Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Thoughts from the sewing room

I started a new book last night and it has pulled me in.  I will probably start reading after lunch and hope to finish the book today.  Unfortunately I can't blog about it until next week, as I am taking part in a book tour.  The other book I just recently finished is our book club title for this month, and I want to wait until after Thursday night to review it.  I am sure other club members will have insights I should consider.

Since I was at my computer uploading photos from my camera, I decided I would post a few photos of recent sewing projects.  My camera is not good and I really just take photos of my sewing to document what I've been doing.  However, I greatly enjoy peeking at other people's projects on quilting blogs and pinterest, so I've decided to share some myself.

 First, I've made tote bags and smaller cosmetic bags for both my daughter and dil for birthday gifts.  Loved both patterns:  Zippy Strippy by Atkinson Designs and San Clemente by A Quilter's Dream. Both are easy to construct and look great when done!  I guess I didn't take a picture of my daughter's gifts but they were similar to my dil's above.

Next I finally tried my hand with the Little Twister Template which I got at a local quilt shop, The Welcome Home.  All these wonky pinwheels came from 5 in scraps I had cut this winter when straightening my scrap stash.  The wallhanging just fits a blank spot we had over our entertainment center in the family room.  Each pinwheel is quilted with decorative stitches from my Janome 6600P.

This giant pinwheel just got hung Saturday above our pantry door.  Our house has a lot of angles and it has taken me a long time to decorate.  This pattern is so easy and comes from 10 in blocks.  I watched a tutorial on You tube by Suzanne McNeill.  I have lots of straight line quilting on this one.

Last is this outdoorsy table runner I made totally from scraps, mostly ones I picked up at a rummage sale last summer.  Judy Gauthier, owner of Bungalow Quilting and Yarn has written a simple set of directions telling how to use 3.5, 4.5, and 5.5 inch templates to make quicker versions of several traditional blocks.  I followed the directions for the signature blocks and arranged them in a pattern I liked.  Again squares are machine quilted with decorative stitches.  I really like how this piece turned out and I think it is destined to be a donation in the future.

It's been fun sharing these small projects.  It has been my way to beat the winter blahs!

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Queen by Steven James

Publishers' Weekly calls Steven James' writing a mixture of Sir Conan Doyle, Jonathan Kellerman, and Tom Clancy, a thrill ride of excitement without unnecessary bad language or sex. And they are right, readers will be thrust into mystery, international espionage, and fast paced action.  The Queen is book five in the Patrick Bower series so there are lots of references to previous cases, villains  and life events, but that did not stop me from following the action.  I must caution that although these are classified as Christian fiction (thriller/mysteries), there is a lot of violence.  Bower is a FBI agent in the midst of  a serial murder case that has taken him to his home state Wisconsin, one everyone thought had been solved years ago, when he is called to another crime site in Northern Wisconsin.  A mother and child have been killed and the husband's snowmobile has been found in an icy river.  Suspicions arise because the father, a supposed saw mill worker, had a top Navy security clearance and near his home is the old ELF communication structure of the 1980s.  Is it possible that the site is still operational and could be used in some international plot?  Perhaps by the rogue anti-nuclear group or could it be something more dangerous?

If you are intrigued by the technology of crime solving and espionage, then this book delivers.
A bone crushing device, malware, hackers, intercepted emails, and cell phones and ipads all add to the suspense and action.  From Bower's fight to survive icy waters to a wheel chair bound terrorist in a jail cell across the ocean, the changes in viewpoint are as swift as the action.  It is Bower's personal story and his relationship with his step daughter that raised my star rating above other thriller-type books I've read. It is also the family relationships that take this series from just a spy story to a revenue for exploring faith and belief systems.  Alexi, a former Russian spy and assassin is the one operative in the book that really intrigued me, so much so that I might need to read previous books to get his full story.
If you're looking for a new thriller series, check out book one  The Pawn and I am sure you end up reading them all.

PS.  I liked the up north references. Although the town names were all fictitious. I still could imagine the forestry roads, snow storms, and the cold!!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow by Joyce Magnin

Recently I saw that The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow had been selected by Library Journal as a top Christian fiction read in 2009 and then read that author Joyce Magnin had followed the first book with three other stories set in Bright's Pond, Agnes' hometown.  Intrigued, I checked our library system and downloaded The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow and also ordered a print copy of a succeeding book through interlibrary loan.

