Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding time to read

Despite the heat and less outdoor activity, finding reading time is still a challenge. Our trips up north do give me extra reading time, but there I am out of the loop for blogging. Always several of the books I have read recently cannot be written about until later in summer or fall. Some of that explains my sporadic postings. This past Sunday we had no plans for the afternoon, so I was sure I would spend it with one of the new titles I had checked out. Then husband suggested we go out for breakfast after church. While there, I decided to buy a Sunday paper for later reading. We used to get a Sunday paper each week and then spend the whole afternoon devouring it, especially in the winter. I would look at every section, even the real estate ads, hoping to find a gem property up north. Of course, the comics were for the kids, although even then I don’t think they compared to the comics of our own youth. In recent years the Sunday paper routine has been less frequent for many reasons = cost of the paper has gone up and the quality down, we usually visit my dad on Sundays, blogs and other stuff on the computer are more interesting, and we already have that gem up north property. But for some reason, the paper beckoned on Sunday and I purchased the Wisconsin State Journal (we used to buy the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). Once home, I grabbed the paper, a book, and a cup of coffee and headed for the deck. I love to read on the deck when there is a breeze and it isn’t hot. Needless to say, I have not had much “deck time” this season. The afternoon slipped by at a pleasant pace as I found something interesting in every section of the paper. I got better informed about state politics, found some travel ideas, and read an interesting article about the Amish produce auctions in Wisconsin. Although this article highlighted the auction in Fennimore, we actually have a local one about three miles from our house. We took relatives to see it when they came from Delaware, so I clipped the article and sent it on to them. I also read a column about a new community cookbook, this from a hospice group. Friends and family know my passion for cookbooks, and yes, I did order a copy yesterday. But I have been quite good for months and months, and this is for a good cause. Can’t wait until it comes. I am sure that thousands of Wisconsinites had more exciting Sundays than mine, but I would rank mine as most enjoyable. The pace was leisurely, the breeze refreshing, and I felt renewed (okay, I admit there was a nasty fly that subtracted from the perfectness). Quickly the afternoon passed, and as evening approached, I realized I had not watched any Olympics and I had not started my new book. Still, I felt great. If you’ve lost the newspaper habit, I recommend you rediscover it once and awhile.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Touch by Randall Wallace, 2012 Christy Award Finalist

Beginning at the Sistine Chapel and ending at a simple Appalachian church, The Touch by Randall Wallace explores the profound moments in one’s life when we realize that God’s touch is within our grasp, and perhaps, perhaps is actually within our own fingers. Andrew Jones is a talent doctor whose surgical hands astonished others even while still in medical school, but a single accident and the resulting grief makes him withdraw into a life in which he proclaims he will never touch another human with a surgical instrument. Lara Blair, a medical researcher and sole owner of a giant biotechnological company is on the verge of a new brain surgery technique, but cannot find the hands skilled enough to use the technology. Despite her youth, Blair is burdened by despair and failure. Then, her staff presents her with a microscopic sculpture crafted by a mysterious doctor from the hills of Virginia. Will Lara’s jet and pristine lab convince Andrew to join her quest to perfect the micro-surgical technique? Is it possible that within the touch is the story of God’s deep love for each of us, and of our ability to affect the lives of others. Randall Wallace is probably best known for his successful screenplay Braveheart, followed by Pearl Harbor, and We were Soldiers. Most recently he directed Secretariat. An interview with the author at the end of the book explores how a Christian writer infuses his faith into all his work, and why this successful movie maker has turned to fiction for his most recent project. An integral element to this book is the power of anonymous giving. You will witness the difference between a generous, but anonymous and personal gift given by Lara with her frequent, highly publicized foundation gifts. If you’ve never experienced the wonder behind secret giving, this story may peak your interest. Overall, I would say that The Touch is a successful addition to the increasing body of fiction that tells a simple story with the real purpose being the revelation of a significant life-affirming truth. Whether it is Dinner with a Stranger, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, The Christmas Jar or the upcoming novel The River, these tales give us food for thought. Read these sentiments from Wallace himself and you’ll understand the strength of this style of fiction: Above all, I think the central theme of all my stories is that hope matters, that courage works, that love prevails. All my life, I have been intrigued by the mechanism and the moment of transformation: What happens when what we call a miracle occurs? What happens when someone does something that no one else has ever done or that they themself have never done? What happens when someone stops doubting and starts believing ( p. 286-287, The Touch)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Solomon's Oak by Jo-Ann Mapson

