Thursday, January 31, 2013

Jacob's Ladder by Jackie Lynn

Lynne Hinton, author of Friendship Cake, the Hope Springs Trilogy, and the Pie Town series, also has written mysteries under the name Jackie Lynn.  On Tuesday, I soaked up the warmth of our wood stove for a few hours while I delved into her mystery Jacob's Ladder.  I can either find mysteries solid entertainment or a painful excursion into trite formula writing.  I was pleasantly entertained by Lynn's story.

A New Mexico Native American travels alone to a small campground in West Arkansas.  Arriving in the middle of the night, he pulls his trailer into a remote site.  Within movements of his arrival, another vehicle follows into the isolated area.

When Rose, a private duty nurse and part-time campground worker, sees that someone had signed in to the campground after hours the previous night and now a dog is wandering loose, she travels to the
far area by the river and discovers not only the old trailer, but the elderly Native American, apparently strangled.  Readers quickly learn that this is not the first mystery at Shady Grove campground and not the first murder investigation that Rose been involved in.  It is also clear that local sheriff does not want Rose's help (interference).

I liked this mystery which reminded me of Sue Henry's Maxi and Stretch series about an older woman from Alaska who travels in her RV and always ends in the midst of a crime.  Lynn tells this mystery with a tad of Native American history and a tad more humor. For example, that dog that belonged to the murder victim has only three legs and elderly campground resident Lou Ellen believes he is the incarnation of one of her four (or is it five) husbands.  And of course, Rose will continue to complicate the investigation from keeping a turquoise bracelet she finds outside the trailer to being kidnapped without the kidnappers knowing she is there.

When I checked online, I see that there are two other Shady Grove mysteries.  Our library system only has one more, so I will need to locate the third one on my own.  This is just the right type of book for reading while waiting for an appointment or such.  Reading for entertainment or to fill some time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Perfect Word for Every Occasion by Liz Duckworth

Personal communication is perhaps one of the areas most greatly affected by technology over the last 10 years.  Emails, facebook, twitter, texts, instagrams, and skype have all but replaced traditional phone calls, letter writing, and sadly, too often, face to face communication.  As with all cultural changes, tradition tries hard to hold on, and there are some rough spots as one way of doing things is replaced by another.

We are in that limbo time in determining the appropriateness of sending condolences, congratulations, announcements and such.  Many still believe that handwritten messages supersede any electronic format, but sadly too many of us really don't know how to write a simple personal note, especially if we did to say something significant.  Liz Duckworth has tackled that problem with her new book A Perfect Word for Every Occasion.  She covers writing words of grieving (always a hard one for me), words of gratitude, words for the sick and suffering, words for birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations, and more.  Each chapter gives starting points for writing your own thoughts, then also suggests some famous quotations and Bible verses.  She rounds out chapters identifying some wrong turns we can make which she calls Aunt Me-Me's mistakes.

I like Duckworth's opinion that we should be attempting to convey "grace-filled" words.  And I do cherish hand written notes.  I've gotten a few from co-workers and students over the years.  Our daughter and her husband-to-be wrote us a letter from an engagement retreat they attended, and I still tear up reading it after 10 years.  And those precious notes from the grandchildren surpass everything, except perhaps the love letters I got from my husband as we dated.  Sadly, I fear too many people never receive such correspondence or send it.  Like Duckworth, I am not sure a twenty word message on an electronic wall will ever replace the effort and meaning behind a hand written note, but I believe it is becoming fully accepted.

As a former English teacher, I am saddened knowing people are uncomfortable writing and sending their thoughts, but I fully understand the struggles we can all have in deciding what is the right thing to say, especially to someone who is grieving or struggling. A Perfect Word for Every Occasion is a good resource and will help writers focus their thoughts.

I received a copy of this title from Bethany Publishers for review purposes.  All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

As the story opens, twelve year-old CeeCee Honeycutt is trapped in the caretaker role for a mentally ill mother while her traveling salesman father is almost always absent.  Camille's delusional attempts to recapture the glory of her "1951 Vidalia Onion Queen" days with a lopsided tiara and tattered prom dresses from the local Goodwill Store cause gossip and strange looks from the community, but no offers of help. Worse still, CeeCee is isolated and shunned.  How can a young girl's soul survive and grow in such a damaged environment.  CeeCee finds solace in her school studies and her books.    When an accident causes Camille's death, and it becomes apparent that her father cannot or will not abandon his days on the road to be a real father, CeeCee is sent down South to Savannah to live with a great aunt that she has never met.