Despite being set in 1972, the story has a more contemporary rather than historical feel.  And it certainly defies any simple genre categories that I can name. This is a story of Agnes Sparrow, whose extreme weight has confined her to the family home for years, leaving her sister Griselda to care for her every need, from making her meals to straightening her cramped legs. In their forties, the two women have settled into a life pattern that appears destined to continue for years. Griselda leaves a few hours a day to work at the local library and Agnes spends her time praying for her local neighbors and friends.  And it appears that Agnes' prayer line is a direct one, as several townspeople have experienced almost miraculous answers to prayer requests.  As the book begins, townspeople have gathered to commission a sign and a statue honoring Agnes as their most glorious citizen.  

Griselda is NOT in favor of the sign or the statue, fearing that intead of bringing honor to Agnes, the publicity will turn into a freak show, with Agnes as the freak.  Very quickly, readers will see that Griselda has been her sister's protector and keeper since childhood, a role that has meant she, too, has become a virtual prisoner to her sister's size, appetite, and needs.  The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow has quirky characters, and a mysterious, unexpected plot twist, but basically is a story of an extremely unusual sisterhood.    

I can't say that I really enjoyed this book, but I do think Joyce Magnin has a talent for creating unique characters and stories.  She also gives us much to discuss - the role guilt played in Agnes' self-imprisonment,what to do if helping another is causing you to lose yourself, what are the long lasting effects of bullying, and even why does bullying continue into adulthood.  Because Magnin found such "fresh" people and stories the first time she visited Bright's Pond, I plan to make another visit when I read Charlotte Figg Takes over Paradise.  Hopefully, I'll enjoy the story a little more; I know the writing will be good.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Wishing on Willows by Katie Ganshert

Robin Price and her husband were dreamers. When he died before their first child was born, Robin poured herself into their biggest dream, a small café similar to the ones they had visited on their European honeymoon.  Now almost four years later, plans to pull small town Peaks, Iowa, out of its economic slump are threatening to permanently close the doors of Willow Tree Café.

As readers follow Robin through a few typical days at the café, you might begin to agree with the mayor and others in Peaks that Robin should sell to the condo developers. The café itself is not making a profit, partly because Robin is always giving her goods away free. She can’t even rely on her oven which seems to break down daily.  Clearly she needs   more time with her son Caleb, but most weeks she can’t even take one day off. At the same time, you’ll connect with Robin’s desire to save her shop, and along with it, the One Life community outreach program.  Will new condos, mostly occupied by outsiders, really improve the lives of the townspeople? 

Can Robin win her fight?  Determined to take a stand, Robin refuses to listen to developer Ian McKay’s offers, but soon she learns that he is as determined as she is.  As weeks pass and each gets to know the other better, both Robin and Ian find they must rethink their choices, past, present, and future.  Could there be one decision that would give both second chances?

Readers who like Christian romances will be drawn to this new author. If they like this story, hopefully Robin’s extended family and the community of Peaks, Iowa will have more stories to reveal.  Personally, I find most romances too predictable, unless the story is also populated with interesting side stories, cultural or historical background, or such. I am not sure if Ganshert accomplished that.  I do see strong storytelling talent in this her second novel, and I am hoping she will branch out into deeper topics and more complex settings in future works.  As an older reader, I’d actually be interested in the story of Robin’s father, who has decided to finally remarry after fifteen years of being alone, or perhaps Ian’s family, as they cope with their mother’s cancer.

Wishing On Willows will be published in March or April 2013.  I received an advanced reader’s copy for review purposes from Blogging for Books.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Forgiving Hour by Robin Lee Hatcher

Robin Lee Hatcher remains best known for her historical fiction, but recently I downloaded her contemporary novel The Forgiving Hour  throughWPLC, our state library consortium for electronic books. Originally published in 1999, an e-version was republished in 2011.  Despite the decade between publications, the story still reads fresh and topical.

Claire is deeply scared by her husband's Dave's betrayal.  When he later abandons the family, Claire makes her preteen son promise he will never mention Dave's name again.  That is a vow young Michael has no trouble making.  In fact, he also changes his name to Dakota Conway, leaving behind any remnant of connection to his father.  Slowly Claire digs herself out of the financial troubles Dave left behind and builds a safe, comfortable life for herself and her son.  She is relieved when Dakota outgrows the early rebellious teen years, but she never sees the connection between his behavior change and his participation in a local church.  When the young adult Dakota tells his mother that his faith has led him to forgive his father, Claire is hurt. Since neither wants to hurt the other, Claire and son settle into a delicate truce.

