Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Offering by Angela Hunt

Angela Hunt always delivers books that present ethical and moral dilemmas with authenticity and most importantly, with a careful eye to the human heart and soul.  As her website is titled, "expect the unexpected" when you pick up one of her titles.  In The Offering, Mandy makes the decision to be a gestational carrier, i.e., a surrogate, for a French couple.  Young and healthy, Mandy and her special forces husband, already have one child, but cannot afford to expand their own family or even purchase a home.  Mandy sees the surrogacy as an opportunity to help another couple, earn a significant amount of money that will help pay the tuition for their musically talented preschooler, and perhaps secure an opportunity for Mandy to complete her college degree.

Despite his macho Cuban heritage, Mandy's husband sees her plan as viable and supports her decision. While some might be thinking predictable Lifetime movie, I will tell you that Mandy remains a perfect, objective carrier throughout her pregnancy.  It does seem that the baby is small, but the biological mother was petite, so no one seems worried; and Mandy continues to watch her health, while looking forward to the delivery date.  Then tragedy strikes, and while Mandy plunges into an overwhelming grief, two powerful stories emerge.  One is tied to her father's accidental death years before and the other is put into motion when a  single photo arrives from France.

As I checked Angela Hunt's website, I realized that she has authored several titles that I have not read.  Time to get them on the to-read list.  I'll be checking my library system and WPLC to see what I can find in either print or e-book version.   For those who want a vacation or beach read with a little thought behind it, try The Offering.  I loved Amanda's Cuban in-law family and the Cuban grocery where she worked.  Having just read a nonfiction adoption book that brought me to tears several times, this look at the lengths that we will go to be parents was a good fit to my reading summer.

Friday, June 28, 2013

A Step of Faith by Richard Paul Evans - The Walk Story continued

A Step of Faith is the fourth book in Richard Paul Evan's story The Walk.  I believe it will end when volume five comes out next spring, but only Evan knows for sure.  In every volume I've been pulled into Alan Christofferson's journey to escape his grief and pain after his young wife's tragic death -- his destination as far as he can walk from Seattle, which appears is Key West, Florida.  Throughout his walk so far, he has met strangers who have helped him appreciate little joys and triumphs that a new day can offer.  He's also met danger and good Samaritans.  As the last book ended, Alan had begun having debilitating headaches and had actually collapsed on the road. A Step of Faith begins with Alan and his father hearing the news that the weary traveler has a brain tumor which requires immediate surgery.  His father sees this as a sign that Alan should end the walk, but his son does not.

Of course Evan's is known for stories that bring forth floods of  reader tears, and this saga is no different.
After the first book, it wasn't the raw emotion that kept me looking forward to the next volumes.  I became hooked by the actual journey, especially the small towns and interesting people that Evans created.  As he wove real places, local color, and historic sights into his descriptions of every leg of the journey, I felt I was taking a walk also.  Even the hotels, B and B's, tent sites, and places to eat built a better story.  I quickly read this title, just as I did the first three, but I wasn't as captivated, and when I hit the last page, I was slightly disappointed.  Now I need to wait until next spring, and I am just not sure if I will be quite so intrigued by next spring.  Of course, if someone wants to send me to Key West to join the cruise that will celebrate the finish to this book, I will certainly consider going.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nalah and the Pink Tiger by Anne Sawyer-Aitch, a children's book

Imagination is what has driven scientific advances, exploration, and the arts throughout the ages.  Why do some people have so much more than others?  And most importantly, why do we seem to stomp out the precious imaginations of the very young?  We should cherish every moment that they have such creativity and unique sight.

Author/artist Anne Sawyer-Aitch does cherish such views in her first children's book in several ways.  First, the story itself is about a little girl who populates her home with imaginary creatures, most importantly the pink tiger Tico she "brings" home from the zoo. As the imaginary tiger creates havoc throughout the household, Nalah must take control.  The explosion of colorful illustrations that tell the story will remain with you long after the words are finished.  The author, who is also a puppeteer, gives a detailed description of how she creates two identical sketches for each page, then colors one layer differently than the other.  Next she takes an exacto knife and cuts through the top layer in places to reveal the colors below. The end result is breathtaking and bold, reminding me of African, Indian, and Eastern art all rolled together.  Children ages 4-8 will enjoy the book; imaginative children of all ages will enjoy the art!

