Monday, December 31, 2012

Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn

Dr. Elena Burroughs is a world reknowned authority in dreams, but when a new client comes seeking interpretation of a recurring nightmare, Elena finds herself examining her self-imposed emotional confinement.  Since her own husband died several years earlier, the doctor has lived a carefully guarded existance.  By helping her new patient, could she possibly be helping herself?

  An elderly friend of Elena bestows upon her a set of books depiciting the Lord's Prayer in carving and illuminated text.  While Mirian has been keeper of the texts for over 70 years, she has never felt any strong messages from God as a direct result.  No so, for Elena.  Immediately, she begins to feel divine "direction" including messages about how to proceed with her new patient, wife of an important diplomat and former banker.    Elena and key players travel from Oxford, to Rome (even the Vatican), to the banking centers of the United States, London, and Belgium. At times I found this books utterly confusing, then exciting, then confusing and underdeveloped, and then exciting again.  The compelling messages were never totally explained to readers, obviously to create suspense, but I feel that added to my confusion.  I tried to visualize the book in Indiana Jones movie-style because the settings were obviously important, but things still fell flat for me. Since I see our relationships with God as personal more than group-driven, I confess I usually have problems with these types of stories and don't often buy into the "mystical" object stories.  So, maybe, all the fault lies with me.   I know that Davis Bunn is an accomplished writer, (I loved Prayers of a Stranger) and in fact, the ending of this book is so intriguing that I just might have to read the second book in the series, Hidden in Dreams.

2012 has almost come to an end.  Just a few more hours left, which is why I posted twice today.  For the past eight or nine years, I have kept a written list of the books I read within a year, mainly so I would quit reading books twice because I forgot that I had read them!  When I was working, the lists would be around 85-90 books.  Since I always forgot to write down some titles, I always figured I read just under 100 books a year.  I assumed I would be able to almost double that amount after I quit working.  NOT SO!!  My list this year ends at 125, a very respectable number I think, considering the amount of time it takes to blog about a book after reading it.  And yes, I do read books that I never blog about.  Add in the time needed to keep up a house and garden, entertain grandkids, pursue quilting adventures and try to be physically active, and I think I have done quite well.  Many titles are quick reads, but I do frequently tackle more ambitious reads.  I hope that someone benefits from this blog and my observations.  I know that I find creative ideas and welcome recommendations from the many blogs I hop onto.  Let the fun continue in 2013  God Bless!!

Welcome Back to Pie Town by Lynne Hinton

Obviously Welcome Back to Pie Town is the sequel to Lynne Hinton's contemporary story Pie Town. Our story picks up months later as Father George and the townspeople have rebuilt the church which has become a welcoming place for all the townspeople, Protestant, Catholic, and doubters, alike. 
So it is not a surprise when Father George awakes one day to find someone sleeping in the church.  He is, however, shocked to see that it is Trina, the young woman whom he gave a ride to on his first day in Pie Town.  Now she is sleeping on the santuary floor, with her young daugher beside her, and she obviously is hurt and needs medical attention.  When Trina explains what happened and begs Father George not to call the authorities, he has little time to ponder his decision.

Meanwhile, Raymond Twinhorse awakens to shame and confusion, only vaguely remembering a night of drinking and violence.  A returning vet, only months earlier he had been hailed by the town as their hero, but his days and nights are haunted by sounds and actions he wishes he could forget.  Unable to face anyone, Raymond takes off into the desert on his own.  When a local bartender discovers a break-in, he points the finger at Raymond, and Sheriff Roger is drawn into a hunt for the young man by Federal authorities who are sure that the break-in is tied to drug activity in the area.

Behind the action of this story is the bigger story of PTSD and how it devastates the victims, their families, and even their communities.  While authorities see a potentional criminal, key community members decide to place their faith in the pre-war Raymond and fight to get the young man help.