A temporary job transfer gives Claire a chance for a new life and possibly a new love, but her guarded heart and an inability to forgive old hurts present formidable barriers   Just as she begins to think she can place the past in perspective, Dakota introduces mom to his fiance.  Sara is several years older than her Dakota, but the couple has decided that age makes no difference to true love.  Once the red-haired beauty is introduced to Claire, both realize that there is a problem much bigger than any age difference, a betrayal that surely no one would expect Claire or Dakota to forgive.

Although I think the plot line is probably unlikely, it certainly challenges us that the call to forgive means to forgive ALL or ANY sins, not just those that we are comfortable with.  Hatcher is a good writer and the way she hits us with the major problem within the first pages of the book and then slowly   rebuilds the past to more clearly define just what is happening between Claire, Dakota and Sara is suspenseful.

Check your libraries to see if they still have a copy of The Forgiving Hour.  For other readers' opinions of this book, check out Goodreads.com.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Nursing a Grudge by Chris Well

I believe most owners of e-$.99.  Not having a Kindle, I hopped over to BN to see if the same offer was available for Nooks.  It was, and I purchased all three books - Nursing A Grudge, Burying the Hatchet, and Knock'em Dead.  All three books revolve around Earl Walker, a former bus driver whose career ended when a bullet left him in a wheelchair for life.  When his wife died, Earl settled into a quasi-hermit life.
As Nursing A Grudge Opens, Earl has lived at Candlewick Retirement Community for over five years, yet he has never ventured outside his apartment except when necessary. Now he has received notice that the state has decided the retirement community must close.  Within weeks he will need to find a new place to live.
 It is only when Jenny Hutton, a young college student and member of the New Love Fellowship Church takes Earl on as a "project" does he attend a social gathering held at another resident's apartment.  It is there that Earl first meets Gloria Logan. When George Kent makes rude remarks to her, Earl speaks up to protect her.  Could he possibly have romantic feelings after so many years?  Such a thought is quickly dashed when George Kent dies, apparently poisoned.  As Earl and Jenny begin to gather clues, Earl can not deny that they point toward Gloria.  Could that sweet lady who calls him "Blue Eyes" and makes his heart flutter a little actually be a murderer?  Earl will not stop until he knows the truth. Hopefully, he will figure it all out before the complex closes and all the residents scatter to new apartments elsewhere.

Book two, Burying the Hatchet, picks up several months later.  Earl has settled into a new living situation and has a girlfriend (you can guess who that is).  The relationship with Jenny, whom he calls "College" has continued and grown.  Now Earl even attends church with her and has joined the new members' group.
Then the pastor speaks out against a so-called psychic who claims he can help the police solve several recent suspicious deaths of elderly within the community.  When the psychic is found stabbed minutes after hundreds of people saw the pastor leaves a well publicized meeting between the two, he becomes not the prime suspect, but the ONLY suspect.  Naturally, it falls to Earl, "College" Jenny, and the girlfriend (of course, you can figure out who that is) to prove the pastor innocent.

I felt that author laid good ground work for a series in the first book.  By its end, I had a feel for Earl, Jenny, and Gloria.  I immediately started the second book and felt the pace was right on.  I liked the details about Earl's new life and his need for some romantic advice from the pastor. Just like the first book, there was some "bumbling humor" to lighten things up.  In a finely crafted mystery, the reader should captivated as the sleuth tries to unravel what really transpired and " whodunnit." Instead I became bored with Earl's attempts to figure it all out, but can't quite identify why.  I still like the characters and their unfolding personal stories, but something was missing.  The suspense and interest just stalled for me.  That leads me to speculate something.  I believe these books are available in e-format only.  That may indicate self-publication, but I don't know.  I know the first book was reviewed on Publisher Weekly and did receive some praise, but I am wondering what the editing process was for this series.  From what I've read and learned from author appearances is that good editors make good books BETTER.  Chris Wells has the foundation for a good series, but there needs to be some tweaking.  Hopefully, he partners with excellent editiors in the future.  I wish him success and would like to see more of Earl, Jenny, and ??? the romantic interest. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

1905 Cookbook Food for Body and Soul by Judy Steiger Howard

What led me to discover Judy Steiger Howard's writings, I can't say right now.  All I remember is a few months ago while reading blogs or surfing the net, I came across her name and the fact she had written two books with short quilt-based memories and this title which documents early Oklahoma homesteading women and some of their recipes.  I found that I could obtain copies of the Heavenly Patchwork books very cheaply second hand (love that feature of both BN and Amazon), so I ordered them.  I did order my copy of 1905 Cookbook: Food for Body and Soul as a new copy because all profits are donated to programs that feed needy children.

