makes recommendations for retirement, college savings, and such.

After listening to his radio show for over a month, I decided to see if our library system had any of his books.  Low and behold, our own small library had a copy of his book Total Money Makeover. Basically this book goes through the steps he recommends in detail; the book follows what he teaches on the radio and at his seminars.  Now, we've never been big users of credit cards and luckily, we were never trapped by balances on them like some people.  My husband will tell you that I am frugal, but I know that we are all wasteful and unmotivated with our money at times.  Now that we are both retired, I feel again that we should monitor our spending more carefully.  For me that can be really difficult, especially when money is there!!  For me, it is easier not to spend when there is nothing to spend!! 

Any way back to the book.  The copy I got was a couple years old; there is a newer edition and I would recommend the newest version.  I don't know if he addresses the recent economic slump and housing crisis in that version, but perhaps he does.  My favorite part of the book was the inclusion of numerous real life stories of couples who worked their way out of debt (and I mean significant debt) in a matter of months.  As Ramsey recommends they lived like no others (lived below their means and didn't let others influence them into overspending) and now debt free they can live like no others (can live out their dreams at an early age).  I think the hardest part of this whole thing would probably be first, figuring out an accurate budget and second, not letting the keeping up with the Joneses mentality derail your plans.

From what I've learned, churches often sponsor Dave Ramsey classes.  If you know someone just starting out, you might want to guide them to his advice.  Know that his ideas are NOT like most financial experts.  He encourages people to pay for further education with cash, not loans.  He advocates delaying home ownership until you have a large down payment or even full cash payment. 
He believes in giving, tithing, in fact, no matter what your debts or wealth.  Check out his website, his radio show, or one of his books.  He is a refreshing voice in a mixed up world.

The Total Money Makeover

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another piece of my heart by Jane Green

Another Piece of My Heart   Confident, beautiful, and strongly independent Andi falls in love and marries much later than most.  When she meets Mr. Right through, he comes with a ready-made family and all the complications that can bring.  Andi is sure she is up for the challenge - she loves Ethan, she loves children, and she sees the two girls, Sophia and Emily, as a bonus.  She can BE a mother to them, while she waits for that special pregnancy she has always wanted.  Several years into the marriage,she is living a life starkly different from her dream.  Sophia loves her as a mother and really is the ideal child, never disappointing anyone.  Older sister Emily, however, runs the family with her daily hysteria and drama.  Hiding her inadequacies behind a "Goth" girl facade she manipulates her father with her shouts that Andi hates her and that she is ruining all their lives.  On a moment's notice, she can calm herself enough to forge again a small connection to Andi.  As the title says, Andi has begun to feel that daily another piece of her heart is shredded to bits, either by Ethan's allegiance to his daughter or by the teen's outbursts.  When it becomes apparent that Emily has turned to drugs, alcohol and is actually pregnant (without realizing it herself), Andi is not sure she can cope anymore. 

Then she wonders, could she and Ethan become parents to the little boy?  Could he be the child that they could never conceive?  Why is she so devastated when Ethan says no, that he has no desire at his older age to begin again with fatherhood?

This book has everything you would expect in a "step-family" drama.  Emily is as unlikeable as a teenager can possibly be.  I am not a fairy tale person, but I tend to dislike books that portray young females as self-destructive.  I know that authors tend to pull them back into some type of self-discovery and growth, just like real life, I can't stand the wasted potential.  In truth, I think this Emily, even as the book ends, still is lacking.  Ethan's first wife plays a distant role in this book.  Her alcoholic past and neglect of her children set up the dynamics that Andi embraces as she marries into the family.  Sophia is perfect partly because of her mother's neglect and the young girl's need not to disappoint dad, his new wife, or the unpredictable mom. Emily, we already know, reacts to the same hurts by creating her own weapons of hurt.  Although mother Brooke has a small role, she predictably does a turn around and becomes an admirable person.