Contemporary Fiction
Bloomsbury Publishers A rare two hundred year old oak tree and the California homestead where it is located are the setting for Jo-Ann Mapson’s contemporary tale Solomon’s Oak. The mighty oak tree elicits images of shelter, deep roots, and permanence. In fact, many travel miles just to photograph this icon of strength. But over the months of 2003, homestead owner and dog rescuer Glory Solomon struggles to find enough strength to face each day without her husband of twenty years. Only thirty eight years old, she never expected to be a widow, even if she had married an older, more mature man. It had been Dan who had provided the stability and faith that was needed to be foster parents to several troubled young men, and then also turn their ranch into a rescue center for dogs and horses. In a desperate attempt to keep the ranch, Glory decides to offer the chapel Dan had built near the oak to people wanting a unique setting for weddings and events. It is at the first wedding event, a pirate affair, that the lives of three lost souls will collide – Glory herself; Juniper, a troubled fourteen year old thrust on Glory in an emergency foster placement; and Joseph Vigil, a disabled police officer trying to find an equilibrium after the meth lab shot that destroyed his career and killed his friend. What began as a twenty four hour foster placement becomes permanent, and Glory and Juniper begin an erratic journey to healing. The animals themselves provide moments of solace and growth for both, but every day has outbursts of anger, waves of silence, and moments of private tears. Meanwhile, Joseph lives from painkiller to painkiller, trying to numb not only his incessant back pain, but also his memories of his deceased friend. His personal quest to capture the true majesty of the Solomon Oak with his camera places him in proximity to the two women and the rescue dogs. Soon the hope of healing one becomes the path to healing of all. Solomon’s Oak is not a light “new chances/life goes on” tale, but is instead a gritty, tough read. Both Glory and Juniper are poised to keep family, the world, and any mention of faith at bay¸ and there are no quick, heaven opening conversions. Minor characters and Joseph’s heritage provide a rich background of tradition and belief. New chances and new lives begin with small steps of personal courage and a willingness to care about others. One of my favorite passages is the first time Joseph cooks a meal for Glory and Juniper and suddenly realizes the importance of food in new relationships. When you are unsure of the others at the table, food itself will give you a starting point in establishing a common history. For Joseph, he found comfort in his Mexican/Indian family recipes and felt they gave him an avenue for connecting with Glory and Juniper. Interesting observation!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson; audio version

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson is an intricately woven blend of stories, all focused on Chicago, 1893. At the heart of this superbly researched and densely factual book is the brilliant efforts of the talented men behind the Chicago World’s Fair or Columbian Exhibition. Men like architect Daniel H. Burnham, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, and inventor George Ferris toiled endlessly within a tight timeframe and with seemingly insurmountable obstacles to show the world once and for all that Chicago was more than a smelly stockyard. The brilliance of each man is evident, and you will be freshly amazed at their success in creating the “White City” just as fair goers were in 1893. I found myself checking the internet several times for specific photos so that my mental pictures were accurate, plus I kept comparing their visions to our technology revolution. We think we are the great innovators, but we need to think again. I have always wondered why our history classes focus so much on war and skip over time periods which so clearly changed all of us live and work. Larson’s style of nonfiction writing, giving the reader every possible bit of minutiae, and letting the whole picture build from that, reminds me of Sebastin Junger’s style in The Perfect Storm and Fire. Some people may be bored by so much detail, but I find it fascinating and prefer this nonfiction style in which the writer stacks fact after fact, with just enough “expert commentary” to keep the reader on track. Given all that, I have to confess, as I did in my previous post, I struggled with the actual reading of this book. I totally feel the fault lay with me and my circumstances. I was tired and had many things on my mind. As soon as I switched to the audio version of the book, I felt the book come alive. The narrator did an incredible of job of creating a voice that unified the whole story. I became totally immersed in the struggle to get the fair opened on time. I loved the asides about Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Cody, the African natives who arrived one year too early for the midway, and the royal princess who visited the fair. Both author and narrator succeeded at blending this triumphant story of late 19th century inventiveness and glory with the parallel, but darker stories of Chicago’s other side. There are really two dark stories – one, the progressive insanity of Patrick Pendergast, a disgruntled citizen who eventually assassinates the mayor, and the other, the twisted, unfathomable tale of doctor turned serial killer, H. H. Holmes. As Larson makes clear, at the time a new field of study called psychology did not even have adequate terms to describe this killer. Today we still struggle to find apt terms to describe his psychopathic and amoral behavior. How could a man, who when he looked into a mirror years later in prison, actually believed that his physical features were changing to resemble the devil, be so charming that dozens of people overlooked his odd and even criminal behavior for years? As the book unfolded, I kept updating my husband on the story. I wanted him to have the basics because I anticipated listening to the last two parts of the book in the car while we traveled. His comment throughout, “They should make a movie of this.” They should, but perhaps it would take a mini-series instead; otherwise, much would be deleted simply to meet time constraints. And the idea of a movie raises a good question for discussion. How do you think audiences would react to this juxtaposition of amazing accomplishment and ingenuity for good next to another story of creativity and innovation, but all laced in evil. I could handle it in book/audio format, but I am not sure if I would process it visually. If you’ve read the book and have a viewpoint, leave a comment. I will update later in the week about our book club discussion.