I actually liked this book better than Pie Town, the original.  I knew most of the characters and reading about their lives was like connecting with old friends.  It also felt like the first book was a coloring book outline, and this book is the same basic picture, colored in and with artistic details added.  Author Hinton, through her characters, critically examines the cost of  our recent "war actions" in human lives.  Listen to the words of Francine, one of those villagers who decides to support Raymond, " We don't want to think that as the most advanced nation in the world we send healthy, bright, functional teenagers over there and they come back broken, changed, lost.  We want to think our national pride, our flag-flying patriotism is enough to keep our children from breaking under the stresses of battle." (141)

While I could give Pie Town a weak recommendation, mainly because I have liked Hinton's earlier titles, I can and DO give Welcome Back to Pie Town a much stronger thumbs up!  And check out Lynne's website to see a complete listing of her books  I just saw a couple that I've never read and two sound very compelling, not like any of her other stories!! I just love that!  More to read.

PS.  Welcome Back to Pie Town ends with some very tasty recipes from the diner of Pie Town.  And, unlike in the first book, our diner serves great pie!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thicker than Blood by C. J. Darlington

C. J. Darlington hopefully has a long lived and successful career in front of her. 
Winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest, she has already shown talent and attracted the attention of publisher. For her first novel  Thicker than
Darlington drew from her expertise as an antiquarian bookseller.  Christy Williams has begun to excel at her job as a seller of old books.  Her boss even trusts her enough to train her as a buyer for pricey auctions and estate sales.  When Christy is unfairly accused of a dishonest scam and stealing a rare first edition, she loses her job.

With nowhere else to go, Christy returns to her hometown, a place she fled when still a teenager, abandoning a much younger sister.  Now grown, sister May has her own problems. Likely to loose her ranch to the bank, she also nurses an emotional void caused by her sister's unexplained disappearance years ago.  Although May willingly opens her ranch to the prodigal sister, it appears that reconciliation will go no further than the two civilly sharing the same residence for a few days.

I really wanted to like this book more than I actually did.  The world of book collectors drew me in, and I learned more about first editions, but the enjoyment ended there.  Most of the story unfolded like a movie made for the LIFETIME network. Action revolves around  Christy's guilt over hidden past and her sweet boyfriend who is turns out to be manipulative and abusive.  Another reviewer mentioned that the book seemed to end too quickly and left some relationships unsettled.  I would agree with that observation, but also feel that if those "loose ends" had been tied up (romantically), it would have been too convenient. 

This was a quick read for me and I finished it feeling that it was as entertaining as watching a
predictable "okay" movie.  If I had invested more time than a couple hours of reading, I would have been disappointed, but since I hadn't, all was okay.  I do wish Darlington success with future projects and hope she grows as a writer.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Travels of Increase Joseph by Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps subtitled his novel about late 1800s Wisconsin, A Historical Novel about a pionerr preacher because the book is centered around the fictional preacher Increase Joseph and his Standalone congregation.   The group traveled as a whole from New York prior to the Civil War with Increase as their leader.  It wasn't religious persecution that pushed them west, but depleted crop land and the allure of fresh, untilled soil.  They find fresh soil, but also harsh lives, and limited acceptance.

Increase inspires and bewilders his congregation and neighbors with a message of our connection to the Land, supposedly the message from his private never-shared red book, and the powers of his secret recipe tonic.  Although Apps took the name Increase from  well known Wisconsin naturalist/scientist  Increase Lapham, I believe Increase Joseph's character is purely fictional.  Authenticity is woven throughout the book as Increase and the congregation are touched by historical events such as the draft of Wisconsin men for the North's war efforts and the Peshtigo fire.  I don't consider myself an expert on either Wisconsin or farming history, but I have enough background knowledge to know that small religious groups did populate small town Wisconsin in the 1800s, off shoots I believe of the Great Awakening movement.  Their influence has mainly died off and most communities today are home to only the major denominations. Also woven throughout the book is the conflict between technological advances and the old ways of farming.

Like other Apps' novels, these are books filled with local color and an underpinning of respect for our rural heritage.  That may make their appeal limited, but it also creates a sound, loyal following.  Jerry Apps himself was just the subject of a Wisconsin PBS special, showing his impact on Wisconsin literature.  Anyone who attended a rural school, was raised on a farm in the first 50 years of the 20th Century, or has imagined what those days were like will treasure this look back.  Apps has written a series of fiction books centered around rural life in a fictional central Wisconsin county.  He has also written many nonfiction books documenting our barns, farms, and rural past.  The lady who organizes the weekly men's coffee hour at the nursing home where my dad resides often uses Jerry App books as conversation starters.   According to her, when she reads a passage, the memories begin to flow, and elderly men who believe they have nothing in common, find they do - their memories.