Check out  to learn more about the book and the author.  You'll see her puppets and even learn about an app version of the book.

I received a copy of this book from Pump Up Your Book for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Nalah and the Pink Tiger

Friday, June 21, 2013

Falling to Pieces by Vanetta Chapman

Falling to Pieces - Vannetta ChapmanFalling to Pieces is the second Shipshewana Amish mystery that I've read.  Actually it precedes in time A Perfect Square, a title I blogged about earlier this spring, but I had no problem reading them out of order.  In this novel Deborah Yoder, young Amish wife and quilter extraordinaire, meets Callie Harper for the first time.  Callie has just arrived in town after receiving word that she, as her aunt;s only relative, has inherited the small quilt shop loved by "Englishers" and Amish alike.  A young widow from Texas, Callie at first seems determined to sell the shop and return to her old life, but then she connects with Deborah and her Amish friends.  Soon, Callie's old life seems just that, old, and tired.  She decides to keep the shop open and running, while she looks for a buyer.  Meanwhile she consents to placing two handmade quilts on an online auction.  When the newspaper editor claims that she has taken advantage of the Amish women and that her action violates the wishes of the local Bishop, Callie is ready to defend herself.  However, when she discovers the editor dead at his desk, law enforcement suspects poison and targets Callie as the prime suspect.

Like A Perfect Square, this is a cozy mystery with a pleasant mixture of intrigue, clues, Amish lifestyle, and just a bit of quilting thrown in for good measure. This did not have the powerful suspense that compelled me to stay up late and finish the book.  I found I could read awhile and then easily put the book aside to do other tasks, but  I've come to like Deborah and her brood of kids along with shop owner Callie and her dog Max enough that I will probably read the next book in the series Material Witness.

Vanetta Chapman has won awards for this title and for the rest of the series.  
Finalist for 2012 Golden Quill, Best Inspirational Romantic Suspense 
Winner of 2012 Southern Magic Best Inspirational Single Title

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

Kathleen Ernst has worked as a historical curator and is the successful author of more than 25 books. I am most familiar with her historical fiction and historical mysteries written for children, some of them revolving around American Girl characters.  When I saw a copy of The Light Keeper's Legacy at our local library, I felt compelled to put this on the top of my reading pile.  First, the mystery revolves around Rock Island at the tip of Door County.  I am drawn to books with Wisconsin settings, especially if it is set somewhere that I've visited or know well.  Second, I recognized Kathleen Ernst's name and wanted to see how she had transitioned into writing for older audiences.

The Light Keeper's Legacy is the third book in a series which features Chloe Ellefson, a historian at Old World Wisconsin in the mid-1980s.  This simple placement in the 1980s places all the mysteries pre-cell phone and pre-instant data, thus making the sleuthing of each mystery more methodical and slow.  There is time for Chloe to think things through, and basically, time for things to happen.  In this tale, Chloe has been asked to come to the lighthouse on Rock Island as a consultant.  A group has decided to restore the lighthouse and they want help deciding what time period should be depicted in the historical displays.
Rock Island has a small state park on one side, but basically the entire island can only be reached by ferry or by personal boat.  Chloe arrives to find herself in very primitive conditions - no running water, electricity, or phone service.  Luckily she has the essentials in her backpack and looks forward to some time alone.  That is, until she finds a woman's body entangled in a fishing net, washed ashore.  That first night she dreams or hears voice of children singing.  Somehow she is sure they are the children of Emily, a former asst lightkeeper on the island.  As the week progresses, Chloe learns more about the present day tensions between the commercial fishing industry, the DNR, and environmentalists, but she is also drawn into the one hundred year old mysteries of the former fishing village on the island.  Readers sense that somehow the two stories will merge, but will remain unclear why or how through most of the book.

