Monday, April 29, 2013

How to Eat a Cupcake by Meg Donohue

Annie hasn't returned to the posh neighborhood that Lolly St. Clair and her husband call home since Annie was a teen and her mother, the St. Clair's nanny and cook, died.  Now, as Annie stands ready to ring the doorbell, Meyer lemon cupcakes in hand, she feels her adult confidence fade.  Just why is she here?  Is the chance to cater a high brow charity event worth the rush of memories descending upon her?  Just entering the impressive doors is enough to make her knees shake.  And never in her wildest imagination did she know that this evening would also mean seeing Lolly's daughter, Julia, once her best friend and most certainly the cause of her deepest heartaches.

How to Eat a Cupcake is a lively, witty story of two women, whose childhood memories pull them together, while they navigate a decade old wall of hurt and betrayal.  One reviewer called Julia, a California "mean" girl who has grown up and is finding her way out of her past.  Slowly throughout the story we will see the truth of that.  At the same time, we are waiting for her to reveal what secret has caused her to leave her east coast job and has forced herback to the safety of her parents' plush estate.  Even the flurry of activity that surrounds her upcoming wedding and her decision to fund a cupcakery with Annie cannot hide that something is very wrong with Julia.  As the cupcakery opens to astonishing success, Annie must find some kind of neutral ground in her daily encounters with Julia.  Too soon the joy of the store's success is threatened by hateful graffiti messages and break-ins, events that simultaneously pull the two women together and fill them with doubts about the other's loyalties.

Mystery, a little romance, a friendship story, and the waft of freshly baked gourmet cupcakes --
this book was a fast but satisfying read.   It's just the right kind of book to fill an open time of a beach afternoon or a wait before an appointment with pleasure.  I do however, recommend that you have a snack along.  The descriptions of those cupcakes and buttercream frosting really made me hungry!

I checked this book out How To Eat A Cupcake is Meg Donohue's book.
from WPLC for my nook; check out Meg's website to learn more about this book and her upcoming second book.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Footprints in the Sand by Mary Jane Clark: A Piper Donovan Mystery

This is the first book I've read in the Piper Donovan mystery series, also known as the Wedding Cake mysteries.  Young Piper Donovan, recovering from a broken romance, travels to her cousin's wedding in Florida, near the Sarasota Amish community known as Pinecraft.  While Piper and her cousin want to focus on the sugary images of a delectable sand dollar wedding cake, or perhaps just indulge themselves in a slice of the local specialties -Amish peanut butter pie or Key Lime pie, they soon find  that a gloomy cloud is settling over the wedding.  Shelley, a bridesmaid disappears, then her body is found buried on the beach near a turtle's nest.  

Neighbors and guests can't imagine who would want Shelley dead, but readers soon are sifting through a list of possible suspects.  Is the inn owner with the big dreams of buying the nearby condos and creating a beach paradise trustworthy?  Shelley was his assistant; did she learn something she shouldn't?  Then there is handsome Brad who runs the kayak shop.  As soon as Piper meets him, she feels both attraction and aversion.  When she figures out his tattoos are the type designed in prison, she decides he is dangerous, but would he really kill?   And what about Isaac who left the Amish in his youth.  It seems that he, too, has secrets to hide. The author does a skilled job in alternating among wedding preparations, a young Amish boy's fearful reluctance to share what he knows about the crime, and the unidentified criminal's view of his (her??) world crumbling.

This mystery should attract a young audience with its beach and wedding themes.  Piper, besides being a talented baker, is a struggling actress whose ever present smart phone, her persistance in snapping photos, then sharing them with her FACEBOOK fans will heat up the action.

I checked this book out from WPLC for my nook, and I really enjoyed this fast read.  It was just the type of entertainment I needed at the end of the week.  A neat coincidence is that I've just learned about the Amish community in Sarasota this winter and have started following a blog written by an Amish woman/cookbook author.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Children Are Tender by Linda A. Born

The Children Are Tender is the fictionalized story of a first year teacher in the 1970s.  Author Linda A. Born freely admits Lydia and her students are a compilation of her own teaching days.  Sometimes it is just easier to create a work of fiction. compressing years of experiences and people into one shorter timeframe, than try to strictly adhere to an accurate timeline and cast.   My mother and my aunt were both teachers, starting out in one room schools, and then later teaching in small town school districts.  Myself, I recently retired after working 25 years in education, so I've had many, many teacher friends over the years.  It was a frequent thought among some of those teachers that they had enough "stories' to write a good book someday.  Linda Born must have felt the same way.