Monday, July 16, 2012

One year anniversary of Thoughts from Mill Street

The one year anniversary of this blog slipped by without any time for reflection.  When I started Thoughts from Mill Street last July 4th, I didn't know what to expect.  I wasn't sure that I would have any "followers," and although there are only a few registered followers, I am surprised at the daily traffic the site receives.  Thanks to those people who do read the blog on a regular basis.  I love being able to share my thoughts about what I read.  Lately, I have been focusing on Christian fiction pre-publications, but I will always continue reading many genres and will continue to post across many reading interests.

Right now I actually have no recent readings to post about.  We had out of state family visit last week which culminated yesterday is a family picnic of my husband's siblings and their families. Not much time to read, except Friday night.  In the excitement and planning responsibilities, I got one of those nights when I could not sleep at all, so I got up and read a downloaded pre-pub on my nook.  Finished it quickly and really want to blog about it, but its publication date is not until August 12, so I need to wait.  I will probably write the post later tonight while characters on fresh on my mind and then save it for early August publication. 

We are supposed to have near 100 temperatures again today, and since I need a little post-family reunion recuperation time, I had planned to read most of the day.  Our next book club title is Devil in the White City, a nonfiction book about the Chicago 1893 World's Fair and a mass murderer.  This book is dense with facts and minutiae; after a recent diet of light fiction (and lack of sleep), I am struggling at times.  I am not sure I will be able to read as quickly as I usually do; therefore, unless I pull up a past title to blog about, I may be silent for a few days.  

I think all posts need a visual - a little eye candy.  The first photo shows some nine patches I whipped together out of scraps while at our cabin in June.  I then used them in some "disappearing nine patch designs" for a table topper and two place mats.  I love the summer purples.  If you look closely you can see some squares that are purple blueberries.  I got that fabric at a rummage sale in Minocqua.  Look finding those little gems to add to my stash.  The second photo I took in Oshkosh at the Paine
Art Center last week when we went to see an Ansel Adams exhibit.  The Paine also has beautiful gardens and I was attracted to these green zinnias.  The photo doesn't show just how lime green they were.  Stay cool everyone.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Submerged by Dani Pettrey

A prologue opens the novel  Submerged and thrusts readers right into a mystery - who sabotaged the plane ending in crash that causes several deaths and why?  Frequent Christian fiction readers will find a style similar to Dee Henderson.  Book one in the Alaskan Courage series features Bailey who returns to the Alaskan village of her teen years to attend her aunt's funeral, fearful that residents will remember her as a wild, reckless girl and will not be able to see the stable, grounded woman she has become.  Her plan is to take care of family business and quickly leave town.  When a stolen old Russian diary, two more dead bodies, and rumors of an island village that sank years ago in an earthquake seem to be all connected, Bailey's expertise in Russian history is needed.  Resuce diver Cole and his family are also thrust into solving the mystery.  Despite the danger, Cole is thankful for each day Bailey must spend in Alaska.  How can he convince her that he's long ago forgiven her for the mistakes she made ten years ago?  And if she decides to leave, how will his heart mend a second time?