Ernst's tale definitely weaves in authentic local color, both in the 1980s setting and the 1880s setting.  From the carved needle for weaving the nets to the library box to the white fish, the little details added a realism that is clearly Door County.  The 1980 story alternated with the 1880 story, a common technique in books with two stories set in two time periods, but because each chapter was quite short and often covered just a few minutes in "real time,"  I felt a choppiness and I sometimes lost interest.  I knew I wanted to finish the book, and I am glad that I did, but I did not feel that the compulsion to finish because the mysteries were pulling me to the end. I've read other reviews and others felt differently, so I am still recommending this book, especially if you know and enjoy Wisconsin history.  I think I will give another one of her books a chance soon. I would also recommend Kathleen's website and blog.  I know I want to dig around there and learn a little more about the connections between her fiction writing and Wisconsin's wonderful museums.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Look of Love by Mary Jane Clark

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Footprints in the Sand, a Piper Donovan/Wedding Cake mystery by Mary Jane Clark.  I had read books by Mary Jane Clark several years ago, but had never started this series.  Since I enjoyed Footprints, finding it a quick simple read, I checked to see what other Mary Jane Clark titles I could get for my Nook through WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium).  I had to place holds on the titles, but the waiting lists weren't too long and I recently was able to load The Look of Love.  In the series, this book actually precedes Footprints but you don't miss much reading them out of order.  In this book, the on-going relationship between Piper and boyfriend, FBI agent Jack is newer and not so serious, but that really doesn't affect the mystery unveiling.

Photos of Piper's first wedding cake, made for a fellow soap star actress, had made the press and now a California socialite has called, asking Piper to fly out and make a special cake for her upcoming nuptials.  Piper accepts and flies out to stay at the bride Jillian's famous spa where her father is a cosmetic surgeon to the rich and famous.  Within minutes of arriving Piper learns that all is not tranquil at the spa despite the peach robes, gorgeous pools, pampering beauty treatments, and nutritious food.  In a cottage not far from Piper's, a young woman is found dead.  Soon she is identified as Jillian's former maid, the same woman who months earlier had acid thrown in her face, acid probably intended for Jillian.  Despite her boyfriend Jack and her father's pleas to stay safe and act with caution, Piper  is soon in the midst of the danger.

The Look of Love is one of those cozy mysteries that you can read in an afternoon or so.  Several suspects drive the mystery to the end, and I was never sure who was the killer until the end.  Too often mysteries offer no surprises for me.  This time, although I had suspicions, there was enough doubt to keep me reading.  If you are a mystery fan (true mystery, not the gory stuff), you might give Mary Jane Clark a try.

 Check out Mary's website for more information about her books.

Monday, June 10, 2013

When God Makes Lemonade:True Stories that Amaze and Encourage created by Don Jacobson

Of course I saw the connection when I saw this title to the old adage, "When you get lemons, make lemonade."  On a deeper level lies that persistent question, why does God allow us to suffer?
Why do bad things happen? But Don Jacobson and the dozens of other authors draw our attention away from those questions to this knowledge - "God is fully with us at times, including when we have the hardest time seeing it." (Shauni Feldman)  At first I was afraid that this title would be a series of oversimplified platitudes, but instead I was treated to a volume of dramatic stories that resonate with hope, second chances, and encouragement.  Story after story show that good can and does come from the harshest of circumstances.  Sometimes those "good" changes are miracles to consider.

We had a quiet Sunday afternoon planned for yesterday, perfect for curling up with this book.  Before I realized it, the afternoon had passed and so had the evening.  As bedtime approached, I only had 50 pages out of 346 left, so I pushed ahead and finished the book.  For most readers, I would instead recommend you savor the stories a few at a time.  Like the Chicken Soup books, each person's story is told in a few pages, and it's the kind of book you can pick up and put down numerous times without losing anything.  I am delighted to hear that Jacobson is collecting stories for future volumes.  This book would be a strong addition to church libraries and definitely would make a perfect gift for almost anyone.  I noticed that it is available in audio form, great for those who don't usually read.  If you want a sample of the stories, go to  Each month there is a story to read, plus you can read Don Jacobson's own story, the inspiration for the project.