Perhaps the most profound statement in the book is the character Ruth's observation, Emotional injury changes the direction of growth in the same way pressure placed on a slender tree trunk will cause it to grow crooked.  Yes, children heal, but heal misshapen.  There is a terrible need for children to be protected so they can grow straight."

Anyone who has spent time in an elementary school (as an adult) will be familiar with this book's ebb and flow:  field trips, holiday programs, struggling students, late nights correcting papers, financial woes, testing dilemmas, and the small victories that come wrapped in sticky hugs and toothless smiles.  I admire Linda Born for actually writing the book that so many of us just twirl around in our minds without ever picking up a pen.  In the end, I wish she had written a memoir of her career.  Within that framework, I would have been more than willing to hear her views on testing, special education, and current trends in education.  To me, when she tried to weave these concerns into her story, some parts seemed to not fit the educational world of the 1970s, at least not as I experienced it.  In the end, I enjoyed the little anecdotes about the children and her farm, but felt the book lacked action and depth    that good fiction needs. I thank the publishers and author for an opportunity to read this title.


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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods and more recently The Nature Principle, is credited with coining the phrase nature deficit disorder which he uses to describe our rather recent separation from the outdoors and all its benefits.  I first read The Last Child in the Woods in 2008 or 2009 when I purchased the book for our school district's professional library.  Louv decribes the trend in the last two decades that either forces our children to be inside or at structured outdoor activities.  Gone, for many, are the days of free play on a neighborhood lot, tree house, or even playground.  Subdivision covenants often forbid basketball hoops on front driveways or "homemade play structures"  Fear of over  health and safety keep youngsters inside on warm, cold, or even overcast days.  Louv then quotes a myriad of studies that show the connection between such over caution and such results as hyperactivity, disinterest in nature itself, and even more frequent bullying.  Amazingly, it seems free play, rather than providing unsupervised opportunities for bullying, allows a more natural cooperation among kids where imagination sets the tone. 

Since publishing LCinW, Louv has appeared before many groups, resulting in over 80 cities in North America starting some type of GET OUTSIDE program.  His most recent book The Nature Principle and his website go beyond the problems children with nature deficit experience to focus on what adults are missing when we remain inside.  I haven't read this book yet, but feel compelled to do so after hearing Richard Louv speak at the Kimberly Library as part of Fox Cities Book Festival and the Fox Cities Read program.  I went to this event with three friends, all of us retired school teachers.  On our ride there, we shared how different today's world is from the one we grew up in, and even the world, our children experienced.  All of us had "special outdoor spots," places that were either our refuges or centers of our imaginative worlds.  Although all of us face some type of health issue as we age, we are all fighting the fight to stay active, to garden, to walk, and depending on the season to do a little snowshoeing, canoeing, or swimming.  Certainly there is a connection between our childhoods and our desire to stay active now.

If you have a child in your life,  check out Richard Louv's website and then get that child outside.  Take a walk, pack a picnic, visit a local park, or if you're really adventuresome try camping.  Yes. bugs are annoying and everyone wants air conditioning on hot days, but research (and the heart) shows that we were designed with an internal connection to the natural world.  My personal thought, of course, we're connected to the natural world; we are part of God's creation.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

National Library Week


This has been National Library Week.  I intended to post something earlier, but did not get around to it.  Many local libraries have special events planned, inviting local authors, historians, or other special programs.

Friends and I plan to see one of the author's invited to the Fox Cities Read celebration next week.  I'll post about that after we go.  Our small library is planning a fundraiser starting next week.  We'll be having a spring basket silent auction.  It's always fun to see what is in the baskets.