Here is my question to you today-   Who are your local authors that have a mission to capture the uniqueness and color that is your region?  In capturing that, do they perhaps, like Apps, capture those feelings that unite us all?

Check out this link to Jerry App's website where you can read some blog entries, find a list of his books, and learn more about the man.  I just noticed that he released a new book in November.  My list of books to read just got longer again.   Isn't it great that it never gets shorter?

Monday, December 24, 2012

Good News of Great Joy by Kelly Pulley

Last year I blogged about not being able to find a suitable children's retelling of the nativity for our one year old granddaughter.  We did find one, but it wasn't a super favorite.  When David C. Cook Publishing made Good News of Great Joy available as an ebook for review purposes, I knew I wanted to read it. The target audience is definitely older than a one year old, but a toddler could listen to the story.  Older readers/listeners will understand more.

 Author and illustrator Kelly Pulley has brought a contemporary vibe to the age old story of our Lord's birth with his peppy, straight forward ryhmes and especially with his lively drawings.  The eyes of all the characters, whether angels, shepherds, animals or Mary and Joseph themselves just pop!  Of course, it is a little jolting to not hear the familiar biblical text, but Pulley does a good job of replacing complicated vocabulary with just the right modern words ( census = people counters; swaddled = snug and cozy)  One stanza (with appropriate pronoun changes) is repeated throughout the story "They were terrribly frightened as you would be too, If what happened to them happened to you" tries to make readers/listeners realize how they would react to the arrival of angels with messages of great importance.  I was surprised that the story ended with the angels speaking to the shepherds, not with the shepherds traveling to the stable. 

This book would be a good addition to Sunday School libraries and to home libraries alike.  Parents and church librarians should also check into other books in this Magnificant Tales collection which retell important biblical lessons with just a hint of humor.

I was provided with an e-copy for review purposes, but all opinions are mine.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Marriage Carol by Chris Fabry and Gary Chapman

As Christmas Eve approaches, Jake and Marlee plan to end their twenty-something year old marriage.
Both feel empty, sure that they have drifted too far apart to ever reconcile, but afraid to tell their young children.  Quietly the snow falls as the two drive together to the divorce lawyer's office, an agreed effort to end this charade civilly (and cheaply).  When Jake decides to take a side road to avoid slowing traffic, Marlee objects, but then quiets to "keep the peace."  Suddenly they are in the path of an oncoming truck and the car spins out of control. 

Dazed and bleeding, Marlee rallies a few minutes later to find that she is alone in the car.  Has Jake gone for help?  Cold and unable to just sit and wait for help, Marlee begins to walk toward a lit house in the distance.  There an elderly man kindly takes her in, listens to her pleas for help, and offers shelter.  Before he sets out to look for Jake, the man (named Jay) begins to ask Marlee about her marriage.  At first Marlee believes this is odd, but when she finds out that Jay's home is actually used for marriage retreats, she opens up to the older man.  Through that night Marlee will have her own personal "Christmas Carol" experience as she  sees her marriage through Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future.  Why had she forgotten how sweet their early years were?  Is she locked into the dismal future she sees in Christmas future?  Is it too late?  Can Jay find her husband?  Will he care about what she witnessed? 

Gary Chapman is the author of the well known Five Languages of Love, and Chris Fabry has written several successful Christian novels.  This short novella is an interesting addition to recent seasonal tales.  No big surprises in how the story unfolds except for the impact of that Christmas Future scene.  The authors clearly make their point that divorce affects not only the couple, but their family; and that effect reaches far into the future.  I am sure you've heard the saying that love is NOT a feeling, but a CHOICE.  In fact, I recently ran across it again in the Men of Sunday book I just reviewed.  Fighting for the survival of a marriage is also a choice, a choice worth the effort.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Men of Sunday: How faith guides the players, coaches and wives of the NFL by Curtis Eichelberger

Curtis Eichelberger, a sports reporter for Bloomberg News spent several years researching his new book by interviewing current and former NFL players, their families, chaplains, and even a few coaches.  The topic?  Not their training regiments, their signing stories, or even their best/worst game.  Eichelberger investigated the strong and needed, but often overlooked faith component to the NFL.

