Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Daddy's Gone A Hunting by Mary Higgins Clark

I used to read quite a few suspense books, but have shied away from that genre lately.
I tired of the violent descriptions and the evil, psychopathic villains that filled the pages.  The series writers were often blurring the lines between the lives of the "bad guys" and the protagonists --
that Silence of the Lambs effect, and that began to bother me.  So I continued to read legal thrillers and regular mysteries, but I've shied away from the more popular authors of intense suspense fiction.

Monday when I went to our local library, I decided to scan the shelves.  Lately, I've been reading advanced readers' copies sent to me, get books through interlibrary loan, or downloading books to my Nook, so I haven't been checking our own library shelves enough.  What caught my eye right away was a cover with a single bright red stiletto shoe on a field of snow.  When I realized that it was a new title by Mary Higgins Clark, I decided immediately that it was time for suspense and an intense block of reading time.

When I read an author such as M. H. Clark, I know that I will have to finish the book in just a few hours.  No reading a couple chapters a day over a period of days.  I know that from experience, but what did I do?  I started the book at about ten o'clock Monday night, reading only 40 pages or so before I went to bed.  Well, obviously that was enough to re-ignite my brain because I tossed and turned for 90 minutes or more before finally getting up and reading until my eyes were too dry and tired to go any further.  Yesterday I carved out enough time to speed read my way through the rest of the book.  While I would not rank this as my favorite Mary Higgins Clark book, I thoroughly enjoyed figuring out who was behind the murders of several young women (one a cold case from over twenty years earlier) and a mysterious factory fire which left a former employee dead and the owner's daughter in a coma. My main hunch was right, but there were enough red herrings and twists to keep some of the story a complete surprise until the end. With short chapters devoted to different characters, the story is advanced in tiny steps at a brisk pace, with even enough time for some little light romance.  There was one murder (and a murderer) that I felt was unnecessary;  its connection to the main story was contrived. It just seemed that there were too many dead bodies showing up!  Can't say any more without revealing some spoiler information. Even with that inclusion, Daddy's Gone A Hunting was a successful page turner.

If you're a suspense fan and somehow you missed last spring's release of Mary Higgins Clark's
Daddy's Gone A Hunting, look for it at your library or bookstore.

The Lost Years, by Mary Higgins Clark

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Whose Names are Unknown by Sanora Babb

When I watched the PBS series about the Dust Bowl earlier this year, I learned that a young journalist named Sanora Babb, herself an Oklahoma girl who later worked in California, had written a novel about the Dust Bowl and the Okies who went to California to work in the fields.  Her book had been accepted by Random House and editor Bennett Cerf had even given her an advance.  But before her words hit the "published" page, Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath hit the market, becoming such a success that Cerf told Babb that there was no need for two books telling the same story.

Although Babb went on to be a successful writer, Whose Names are Unknown remained unpublished until recently.  There is some speculation that when Babb shared some of her research with someone from one of the migrant camps who wanted to share her notes with another writer who was doing research that her notes ended up being used by Steinbeck.  There is no proof of that, but the mystery was enough to tweak my interest and I sought out Babb's book.  The Grapes of Wrath has always been a favorite of mine, and I have taught the book to high school juniors/seniors.

There are not many copies of Whose Names are Unknown in the library system so I had to wait several months until I finally got a copy.  Having just finished the book, I am still processing her powerful look at those desperate years.  I believe Steinbeck is the better story teller, but that difference is also what makes her book so powerful.  Perhaps it is because I've read GOW several times, or perhaps it is the alternating chapters of "universal" narration between the chapters about the Joads, but I've always felt the Joads were fictional --- representations of the Okies.  With Babb's writings, it was easier to see the people as real.  This was especially true in the early chapters as the Dunne family fight so hard to keep their farm and grow a successful crop.  With historical footage from the PBS series fresh in my mind, I could picture the dust storms, hear the dust pneumonia coughs, and visualize the faltering cattle and small children. Babb's characters could easily have stepped into that PBS documentary and told their stories, they were so similar to the memories of Dust Bowl survivors.  Later,  Babb's narration of the migrant camps and the struggle to find paying work is clearly accurate and informational.  Clearly she had visited these camps and knew what was happening.  But it is here, that Steinbeck's story telling weaves a  more entertaining story that mercilessly pits the reader against starvation poverty of the Okies.  I don't think anyone can forget the last chapters of GOW or the final scenes of the movie version.   Both books present strong views of humanity and strength fighting when they should be totally downtrodden by starvation and the greed of others.  In a way, I wish that Babb's book would have been published at the time of Steinbeck's.  Today we often have books with similar topics and plots, and readers decide which book  is the favorite.  Too bad Sanora Babb did not have that opportunity.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Necessary Lies by Diane Chamberlain

The best selling author of The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes has returned with another winner.
I could not put this book down and finished it in just a couple days despite hosting a family birthday party/dinner.  Necessary Lies is set in 1960s North Carolina.  Newly married Jane Forrester has just taken a job as Grace County's newest social worker, even though her pediatrician husband wants her to settle in the lifestyle of a typical suburban wife.  But golf dates and charity balls have no allure for Jane, especially as she gets drawn into the lives of her clients who reside on a nearby tobacco farm.