As a cookbook collector, I have looked at "antique" cookbooks before, and frankly, I am surprised that anything they made ever turned out!  The directions are so sparse, or conversely, so specific that I doubt that   recipes ever easily passed from one person to another.  So let's be honest, I will probably never be breading and frying up any brains for hubby's supper nor will I be steaming a suet pudding for dessert. I may however try Catherine Rodkey's recipe for an iced tea with oranges, strawberries and one teaspoon rum that she called Russian tea.  Catherine liked to serve this tea to her friends as they sat in the wicker furniture of her porch.

I do love reading these recipes, especially when they are accompanied with the kind of local history that Judy Steiger Howard has compiled.  Most of the recipes come from a 1905 cookbook put together by the women of Edmond, Oklahoma as a  community fundraiser.  When the author stumbled on a copy of that cookbook in antique store, she saw a great potential for retelling of the hardy pioneer spirit of these women, many who were among the first homesteaders in Oklahoma.  Remember learning about the "sooners" in US history? Howard has used local museums and archives to reconstruct the stories of the women of Edmond and surrounding areas and has republished their recipes along with vintage photographs and many of the commercial ads which adorned the pages of the first cookbook.

If you're a cookbook collector, like I am, or a history buff, you might like a copy of this title.  Some of you might run across a similar book compiled for a different community and time period.  Stop and give them a read.  History is not all about wars and political movements.  We also need to take time to remember and cherish the ordinary people who make up our past.

And a few words from a favorite ad found in the book --- just in time for Valentine's Day, in case you're thinking you should shy away from chocolate this year.

Walter Baker & Co.'s Chocolate and Cocoa   1788-1905 - The leader for 125 years

It is a perfec food, highly nourishing, easily digested, fitted to repair wasted strength, perserve health and prolong life.  
M. Brillat-Savarin says: Those who make constant use of chocolate are the ones who enjoy the most steady health, and are the least subject to a multitude of little ailments which destroy the comfort of life"

Well, I don't know who Brillat-Savarin was, and I know there were no truth in advertising laws then, but I still think this ad gives me permission to eat CHOCOLATE next week.!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by the Countess of Carnarvon

I can be counted among the millions of viewers who are captivated by the lives and fashions of those who live at the fictional Downton Abbey.  Even more amazing is that the castle is real and that the lives of the actual family who lived there in the early twentieth century is even more amazing than the fictional Crawleys.
The current Countess of Carnarvon has searched Highclere Castle photos and documents as well as British historical archives to reconstruct life at the Castle from 1895 to 1927.  As you read about Lady Almina, her husband, the children, and the staff, you will also be exposed to the changing British world.

I must admit that the author's writing style was heavily fact laden and a tad cumbersome for me, but I persevered because I was learning so much history.  I am just going to highlight four parts of the book for this review.  First, Lady Almina's place in society really fascinated me.  She was the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy banker and her mother Marie, who was married when Almina was born.  Although all of society knew of the relationship between Alfred de Rothschild and Marie, and although Alfred himself was often the companion of England's Prince Edward, no one acknowledged Almina's true parentage.  Alfred lavished his daughter with wealth throughout her life, but never publicly caller her his daughter.  Instead he was known as her godfather.  It was Almina's wealth that attracted the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and his family when it was time for him to marry. That Almina was beautiful and felt a true attraction to the Earl was a bonus.

Second point of interest to me was a more detailed description of the vast workings of the estate.  From the servant quarters to the person responsible for raising the game for the annual shoots to those who cut the lumber for all the building projects, the estate needed to run smoothly. And it was the earl's responsibility that  everyone be provided for.  Readers will get a much clearer picture of that everyday life from the book, than from the television show. Plus, you'll be amazed that the opulence within the manor was even greater than what we see on the television show.  My friends and I have taken a quiz on the PBS website which selects which Crawley family member or staff person you would be based on your answers.  Although I ended up being a member of the Crawley family when I took the quiz, in reality, I think would have probably been scrubbing dishes or floors!