I feel the literary market is flooded with fiction (and sadly, some nonfiction) about young children with absent or so severely damaged parents that nuturing and stablility are totally absent.  From that beginning, the stories may take different avenues to the "saving" of the child, but one frequently tale is that of life with a substitute parent, often a grandparent or a servant.  Usually there are initial problems and only gradually does the child realize that he or she now has a safe, secure place to be, a place where he or she can be assured of the love around them.  Some readers may find similarities between this novel and Secret Life of Bees. The Help, or
The Queen of Palmyra.  All are excellent reads and favorites among book clubs in past years. While I like CeeCee, it doesn't quite have the uniqueness of Bees or Help;  However, it is possibly the most hopeful.

In Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, black housekeeper Oletta Jones offers that unconditional love, but so does Aunt Tootie.  Meanwhile, CeeCee maintains a connection to her former neighbor, elderly Mrs. Odell, the only one in Ohio who had seemed to care for the young girl.  It seems that CeeCee quickly settles into living the lazy summer Savannah life, but little by little her insecurities and fears will surface as she becomes more comfortable with her new family.  Meanwhile, readers will be highly entertained by Tootie's attempts to save old Savannah and the antics of her closest neighbors.  One favorite episode of mine is when Oletta takes CeeCee to the nursing home and CeeCee meets Miss Obee, a mute, who delights in stealing the marbles from the Chinese Checker board and grows orchids in a rusted out, abandoned car.

I started off by listening to an audio version of this title and narrator (I believe it is Jenna Lamia) did a superb job of capturing a young girl's persona. I easily could have finished listening to the book, but since I had a print copy and I kept hearing such well written lines that I wanted to remember, I switched to the print edition.  Our book club will be discussing this title Thursday night and I can't wait to hear who laughed at what scenes.  Hint:  I am sure we will be talking about one Polaroid camera and the travels of a certain bra.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Tamarack River Ghost by Jerry Apps

I've written before about central Wisconsin's local author Jerry Apps.  He is so well known as a farming community historian that our public television just did a special series featuring his reflections on rural life in the 20th Century (especially the Depression era through the 60s) . Many know of his nonfiction books which capture Wisconsin's (and the country's) agricultural past.  I like his more recent fiction series set in the mythical Ames County, WI.  Ames county captures the best of several communities within our great central Wisconsin.  In his latest book Tamarack River Ghost, the county residents are faced with the possibility of a mega-farm taking over a defunct golf-course/ condo complex.  Nathan West Industries is a top leading producer of pork and really has control of the whole process from raising the feed to the final processing steps as the meat is wrapped and delivered.
If they open a facility in Ames, it will raise approximately 75,000 little oinkers per year per building.  Science and the industrial model has so perfected the process that the pigs never spend any time outside -- no worry over little pink sunburns or wallowing in the mud, but at what cost?

Naturally the community is split about the proposition.  Some clearly jump on board, seeing the benefits of increased tax base and new jobs.  Others worry about the areas's rich resources; how can water quality be guaranteed?  And is this new model really humane animal treatment?  At the center of the investigation into the proposed farm is Josh Wittmore, a local boy, now an agricultural news reporter.
Even as he tries to remain objective about the pig operation, Josh's work world is being transformed.  Like other newspapers, the Farm Country News, a national ag newspaper is losing readership and money.  Will a new model of instant news, often without sound objective reporting, totally replace what has long been the accepted journalistic model?

I always enjoy Jerry Apps's books, mainly because I see so much local color throughout.  In this book especially (if you have any ag background), you'll recognize the real world dilemmas he pulls in.  And for those who don't have that exposure to today's rural problems, he does a lot of explaining within the stories.  That may not make the fastest story telling, but it really clarifies the issues.