I want to thank Book Sneeze for providing me a copy for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Lemonade Books

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sweet Mercy by Ann Tatlock

When the movie Public Enemy was partially filmed in Wisconsin several summers ago, it fed a renewed interest in the Great Depression, Prohibition, and of course, the gangsters who thrived during that time.  One of our young twenty something neighbors even got a "part" as an extra, and we all watched carefully to see her multi-second debut into the world of film.  Despite all this interest in the time period, I was surprised to see prohibition and its underworld the subject of a Christian novel.  I was even more surprised at what an entertaining story Ann Tatlock created with this subject.

Seventeen year-old Eve is delighted that she and her parents have left the Twin Cities to find work at her uncle's lodge in Ohio.  Eve believes that St. Paul has become too much a city of gangsters and danger, and she wants peace.  At first the Marryat Ballroom and Lodge seems ideal, providing not only a place to live and work, but also Eve's first chance at romance. Then Eve begins to see the realities around her.  Each day, bums from the nearby "camp" arrive outside the lodge for a handout.  When Eve makes friends with one young drifter named Link, her black and white views must face that life sometimes delivers gray.  As a tentative friendship develops with her uncle's reclusive, albino step-son, Eve sees the sensitivity and hurt in the young man, while others only see a frightening "red-eyed devil."  Like all of us, Eve finally must face that she has always been to quick to judge others, and maybe, just maybe, she doesn't have all the right answers.

I would recommend this story for young adult readers.  Ann Tatlock wove into the story some details about Al Capone which are not widely known.  I think those details added impact to the themes of forgiveness and judgment.  While I thought the story flowed, I anticipated every turn and twist, and I was left with no surprises.  Still, it was a fun read and worth the time.  I received a copy of this title for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Clearing in the Wild by Jane Kirkpatrick

Whenever I pick up a Jane Kirkpatrick historical fiction title, I know that I will be reading about a unique slice of history with a central character based on a real person, probably a strong woman who faced unusual hardships amid a changing society.  Issues of faith and family are frequently wrapped in the accepted social mores and the possible enticement of  a changing world.  Tackling some rich, historically authentic stories means that Kirkpatrick's books always read a little slower for me.  There is much to consider and the story lines, especially the character development is so much richer than most historical fiction.  Recently I read A Clearing in the Wild,  book one of two about Emma Wagner Giesy and the people of the Bethel, Missouri society, a Christian Utopian society who believed they were modeling their life style on the early Christians.  As the book opens, the group's leader Wilhelm Kiehl has decided that everyone will move west to the Oregon Territory to start a new colony away from outside influences.  First, a group of  ten scouts will travel west, secure land, and then send for the others.  Among the chosen is Christian Giesy, who had dedicated his life to scouting and recruiting for the religious colony.  Now a man in his forties, he has just requested permission to marry the much young Emma Wagner.

Jane Kirkpatrick reveals that as she studied about the Aurora Colony which would eventually develop from these pilgrims, she learned that Emma Wagner Giesy was the only woman who made the initial journey with the scouts.  Long told stories indicated that Father Wilhelm Kiehl did not bless this marriage, and in fact, sent Emma on the dangerous trip west with new husband as a punishment and time of trial.  The story that Jane has constructed from that knowledge is a wonderful one, and it is indeed a story of trials, hardships, and questioning.  Meant to live apart from the world, the scouts ignored their own basic needs (and Emma's and her newborn's) as they tried to build as many shelters as possible for the coming group.  Cold and almost starving, they could have reached out to nearby settlers and Native Americans for assistance, but felt compelled to follow Kiehl's directions to the letter.  Meanwhile the leader remained in Missouri in relative luxury.  Predominately, this is Emma's story as she strives to fit into an adult wife's role in this group she has lived in all her life.  As her love for her husband and her family grows, and as she meets others who have settled in the west, her questions grow.  Her faith in God does not falter, but she begins to see community in a new light.