Ask almost any pre-teen boy what they would like to be, and a pro-football player will be among the most popular answers.  What they see in their mind is the glory of a Sunday afternoon touchdown or the pure power of a well aimed tackle.  They do not see the years of physical abuse to one's body, tough training schedules, and frequent disappointments.  They also do not see the hundreds of good players, who are, well just not quite good enough. 

Ask any high school kid, and well, unfortunately most adults, about the life of a NFL player, and they will weave images of young men awash in wealth, women, and fame. They may mention a tough training schedule and possible injuries, but they won't know or understand the reality of most NFL players.  Eischelberger paints a picture of careers dotted with uncertainity, frequent trades, and
a final release, often just a couple years after that first glorious "signing bonus."  Often these players have never truly focused on anything except football since they were 9 or 10 years old.  For years, they have been the center of attention within their families, their high schools, their colleges, and then their fans.  After the NFL comes unstructured days, fading fame, wounded bodies, and often finanical and relationship woes.  Too often poor choices made during playing days explode into major disasters played out beyond the notice of former fans.

Behind the scenes of many NFL teams are team chaplains, team Bible study groups, and even groups for the wives and girlfriends.  Chaplains and coaches alike say that teams with a core of "faith guys" (those who profess their faith and strive to live it) find that those members become the glue that
holds teams together.  Chaplains find ways to help players set life priorities in a correct order: Faith, family, and football.  Within the book, players give personal testament to finding a purpose beyond their fame, surviving temptation, getting on sound financial setting, and giving back to their communities.

Like most in Wisconsin, I am a Packer fan, but I don't really keep track of other teams and players, so some of the players in this book were unknown to me.  I am somewhat familiar with team chaplains because a man who grew up in our community was an asst chaplain for the Green Bay Packers back in the 1990's when Mike Holmgren coached.   One time Steve brought a couple Packers to our small community for an evening program.  Sponsored by a church, the program was held at our high school gym.  Both the players and their wives painted pictures quite similar to those described in Eichelberger's book.  I am not sure if the Packers have a chaplain program anymore, but I know that Steve later went to the west coast.  I believe he followed Holmgren to Seattle.

I found the book a little repetitive, yet I finished the book in a couple evenings.  If you have a true NFL fan in your family, consider this book.  I would highly recommend this book to pastors and men who work with youth.  Having some background on a few players' faith stories and challenges will be beneficial in their work.  To all of us, here's a heartfelt reminder that there are powerful stories behind those bended knees and prayers before games.  Let the scoffers question the displays.  Instead, let us focus on the heads bowed requesting guidance and then bowed again in gratitude. 

I received a copy of this book from BookSneeze for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Testaments by Elizabeth Musser

Two Crosses by Elizabeth Musser ended in such suspense that I knew I would need to request the second book of the trilogy immediately.  Thanks to our wonderful library system, I received a copy of Two Testaments very quickly and I was able to immerse myself into the dangerous story of Gabriella and David, two Americans caught up in the complicated Algerian War  for Independence.  Ethnic hatreds and past decisions made by certain factions force more and more refugees from Algeria's borders to France for safety.  Among them are Anne-Marie and an old friend Eliane.  Still working behind the scenes in Algeria are David, Eliane's husband Remi, and Anne-Marie's harki friend Moustafa. As each man worries about his love in France and each woman waits anxiously for her man to abandon war-torn Algeria, no one realizes that a traitor has infiltrated the small Castelnau, France orphanage which has opened its doors to the tiniest of refugees.

I learned so much history from the first two books in this trilogy.  Vengance, greed, need for oil, fear of those who are different -- these are stories we've heard before and unfortunately, they have shaped the modern world too many times.  As the story unfolds, you will see how they shaped the 1960's and beyond. 