His writing is just so real -  from the female game warden to the neighborhood old codgers (these guys appear in more than one book) to the winter snowmobile races ruined by what else - snow!  And for those who need a little more excitement, there is the Tamarack River Ghost.  I'll say no more, except if you smell pipe tobacco, look around.  If you don't see anyone, listen for a bell.  The Tamarack River Ghost may be making his presence known again.

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

When I saw last fall that Liz Curtis Higgs had written a new Christmas novella, I knew I wanted to read it, so I got my name on the holds list for an e-copy of the book through our state library system for digital books (WPLC).  Remember good things come to those that wait, and I did have to wait until two weeks after Christmas.  When I got notice that I could download the story, I actually hesitated.  Did I feel like reading a Victorian Christmas story in mid-January, or should I pass, saving the story for next year?  I am glad that I decided to read the story.  At only 143 pages, it was like settling in for a wintery movie.

Margaret Campbell, a quite independent woman for the 1890's, has returned home to Stirling, Scotland for the Christmas holidays, but before Christmas Eve even arrives, she becomes upset over her younger brother's bitterness and hostility.  Feeling she can take no more verbal abuse, the young school teacher decides a Christmas alone is better than time spent with her family, and she flees, planning to take the train back to her little cottage in Edinburgh.  At the station, she learns that snow has delayed the train.  Fearing that all travel will end for the night, but dreading a return to her parents' home even more, Margaret decides to wait at the station, hoping that the storm will diminish.

It is while she is waiting that she catches the eye of Gordon Shaw, a newspaperman who has come to the town for business.  Stirling is not a strange city to him, however, for he grew up in this town.  A careless act when he was a teen  brought shame on his family and himself, and he has never been back. Settled into a productive life and a secure faith, Gordon still fears being recognized by towns people, but when he figures out who Margaret is, he feels he finally has a chance for forgiveness.

Despite its short length, this story could spark some lively discussions or self-reflections.  There is a quest for forgiveness, an independent woman in a time when most were not, a troubled youth trapped by his own choices and parents who let circumstances and guilt force them to choose one child over another. Notes at the end of the book from Liz Curtis Higgs share her research into Victorian Scotland, Stirling itself, and even trains of the day  That is even reflected in the title of the book Wreath of Snow which most readers will see as a simple attempt to create a "Christmasy" title, when actually "wreath" also means " snow drift" in Scottish.  It is a large snow drift that stops the train Margaret and Gordon have boarded and forces the two to join others as they walk back to Stirling.  For the pair, it is a walk to changed lives.

As I've already said, this story was a nice evening's entertainment, but when I got to the end and read the discussion questions and Liz's notes, I felt a little disappointed, not by her writing, but by me. I love Liz Curtis's writing and I usually become enmeshed in the authentic details of her historical fiction.  This time, I didn't notice much of it until I read her notes.  I wonder if it was because the story was so short and if it takes longer sometimes for me to settle into "another place or time"?  Actually, I am leaning toward blaming it on my nook.  When I have a physical book, I have that cover and any other art to place me in the correct setting each time I pick up the book.  Somehow the act of turning a thick page gives me a sense of going to the place the writer has created.  Despite really liking my e-reader, I don't always get that same connection.  I am glad I read Liz's notes at the end (sort of wish I had read them first) as they prompted me to go back and revisit how the story was told.

Final note:  The Scottish sport of curling plays a pivotal role in this story.  Here in the United States, curling is virtually unheard of, except during the winter Olympics.  However, I can boast that there is a curling rink about 30 minutes from us, and I believe there have been active curling leagues there for decades.  Who ever thought ice, a large round rock, and a broom would make a great sport?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Destinies by Elizabeth Musser

Two Destinies completes Elizabeth Musser's triology which began as 1954 Algeria sought its independence from France.  In the reviews of the two previous books, Two Crosses and Two Testaments, I shared how much I learned about the complicated factions affected by this war.  Much like our Civil War, families were split by allegiances and choices, but perhaps most difficult to understand is the hatred that arose in both Algeria and France, based not only on race, but more specifically on religion.

Thirty years have passed between the first two stories and this story which begins in 1994.  In the intervening years Gabby and David have married, raised their family, served as missionaries in Algeria, and have returned to France.  David's daughter Ophelie has become a professor and play wright.  She's very active in a small church which has opened its doors to Algerian natives who are considering converting to Christianity.  Among them is a beautiful 19 year old, Rislene, who happens to be in love with Eric, Ophilie's half-brother.  When Rislene's sister betrays her new faith and love, the 19 year-old is whisked away to Algeria, supposedly to visit a sick grandmother.  What really awaits her is a forced marriage and a controlled life.