Remember libraries are important elements of communities.  If you haven't visited a library recently, make it a priority.  You be able to add a new dimension to your life.  What do I find at our small library?  First of all, the greatest 2 woman staff in the world.  Next, it is my starting place for my reading wants and needs.  Since our library is part of a larger system, I can make title requests that go beyond our collection.  I must confess that our own collection is great and I have not read my way through a fraction of it.  Somehow, another title catches my eye and I have to order it through the system's sharing policy.  I also frequently get audio books, dvds, and now I can borrow ebooks through WPLC, our state program for   ebooks and audio downloads.  I also bring home kids books for the grandkids.  They love to discover on their own the new picture books I've quietly placed on the bench in the great room.  Then there are the gardening, travel, and quilting magazines I sometimes borrow.  Last there is our local paper.  I don't subscribe, but I can read the most recent issue at the library.  That way I can stay up to date with what's happening, but I don't waste my money if it's a dull week.  

Despite our small size, our library has a big heart and is an important destination in the community.  Before Christmas I took a candy making class at the library.  Last week, I took a photography class and the room was packed.  And on alternating Wednesday afternoons, a group of women, myself included, have been learning bridge.  We have some skilled players who are teaching us, and we use the library's meeting room as our home base.  And I couldn't end this little library promotion without mentioning our fantastic book club.  We meet each month to discuss a book.  I love that the library helps us locate enough copies of the book being read.  This means that cost does not keep someone from joining.  This month we are discussing 29 Gifts, which I haven't read yet.
Better get reading!   

Love Your Library


Friday, April 19, 2013

Just One Touch by Cynthia Conner Goyang




Today, what human condition or disease would cause all one's neighbors and family to shy away, maybe even isolate another person?  When would we flee in shameless fear or disgust?  A few years ago, it might have been AIDS, today we understand that disease a little better, but obviously take precautions.  The hepatitis viruses,  TB, and developing diseases like the bird flu may bring quarantines but thankfully the ill receive medical care.  Still we sometimes hear stories of cancer patients, burn/accident victims whose families and friends simply abandon them in times of great need.To me, the condition that brings the greatest isolation, misunderstanding, possible cruelty is mental illness.  Hopefully, we will continue to gain understanding of it, just as we've grown in our understanding of most medical afflictions.

Even though we, on the surface, no longer isolate the sick or unclean out of fear or religious rules, there is much we can learn from Mark 5's story of the bleeding woman.  Author Cynthia Conner Goyang has written a tender, but frank book that "fleshes" out this important message of faith.
Have you ever wondered about the months and years that preceded the woman's decision to touch Christ's robe?  How would those countless times that her neighbors and entire village shunned her
have affected her?  Through Goyang's eyes meet Sapira, a beautiful shopkeeper's daughter, who catches the eye of a rich wine merchant.  At first, the new young wife is treated with luxary and tenderness, but all that changes when she cannot deliver a live error.  Goyang emotionally depicts the subsequent unraveling of Sapira's life until that day she hears news of the healer who has come to the village.

Just walking out of her isolated cottage is a desperate act, one tinged with courage, but more importantly based on profound faith in someone she had never even met.  She willingly endures yet another round of vulgar comments and jeers as she makes her way from the safety of her home through the crowds to Christ's side.

Just One Touch is another of those small press books I've been reading lately.  Often these books are "life dreams" realized.  Again, I feel honored to be among the early readers.  This fictionalized account of the unclean woman's courageous touch of the Master's robe would be a wonderful addition to church libraries or even to a personal collection.  It would also make a lovely gift, perhaps for someone who is facing rough times or is lonely.  I received a copy of this title from
Ambassador Intl for review purposes.  All opinion are my own.

Check out  http://ambassador-international.com/books/just-one-touch to learn more about this book and author.  I've also noticed that Christianbook.com has this book in ebook format at a lower rate than Barnes and Noble, at least today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Angels of Ebermannstadt by Charlene Quint Kalebic

On the 60th anniversary of D-Day, Charlene Quint Kalebic accompanied her father on a trip back to the German village he helped liberate, the shores of Normandy, and Belgium.  Along the way, she learned some of her father's war story.  Charlene subtitles her book The Journey of an Honored Soldier, a Daughter, and Life's Greatest Lessons of Faith and Friendship.  Landing in Normandy just days after the first wave of D-Day  Richard Quint, a medic who had lied about his age in order to serve, had kept silent for sixty years about his war experience.  As he and Charlene's family retrace many of his steps, Charlene learns much about how her father had been "a light that shined even in the darkness of war," a man who kept his promises across oceans and years.