Musser does a superb job of clarifying the opposing factions and the chaos that was Algeria then, but her real skill is in telling the redemptive stories of the characters. I can't decide which story is more powerful. There is young Hussein, merely a boy, who has been targeted by revenge-seeking Ali to become a murdering martyr.  Can the unquestioning love of those at the orphanage change his heart?  Then there is the love story between Anne-Marie and Moustafa, a victim of self-condemnation and pity, sure that she can never be forgiven or given a better life.  She deeply loves Moustafa, her childhood friend, but he is a harki and she fears no one will accept a mixed love.  David's heart has led him to help Anne-Marie and the escaping children, but he contests that he recognizes no God.  When he begins to care for Gabriella, he cannot help but wonder.  Perhaps my favorite character is the elderly nun who runs the orphanage.  As her story quietly unfolds throughout the two novels, you'll be witness to a strong story of faith in action. 

Now I can't wait to get the final copy of this trilogy Two Destinies  I already placed a hold through interlibrary loan.  The setting has jumped ahead to 1992 and civil war has erupted in Algeria.  Missionaries and Algerian believers were killed or forced into hiding, as militant fanatics seize power.  Again hatred, intolerance, revenge and greed will shape modern history.  Yet, as I am sure Musser will show, God is there and faith will touch lives.

As I went to Elizabeth Musser's website to grap a photo of this book, I noticed that she refers to her books as "entertainment with a soul"  I believe that is why I continue to read Christian fiction.  Too often, I am disappointed by simplistic writng, preachy attitudes, or unrealistic "goody, goody" settings, but quality Christian fiction from writers such as Musser, Lynn Austin, Liz Curtis Higgs, and Francine Rivers deliver "entertainment with a soul" consistently!   How often do we waste time on television shows, movies, or even books that do nothing to sustain us?  Bless these authors for their creativity and entertainment that nourishes.

Friday, December 14, 2012

All Things New by Lynn Austin

While many fiction titles have examined the tremendous devastation, both human and economic, of the Civil War, not so mnay have examined the first months after the South's surrender as well as Lynn Austin has done in her new novel, All Things New. During the last months of the war, Josephine Weatherly, her mother Eugenia, and younger sister Mary  had sought safety in their home of their city relatives.  Now after the war's end, they return to their plantation White Oaks to find it in ruins. Within days, David, the youngest son and only remaining male, makes his way home, a defeated, weary soldier.  Despite being almost penniless themselves,  Eugenia and David expect to cling to the old ways.  They treat Lizzie and Otis, the only former slaves who have remained on the plantation, as if they are still slaves, when really they have agreed to be share croppers/servants.  Out of desperation and boredom, Josephine begins to do a little physical labor - gardening, dishes, and sewing to help her family survive.  Her efforts are met with shock and disdain, but slowly Eugenia sees that the effort is necessay. Eugenia's changes are bolstered by her interactions with the family doctor, once considered beneath her social class, but now her best friend.  Josephine, despite her strong pronouncement that she will never pray again, finds her heart mending as she meets the young Quaker, Alexander Chandler sent to run the Freedmen's Bureau.  As both Josephine and Eugenia change, David holds fast to the Old South and becomes a member of what is definitely a precursor to the KKK.

Meanwhile Lizzie and Otis tread unsure waters as freed people.  They rejoice when their children are allowed to start attending the Freedmen's Bureau School, but remain frightened to travel at night or beyond the borders of the plantation.  Other former slaves basically live homeless and in limbo as they wait and wait for changes that have been promised.  Meanwhile hateful whites try to regain control that they feel they have been destined to have.

Lynn Austin's characters have depth and complexity which give the story a multi-layered richness.
An excellent example of such careful character development is Harrison, the amputee neighbor.  Although a relatively minor character, Austin has given him significant importance as she explores the themes of guilt and remorse.  I felt most everything in the novel was spot on realistic, except for one aspect.  It seems that all the slaves (former slaves) were virtual strangers to Eugenia.  She didn't know that Otis and Lizzie were a family and had children.  She didn't even know names.  Considering that she had lived on the plantation for over 25 years, I believe she would have known these things, even if her husband had been in charge.  Even if she had been demeaning to her house  and driver slaves, I think she would have still known their names. Despite that, Lynn Austin's newest work shows that she is an expert story teller.  Flawed people live with the consequences of their actions, but change.  Without spoiling the story, I must say, be prepared for one of the best examples of grace I've ever found in fiction.