Musser tackles tough issues in her books.  Here, each page seems to present a tougher issue than the page before. We enter France's growing world of unemployment and homelessness, we see Algerian families ripped apart by political and religious differences, and we witness innocent victims of a country which cannot or will not stop its escalating violence.  The world seems trapped in its own hatred and prejudices, but Musser shows that God continues his plans for individuals and nations, and to do that he chooses not only the strong, but the hurting, the weak, and the uncertain.
Each chosen has the possibility of two destinies - one of which is a destiny blessed by God.  Will they see God's hand in their futures or will they let fear and the past rule their actions?

There are so many parallels between this book and social ills we face today.  Hatreds and mistrust that span centuries, national borders, and even continents abound.  Groups do not understand each other; individuals and choose not to accept others.  Yet within each group there are individuals burdened with heartbreaks and desires to be loved and to be complete, but continued prejudices and violence prevent true change.  Fiction such as Two Destinies gives us a window into how things might change, if only, if only we heeded the destiny blessed by God's command to love.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Captain's Bride by Lisa Tawn Bergren

 The Captain's Bride is the first of a trilogy depicting the new lives sought by Norwegian immigrants in the 1880s and also the dangers and excitement of America's sea faring days.  Luckily for any readers finishing the first book, books two and three are already in stores.  Lucky because the stories of all the major characters are left unresolved.  While a well written novel, The Captain's Bride ends like the movie reel broke and could not be fixed or you turned the last page in a journal.-  life for everyone goes on, but you don't have a window into it.

Here are the characters who will sweep you up into their adventures and trials.  Elsa and Peder Ramsted are newly weds.  Peder has been away at sea for years, but has finally returned a captain, with his own ship.  Elsa will accompany him to the New World,  as will a group of passengers from their village.  Some will settle in the East and help Peder with the ship building business he will start.  Others, like  young pregnant Kaatje and her husband Soren, will travel to North Dakota for homesteading claims.  Kaatje prays that Soren's wandering eyes and unfaithfulness will end in the new land as he has promised, but when Elsa's attractive, impetuous  sister Tora sneaks aboard the ship, problems arise.

Life is not easy for any of the former Bergen residents   Independent Elsa struggles under her husband's domineering, although loving, hand.  First mate Karl Martensen, Peder's best friend since  childhood, battles jealously, envy, and a growing fondness for the strking Elsa.  Tora's selfish choices abound and shock.  Add in pirates at sea, a cut throat railroad industry, and the cruel    North Dakota weather; and you will find excitement on each page.

I am extremely curious what will happen with Peder in future books.  He is the only character that I do not find acting "true to character" in the story, and I wonder if that means he will permanently fail Elsa in the future.  He seems to struggle with a desire to support his strong willed, talented wife and holding to his preconceived notions of being a captain and a husband, and I had a hard time with his flip flopping.

I received a copy from Blogging for Books for a honest review.  All comments are my own.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Angel Sister by Ann H. Gabhart

 It's 1936 and Kate Merritt, middle daughter of Victor and Nadine, just 14, feels a great burden to shelter her mother and sisters as her father slips further into alcoholism.  Nothing she does seems to please either of her grandfathers, both prominent members of the community.  She doesn't understand, and actually neither do her parents, while the two men, one the local preacher and the other, a well-to- do store owner, can agree on nothing, except that their children never should have married.

Then one hot summer morning, Kate finds an abandoned girl on the steps of her grandfather's church. Little Lorena Birdsong has been left behind by a family traveling west in hopes that they can find work. When Loren a looks up, amidst tears, to see Kate, she is sure God has sent her an angel just to care for her.  Kate's family, despite their own Great Depression hardships, willingly open their hearts and home to the little girl, but within days the two grandfathers have one more thing they can agree on -- that the little girl should NOT be a member of the Merritt family.  Can Victor put aside the bottle and find the strength to be the father his daughters need, or will the demon dreams of WWI and his childhood forever imprison him?  Can Nadine forgive Victor his weaknesses or will she remain trapped by her father domineering hand?