The book's title Angels of Ebermannstadt refers to a photograph Richard had taken in a small liberated German village.  In the photograph are 8 young girls all dressed in white; obviously having just celebrated their first communions.  The young, lonely soldier snapped the photo, thinking the  joyous scene was a sure sign that God still reigned.  He even felt the little girls were angels unaware.  The girls and their families, he learned later looked similarly upon the liberating Americans.

I read the majority of this book as we traveled the four hour trip home from our northwoods cabin.  I kept turning down the radio and reading segments out loud to my husband.  Charlene Quint Kalebic's observations about honor, faith, kindness, and gratitude are moving.  That those little girls in the photograph today, women in their sixties and seventies, would still see Richard as a hero is eye opening.  Their reflections on the war gave me a much clearer picture of what ordinary Germans faced during that time.  In this little village, all the grown men were gone, forced to serve in the military.  One girl's mother refused to greet others with that Nazi greeting we've all heard and seen in movies; for that refusal, she was slated to be sent to a concentration camp, leaving her children virtually orphans.  She was saved when a neighbor told the authorities that her refusal was simply a result of  mental weakness.  (Actually, she is lucky she wasn't sent away for that!)  Another little girl in the photo had been born with one arm.  Again she was slated for movement to a concentration camp, as the master race could not accept or love a flawed specimen.  It was the priest and nuns who kept her hidden until the village was liberated by Richard's unit.  It was then that the all the girls were safe to observe first communion.

Back in 1994, our family was on a trip to England at the same time as the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Many survivors that made the trip to Europe also stopped in London and we saw a group of them the day we went to Buckingham Palace.  I was moved by their presence, but not like I was by this book, or by the recent publicity about the numerous honor flights to get our WWII Vets to the Washington memorial.
This book will probably never hit the best seller list, but it's the kind of book that we need to read.  It teaches   us great lessons about choosing to live our faith in the simple acts of each day, war or peace.   It also shows a daughter taking the time to understand and honor her father's life journey.  My recommendation -- READ THIS BOOK.  Check out Kalebic's website to learn more about the book and author.

I received a copy of this book from Bring It On Communications for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Angel Falls by Connie Mann

Regina de Silva's childhood on the streets of Brazil was violent until she was rescued by Noah Anderson and given a chance at an education.  Now trained as a nurse, Regina has returned to Brazil to run an orphanage sponsored by the Andersons.  Despite her fresh chance at life, Regina can never get past seeing herself as unclean and damaged, so she shelters her personal inadequacies in her work.

Then one day, as Regina takes her friend and co-worker Irene to the airport, a car bomb explodes.
Regina and Eduardo, Irene's baby son, are safe, but Irene is killed.  Suddenly fear and mystery descend on the orphanage.  Who is Eduardo's father?  Irene had never shared, just saying he had been married and the affair a mistake.  Believing the whole orphanage to be in danger, Regina sends the children away to a safe place, keeping Eduardo with her.  When Brooks Anderson, former American military operative and estranged son of Noah Anderson, arrives with instructions that he should bring the infant to his parents, both Brooks and Regina begin to suspect Noah is the father.

Like many romantic suspense novels, Regina and Brooks mix like oil and water, or perhaps it would better to say that they are like the ingredients to dynamite.  Within moments of meeting, they are on the run as a relentless pursuer follows their every move throughout the wilds of Brazil.  This book was definitely edgier than many Christian suspense novels I have read.  As readers, you will begin to know more about the villain and the baby's parentage than Regina and Brooks, but you will stay caught up in the chase.

There are discussion questions at the end of the book.  Just reading them can pull you back to seeing this story in the light of God's plan.  Regina has never forgiven herself for a violent, abusive childhood that she had no control over.  Although she has been given a new chance at life, she couldn't see herself as a perfect child of God.  Brooks has never been able to forgive his father for a mistake made years before and now he carries the added burden of a botched military rescue.  Then, the villain brings to the story the destructive path of revenge.  And secrets, so many secrets - they all converge in the tale of non-stop action and danger.