Check out Lynn Austin's website to see her other books.  She has won multiple Christy Awards and her titles are always a sure hit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury

While a librarian, I belonged to list-servs and read various newsletters to keep up on the publishing industry and its latest offerings.   For the last several years, the success or demise of local books stores (as well as major chains) has been a constant thread of concern. In Karen Kingsbury's new Christmas novella The Bridge, she examines the impact of one such closing.   Following a flood, Charlie Barton finds he doesn't  have the money to restock his Tennessee bookstore. When the building's owners want him to buy or vacate, he realizes that he will need to close his beloved store,The Bridge.  As he becomes overwhelmed with feelings of failure, Charlie considers taking his own life.

On the west coast Molly Allen, philanthropist and sole heir to a financial empire, faces another empty holiday.  They all seem empty since she walked away from what she thought was a budding romance with then best friend Ryan Kelly.  All that remains is her copy of Jane Eyre that they bought at their favorite college bookstore - The Bridge.  As she closes her eyes, she can imagine Ryan settled in his married life with his high school.  What she doesn't realize is that Ryan never married.  Having experienced a successful couple of years touring with Nashville's top musicians, he now longs for a more stable life.  When the web and twitter bring  Ryan and Molly news that Charlie Barton needs help, they both make trips to The Bridge.  Could second chances await them all?

Karen Kingsbury is often called America's top inspirational novelist.  To be truthful, I usually find her books too simple and straight forward.  However, when I sew, an audio version of a short, simple story is the perfect accompaniment.  My sewing/quilting area is set up so I can watch television if I want to, but sometimes I just can't follow the visual of a tv show/movie at the same time I am working on project.  This past weekend, I was finishing up some Christmas gifts on my embroidery machine at the same time I was sewing another project on the sewing machine.  Doing two things at once definitely meant I could not follow a movie, so I popped the audio version of The Bridge in the cd player.  Several hours later, I had finished two embroidered gifts and made two quilted crayon totes, and I knew what happened to Charlie, Ryan, Molly and the bookstore.  I'd call that a good
afternoon!!  If you have someone on your Christmas list who is a big Karen Kingsbury fan, then I am sure they would like this one, although I assure you there are no surprises in this story.  I know the print version would not have kept my interest, even for the short time it takes to read a novella.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

Check your closet.  Do you see any lace?  Perhaps a camisole subtly edged with it, or maybe
a ruffled rich with a crocheted version?  Whether you find something or not has a lot to do with your personal taste or maybe it has more to do with current fashion trends.  Most certainly, the presence or absence of lace has nothing to do with its prohibition by the government.

When I first read a trailer to Ruins of Lace I was immediately intrigued.  I knew that lace was once made totally made by hand; my knowledge coming from a sister-in-law who took up bobbin lace making while she lived in London.  It takes hours and hours to make a bookmark or a lace collar.  To think that once all lace on shirt cuffs and dress adornments was made in such a manner is a little mind boggling.  When I read in the book preview, that Louis XIII in 1636 forbade the wearing and making of lace, I was astonished and intrigued. Like countless other tales of human nature, prohibition and restriction breeds an intense desire to possess, and with it, fertile ground for crime, greed, and inhumanity.  This is the story Iris Anthony tells in Ruins of Lace.

Just as the white threads from multiple bobbins are unwound and twisted to create a complex pattern of lace, the individual lives and stories of multiple people unwind and then twist together around a certain length of Flemish lace in this book.  Iris Anthony skillfully reveals fragments of each person's story, then moves on to another character and another bit of the story.  Finally all meld into one story.

