Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wings of Glass by Gina Holmes

Penny Carson was swept off her feet by the farm hand her father hired when she was only seventeen.  No one had ever called her pretty or said she belonged only to him.  Now ten years later, Penny knows only too well that sweet words can be empty and often they come before or after waves of temper and violence.   Ever since Trent took her away from the farm and her parents, Penny has been completely isolated. She tries to cover the emptiness and depression by telling herself that Trent is her everything, despite his temper, drinking, and probably unfaithfulness.  That is, until the welding accident that leaves him blind (temporarily) and the pair penniless.   Ashamed to admit it, Penny is actually happy that the accident gives her an opportunity to get a job and away from their shabby house.  Even more exciting is that she makes friends with her boss and co-worker, both strong Christians who help Penny learn to laugh and live.  They also encourage her to find the backbone to stand up to Trent or flee the abuse.  Despite everything the young woman clings to promises that things will change, especially after the couple learns that they are finally having a child.

Gina Holmes creates characters with strong voices who carry her stories as believably as if you were watching the events unfold in your own life.  Penny narrates Wings of Glass as a flashback, a revealing to her infant son so that he will know his father, but not be like him.  That supposition creates a sense of foreboding, an almost danger that will permeate the book from first page until the end.  At the same time. realism is added through humor and joy of small events, such as the time Penny, her boss Callie, and co-worker Fatimah go bowling.  The skillful depiction of that growing relationship among Penny, Callie, and Fatimah, a Sudanese immigrant elevates this book from just another "abuse" story to a thoughtful, artistic tale.  Both the cover and the title imply an analogy of the beauty and strength of an emerging butterfly.  Read Wings of Glass and witness first hand Penny's transformation.

By my count, I have read just under 40 books so far this year, and right now, I would rank Wings of Glass number one for Christian fiction.  If you have never read, Gina Holmes, please do so!  You can try the first chapter by going to Gina's website

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

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey has gotten strong reviews, but my personal reaction lands the book in neutral territory.  To be honest, I was drawn into the sad tale of Gemma Hardy, an orphan in 1950s Scotland.  Ever since her parents died in Iceland when she was a mere tot, Gemma has lived with her parish minister uncle and his family.  Then the uncle dies and Gemma is hastily sent away to a boarding school as a "working student."  The next eight years are a tale of woe and abuse; the only glimmer of happiness comes from a friendship with a frail,  asthmatic student.  When the school closes just shy of her 18th birthday and university exams, Gemma takes an au pair job in an isolated Scottish village.  It was at that point that I finally woke up and realized that The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a modern retelling of Jane Eyre.  Despite being a fan of that classic romance, I became disillusioned with the book from the moment I recognized the parallel.  It sort of creeped me out that Gemma's boss, a forty-something bachelor would be attracted to this naive slip of a girl.  As their budding romance crumbles, Gemma's journey of flight throws so many eccentric characters at readers that I just skimmed over them.  Maybe a Victorian reader would have been enthralled by each person who touches Gemma's life, but I felt a mixture of dizziness and boredom by all the entrances and exits.  

In the end, I wish I had watched a rerun of a Jane Eyre movie rather take the time to read this book.  Maybe, it is the physical pull of the mist and the moors that made the original story so much more appealing than this retelling.

Monday, March 25, 2013

To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander

Set at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, an actual historic Southern Plantation, To Whisper Her Name tells the story of the destitute young widow Olivia Aberdeen who has been taken in by her mother's friends, the Hardings. The plantation itself is adjusting to life after the Civil War.  Old southern sentiments still reign strong, but many of the former slaves remain, now as paid servants and farm hands.  When Ridley Cooper, a South Carolina native, comes seeking a job in the famous horse stables, readers will already know the connection between him and former slave Robert Green and their shared secret.  His work ethic quickly earns the trust of plantation owner, General Harding; his bold, humorous charm attracts Olivia's attention despite her vows not to become involved. While Ridley tries to capture for himself the special horse handling gift Old Bob has, his secret past hangs over his success.  What would happen if the plantation and its neighbors knew his true past?