This romantic mystery illustrates that when given new chances and new lives, we too often continue to punish ourselves and refuse to truly accept that the past is over.  For Bailey, returning to Yancey means facing once again a past she thought she had left behind.  Author Pettrey excels in creating exciting beginnings. Both the prologue and the first chapters demanded that I continue reading.  At times I felt  Bailey fears about her past were a little heavy handed, but then Pettrey included a very realistic scene in which some of the girl's "past so-called partying friends" treated her as they had ten years earlier, making her fears seem plausible. 
The violence and crime is not "whitewashed' as it sometimes is in "quiet mysteries," but it is not raw and horrific like many contemporary thrillers.  Balanced with the romance and the story's positive lesson about second chances through the Lord, Submerged is a title I could recommend for readers age 13 and up.  Older readers like myself, who have read hundreds upon hundreds of books, the style and story will not stand out as unique, but it is still an enjoyable read. Like Dee Henderson's mystery series, this book provides plenty of opportunity for further books set in Yancey, Alaska and featuring more members of the extended McKenna.  Check out Dani Pettrey's website to read about her, listen to an interview about Submerged, her first book, and get a preview of her next book Shattered.

I received this title from Bethany House for review purposes.  I am not required to write a positive review and all opinions are my own.

Submerged by Author Dani Pettrey  Isn't this a great cover?  I had this book lying on my counter on a night when I had out of town and dinner guests.  Several people noticed it and wanted to know who was reading this book. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fourth Fisherman by Joe Kissack

Subtitled How Three Mexican Fisherman Who Came Back from the Dead, Changed My Life and Saved My Marriage, the book The Fourth Fisherman intrigued me from the moment I first saw the book.  How could three Mexican fisherman and one former television executive be connected?
As you read alternating chapters of two seemingly different tales, you will be surprised how they become connected and to whom Joe Kissack gives the credit for the survival of all.

 In October 2005 Salvador, Jesus, and Lucio all sign on as day laborers (fisherman) aboard a 27 foot fiberglass skiff or panga.  The captain and the other passager appear to be inexperienced, but the three Mexican fishermen are not.  Equipped with supplies for three or four days, all is well within the group until a storm sets in and the "captain" (owner) refuses to seek shelter on an island.  The expensive fishing net is lost and the group spends the next days circling, trying to find it until all their gasoline is used up.  Winds and waves toss the vessel further into the Pacific Ocean and beyond hopes of easy rescue.  Nine months later, Salvador, Jesus, and Lucio are rescued off the Marshall Islands, the other two having perished months earlier.  As news spreads across the country of their survival, the three men tell a powerful story of sustaining prayer, Bible reading, and a diet of sea turtles, turtle blood, and raw fish.  Although reporters from around the world and their own Mexico would like to tell their story, most are intent on uncovering a secret, darker version of the events, even if they have to fabricate it.

The alternating chapters are Joe Kissack's own story, a seemingly perfect American success story - a beautiful wife and two kids, luxary cars, two houses, and a career in the Hollywood entertainment industry.  Every Kissack touched turned to gold, or so it seemed.  Beneath the good looks and beyond the smooth voice was a man who was disappearing within his own false creation. 
Anti-anxiety and depression pills fueled his diet, washed down by every increasing amounts of alcohol until one day he could no longer function.  Amidst the fast downward spiral his career and personal life took, Kissack made the commitment to enter a treatment program.  Family and friends desperately prayed that God would change him. The night before entering he awoke, not with the fear-filled night sweats that dominated previous nights, but with a great sense of peace and presence. 
He finally knew and recognized the presence of God - his burden was his own creation and he could give it up.

Kissack's story from that moment on is a hopeful one, although it is not a smooth tale.  Read the book to see how he connects the events and "coincidences" that bring him to pursue the truth about the three fishermen.  You read a tale of three fishermen, lost to the world, but securely found and watched over by the Lord told by a man who now considers himself a fourth fisherman because he was to all the world found and secure, but was actually the most lost.