In the end, I must give this book a mixed review.  I was swept into the story by the author's skillful story telling and character development, but the story itself, however authentic, is dark and disturbing.  Only the slightest glimmers of humanity can be found.  A dog plays a central role in the book, and its treatment will be shocking to most readers.  Anthony ( a pseudonym), herself, had trouble writing this aspect of the tale, but she bases its inclusion on documentation of thousands of dogs which were killed during this time period. For those reasons, my recommendation is a cautious one. As a commendation,  I believe I will always remember this book and the plight of lace makers such as Katharina and Mathild whenever I see lace in the future.  For that, I thank author Iris Anthony.   I received an e-copy of this book for review purposes.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic

Nick Vuvjicic, an Australian who was born without limbs (except for a malformed foot), has inspired hundreds of thousands across the globe through his inspirational ministry.  YouTube and his two websites ( and have broadcast his message even further.  His new book Unstoppable is another powerful addition to his work.

Although this book does share some personal moments from Nick's life, such as a recent visit with Rev. Billy Graham and Nick's courtship of his future wife, most of this book is about others Nick has met who have put their faith into action -- action that is unstoppable because they were acting not on their own dreams and goals, but on God's.

Personally, I can tell I am truly enjoying and benefiting from a nonfiction book if I am compelled to start taking notes as I read.  (Sorry, folks, but I cannot break my teacher/student habits).  Well, I have dozens of scribbled notations from this book and I spent a whole hour yesterday "googling" people and organizations that Nick wrote about. His writing made me curious about people who were living out God's purpose.  I wanted to know more about them and their missions.  Some of these people, such as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from Liberia and the founders of the Mercy Ships are recognized by the world's standards, but most like the father who started the Jeremiah Project 51 are recognized within a much smaller radius.  However, they, too are "unstoppable" because they are following the path the Lord has placed before them.

  At one point in the book, Nick talked about being in the short film Butterfly Circus where he met actor Eduardo Verastegui who almost walked away from a successful movie/television career because his ungodly life in Hollywood was killing him mentally and emotionally.  With the help of his language tutor, he needed to listen to the silent voice telling him to change - not his profession but his choices within that profession.  Now Eduardo seeks out projects that reflect positive images of his culture and his faith.  From that passage, I have a list of several movies to check out.

Although Nick spends much of the book focusing on other Christians, I still feel the biggest message comes from the many times he witnessed that his physical presence has been a strong catalyst of change for others.  Seeing him being joyful about life and finding purpose has helped others understand that we all have purpose in God's eyes.  I believe that is one of the reasons that teens flock to his engagements and his online sites.  Adolescence is a dark time when almost all question their value and purpose.  Many feel hopeless and unloved.  Nick's life, his videos, and now his writings answer back, strong and clear.  We are all loved.  We all have purpose.  Be patient.  Seek your father and you will know.  For those of us who know that message, Vujicic's book has one more message-
there is great power to be discovered if we take the step to put our faith in action.

I received this title from Blogging for Books for review purposes.  I was not required to write a positive review.

Monday, December 3, 2012

100th Anniversary- Wreck of the Christmas Ship


One hundred years ago Capt. Herman Schuenemann loaded his Lake Michigan schooner, the Rouse Simmons, with over 800 trees at the docks of Thompson, Mi (upper Michigan port) and began a journey to the Chicago River where he was known as Captain Santa.  As common on the Great Lakes in fall, a storm developed, distress flags were spotted off Wisconsin's Kewaunee, but by the time a rescue boat could be sent out, the ship had disappeared.  There were no survivors, so the exact happenings are not known; however, mariner experts expect that ice formed on the ship and on the holiday cargo, forcing the too heavy ship to the bottom.  The ship itself was found in 1971 in 170 feet of water mainly intact and with Christmas trees still onboard.