Another historical romance?  Yes, but I can confidently say this title offers so much more.  We get an authentic look at the post-war Southern economy and the slowly changing social mores. I'm sure that female readers will cringe, as I did, when we realize that a young widow like Olivia was at that time completely dependent on the mercy of others.   Throughout, author Alexander  has crafted complex, multi-layered characters.  Both Olivia and the general's wife Elizabeth seemingly accept the status quo, the rigid black vs. white divisions of their society, at the same time they are boldly making secret decisions to change things.  The general could easily be a flat, stereotypical character, but Alexander has instead crafted a strong-willed man, but one who has the wisdom to to occasionally bend. Perhaps Alexander worked extra hard to make him realistic because he is based on the real General Harding, a Nashville giant in the horse breeding world.  As the big horse auction approaches, Olivia, Ridley, and even minor characters like Harding daughter Mary reach out to overcome fears and weaknesses.  In the end, this is a story about taking risks, reaching out with trust and finding faith.    The attention to detail is intense and reminds me of Liz Curtis Higgs's novels.  That means that the novel is longer than most (473 pages) and reads slower than much Christian fiction, but you'll enjoy your time at Belle Meade.  I also recommend you check out Tamara Alexander's website for news about her other books and future writings.  I see that through April 1 she has specials on ebooks.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beauty for Ashes by Dorothy Love

Beauty for Ashes is the second book in the Hickory Ridge series by Dorothy Love.  I did not read the first book, but I had no trouble following the story.  Carrie Daly lost her husband in the Civil War while still a young bride.  Now a few years older, she believes her future lies with Nate Chastain, but neither seems able to commit to a wedding date.  Carrie's brother does marry, though, and the presence of his new wife and her young sons changes Carrie's settled, if routine, life.  She is no longer the woman of the house, and it appears that her opinions carry little value.  Carrie believes she must find a life apart from the family farm and seeks employment at Nate's tiny bookstore.

Things are made worse when her brother must find work away from the farm, leaving his wife and her troublesome boys behind.  As Carrie tries to find her place, a stranger comes to town; we quickly learn that Griff is a Southern gentleman who has his own family issues.  Determined never to stay in one place too long, his plans change as he commits to training a horse for an upcoming race (a precursor to the Kentucky Derby).  And of course, the spunky Carrie catches his eye.

Just as there are elements of the first book in this story, hints of the third book unveil as Carrie's story progresses.  Themes of unselfishness, strength, faith, truthfulness and commitment run through the series.  Of course, the love story is predictable, but side stories offer enough surprises to make the book an enjoyable, but extremely quick read.  I read this book on my Nook, downloaded through our state digital library collection.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Charlotte Figgs Takes Over Paradise by Joyce Magnin

When I read and reviewed The Prayers of Agnes Sparrow I was slightly troubled because I quickly recognized author Joyce Magnin was talented, especially in character development, yet I wasn't thrilled with the book.  In my review, I mentioned that she had written more books set in Bright's Pond stories set in the 1970s.  I wondered if I should try another. Am I ever glad that I took the chance on a second book.  I just finished Charlotte Figg Takes over Paradise and loved every second reading it.