Fans of the show will remember when Downton Abbey served as a hospital and convalescent center during World War I.  That part of the show is directly taken from what happened at Highclere Castle during the war.  Lady Almina long felt a calling to nurse and she began to prepare the Castle for that task when rumors of war began.  Throughout the war, she was instrumental in getting soldiers the best holistic medical care possible.  She used her own wealth to care for the soldiers and later even supported a second hospital in London.  Most of us have studied WWI, probably numerous times in our lives, but I can say the details of this book certainly opened my eyes to the brutality of this war and the hardships the British citizens faced.

Last is the 5th Earl of Carnarvon himself.  Before beginning this book, I did not know he was part of the team who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb.  Unfortunately, he died shortly after its discovery and never saw the true extent of what had been uncovered.

If you're a history buff or if you're among the Downton Abbey fans, you might want to give this a try.  Don't expect a quick read, though!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Shattered by Dani Pettrey

Fans of Dee Henderson and other contemporary Christian authors who mix mystery and romance will enjoy Dani Pettrey's writing.  Shattered is the second in her Alaskan Courage series.  I enjoyed the suspense and changing setting as Piper and Landon travel from Alaska to Canada, California, and Washington to try to find the killer of a young snowboarder.  My only criticism is that I needed slightly more background on the McKenna family and their relationships with other people in their Alaskan ski town.  Although I read book one, Submerged, I had forgotten some details of their large, extended family.  When authors write series with reoccurring characters, I think there needs to be a delicate balance between overloading readers with repetitive background and forgetting to give the reader needed information. Romance readers will not be surprised by the sparks between Landon and Piper; at the same time, they will appreciate the unfolding relationship.  I believe the surprise element to the story is new character  reporter Darcy  and her interest in Gage.  While the first book entered the extreme sport world of Alaskan diving, this mystery revolves around the competitive snowboarding scene, complete with a blizzard, avalanche and dangerous rock climb.
No quiet time around the cabin fires in this tale!

I received an advanced reader's copy of this book for review purposes.  All opinions are my own

The publishers did a great job choosing cover design for this series.  Here's the cover to the first book
Submerged.  I would recommend reading that one first; if the style and story is a fit for you, you will enjoy Shattered.  Overall I think Submerged is better written.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Undaunted by Josh McDowell with Christobal Krussen

Some may recognize Josh McDowell's name, knowing that he has been part of the Campus Crusade for Christ ministry since 1961, while others may recognize the title Undaunted from DVD covers you've seen in Christian bookstores and catalogs.  I fall into that last category.  I had seen the DVD covers, but had not seen the movie or even read anything about it.  When I saw that there was a book by the same name and when I read a little about the author's life, I knew I wanted to read more.

Josh was raised on a farm in Michigan in the 1950s, the time so heralded as a perfect American decade, a time of family values and prosperity.  Not so, for Jos (as his parents called him) who was caught in a violent and abusive trap which escalated as the youth became a ticking time bomb who exploded with the slightest provocation.  The youngest child, Josh was born long after his father had sunk into a life of drunken escapades which ended with beating his wife. While it seemed Josh's mother was loving and wanted to protect her son, her extreme obesity added to her inability to change the pattern. It was the parents need for help on the farm and in the house that brought Wayne into the family's life and the secret shame of abuse to the young boy.  As young Josh's hatred of his father grew, so did his distrust of God, until he was filled with a murderous rage toward one and an absolute denial of the other.

The book covers those painful early years and the subsequent fascinating journey to a calling to teach others of God's love.  You'll read of Josh's journey to Europe, a trip he is certain will end with definitive proof that the New Testament is a hoax.  His discoveries there made for some heartfelt discussions between my husband and me in recent days.  Perhaps the most powerful moment is when Josh meets his father in a coffee shop after months of alienation;there, the young man who had often choked his drunken father with a deep desire to kill the man, simply looked the man in the eyes and said, "I love you."

I highly recommend this book for those who know Josh McDowell from his other books (he has written or co-authored over 100) and even more for those of us who really knew nothing about him.
It is a story of love redeemed that you will not forget.

I got my copy of Undaunted from our library system.  It was published by Tyndale Momentum and is available through most book vendors.  This would be a great addition to church libraries and also to personal libraries.