I listened to this novel (as I sewed. walked to town, and such) and I loved it, absolutely loved it.
Every character rings true and adds so much to the unfolding story.  You'll almost be able to taste Aunt Hattie's lemonade and hear her testimony of faith and hope amidst sorrow.  And Fern Lundeen brings an unexpected aura of danger and mystery to Rosey Corner.
So often, I find Christian fiction, although it tells worthwhile stories and has admirable characters, lacks the drama/depth/cohesiveness of well written literary fiction.  I think Ann H. Gabhart has the talent to create dramatic fiction which does all this while threading a genuine story of faith restored or grown.   I am delighted to hear that life in Rosey Corner will continue in Gabhart's new book Small Town Girl which will be released in July 2013.

Here's a photo of the new book cover.  I find that I am very visual in my book selection.  By having the cover here, I hope I will be reminded to grab this book as soon as it hits the shelves.  I so want to know what happens next with the Merritt family.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis with Beth Clark

Katie Davis was living the teenage American dream.  She was popular, successful in school, lived in an affluent neighborhood, had a solid relationship with her parents and brother.  She spent her days driving her convertible, hanging out at the mall with friends, and of course, thinking about her future with her boyfriend.  Then just before her senior year, Katie dropped a bombshell -
she wanted to take a year off between high school and college to do mission work. 

Her parents, who were willing to send her to any college  she desired, were astounded and reluctant, but eventually agreed to a compromise.  If Katie could find an orphanage that would accept her as a volunteer, and if she could find an adult chaperone, she could spend the three weeks over Christmas break volunteering.  Katie found an orphanage in Uganda, but did not find a chaperone until her own mother consented to accompany her.  The weeks there opened Katie's eyes to a world of need, but also to a world of God's love in action, and surprisingly, to a world of joy that no new pair of $100 shoes or jeans would ever bring again.  While her parents might have hoped that the three weeks would satisfy her quest for adventure, instead the time intensified her quest to be a servant of the Lord.  When given the opportunity to return to Uganda after graduation as a kindergarten teacher, Katie knew she must go (despite having no teaching credentials and not speaking the language). 

Kisses from Katie documents that journey as Katie moves into a 3 foot by 10 ft room furnished simply with a cot and mosquito net, then enters the school yard to find not a class of kindergartners, but over 100 students of mixed ages, beautiful with their eager faces and white smiles.  Soon Katie learns of the many other children who do not attend school because their parents could not afford the small tuition fee or the charge for basic supplies of one pencil and some paper.  She also quickly learns of the children who do not have fresh water, clean clothes, or daily food.  Many live with parents dying of AIDS or have been abandoned. 

Of course, Katie's thoughts travel to those back in the US, who live in daily comfort with little thought to God's other children.  She uses her own savings to pay school tuitions, food, and supplies, then is advised that she should start a nonprofit if she wants to seek help from others.  To do that she needs a physical address, different from the school where she worked.  Trying to find a small space for an office proves to be impossible and all the rental agent has to offer is a 4 bedroom home.  When he keeps lowering the price until it is within her limits, Katie feels God's hand in the transaction.  And soon she understands the need for the large space, as she becomes the adoptive mother of one girl in need after another, until at the age of 19, Katie is Mommy to 13 (or was it 14?)  If you read the book, you will understand how Katie takes each step, knowing she is living out
God's love.  You'll watch as she tries to return to the United States to begin college as she had promised her parents, while all the time her heart longs for the rag tag family God has given her across the ocean. 

I was captivated by this young woman's heart from the first pages.  Her life is a definite response to Jesus's call to the young rich man to give up his wealth and live for God.   As she administers ointment to scabie-ridden bodies or digs jiggers from tiny feet, you'll think again about the feet washing of the disciples.  Her diary entries reveal her heart and emotions, while the rest of the text gives a more factual accounting of life there.  Like all nonfiction books, there are time gaps and details left out that are probably not important, but those gaps always annoy me.  A trip to the Amazima (her nonprofit) website showed some photos of those who work with her, most of which are not mentioned in the book, and also give up to date info. 
The nonprofit has continued to pay school tuition and fees for any area children and has expanded to provide a meal a day to 1000+ children in the nearby slum Masese, while trying to develop some economic skills for some of the area's women. 