Perhaps it is that Mary Ella's rare beauty reminds Jane of her own deceased sister, or that the younger sister Ivy's spunkiness reminds Jane of her own independent streak.  As Jane learns more about the family and more about the county's social welfare department, she feels torn between accepted procedures and her own sense of right and wrong.  When pushed by the department to see that paperwork be completed so that 15 year old Ivy will be sterilized without the girl's knowledge, just as her older sister had been earlier, Jane feels she is in the midst of Nazi Germany, not 1960's America.

Extreme poverty, racial tensions, theories of social engineering, and human caring collide in this fast paced book.  With a simple flashback technique at the beginning of the book, readers will quickly get caught up in Ivy's desperate life on the tobacco farm, her desires to leave, and her need to trust the new social worker.

Check out Diane Chamberlain's website, Barnes and Noble, or perhaps Goodreads to see what others are saying about this book.  I can see many book clubs tackling this one.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Small Town Girl by Ann H. Gabhart

Last January I reviewed  the audio version Angel Sister by Ann Gabhart, noting that I had been thoroughly drawn into the life of the Merritt family, especially middle sister Kate and the abandoned little girl Lorena Birdsong. I also liked the eccentric village residents whose past lives add depth and interest to the story.  Although the book ties up nicely and can certainly can be read as a stand-alone, I was delighted to see that Gabhart had written a second novel centered around the Merritt sisters.

As Small Town Girl opens, it is clear that several years have passed.  It is 1941 and oldest sister Evie has just married the young preacher Mike who replaced the girls' grandfather at the church.  Kate is nursing a case of loneliness as she realizes that she will actually miss sharing a home with Evie.  Under the loneliness is also a thread of jealousy as Kate can't quite put aside her childhood crush on Pastor Mike.  Then she catches the attention of Jay Tanner who has swept into town to be Mike's best man.
Jay, who has never set aside the feelings of his own childhood abandonment, feels an instant kinship to  young Lorena Birdsong.  And he knows he is falling hard for Kate, but isn't sure if he can put aside his wandering ways. As World War II threatens, Jay would like to make a commitment, but feels unworthy.

While Angel Sister is more a story about community, family, and coming of age, Small Town Girl 
definitely towards the romantic, although Jay's personal story goes deeper than simply being the male romantic lead.  I strongly encourage readers to meet the Merritts and Rosey Corner in Angel Sister before picking up Small Town Girl.  

I received a e-copy of Small Town Girl from NetGalley for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Check out this link if you would like to learn more about these titles and other books by author Ann Gabhart.

Angel Sister

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Autumn news from the sewing room

Sometimes I wish I could clone myself and enjoy more things at once -- plus send a duplicate off to do all the necessary housework and chores.  I am in the midst of reading the sequel to Angel Sister by Ann Gabhart, but can't find much reading time.  Hope I will be able to review the book by Thursday.

Our local library is having a "Deck the Falls" silent auction later this week.  People are designing and donating fall decorations for sale.  Here are some photos of what I sent to be sold.
Woodland themed table runner.  Quotation is by Henry David Thoreau

The outside blocks are "string blocks" from scraps.
This table topper has Thanksgiving themed machine embroidered squares along with scrappy string squares.

I also made a scrappy kitchen oven mitt which I paired with a terry towel, autumn wax melt, and a colorful cookbook.  I forgot to take pictures of them and also forgot to take photos of the two tote bags made out of orphan blocks.   Hope these sell and help our computer update fund at the library.  We have quite a few families who use the library's computers regularly, not being able to afford or not wanting computers at home.

Three summers ago, while vacationing in the UP, Russ and I made a side trip to Paradise, Michigan - a small village on the tip of Lake Superior which just happens to have a great quilt shop.  While there, I picked up the pattern GRANNY'S NAP SACK by Joyce Waterman of the Village Rooster (Missouri company).
Now three years later, I finally used the pattern.  This is going to be a birthday gift for our 3 year old granddaughter.
 Rolled up and tied, the flannel sleeping bag looks like this.
 I used a flannel woodland camping panel for the front of the simple sleeping bag.  There is actually a list of forty items at the bottom that little ones can then find on the panel. You could also use patches of cotton or flannel. Both the top and bottom of the bag are quilted sandwiches. This sleeping bag is a simple slip in style, no cumbersome zippers.  The pillow is attached.  All in all this was easy to make.
Close up of the camping bears and their woodland friends. I can't wait to give this to a special birthday girl to use when she sleeps over at Grandma's and Grandpa's or when she travels to the cabin.