I zoomed through the first 150 pages of this book, captivated by both stories and also wondering how they would connect.  I cheered the successful rescue of all four men and I understand the real life connection among them, but I just felt the last 50 pages lacked continued connection to the fishermen.  Although we are brought up to date on the lives of Jesus, Lucio, and Salvador, I would have liked personal interviews.  Joe Kissack's website will connect you to photos of his trip to Mexico to meet the rescued men and also to Joe's blog.  On the website, you can read the first chapters of the book.  I received a copy of this book from WaterBrook Press  and BloggingforBooks for review purposes.  Opinions are my own.The Fourth Fisherman: How Three Mexican Fishermen Who Came Back from the Dead Changed My Life and Saved My Marriage

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Place of Belonging by Jayne Pearson Faulkner

Finding a sense of belonging and safety is the "stuff" underlying the plots of countless novels some packed with never ending action and others focused on the emotional turmoil of self-discovery.
The Place of Belonging by Jayne Pearson Faulkner fits neither category but is instead a quiet fiction memoir retracing  a young girl's childhood in 1940's Big Sky Montana.  As the book blurb points out, it is a place many of us will recognize, a step back in time.  But this book is not all sweet remembrance.  Faulkner softly creates an image of a young girl, deeply loved by her grandmother and mother, but always set aside by the community and even their church as being different, all because she did not have a father.  When her mother does marry, Janie is already seven, past by the cuddly and cute stage that could capture a step-father's heart.  As baby after baby arrived to her mother and stepfather, Janie becomes part of a growing family that needs her help. but still sets her aside. Even the living arrangements set Janie apart from her family. During the week she continues to live with her steadfast grandmother in the city, traveling each weekend by bus to the Big Sky farm to see her family. 

A photo at the end of the book will show this separation, felt by the young girl, but never spoken alou -- a jumble of toddlers with blonde hair and blue eyes like their father, and older, dark-haired, dimpled Janie, a contrast of difference.  This photo begs the question of how much of this story is fiction (called a fiction memoir) and how much is fact. I actually forgot the book had been classified as fiction.  The young girl's narrator voice has the right mixture of age appropriate innocence, first heartbreaks and developing insight. 

I did not grow up in the 1940's, or even in Montana, but I recognized the hard working families - the joys of new puppies and kittens, the harsh realities of farming, and the simple rewards of hard work.  In this  modern time of split families and abandoned responsibilities, many readers will be attracted to grandma who seemingly tirelessly keeps the family on solid footing with her cooking, cleaning, and loving.

This is not a dark tale of abuse or neglect, but rather a realistic tale illustrating that our place in the world, or even within our family, is not a guaranteed secure place, revealed at our birth.  Janie's spot  was complicated by the sometimes cruel mores of tradition and the "no-emotions" barriers of her new Swedish family, but when she finally comes to spot of belonging, you will rejoice at her arrival.  Jayne Pearson Faulkner has been a missionary, and I would love to hear of her adventures as such.  She is a delightful story teller who deftly handles mixing the profound occurances of life with the ordinary.

I received a copy of this title from Bring It On Communications for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.  Check out this promotional you tube video for the book.  Want a short book to fill an evening or to take along as you travel.  Get a copy or e-copy of Place of Belonging and enjoy it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Not in the heart by Chris Fabry

Not in the Heart  Truman Wiley used to be at the top of his world - a loving family, accolades and recognition for his gritty news reporting, but the gambling that began as a needed release from job pressures and worry over his son's weakening heart grew into a life-destroying addiction.  Now jobless and seriously in debt to a mobster, Tru must face that he has abandoned his family and his only son may soon die.  Despite being at the bottom, he still cannot accept the whole life commitment his wife has made to God.  When she contacts him saying a deathrow inmate, set to die in just a few days, wants Truman to write his story and then he will donate his heart so that Aiden can live, Truman still cannot see the Lord's hand in the process.  Reluctantly, he accepts the task of meeting Terrelle in prison, and as the story unfolds, Truman begins to doubt the man's guilt  As the days slip away, he realizes that helping Terrelle may mean death for his own son.

Every book I've read by Chris Fabry has a solid story with tough dilemnas and this one tops the list.  Truman is given a sliver of an opening to reclaim his life, an opening that he keeps throwing away by trips to the casino and other bad choices, but he keeps being pulled back into the project of telling Terrelle's story, a story that will take you from the broken down trailer of a hopeless drunk to the governor's mansion to Aiden's faintly lit ICU room to the cold hallways of the prison.  In many thrillers, I am quite sure of the ending before the ending (isn't that the purpose of a whodunit?), but I did not know for sure what would happen in this book until it actually happened.  Does that make it good writing or an implausible scenario?  Fans of the book will definitely say it is Fabry's mastery at work. 

Saying anymore would take away the impact of reading this story of mistakes, regrets, mended hearts, second chances and justice.  Get the book and read for yourself.  It is a better tale than yet another  rerun of Law and Order.