Connie Mann loves stories that combine suspense, adventure and second chances. She offers encouragement to busy women on her blog:  www.BusyWomenBigDreams.com and is an active member of Romance Writers of America and American Christian Fiction Writers. She’s also a USCG-licensed boat captain, so when she’s not writing, she’s usually on Central Florida’s waterways with local school children or her fabulous family. Please visit her online at: www.conniemann.com.


I am part of a blog tour of Connie Mann's exciting book sponsored by PUMP UP YOUR BOOK.
Check out these other bloggers for their reviews.

Monday, April 1 – Book Review at Musings by Maureen
Tuesday, April 2 – Book Review at Splashes of Joy
Wednesday, April 3 - Book Review at Miki’s Hope
Thursday, April 4 – Book Review at Vic’s Media Room
Thursday, April 4 – Book Review at My Book Addiction and More
Friday, April 5 – Book Review & Book Giveaway at Hardcover Feedback
Monday, April 8 – Book Review at The Mary Book Reader
Wednesday, April 10 – Book Review at LDS and Lovin’ It
Thursday, April 11 – Book Review at By the Book
Friday, April 12 – Book Review at Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, April 15 – Book Review at Thoughts From Mill Street
Tuesday, April 16 – Book Review at Christian Fiction Addiction
Wednesday, April 17 – Book Review at Books Books the Magical Fruit
Thursday, April 18 – Guest Blogging at The Paperback Pursuer
Friday, April 19 – Book Review at The Self-Taught Cook
Friday, April 19 – Book Review at Blooming with Books
Monday, April 22 – Book Review at Colletta’s Kitchen Sink
Monday, April 22 – Book Review at Inside BJ’s Head
Thursday, April 25 – Book Review at A Year of Jubilee Reviews
Friday, April 26 – Book Review at My Book Addiction Reviews
Friday, April 26 – Book Review at Melina’s Book Blog


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Miracle on Snowbird Lake by Stan Bednarz

Pastor Robert Davis gives his 11 year old daughter a quick smile as she mounts her bike and pedals away from the church's yard on that summer morning in 1988  With his mind already on his daily obligations, he never even briefly thought that harm would find his precious daughter on her short ride home.  In fact, she never arrives home, clearly the victim of an abduction.

The community rallies together, black and white photos and pleading posters pepper the nearby Adirondack Mountain towns and villages, but no clues emerge.  Annie has simply disappeared, leaving her father, mother and younger brother to settle into some semblance of an altered life.  Pastor Bob continues his duty in the pulpit, but his faith is severely tested as he sees his wife bury herself in a quiet grief.  Although he still loves her and their young son, he doesn't have the strength to be the man he needs to be.  He has really begun to question whether he should continue at the church; how can he shepherd others when daily they see how much he is hurting.  Where is God in all this?

Truly each day is a "put one shoe in front of the other" type of day for Pastor Bob, months tick by, and eventually 18 months have passed.  No one seems to be looking for Annie anymore, except for Robert, who looks for her in every voice and face he sees.  Then on a  wintery morning, young Skye Taylor ventures out to make a snow angel.  Recently adopted by a loving family, the young girl is fascinated that school has been cancelled, giving her the entire day to play outside.  When her mother discovers a short time later that Skye is not in the yard, she quickly calls the police.  Suddenly Skye's plight and Annie's disappearance are linked; and Pastor Bob, his friend Sheriff Brower, and the people of the Adironacks are determined to bring the girls back.

 I started reading Miracle on Snowbird Lake late in the evening, intending to read just one chapter before bed.  Before I realized it, I was 90 pages into the book, wishing I could finish it before bedtime.  Since I really can't handle those all night reading sessions anymore, I set the book aside, but finished it right away the next day.    I was not disappointed.  Sometimes I have trouble categorizing  suspenseful novels as Christian fiction, especially with characters as dark as the villain in this book, but unfortunately terrible things do happen to loving families in real life, and like the book's Davis family, they must hold on to their faith or let pain destroy them.