The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were times of great change and struggle for American women.  Jane Kirkpatrick continues to select interesting women, lost among the pages of our history and heritage, then she breathes life into their past so we can understand just a little better what happened.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

If you are interested in Jane's writings, she has a facebook page here and has a blog called

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tie that Bind by Marie Bostwick

I have been a Marie Bostwick fan since I first read her stand-alone novels Fields of
Gold, River's Edge,
and On Wings of the Morning.  Her Cobbled Court Quilt series has provided quality, heart-warming entertainment over the last several years.  Although not typed as a Christian writer, her books speak of faith overcoming obstacles and offer characters who open their lives and hearts to others.  Sure, sometimes you may shake your heads and say, "Oh neighborhoods just aren't like that."  But you know, maybe they are, at least once and a while. Meeting Marie Bostwick for just a few minutes last year at the Nancy's Notions Quilt show in Madison was enough for me to know that Bostwick is an optimist who loves her career and her characters. And I really enjoy that her "quilting threads" throughout her books are authentic to the story and to the craft.  In Ties that Bind, Margot Matthews has finally convinced herself that turning 40 and still being single is okay.  Comfortably settled into her job at the Cobbled Court Quilt shop, she doesn't regret the hectic New York worklife she left behind.  And she certainly isn't going to spend anymore time wondering if each man she meets could be made into the "right man." (Of course,  you know that such a statement in a fiction story means there is a new man just around the corner -- this time just up the street in a vintage car).  As Christmas approaches, Margot decides this is the year she will help her sister and parents reconcile.  Then an accident occurs and Margot's life becomes one of turmoil and change.

As in all her Cobbled Court books, this is not a story about just one person.  Ties that Bind is also Philippa's story.  The interim pastor at Margot's church, Philippa is the adopted daughter of a famous preacher.  Having spent years as a counselor, and now a young widow, Philippa has accepted her first church charge.  For the congregation, she is their first female pastor.  Surprises, rumors, and adjustments await all.

I listened to Ties that Bind.  The story made a lonely car drive and some tedious housework more manageable.   If you've never read a Bostwick book, check out her writings at her website. your library catalog, or a book seller site.  I think you'll find something worth reading.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

When her successful lawyer father disappears, New Yorker Julia and her family are mystified. Four years later, the family knows nothing except that he traveled back to his home country Burma.  Julia's mother, who had always felt her husband kept his previous life a tight secret which he was unwilling to share, has moved  on with her life.  Julia, herself a successful lawyer, continues to wonder why her father would abandon his family.  When she is given some letters that he wrote to a woman named Mi Mi, she decides she must travel to Burma for answers.  Did her father ever love his American family?  How could he have feelings for this Mi  Mi, someone he probably had never seen or heard from since his youth?

When Julia lands in Burma, she meets U Ba, a Burmese gentleman who claims he can tell her about Mi Mi and her father.  What he tells her over the course of several days is a poignant flashback story of Tin Win's (her father) childhood, shaped by his mother's abandonment, his childhood blindness, his remarkable chance at an education.  Most important to the story is a crippled village girl named Mi Mi who becomes Tin Win's eyes as he becomes her legs.  Together they learn the art of hearing heartbeats, and as Julia herself begins to listen, she finally hears the heartbeat of her father's life.

Julia tells the story of her trip to Burma as a flashback and U Ba tells the story of Tin Win and Mi Mi as a flashback, both successful techniques for this particular story.  And in the audio version, everything just flows.  Burma of the 1950's comes alive, both the small isolated village and the almost mystical relationship between the two youngsters.  While others saw them as handicapped and limited, they discovered beauty, joy, and understanding found by few.

This is story telling at its best.  Within the story, Julia shares that her father always told her old Burmese tales,  sort of fairy tales.  Her mother never approved, thinking they were dark and even scary.  Both Julia and her father saw the beauty within the mysteries and the telling.  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is itself that kind of story.  Some readers will see or hear darkness; others will be drawn into the story of a love that needed no communication.  I downloaded the audio version through WPLC, our library source for audio and ebooks.  I highly recommend this title.