What comes to me again and again as I read these types of books is that so much can be accomplished by few when they are acting with pure love, in essence, following Christ's example.
No way can governments, politicians, or even well meaning actors compare.  As others have said before, Katie says again:  We are not all called to give up lives and go to Uganda or elsewhere, but we are all called to LOVE, and LOVING is an action, not an emotion.  What action can we do today that is a reflection of our LOVE?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood

Last year I blogged about Ellen Airgood's debut adult contemporary novel set  on Lake Superior's coast, South of Superior.  In fact, I was so taken with the novel and with Ellen Airgood's own story of running a restaurant in Grand Marais, Michigan, that we made a stop at the diner while on our UP trip that summer.  Sure enough, as we sat eating our fish sandwiches on a warm summery eve, Ellen herself returned from a skype session with a Green Bay book club to assume her other job, baker of breads and such.  I just love it when I get to meet an author.

A few weeks ago I got to wondering if she had published a second novel and checked the web to find out that Prairie Evers, a children's novel came out earlier in the year.  For those of you who haven't read (or tried writing) novels written for the 4th-8th grade reader, let me say, it is a tricky world.  Some of the best writers I know focus their careers there, but the readers themselves are often reluctant and fickle.  Over the top series books capture their attention and loyalty. (My granddaughter reads her Diary of a Wimpy Kid  books over and over).  And more and more, these readers are captivated by what the older crowd is reading, which stodgy old me feels is pushing the boundaries, but back to the subject.  Talented writers know how to find the unique stories and particularly important, authentic narrator voices to capture the attention of these readers.

Ellen Airgood has done just that as Prairie Evers tells her own story.  Having moved with her parents and her grandmother from the North Carolina hills to New York state, Prairie is just beginning to settle into life there, when her grammy decides to return to North Carolina.  Prairie can't imagine life without her nearby, especially since her grandmother has always been her home school teacher.  As Grammy and Prairie play their last monopoly game that New Year's Eve, Prairie doesn't really understand how many more changes await her in the coming year:  raising chickens, attending public school for the first time, making and keeping a best friend, and trying to understand the "not so kind" world of adults.

Successful stories for this age group often depict the progressing development of personal moral compasses, a growing transition from the world of parental (adult) guidance to independent thinking and decision making. I've found that readers best accept those stories when told with a combination of humor and sensitivity. Airgood excells at that.  Also, the best authors often draw in some thread of information that will quietly expand the reader's understanding of history and the world.  In this story, it is the background of Prairie's Cherokee heritage.

From the cover to the last page, I found this book to be a delight.   I have only two disappointments.  One, I am no longer a school librarian and I can't book talk this title to all the classes.  Second, I am afraid that Ellen Airgood will focus on the middle school/young adults and forget about the adult readers.  I certainly hope she has more stories for all of us.

Friday, January 11, 2013

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin

Lt. Philomeia Blake is among the first nurses trained to train for air evacuation.  Many people, including some top army officials, believed women had no place flying into combat areas, even if it was to load wounded soldiers and to provide emergency care until they landed at bases with hospitals. With her father a prisoner of the Japanese,  Philomeia is alone in the world and she feels helping her country is her calling.  Nursing is a natural skill for her, but in training it quickly becomes apparent that her strong independence is not going to be a positive attribute.  In fact, her superiors threaten to wash her out of the program if she cannot bond with the other women. 

Raised in the Philipines by her father, Mellie's (her father's nickname for Philomeia) has always felt out of place, no matter what her surroundings.  This new world of bunkmates, shared "girly" secrets, and such is just too foreign.  When an officer promotes the idea of writing anonymously to soldiers oversea, Mellie reluctantly agrees, mainly to show that she can be part of the group.  While most letter pairings quickly end, Mellie's correspondence with a young engineerning platoon leader blossoms.  Both writers need someone to confide their concerns and fears in.  Each becomes the support that the other needs, while continuing their pledge to write anonymously.  Shortly after landing in Africa, Mellie has a chance meeting with a young engineer.  A casual remark confirms to her that Tom MacGilliver is her penpal.  While her love painfully grows, she will not reveal her identity. 