Thanks for looking at my latest projects.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma

During the last days of the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, Gerald de Jong, along with some other Dutch resistance workers were hastily lined up to be executed.  Miraculously, Gerald was only wounded and survived by playing dead.  Within hours, he was rescued by a couple town's people, including a relative of our author Liz Tolsma.  Liz grew up hearing this story, as well as another of her father's cousin whose husband left on their wedding night when the Germans invaded the Netherlands; he never returned.   

Tolsma grew up hearing these stories within her family and also learned about area known as Friesland in the Netherlands.  Her fictional story Snow on Tulips blends these two tales in the courageous story of the young widow Cornelia who hides her teenage brother from the Nazi work details and then nurses the wounded Resistance worker Gerrit back to health.  Each day that he remains hidden in the little house in Friesland is a danger not only to Cornelia and her brother, but also to the entire village. Slowly Cornelia learns who she can trust; at the same time, the heart she thought was forever frozen on her wedding night begins to thaw. 

There are several reasons why I was attracted to this book.  First, Liz Tolsma is a new Wisconsin author, and I love to support Wisconsin writers.  Mostly I was drawn by the Friesland setting.  See, I live about 15 minutes from the tiny Wisconsin community of Friesland, which was settled mainly by Dutch immigrants who had left the Friesland, Netherlands area.  Some of these families came after WWII, so they have stories similar to the ones Liz grew up with.  I am not Dutch, neither is my husband, but about 12 years ago he began singing in a Christian men's choir that has its origins in Friesland, WI.

So over the years, we've made more and more "Hollander" friends.  These are people who hold dearly to their heritage and remain strong in their faith -- very similar to Cornelia and Gerrit in the book. Clearly Tolsma's upbringing and family have influenced her writing. I see that Liz Tolsma has two more books being published next year, and she is also going to speak at a Christian Writers Conference in Fond du lac soon.  I am sorry to say that she was in nearby Waupun in late summer and that I missed her.  Hopefully, our paths will cross in the future.  I know I will search out her next books.

Good luck to a Wisconsin author!

Snow on the Tulips
What a captivating cover!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Secrets over Sweet Tea by Denise Hildreth Jones

Scarlett Jo Newberry is as outspoken and flamboyant as her name, but her unique personality and good heart have also make her a dynamic part of her minister husband's ministry.  So no one is surprised when Scarlett decides to find out more about the newest neighbors in Franklin.  Never did she expect to find beautiful news anchor Grace Shepherd, who along with her hockey star husband, has made yet another move, to yet another strange house.  Little does anyone suspect that within weeks, Grace will find herself the client of another nearby neighbor, divorce lawyer Zach Craig, and that both Zach and Grace will face a summer of scandal, survival, and the deepest desire to find a lives that honor themselves and God.

The secrets that the title refers to are the secrets that we keep from even ourselves -- the secrets that dishonor the person we were meant to be, the secrets that can weave themselves so deeply into our lives that we lose almost  every sense of joy in our lives.  These secrets dictate how we treat others and decisions we make.  For both Zach and Grace, the decisions have led to shattered marriages and lifeless careers.  And it is perfectly clear that as each secret gains strength and power, it has led the owner further and further away from the life and person God has created.

Even though entertaining, some Christian fiction books read like fiction from the first sentence to the last.  Not so Secrets over Sweet Tea.  At times it was almost too painful to continue reading, especially if you've watched someone deal with broken dreams and shattered hearts recently.  Denise Hildreth Jones writes in her author's notes that book comes from her own struggle out of a broken place.  She also writes that this fiction book is a counterpart to her nonfiction book Reclaiming Your Heart: A Journey Back to Laughing, Loving, and Living.  I have not read that title, but plan to investigate it further.  Sweet Tea-white-book Trans

Friday, October 4, 2013

Winter of Wishes by Charlotte Hubbard

If you like love at first sight (beyond all odds)  and happy endings, then you enjoy Charlotte Hubbard's latest book Winter of Wishes, part of the Seasons of the Heart series which follows the many challenges of  the Amish Sweet Seasons Cafe, its owner Miriam Lantz and her daughters.  As the book opens, daughter Rhonda is experiencing a new feeling - loneliness.  Her twin sister has married and started her new life, plus mother Miriam will be remarrying and moving into a new residence in just a few weeks.  Suddenly, the fact that twenty year Rhonda  has no beaus on the horizon seems a little more ominous. Quickly, Rhonda shakes herself out of thoughts of becoming an "old maid", telling herself she just needs a new challenge.  Perhaps, a job independent of the cafe and her mother.