Bednarz's book, which is his first full length novel, won first place for fiction in Deep River Books 2012 Writer's Contest out of 440 entries.  Deep River Publishing is an interesting style of publishing house.  It supports new authors who may not get picked up by the bigger publishers, but the company is not a self-publishing venture.  Authors are given editorial and promotion support, something that is lacking in the self-publishing business.  I was given a copy of this book for review purposes from Bring It On Communications, but all opinions are mine.
You can sample Bednarz's writing at http://www.stanbednarzstories.com/

Saturday, April 13, 2013

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza

I'd Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had - With a title like that, this book just screamed that a former teacher such as myself had to read it.  With the added subtitle, My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High and the author's name TONY DANZA in big letters, the book almost jumped into my arms.  Like most of you, I recognized Tony Danza's name from television, first Taxi, then Who's the Boss.  When did he become a teacher?  What had I missed?  To satisfy my curiosity and mainly to find out what he meant by the title, I delved into this reflection on Tony's 2009-2010 teaching experience at Philadelphia's Northeast High School.

I must confess that I was immediately (and prematurely) disappointed when I found that Tony's dream to pursue a teaching career, something that had been his plan before professional boxing and acting entered the picture, led to a contract to do a reality show for AE called TEACH.  I find little reality in REALITY TV and so was instantly prepared for some warped view of American education.  Lucky for me, I never saw the 10 episode show and Danza's book doesn't spend much time on the filming aspect.  Instead his book focuses on his attempts to reach the students, his need to make sophomore English relevant to this group of inner city kids, and his growing involvement in their lives and in the school's well being.  I was delighted to read that his producers were actually disappointed that the daily filming did not have enough drama, not even the field trips to Washington D. C. and New York City.  When the producers wanted to insert a "little planned chaos, conflict, and drama" Danza would have no part of it.  Yeah!  When AE decided to pull the plug after one semester in the school (10 episode, Tony stayed on for the remainder of the year)

What comes across in the book is Danza's earnest attempt to be the best teacher he could be.  He tried innovative techniques, but kept to the curriculum as required.  Many days he felt his lesson plans go out the window before the tardy bell rang, and other days he amazed even his seasoned colleagues.
I loved when he focused in on what he was teaching - Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the wonderful five paragraph essay.  I felt like I had returned to my freshman and sophomore communications classes of fifteen years ago.  I wanted to sit down and compare notes with him, possibly swap some ideas.  I was envious that he had the AE dollars behind him that made field trips to DC and NYC possible, but realized that such possibilities make his story, although factual, unlike the experiences of most large city teachers.  In Danza's defense, he makes clear that his teaching assignment was so much lighter than any other first year or experienced teacher.  He was given only one class, a double block English class, probably one fifth the workload of a regular teacher.  Plus he had an experienced teacher in the classroom with him at all times - talk about backup.  Even so, he writes about emotional overload, exhaustion, and problems keeping up with the bureaucracy and details.

I recognize that we humans share so many common life experiences, especially hopes, dreams, and fears.  Despite that, I think there are such vast differences between education in a large inner city and the small rural district where I taught, that they are almost different "animals."  I admire those who have made teaching in large schools their niche; I know that I would have been swallowed up by the bureaucracy and sheer size.  (Just an aside - In a never ending attempt to fix our largest, and often worst performing schools, our federal government has make a game of new initiatives and mandates that must be followed by all, never stopping to truly understand the differences between small, medium, and large school districts.  As a result, small districts have often been burdened with extra costs that out weigh any rewards, while large districts add a few more bureaucrats to juggle statistics.  I remain skeptical of how much the individual student actually benefits.)

Here are some important universals that Tony discovered and to which I shout, "You're so right!!"

1.  "The students in my class who have the most difficulty reading are not illiterate by aliterate.
Like Howard (a boy in his class), they can read, but don't"   So true.  I've had some very smart students who really struggle simply because they choose not to read.  Over the years, that results in diminished vocabulary,and slow reading skills.  Even more important is the smaller exposure to history, ideas, and social issues that they possess when compared to a voracious reader.  Studies have showed that fiction readers possess greater empathy than nonreaders.  Those who choose not to read are losing out on a lot!