I almost didn't blog this book.   At times the language is stronger than books that I select for this blog, and throughout most of the book, I really didn't like any of the characters except Andi's next door neighbors.  The last chapters changed my mind about sharing this title --- despite having her heart shredded and her emotional stability attacked again and again, Andi, like mothers everywhere, finds the strength to carry on, to love, and to forgive.  And Ethan finally becomes a true father and a true husband.  If contemporary fiction is your genre of choice, and if you haven't had your fill of step-family, bad children books, you may like Another Piece of My Heart.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey

Childless Mabel and Jack have left behind their Eastern US home and family, hopefully to start again as homesteaders in 1920's Alaska.   Emotionally stifled by the unspoken words of sympathy that surround them at every turn, Mabel is sure that they will thrive away from neighbors and family.  Instead they find hardship and an oppressive silence.  As the book opens, Mabel attempts to drown herself in the newly frozen river rather than face another winter, but fails at her attempt.  Instead she returns home, dries herself, and begins supper.  As it begins to snow later in the evening, in an unusual moment of frivolity, the couple builds a snowchild, a girl, complete with red scarf and mittens.  The next morning Jack finds the ruined remains of the snowgirl at the same time his eye catches a movement of blue and red behind the trees.  So begins a magical story which brings to life the old Russian tale of a childless couple who make a snowchild, only to discover she's come alive.  With their joy, comes the fear that winter will end and the child will go.

Mabel knows that old story and from the beginning she struggles with wanting to bring the young girl Faina into their world and knowing that the girl must be free.  Ivey captures the fairy tale meets real life perfectly as she describes Faina's delicate voice, swift movements, and her ability to mysteriously appear/disappear.  A darker edge is added by the descriptions of Faina's trapping of wild animals for survival.  Fantasy is not my favorite genre,  but Snow Child is not a genre book.
I was totally captivated by each character in the book.  Mabel and Jack have a marriage scarred by disappointment and silence, but still solid with tenderness and genuine affection.  Faina brings new life to that marriage, but also conflict and secrets.  The relationship Mabel and Jack develop with their nearest neighbors realistically portrays the homesteader lifestyle.  Energetic Esther is a humorous foil in the story; at the same time, she is the female model of strength that Mabel needs.

Is this a retelling of the Russian tale?   Perhaps, but it is so much more. Like the Alaskan wilderness it is as delicate and mysterious as a single snowflakc, as desolate and powerful as a days old blizzard, and as captivating as the returning summer.  Is the magic in Faina's mysterious life, in Alaska's wildness, or is it in the lasting love of Mabel and Jack?  Read for yourself.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Choosing to SEE by MaryBeth Chapman and Ellen Vaughn

Choosing to See: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
Choosing to See chronicles an event that every parent will say should NEVER happen, the death of a child.  When the parents and family are in the limelight and known for their professed faith, such a private grief can be almost too much to bear.  Steven Curtis Chapman has been at the top of the contemporary Christian music world since his early twenties, and with that success, his young wife was also on public display.  For MaryBeth, who struggled with depression and the responsibility of a growing young family as Steven was on the road, everyday life often challenged her faith.  She points out that her plan for her life and GOD'S PLAN for HER life have always differed.  Slowly she learned to accept HIS plan and adapt.  With that came opportunities and purpose, especially an interest in making adoption an easier process.  Her work led to a foundation that helped Christian families with the expenses of adopting and support in navigating the process.  The Chapman family themselves adopted three Chinese girls over several years in the early 2000s, pushed by then 14 year old daughter Emily.
When little Maria was added to the family, both MaryBeth and Steven felt their family of 8 was complete. 

Then when Maria was five, a tragic accident took the little "goober's life"  (MaryBeth's name for her) and left the family shattered.  Guilt attacked family members.  Will, their 17 year old son, hit the girl in the family's driveway. How could he have missed seeing his best buddy? One of the little sisters witnessed the accident and felt she should have stopped Maria from running from the jungle gym to the driveway.  Steven and MaryBeth had been busy planning details of Emily's upcoming wedding and allowed the little girls to play on their own in the backyard.  As I read the book, I could feel the despair and guilt as an actual physical, dark Satan-like being threatening to smother the life out of this family.
Steven turned to his music and wrote lyrics reminiscent of David's psalms, crying out to God. 
Will's brother and friends never left his side.  MaryBeth shares through the book and journal entries her struggle to function in the months that followed.  She is torn by such different and opposite feelings.  She misses the little girl so much and feels her absence in every daily chore and activity, yet she must carry on and be a parent that sees that the other children get the counseling and support they need.  Her faith tells her that the little girl is in a better place, but that belief is not enough, and those feelings bring their own guilt.  MaryBeth lives day by day, hour by hour, and with the support of family and friends, chooses to SEE that God has not abandoned them, that they will see Maria again, that Will grow into the man God wants, and that they can honor the little girl with how they tell her story.