Today we often read that newly widowed spouses should make no rash decisions for at least six months after the funeral.  Obviously that was not widely accepted knowledge in the early 70's because Charlotte Figg, within days of her Fuller Brush salesman husband's death, decides to buy a trailer she sees in a newspaper ad.  Not a travel trailer, but a park model in a town she has never even visited.  She loads the car (which she almost never drove during her marriage) and a rented storage trailer and leaves all behind. Several hours later, as she drives around the Paradise Trailer Park, and then circles it again to recheck the trailer numbers, Charlotte realizes she is the victim of a cruel bait n switch sale.  There is no shiny double wide trailer with cute curtains.  Instead, she has bought a run-down speciman complete with sagging ceiling, visiting raccoons and a nasty smell.  She is ready to admit defeat and leave immediately - that is, until she meets the neighbors.  A menagerie of odd characters, you will soon fall in love with them (or least most of them), just as Charlotte did.  There is artist Rose, who sees God's hand in everyone's life except her own.  It doesn't take Charlotte long to seek out why Rose's scarred arms are covered in tattoos.  (Remember this is the 70s and women with colored arms were not common!!!)  Next there is Asa, the park's handyman.  Perhaps I should mention that Asa only has one arm, so that makes his work quite amazing.  Then there is little Ginger, not a child, but a real LITTLE PERSON and of course, I can't forget the eccentric elderly lady who feeds the birds.  Just wait until you learn her secrets.  Then there is the group of women who almost never leave their homes as they care for husbands and children.  Who could foresee that the arrival of 50 year old Charlotte with her rescued dog and an old softball trophy among her few possessions would change their lives.

This book is told with great humor and compassion, causing me to laugh out loud several times.
Despite the light tone and wacky characters, there are very strong themes within.  Charlotte quickly learns that something is not right at the trailer manager's house and she senses that the young wife might be a victim of abuse.  When she learns that Asa believes the same, she wants to take action.

I won't spoil the story by revealing anymore.  I can only say be ready for laughter, tears, plenty of surprises and even more pie.  Also check out Joyce Magnin's blog to learn more about her other books. I am delighted to see that she has started to write for middle schoolers.  I know that market very well, and it's wonderful to see imaginative writers target that audience.  Enjoy reading and why not brighten someone's day with a slice of pie.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Safe from the sea by Peter Geye

I see that I've posted several reviews in the last week.  What does that mean?  For one, it means that winter is hanging on here.  A little snow almost every day and temperatures too cold for much outside activity.  Today my husband and I attended a gardening program put on by a Master Gardener Group, which just makes the frozen ground and chilly temperatures a little harder to cope with.  Hopefully, we will both be energetic and ready to tackle all the yard/garden work when spring actually comes.  Until then, I can read.

I continue to read new books with Lake Superior settings when I run across them.  Peter Geye has built a solid reputation as a writer with his two novels set around the big water.  In Safe from the Sea, Noah, married and settled in his career out East, receives a call from his father in northern Minnesota.  His father Olaf, once Noah's hero and then later some stranger that Noah could neither understand or admire, is ill.  He wants his son to come to the family's remote cabin.  Immediately, Noah makes the trip to his father's side with no idea what to expect.  He does, however, know what he is leaving behind   - a wife who insists that her biological clock and their need for a child supersedes even a few days with his aging parent.

As November winds blows and the beauty of yet another winter begins to settle in, Noah and Olaf forge a new relationship.  Author Peter Geye artfully reveals the deep emotions that lie behind the "strong silent types" like Olaf.  At the core of his strength, but also at the center of his failings as a father and husband, is the shipwreck of SS Ragnorak in 1967.  Olaf was one of only three survivors, and until now, he had never told his son what happened in those icy Superior waters.  

I've read dozens of books with family reconciliation and forgiveness as their themes; this is a strong contender to be the best.  Olaf faces his coming death with an unmatched dignity and strength, at the same time he finally opens up enough to salvage a true relationship with his son.  In the end he leaves a legacy of truth and love of family that will reach future generations.  For those in love with the big sea of Superior, the talk of ships, taconite loads, and the shipwreck itself will make you hope that Geye continues to write.  I was delighted, when within the first five pages, Noah makes a stop at the Duluth Maritime Museum. For the author, it was a device to "fill" the reader in on Olaf's past as a shipwreck survivor.  For me, it was one of those great connections to a place I've actually been. From that page on, I knew I would enjoy this book. Check out the author's website to see other reviews and to learn about his other book.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble

The Lightkeeper's Bride by Colleen Coble is the second novel in the historical Mercy Falls trilogy.
While some series books may skip a significant time period or even a generation, it appears this book picks up just a year or so after The Lightkeeper's Daughter.  Although the town of Mercy Falls remains key to the story, the action centers around different characters - the new lightkeeper Will Jesperson and young telephone operator Kate Russell.  As Kate connects a call, she overhears a threatening conversation between Eliza Bulmer, a lady of questionable reputation, and a stranger.  When the Eliza fails to hang up and Kate cannot get a voice response, she personally runs to the woman's home.  There she finds Will Jersperson has just entered the home and is holding  an abandoned infant.  When authorities are called, Will maintains he was sent there by his private investigator brother to obtain some crucial information regarding recent pirate activity in the area.  Will is not a suspect in Eliza's disappearance, but everyone, including Kate, thinks it is strange that a young bachelor willingly offers to take responsibility for the baby.  And for Kate, it all becomes more confusing when her father appears to attempt suicide, her long forgotten birth mother appears, and the woman who raised her is stricken with small pox. Then both her adoptive parents begin to push an arranged courtship with a young businessman in the town.

Like Lightkeeper's Daughter, this novel has plenty of red herrings and suspenseful turns.  Will is the solid grounded character, often so essential in a Christian novel.  Kate is a lively mixture of a modern, evolving independent woman, but one who still carries a strong sense of duty to her parents and her social position.  I liked this quick read, but often found myself backtracking between paragraphs because scenes changed quickly and I either missed the transition sentences or there weren't any.
Also, I didn't quite buy the character Philip, who is Will's younger brother.  Unlike Will, Philip is rather irresponsible and ready to try anything.  He is supposedly investigating the recent piracy in hopes of earning the reward, but throughout the story he disappears and Will is the one who investigates.  At first I thought he might turn out to be one of the robber gang, or all the subterfuge about his motives was a red herring.  To me, his behavior just seemed odd.

I would rate this book just slightly lower than Lightkeeper's Bride, although I actually liked Kate and Will better than Addie and John. The suspense and action in the first book came off a little more finished.  Neither book would disappoint Colleen Coble fans.  I enjoyed both enough to finish the series.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Lightkeeper's daughter by Colleen Coble

Colleen Coble's Mercy Falls series consists of three novels; The Lightkeeper's Daughter, which is set in 1907, is the first.  Addie Sullivan has quietly spent her life at the lighthouse her parents tended.  Their remote location meant no playmates, no school days, and no extended family.  Instead she was home schooled and then earned a degree by correspondence.  After her father's death, life became lonelier as her mother had always been emotionally distant.  Then one day, a stranger, Mr. Driscoll, visits and reveals that Addie might be Julia Eaton, who was believed to have drowned as a toddler with her birth mother and most the ship's passengers.   Her mother confesses that her husband found a child washed up on shore, then later started receiving money to raise the child as their own.

If this is true, Mr. Driscoll could possibly  be Addie's uncle, and she may be a future heir to the Eaton/Driscoll fortune.  They devise a plan in which Addie will come to the family mansion and assume duties as young Edward North's tutor.  Little Edward is Mr. Eaton's grandson.  His mother, now deceased, was the child of Mr. Eaton's second marriage.  Being a romance story, of course, Addie falls head over heels in love with Edward's father, Lt. North.  You want to believe that his intentions and feelings are honorable, but others will try to place doubts in Addie's mind and yours. Meanwhile, she tries desperately to find out more about her deceased mother and why they were on that ship years before.  As clues are uncovered, danger increases, and attacks are made on those closest to Addie.  Still, she longs to reveal herself to her father Henry Eaton and become a member of his family.  Is it safe to do so?