And that is how Rhonda ends up working for Andy Leitner as a housekeeper to his two young children and his mother, who is recovering from a stroke.  Instantly, the entire family warms to Rhonda and her simple ways.  Andy credits her with turning his house into a home again, pondering how she accomplished so much it seems simply with an apron, a mixing bowl, a batch of cookies and a pot of soup.  But when Andy arrives home late from an extended shift at the hospital and drives Rhonda home himself, unchaperoned,  then kisses her, Rhonda is for the first time in her life torn between two worlds.  Her heart tells hers she has done nothing wrong, but her bishop says otherwise.
Will she need to confess before the whole church?  Will she shunned? Will she need to leave behind the English family she cares so much about?

This series would be a nice stocking stuffer gift for those who enjoy Amish romance.  I would definitely include Summer of Secrets and Autumn Wishes because those stories include some surprises that pull the series together.  Whenever I read Amish fiction, my radar is buzzing, constantly comparing their actions and thoughts to what I see in my own Amish neighbors.  In almost all books, I find significant differences to what I know as Amish life.  I've come to just accept these inconsistencies and tell myself I am reading FICTION for fun. So I recommend this series, although I would never expect anyone to base their understanding of the Amish on the details in this book!  I was given a copy by Pump Up Your Book for review purposes.  Thanks Tracee for getting me the copy!  All opinions are mine

I am part of the Pump Up Your Book Tour for this book.  Check out the other reviews and enjoy a short interview with the author.  Please note some dates on this list (including mine) may not be accurate.

Winter Wishes Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule

Monday, September 16
Book reviewed at A Year of Jubilee Reviews
Interviewed and 1st chapter reveal at My Devotional Thoughts
Tuesday, September 17
Book reviewed at Teaberry Cottage
Interviewed at Raven Reviews
1st chapter reveal at Mom Loves 2 Read
Wednesday, September 18
Book reviewed at Book Him Danno
Book featured at 4 the Love of Books
Thursday, September 19
Book reviewed at Reviews from the Heart
Friday, September 20
Book reviewed at Lighthouse Academy
Tuesday, September 24
Book reviewed at Griperang’s Bookmark
Wednesday, September 25
Thursday, September 26
Book reviewed at All Grown Up
Book featured at Literary R&R
Friday, September 27 
Guest blogging at Shhh…Not While I’m Reading
Monday, October 7
Book reviewed at My Devotional Thoughts
1st chapter reveal at 4 the Love of Books
1st chapter reveal at Read 2 Review
Tuesday, October 8
Book reviewed at Books and Needlepoint
Wednesday, October 9
Book review, Interview and Guest blogging at Melina’s Book Blog
1st chapter reveal at Literary R & R
Thursday, October 10
Book reviewed at Thoughts From Mill Street
Book review and Interview at splashesofjoy
Friday, October 11
1st chapter reveal at Authors and Readers Book Corner
Thursday, October 17
Book reviewed at Literary R&R
Friday, October 18
Guest blogging at 4 the Love of Books
Monday, October 21
1st chapter reveal at Thoughts in Progress
Friday, October 25
Book reviewed at Mary’s Cup of Tea


Charlotte-HubbardI’ve called Missouri home for most of my life, and most folks don’t realize that several Old Older Amish and Mennonite communities make their home here, as well. The rolling pastureland, woods, and small towns along county highways make a wonderful setting for Plain populations—and for stories about them, too! While Jamesport, Missouri is the largest Old Order Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River, other communities have also found the affordable farm land ideal for raising crops, livestock, and running the small family-owned businesses that support their families.
Like my heroine, Miriam Lantz, of my Seasons of the Heart series, I love to feed people—to share my hearth and home. I bake bread and goodies and I love to try new recipes. I put up jars and jars of green beans, tomatoes, beets and other veggies every summer. All my adult life, I’ve been a deacon, a dedicated church musician and choir member, and we hosted a potluck group in our home for more than twenty years.
Like Abby Lambright, heroine of my Home at Cedar Creek series, I consider it a personal mission to be a listener and a peacemaker—to heal broken hearts and wounded souls. Faith and family, farming and frugality matter to me: like Abby, I sew and enjoy fabric arts—I made my wedding dress and the one Mom wore, too, when I married into an Iowa farm family more than thirty-five years ago! When I’m not writing, I crochet and sew, and I love to travel.
I recently moved to Minnesota when my husband got a wonderful new job, so now he and I and our border collie, Ramona, are exploring our new state and making new friends.
You can visit her website at