I read part of this book while in the car on Saturday.  As tears ran down my face and I finally had to reach for a tissue, my husband looked over and asked if my allergies were bothering me.  I had already told him about this book, so I just said, "No, it's this book" and he understood.    Parents and grandparents, you will be called to stop and think about the sacred beauty in the ordinary moments of your little ones.  Notice and cherish them.  For all of you who grieve or who have grieved (that's all of us if we include the future, too), the story teaches another lesson.  It is possible to have faith, but still feel doubt, know the truth, but still feel abandoned and alone.  We are not protected from such feelings.  To whom we turn is the answer to our pain. This is powerful, emotional reading.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter Greetings

This has NOT been a week for reading.  The grandchildren who live near us have been on Spring Break.  On Monday we took the two sisters to Green Bay, met our married daughter and her little girl, and went to the NEW Zoo.  The girls had a great time, and of course, we did, too.  Tuesday I worked all day on the cloth baskets that the Easter Bunny requested and got them finished.  A simple way to use up scraps and the kids will like them.  I started reading Choosing to See by MaryBeth Chapman (Curtis) on my Nook and it is an emotional read.  I wish I could finish it before Easter but have too much going on.
Wednesday, I had bridge.  I am a newbie to this game.  A "learners' group" has formed in our little village, and somehow I got roped into learning.  We meet at the library every other week.  While I enjoy the company of the ladies, I am not so sure about the card game.  I doubt that I ever will be a strategic player, but at this stage of life, new pursuits sharpen the brain.  While at the library, I picked up two books that I had placed requests for through interlibrary loan.  I read need to get READING!

Yesterday two granddaughters  (sisters) spent the day with us, and I NEVER sat down all except for a brief lunch. We had a painting project with Grandpa Russ, then we dyed Easter eggs.  S found a recipe for volcano eggs on the web - it is a concoction of baking soda, food coloring, and a few teaspoons of water that you can paint onto the egg.  It allows you to mix colors and make designs.  The paint sort of blisters up like a volcano.  If you want a smooth egg, you just wipe the whole egg after it dries.  The color stays but the soda goes away.  Our efforts are purple and yellow masterpieces, but I certainly plan to wash the eggs before we eat them.  Then S, age 10, and I spent the afternoon making fabric flowers.  I have been experimenting with several styles over the past weeks, and she had seen them and wanted to make some also.  By the end of the afternoon she had a whole bouquet to take home.  B, age 6, spent the afternoon playing store, and at 3:00 I went and got their cousin, E, age 4 so the two little girls could play together.  They had a great time playing store and such.  Of course, they got interested in the flowers, so we helped them each make one.  After they left, it was a quick supper, then church. Our pastor has made all the Lenten messages so special and emotional. 

 I spent the late evening cleaning the family room and sewing area, so we can have Easter get-together. By the time I made it to bed, I ached so much that I couldn't get comfortable. I've spent the morning so far cleaning and planning Sunday's menu.  I am off to get groceries and then do laundry when I get home.  Tomorrow is crammed with commitments, and I am not really sure how I will get everything done.  Sunday will be a glorious day.  Sunrise service is my favorite, then church breakfast, and family time.

This has been my "Me" time for the day.  Must go.   Love and blessings to all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Save Me by Lisa Scottoline

Fellow author calls Lisa Scottoline's Save Me, "An intense, breathless ride.  You won't be ab;e to put this one down," and her comments are right on!  As a former teacher/school librarian (now an occasional volunteer) I was hooked from the first page.  Rose is on her first day as volunteer lunch monitor at her third grade daughter's new school when she witnesses her daughter being the victim of another incident of bullying.  After young Melly has fled to the safety and isolation of the bathroom, Rose approaches the table of "mean girls" planning of setting them straight about how their nasty mimicking of Melly's large facial birthmark hurts the little girl.  Soon Rose herself is reprimanded by another volunteer and is told that no one, except an administrator or teacher, could discipline or reprimand a student.  Determined to have just one more word with the girls, Rose does not dismiss them for noon recess, a decision which will have disastrous results.  Within seconds, an explosion racks the cafeteria and Rose is hurled to the floor.  Fighting dense smoke, the mother must make a decision that tears at the heart.  Does she get the girls at the table to safety before helping her daughter?  Will the moments needed to do that make it impossible for her to get to her daughter who is down the hall hiding out in the bathroom?  How would her husband ever forgive her if she does not save her own daughter?  A decision is made and Rose acts.