Colleen Coble is one of the Christian writers I believe can consistently weave a message of faith into fiction that is fun to read.  In this case, the suspense is well done, and I never quite knew whom to trust until the end.  I checked this title out from our library and already have the second book in this series loaded on my Nook.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

I first learned about Elizabeth Keckley when I taught American Literature to high school students.
An excerpt from her memoir Behind the Scenes was in our textbook, an anthology which spanned late 17th Century through late 20th Century American writers.  I was engrossed by Keckley's description of Washington D.C.'s chaos in the hours immediately after Lincoln's assassination and was especially intrigued that a Negro dressmaker was such an intimate friend of Mary Todd Lincoln that she was the one Mary sought out in her grief.  When I heard that Jennfier Chiaverini, who has built a career around her fictional quilting stories (some of which have historical settings), was writing a novel about this Keckley-Lincoln friendship, I was thrilled.  Knowing that there are many others on the waiting list for this book at our local library, I put this book at the top of my reading pile when I got it last week.

First, let me say that I have read many books by Jennifer Chiaverini that I have loved.  I have read a couple that I felt dragged some.  That may be why I have not read every one of her books.
I knew from the start that is a stand-alone book and would not connect to any of her other quilt-based books.  But from the start, I was disappointed.  The book is fact-laden and I appreciated that, yet I was always wondering why Chiaverini did not chose to write a nonfiction book.  It was clear that she really had not ventured into much fictionalizing of the story. It appeared that the only venture into fiction was the story of the quilt made from dress scraps. Actually there is a quilt that may trace back to Elizabeth's hands, so even that story thread was based on some fact. Having read the aforementioned excerpt from Keckley's memoir years ago, its wording and excitement kept coming to mind, and I found Chiaverini's narrative slightly lacking in comparison.  When I finished the book, I decided to check Amazon to read other people's reviews.  Opinions are divided, but I found several others who felt as I did.  Some of them located copies of Keckley's memoir and felt Chiaverini's narrative was almost a blueprint copy of the original.

Whether you read Chiaverini's book, Keckley's memoir, or one of the several other books written about the Mary Todd Lincoln-Elizabeth Keckley friendship, it will be worth your time.  You will learn much about President Lincoln, his family life, and his kind treatment of people such as Mrs. Keckley.  You will perhaps have a better understanding of Mary Lincoln, whose life was darkened by tragedy, but whose behavior added to the public's severe criticism of her.  And you'll find a remarkable story of a strong black woman whose superb sewing skills allowed her to buy not only her freedom, but also her son's.  That same skill gave her the means to send her son to college, educate herself, and it placed her in history-making families such as the Jefferson Davis family and the First Family of the US.  You will also see the silent and not so silent prejudices that continued to shape her life, eventually adding to the events that forever divided Lincoln and Keckley. Her story is another of those "small stories" that add such richness to the quilt of our country's history.

Now that I am done with the review, I want to go back to my earlier comments about first learning about Keckley in an American Literature anthology. Those who've spent time in the education field know that trends come and go in that field, just as they do in fashion and other areas of cultural life.  Right now textbooks are considered so past history.  Technology continues to be the buzz word.  In language arts instruction, many teachers have abandoned using anthologies, whether in print or e-format.  Instead of being exposed to many pieces of literature, usually excerpts chosen for particular purpose, students now read only a few longer pieces in each course.  It is a matter of depth vs. breadth.  I understand the need to teach students the skills that come with deeper reading of a complete novel, play, or memoir, but I think that when students spend weeks and weeks, even whole quarters of study on one piece of literature, the lessons can become contrived and interest plummets.  It becomes a matter of taking an excellent piece of literature and turning into the proverbial "dead horse." Also, I don't like a frequent abandonment of teaching the breadth of American literature, the historical wide view that gives our young people an understanding of the writers who witnessed, recorded, and even caused what has come to be our history.  It is those anthologies that opened me to such authors as Elizabeth Keckley, Amy Tan, Christy Brown (author of My Left Foot).   So, fellow readers, excuse my educational rant.  I will now return to my review of Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