I have mixed reactions about this story.  There is an interesting theme of adults battling the self-imposed limits they bring from their troubled childhoods, and I found that perspective interesting.  I liked that their love grew through letters, partly because my husband and I corresponded heavily during our courtship.  We were 80 miles apart, and rather than calling, most days we wrote.  Much of life and our beliefs was covered in those letters!  This novel is part of a to-be continued World War II series, and although I may not read all the books in it, I want to read the one which will follow Kay Johnson (set to be published in 2014)
Not much about her is revealed in this novel, but readers get the sense that her playgirl attitude is hiding a deeper pain.

What prevents me from giving this book an all star review is Tom's story.  I didn't feel it was as believably developed as Mellie's.  Perhaps I feel that way because it is a darker, more emotionally scarring story or maybe it's because it was a "male" story, but really I think it was just the length.  At 330 pages, the novel dragged through the much of the final 100 pages.  Then right at the end, Sundin's story telling skills shone again.

So in the end, I give the book 4 stars for the setting and for these unlikely soulmates, 4 stars for developing characters that will shine in future books, but 3 stars for the prolonged story.
 Check out Sarah Sundin's website to learn more about her life and her other books.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot

Unbelievable, It is January 4th already and I have not blogged a new book!  For some strange reason, I felt compelled to do other things and did not read anything beyond needed recipes, blogs, and devotions for two, almost three days.  Here is the scoop on how I could go SO long without a book.  When I cleaned the house for the holidays, I did a super job of picking up my sewing area.  It looked spotless, neat, and shiny.  Only I knew the fabric stash in the trunk and sewing closet were a mish mash of baggies and mismatched pieces.  Then over the weekend, I stumbled upon two different type of blogs - 1. those who recycle and restyle clothes.  These wonderful women (who mostly have great bodies) take other people's rejects and restyle them into some hip clothes.  While I don't think I will be joining them in posting pics of my personal wardrobe, I have been inspired to try some more restyling and reusing of thrift store finds for the little ones or for crafts. 

The second group of blogs I found were postings of sewing rooms, many beautifully decorated with creative storage.  Their ideas and my desire to start a new season of sewing drove me to take action in my sewing area.

  When we built our home 7.5 years ago, we knew it needed a dedicated space for my sewing.   Our home is a bi-level with plenty of large, sunny windows.  The foundation bump-out on the lower level, which is directly below the upper level's sun room, became the ideal sewing suite.  It had enough room for a sewing counter to hold two or more sewing machines.  Plus there was room for my Amish made sewing table and an ironing board.  My office chair can scoot from one spot to another in an efficient triangle.  This area actually is open to our lower level family room, so I have appropriated one end of that room for a storage trunk,a shelf unit for quilting books, a sewing closet, the pingpong turned cutting table, and lastly a machine quilting frame.  Thanks, hubby, for the space.

Anyway, to shorten this tale so we can get back to books,  all those pristine sewing rooms inspired me to haul out boxes and bags of scraps to iron, cut into useable pieces, and resort into color/size piles.  Then all those piles needed to be labeled and restored in an organized manner.  I also totally revamped my thread storage.  And now you know the reason  I did not read any books or blog about them for several days.

Finally last night, I returned to reading, mainly because my download of this book from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium was going to expire and disappear within hours.
Christmas Roses by Amanda Cabot is a light, historical novella about a young widow trying to make a living  for herself and her baby by running a boarding house.  However, if the mining prospects don't improve in this Wyoming area, Celia may not attract anymore than her current one boarder, and she may have to consider marrying again -- another marriage of convenience without love.  Then a stranger arrives and Celia begins to wish love was an option, that she could find someone who offer not just a secure future, but also bring Christmas roses to his dearest. 
 This was a sweet, quick read with some interesting side characters, including a little boy whom Celia babysits and the minister's wife whose 30+ year old marriage to her husband is a model of true love to the young widow.

 Now that 2013 is here and I have officially written down my first "completed" book on my 2013 list, it is time to get back into the groove.  Hopefully, I will have time for all the activities I want to do  including  shortening that never-ending "to read" list and just maybe creating some special memories in the sewing room