When she finally makes her way into the school yard with her smoke-affected daughter in her arms, the young mother is hailed as a hero.  Hours later, the media and the town will portray her as a heartless person who chose her own child and left another child helpless.

Rose's lawyer husband sees that Rose gets sound legal counsel, and as a reader, I was prepared for a legal novel that would explore the legal implications of volunteer responsibility and perhaps the damage done by bullying.  I was psyched for such.  Instead Scottoline weaves a mystery about the origins of the explosion, a quest for answers that Rose cannot ignore.  Although I reacted just as Picoult said (I couldn't put the book down), I was a little disappointed in the path the mystery took. 
Despite not really liking the solution to the mystery, I was constantly imagining this book as a movie.
Fifteen years ago, I would have selected Jodi Foster to play Rose; today, I don't have a particular actress in mind, but it would need to be someone who would appear very feminine, emotional, and vulnerable, but once on the quest for truth, would become the "action-hero" that every mother is capable of being

Scottoline's portrayal of a gifted third grader who has suffered from bullying for her physical differences is spot-on.  Her significant relationships are with adults and her baby brother, and she finds safety in her obsession with Harry Potter books and her online Potter friends.  Mixed in with her intelligence and advanced abilities is an immaturity that results from being ostracized and emotionally wounded by her peers.  Any elementary teacher (or in my case, librarian) can close her/his eyes and bring a particular "Melly" to mind.  Hopefully, we can count ourselves as one of the adults who provided a safety net for the struggling child.

My other encounters with Scottoline as an author have been her lawyer books. Scottoline, in her acknowledgement section, says she has turned to the "most emotional of all relationships, mother and child," for her most recent books.  I will be checking for more titles!

For those of you interested in an introduction to Scottoline's writing, check out the column on her website and you can also see chapters from her books.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cooking the Books by Bonnie S. Calhoun

Sloane Templeton is not comfortable in her new role as a New York City antique bookstore owner.  And she is sure that the IT skills honed in her previous career in the Cyber Crimes Unit are quickly becoming outdated, but she can’t just walk away from the store that her recently deceased mother worked so hard to make successful.  Cooking the Books by Bonnie S. Calhoun is billed as book one in the new Sloane Templeton series.   Since successful mystery series are built on a relationship between reader and sleuth, it was necessary to supply sufficient background knowledge to hook the reader and to lay a “past” for Sloane which will accompany her into future books.

Readers will find in Sloane, a devoted daughter who feels an obligation to keep her mother’s dream alive, and a smart woman who is knowledgeable about technology, but not so interested in books.  She also has the unfortunate and dangerous habit of being charmed into relationships with losers and even abusive men.   The mystery of the premier novel revolves around two books, one, a cookbook with a hidden secret, and the other, an ancient title, possibly worth millions.  Add in two dangerous boyfriends, a neighborhood book club who pack guns, a strange woman who appears homeless, and a couple wannabe gang members, and Sloane and the reader will face plenty of dangerous action.  But like most popular mysteries, Cooking the Books offers moments of comic relief.  Most often such moments come from Templeton’s aunt who sees herself as the next Food Network Star, but instead keeps the fire department busy.  Most of the faith elements woven through the book come from references to her mother’s faith.  In future books, I would hope to see Templeton’s own faith affect her actions and interactions with others.  And let’s pray that she loses the bad boy attraction!

Most books that I have read with “bookstore” settings have been in quaint little towns, complete with small town charm and viewpoints.  This book offers the big city and a black heroine struggling again big city thugs. That was a definite change in setting and viewpoint for this reader, but an interesting change.  I felt the ending left some important ends “untied” despite my knowledge that there will be a second book which obviously will take up where this story ends.  Bonnie S. Calhoun has the basic elements for a mystery series in place.  If she provides readers with challenging mysteries and believable villains, she and Sloane Templeton will be successful.
I received a prepublication copy of this title for review purposes.  The opinions in this blog are my own.