One Summer by David Baldacci

David Baldacci is best known for his crime thrillers, but recently our book club selected his contemporary family novel, One Summer for our monthly read.  As the story begins, Jack Armstrong is facing his last Christmas.  All know he is in the last stages of a terminal disease, and his death will leave his wife with a young family to raise on her own. Even now, Lizzie struggles to cope with the daily demands of three children and Jack's physical needs. Jack's teenage daughter Mikki is coping with his diagnosis as many teens would, hiding behind a mixture of rebellion and sharp words.
From his hospital bed in the living room, Jack sees his family sinking in an emotional quicksand, but can do nothing.  Then the unthinkable happens -- Lizzie is killed in a car accident, leaving Jack as the surviving parent.

Sure that he will die in days, Jack allows his mother-in-law Bonnie to take charge.  She sells the family home, collects the children, disperses them to various relatives, and then leaves Jack to die, alone, in a hospice facility.  Jack doesn't die; by another turn of fate, he finds himself able to breathe on his own. Slowly he works to regain strength, leave the hospice facility and reclaim his children.  He decides to take the children south to the island where Lizzie had spent her early childhood, a place she had talked about revisiting after Jack's death.  There, Jack hopes he will be find enough of Lizzie's spirit to rebuild his family.

Telling anymore will ruin the story for those who want to venture to the island along with the Armstrongs.  Although some members of our book club were satisfied with the "feel good" tone of this read, most felt the book lacked depth and substance. I listened to most of the book, and in that format, it was an entertaining story.  When I switched to the print format, I felt the story drag, so I switched back to audio. If you're a fan of Nicholas Sparks, Richard Paul Evans, or such, then this read will not disappoint.  One Summer's strongest element is its theme --the belief that families are worth fighting for and that a family together can survive even the worst times.  That Baldacci used a few believable twists and turns to create his tale of one such family will disappoint some, but delight others. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

It's Nothing Personal by Kate O'Reilly

An article I read today stated that over 3 million titles are published each year, with the number rising significantly due to self-published books.  Less than 1 percent will ever make it to bookstore shelves.  Sounds quite depressing for new authors, doesn’t it?  Luckily, authors see sales through other revenues than just brick and mortar stores. (Although I SO want bookstores to stay viable businesses in this techy world.)  With the statistics so against new authors, bloggers and readers alike need to share the news when we discover someone worth reading.

When I first read about new author Kate O’Reilly’s book It’s Nothing Personal, I was intrigued.  A practicing anesthesiologist, O’Reilly was involved in an incident that changed both herself and how she viewed her career.  When advised by friends that she should write about her experience, O’Reilly decided to tell the story through fiction.  It’s Nothing Personal comes across as both medical and legal thriller packed with plenty of emotion and suspense.  O’Reilly exhibits literary talent that goes beyond this one story, and if her second book In Good Hands measures up, she will be a dual career woman.

Jenna Reiner never expected that the elective surgery she worked in January 2010 would months later threaten to ruin her reputation and career.  Despite wintery roads, Jenna arrives at the hospital with enough time to draw up the sedatives and medicines she will need to administer during the surgery, places them in a drawer on her anesthesia cart and visits the patient, all before the doctor arrives.  It will not be until later that summer that Jenna and the hospital will learn that a newly hired surgical tech stole one of Jenna’s drug-filled syringes that morning and replaced it with a used syringe filled with saline, an action she repeats in other operating rooms throughout the spring months.  After tests reveal that Jenna’s patient, along with more than twenty other patients have tested positive for hepatitis C, law suits explode.  The surgical tech, the carrier for the virus, is arrested and sentenced; her confession makes clear that her drugs often came from the surgery rooms themselves.  As suits against the hospital begin, so do individual malpractice suits against the anesthesiologists of each stricken patient.  Soon Jenna Reiner finds herself sued.