2.  The perceived battle of public/parents/kids vs. school/teacher is a destructive one and when it is blown up by the press or the government, it gets only worse.  Tony Danza saw first hand how problem students have better chances of overcoming whatever is wrong when the teacher and parent can find some common ground.  When parents enter the school zone expecting the teacher to be an enemy, or when they assume that their child could never be in the wrong, not much headway is made.  When a whole network of people think the school is an enemy, the community will certainly suffer.  Sadly, I know a couple of wonderful younger teachers who made the decision to leave the profession, partly because they gave SO much and could no longer take the negative image teaching was being given in our area.  It makes me so sad when I think that people respect their doctors, plumbers, builders, but not their children's teachers.

3.  As Tony's year long stint at Northeast nears its end, he learns that a teacher he had expected to retire after 30+ years has decided to return for one more year.  When Tony asks why, Mr. Carr answers, "Maybe next year I'll get it right."  Every good teacher I've known feels that way, and we've always started a new year with that optimism.  Even now in retirement, I often dream of do-overs and new ideas.

In all, Danza's experience makes entertaining reading.  A once unmotivated student himself, he recognizes the gifts he was given by a small group of exceptional teachers in his own high school.  As he reveals his ninth months in the classroom, he also makes some very perceptive observations about the state of American schools, teachers, and students.  If you'd like to get a flavor for Danza's experience, you can read the first chapters of his book on BN or try googling his book.  He has done many interviews with news stations and newspapers which have been posted online.




Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Lesson by Suzanne Woods Fisher



The title The Lesson appears to refer directly to Mary Kate Lapp’s assignment to be the substitute teacher after her careless scooter driving causes the teacher’s injury.  Clearly M.K.’s father and step-mother hope her rash behavior will diminish with the teaching responsibility.  At first, M.K. sees the job as pure punishment and finds herself watching the clock and counting the days until the weekend even more often than her students.  Then slowly, with the wisdom of one hundred  year old Erma Yutsky, M.K. begins to find can find the best in each student.

The simple title has many other meanings:  Mary Kate’s father learns that he needs to face sorrow and pain he has hidden away for more than a decade; young Chris Yoder, who appears suddenly in the Amish community, must learn that his life will only improve if he can trust others with the truth; and sadly, his little sister will learn that not everyone can be trusted, even if we love them.  I didn't find this a fast moving story, but perhaps it is not meant to be.  Amish life is slower paced, or so they say.  I've been reading an Amish family's diary written for a Wisconsin magazine and I find their days filled to the brim with activities- plenty of work, but also time for family and friends.  But back to The Lesson. I felt it to true to what I know of Amish culture.  The romance is low key, but satisfying.  There is an element of mystery at the beginning, and in the end, the book is a good one.


I haven’t read too much by Suzanne Woods Fisher, but know that her Amish fiction is quite popular.  I’ve also seen her writings on Sherry Gore's blog, a blog about the Amish settlement in Sarasota, FL
Suzanne has a weekly radio program at toginet.com called Amish Wisdom.  I just purchased her ebook Amish Peace.  With her grandfather's Amish heritage, I consider Fisher's ties to the vast Amish communities to be strong enough to be reliable.  She has also started a children's series that I have not had time to read, but plan to do.  I'd suggest her website to anyone who wants to learn more about all her writings. 

I obtained a copy of The Lesson through inter-library loan.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

North of Hope by Shannon Huffman Polson

Seattle, June 23, 2005, Shannon Huffman received the devastating phone call that her father and step-mother had been killed by a rogue bear in Alaska's National Wildlife Refuge Area.  Her memoir North of Hope: A Daughter's Arctic Journey chronicles a somber, but affirming trip to retrace and complete her parents' Hulahula River trip, a process that will be both an expression of her grief and a needed healing.