The Wisconsin State Journal featured an article about the ship yesterday and the Manitowoc Maritime Museum's current display to honor the Christmas tree ship.  Reading the article brought to mind two children's books we had in our elementary school library, both entitled The Christmas Tree Ship.
Jeanette Winter's book is an artistic gem. Wintry scenes created with simple illustrations and vivid contrasting colors capture young audience's attention.  The narration tells this tragic story simply and manages to end in an uplifting manner as the author shares that the captain's wife and children honored his memory by sailing another Christmas ship the following, succeeding in bringing trees to Chicago.  My idea of successful children's literature is exactly the same as successful adult literature - authors find or create unique stories told in a manner that captures the reader's imagination and emotions, widening our life experiences.  And of course, in children's literature illustrators add that wonderful visual dimension.
Rochelle Pennington's book is written for older, independent readers and tells a much more detailed version of the fateful voyage of the Lake Michigan schooner and its crew.  This book features the art of Charles Vickery, known for his maritime paintings. Despite being written for children, this would be a great read for anyone interested in Lake Michigan, the time period of the schooners, or shipwreck history buffs. 
I noticed that both of these books appear to be out of print.  Too bad, because they commemorate an interesting niche of our history.   If you're interested in them, be on the lookout at used book sales or in libraries.  

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Unending Devotion by Jody Hedlund

Some say the logging industry of 1880's northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota built the expanding cities of the entire midwest and beyond.  Dense virgin forests disappeared virtually overnight, leaving lands that were ill suited for farming.  It wasn't until reforestation projects of the twentieth century that these lands became the "up north" that I and thousands of others love so much.
Author Jody Hedlund rightly points out that historical societies in both Wisconsin and Michigan try to capture the important impact this industry made over its short life, but these displays and "camp replicas" are a "white-washed version" of the true wild logging towns that sprang up.  As Hedlund depicts in her new novel Unending Devotion, countless individual lives were as devastated as the landscape.  Gambling and alcohol abuse was rampant and the brothels that littered the towns were what we would call today places of "white slavery" as young girls were enticed north with the promise of genteel jobs in hotels and eating establishments.  What they found instead were lives as prostitutes trying to pay off never ending debts to the brothel owner.

Our novel opens as idealistic Lily Young helps a brothel girl escape in the wee hours of the morning as the drunken shanty boys sleep off their drunkeness.  This is not the first time Lily has risked her own safety to save another, and she promises that she will continue doing so until she finally finds her own teenage sister who Lily believes has become trapped in a life of prostitution at an unknown logging town. Orphaned at a young age, Lily has fought to keep her and her younger sister together.  Months before, she had left Daisy with a family while she earned some money to set up a housefhold of their own.  Shortly thereafter, her sister disappeared. Now,  Lily travels with her adoptive guardian Oren, who photographs the shanty boys. Oren's presence provides the protection that Lily needs as she moves from camp to camp.  When the pair arrives in Harrison, Michigan it appears that Lily's plans to rescue as many girls as she can may come to an abrupt end.  There she meets Connell McCormick, a lumber baron's son who is intent on winning his father's favor, but as he becomes involved with Lily he begins to wonder if the "blind eye" the bosses have turned toward the "dark side" of town might be a mistake.  While he is not ready to take a stand, he does know that he must protect Lily from harm and her own risk-taking.  Even doing that puts him on a collision course with James Carr, king pin of all illicit activities.

At first I thought that author Hedlund had created a melodrama with a heavy hand of "lily-white" thinking vs. the activities of a dark, dark villian.  I could almost imagine Carr capturing Lily and pinning her to a train track, with Connell, armed with his knife, arriving in the nick of time.   Then I read the afterward that explained that James Carr was a historical figure who did recruit young girls into life at his brothels through treachery.  In fact, he was tried for the murder of one young girl who refused his demands.  During that time period women spoke out for temperance and women's rights across the country, so I am sure that there were strong willed women like Lily creating their own movements against loose living and immorality.  I don't want to reveal too much about the novel, but I will say that the inevitable showdown between Carr and Connell is more skillfully written that my imaginary villain-heroine- hero scene.   I also applaud Hedlund for her portrayal of Daisy, a true "prodigal" sister.   If you like historical fiction or if you've read stories with western settings, give this novel a read.  The Michigan northwoods will deliver danger, romance, and a tale of right vs. wrong.  To read what others have said about this novel and Jody Hedlund's other titles, as well as read her blog, go to her website.  I received a copy of this book from Bethany House for my honest review.  I was not compensated in any way, nor was I required to write a positive review.