Sure that she had done nothing wrong, that her procedures met the hospital’s standard of care and security, Jenna wants to fight the suit.  However her patient’s vicious lawyers, the grueling depositions, and the fear of public accusations all begin to affect Jenna’s work and her family.  Readers will soon realize the significance of the book’s title.  The legal professionals tell Jenna that none of the proceedings are personal, but truly they are.  Jenna’s anxiety is crippling.  Fear and even betrayal keep her colleagues away.  Soon everyone is telling Jenna to settle and piece together some kind of future for her family.

While this novel will not have readers chasing across the country along with the main character as  you might in a Grisham novel, you will realistically experience the powers of the legal system and the medical world.  Missteps in both, whether intended or accidental, destroy lives.  Jenna’s alternating fits of steel-like strength and utter despair and fragility are totally believable.  I really liked this novel and sincerely hope that it is among the one percent of new titles that make it into the local bookstores.  Pass the word on!

I received a copy of this title from the author and Pump Up Your Book for review purposes.  Opinions are my own.  It you want to read other reviews and interviews about this book, check out Pump Up Your Book's author's tour.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale by Lynda Ruthledge

Possessions -  they can define us.  We may remember a certain a person by what they collect, what they drove, and maybe like a certain English teacher I had years ago, a certain perfume they always wore.  Our understanding of who that person is, is wrapped in what they owned and used.  Possessions can actually refine us.  How many versions are there to the age old story of turning a poor bumpkin into a socialite by adding some fancy trimmings (and some improved grammar)?  Sadly too many in real life have bought into the fantasy that becoming a better person is a matter of getting more belongings.  We may not realize it, but too often possessions also confine us. We think they add to our lives, but instead they separate us from others. Often they become more important than other humans. Mother Theresa definitely understood that, and maybe we all need to see how we hide behind what we own.

Lynda Rutledge has written an absolutely delightful first novel around one woman's decision to rid herself of all her possessions on the last day of the millennium, which she believes will be the day she dies.  And let me tell you, Faith Bass Darling has MANY possessions to dispose of.  Her mansion, which goes back five generations or so, is the largest in town.  No family heirloom has ever been sold or given away.  And for the past twenty years, since the terrible accident that took her son's life, and also led to her husband's death and her daughter's flight from town, the mansion has been Faith Bass Darling's virtual prison.  When townspeople see several young boys helping the seventy year old Mrs. Darling carry antiques and dozens of genuine Tiffany lamps out onto the lawn next to a homemade sale sign, they take notice.  As the first comers talk to Faith and find that she is selling items for mere dollars, word spreads like wildfire.  Among early lookers is Bobbie Blankenship, local antique store dealer.  She's come ready to investigate what she has always dreamed about - the contents of the Darling mansion.  Why she even credits her obsession with this house and its secrets with her later career choice.  But quickly she realizes Faith is not rational and this sale should not be.  She's always stayed in touch with Claudia, the Darling daughter who ran away as a teen.  Maybe she can make it home in time to stop the damage.

Readers will see what the townspeople cannot.  Faith, having been given an Alzheimer diagnosis, is making a final effort to separate herself from all those things that instead of giving her pleasure, actually confined and robbed her of a life.  Her lucidity fades in and out, giving us a means of learning the full story -the sadness behind the luxurious door and draped windows, how her son died, why she blamed her husband, and why Claudia left.  As we learn her story, we also learn the story of the local Episcopal priest who has wavered in his own faith, but comes when Faith reaches out.  Readers will come to admire Deputy Sheriff John Jasper Johnson.  He claims he owes her his life, but others may say the Darling family ruined his chances for a college sports career and a better future.  All this against the backdrop of the Y2K and the scare, Faith Bass Darling's Last Garage Sale is a must read.  It is a tender book, both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, with enough humor and irony to keep any book club talking for hours.   Tiffany Baker, herself a best selling author, calls this book "a small-town novel that asks the big questions of life."  I couldn't agree more.  Check out Lynda Ruthledge's website  to learn more and to read an excerpt.