In recent years, I've read several memoirs that documented the grieving process after the loss of loved ones.  Some deaths were expected after long illnesses and some, like the Huffmans, were totally unexpected.  Some memoirs focused on treasured memories and others delved into the darkest corners of human emotion as the survivors are completely swallowed by their pain.  Huffman shares her pain, but at the same time shows both strength and insight that will help others.  She shares her faith in God, at a time she says would be easier to not believe, in a place that should be too far north for prayer, too far north for hope.  But it is prayer that she seeks when she finally makes it to the campsite when the mauling occurred. She begins to find peace and loves her dad and stepmom even more as she learns the wilderness landscape, its flowers and birds, that they loved so much.  Although her raft mates are a stranger and an estranged adopted brother, Huffman finds the trip to be a sacred journey, a pilgrimage to understanding.  In the end, she knows we are never alone in our pain, and we must face that life is about living in the midst of what can't be understood.

Woven throughout the details of the trip are various asides, often about her participation in a classical chorus group who sang Mozart's Requiem.  Through these, she reveals much about the power of music in our relationship with God, especially in times of grief.  Another powerful passage  was her description of emptying the family home in preparation for its sale.  Another was her compulsion in the months after the death to learn as much as she could about bears until she could reconcile her horror of the attack with a developing awe for their legacy in the Arctic.

Like her father, Polson has shown a great respect and love for the wilderness throughout her life.
She shares more of those feelings on her website and blog.  Those who are moved by her wilderness trip may want to check out her other postings.  The book itself I would recommend to grief counselors, pastors, and those who are dealing with loss themselves.  As Polson quietly points out, that is all of us.  I received a copy of North of Hope from Handlebar Publishing for review purposes.  All opinions of my own.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Invisible by Ginny L. Yttrup


Christy Award winner, Ginny Yttrup returns with a contemporary novel which will have readers examining their own physical and emotional well being.  Told in alternating first person voices, we follow three very different women who beyond their unique life stories share one similarity.  All have shaped and guarded their lives so that their true selves, their fears and desires, are hidden.  Basically, they seek to be invisible. 

On the outside Ellyn, successful chef and restaurateur, doesn’t seem to have any problems.    Her customers and staff love her. Her flamboyant red hair and engaging smiles can’t be forgotten, but no one hears “Earl’s” destructive voice that constantly feeds Ellyn’s negative self-image.  When the forty­-two year old begins receiving attention from a good looking, caring widower, Ellyn cannot overcome Earl’s vision that, too fat, she will fail at any relationship she seeks.  In a desperate attempt to lose some weight and possibly prevent some health complications, Ellyn seeks the help of a young health store worker, Twila.

Twila has appears to have the God-given gifts of empathy and healing.  She attributes her sensitive caring to her own past pain.  Readers will soon realize that the frail twenty-something girl with the profound tattoos battles an eating disorder and anything that threatens her self-constructed reality also threatens her recovery.  Readers will also Yttrup’s wonderful depiction of someone who daily makes the conscience effort to choose faith in God over the inner dark thoughts that destroy.  Despite her personal battles, she genuinely hopes to help Ellyn.

At first our third main character will be an unlikely member of this invisible trio.  Tall and exotically beautiful, Sabina is new to the community.  A couple chance meetings thrust Sabina and Ellyn together, and a cautious friendship begins.  It is then we learn that Sabina, a highly successful counselor, has left behind her practice and husband for a year-long sabbatical at this tiny north Californian village.  While she admits that it is time she needs to heal, for the longest time she withholds her real need to disappear into anonymity.  As she begins to sense that both Ellyn and Twila need help, she also realizes that she cannot help anyone else without revealing her own hidden pain, and most of all, her refusal to see God’s presence in her life.
Yttrup begins each chapter with a quotation from Saint Augustine whose 3rd-4th Century writings inspired her to see the truth of her own inner struggles.  This most powerful quotation is the central theme around which the trio of ladies find their revelations:  Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of the rivers¸ at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.   

With characters ranging  in age from twenty to seventy-five and with a message that transcends any age group¸ Invisible will appeal to a wide group of readers.  Those whose lives have been touched by ED (eating disorders) may be apprehensive, but despite the uncomfortable memories the book may evoke, I think you’ll appreciate the insight.  I received a copy of Invisible from Handlebar Publishing for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.  Check out Yttrup's website for more about the author and her writings.