Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Big Book of Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliot

When I was school librarian there would be a time every year that the kids, usually third or fourth grade boys, would discover the joke book section and for the next few weeks everyone wanted a joke book.  Then, almost as quickly as the rush started, the craze stopped for another year.  Often they moved on to "how to draw" books, this craze perhaps initiated by an art lesson or just one student's ability to draw a really great cartoon.  I always loved these bursts of interest, hoping that they would last for at least a few students.  When Revell Publishing gave me an opportunity to review a copy of The Big Book of Laugh Out Loud Jokes for Kids by Rob Elliot I was interested.  It's been two years since I retired and I miss being able to select books for different ages and then see how they are received.
I hope that joke books still make a show at being popular, but I wonder, considering the quality of humor kids are exposed to on television sit coms, even the ones supposedly targeted at their age group.

Elliot's book is subdivided into three sections: 1.  Laugh out loud jokes for kids, 2. Zoolarious Animal Jokes for Kids, and 3.  Knock Knock Jokes for Kids.  Always a fan of knock knock jokes, I tried a couple on my husband this morning.
Joke 1
Knock Knock
Who's There
Little Old Lady
Little Old Lady Who?
I didn't know you could yodel.

Joke 2
Knock Knock
Who's There
Olive who?
Olive you.  Do you love me?

Both of these gave him a chuckle, and I take that as a strong recommendation for the book.  These are good clean jokes with simple humor.  We all need a sense of humor, especially one that is not based on
someone else's suffering or pain.  I give this book a strong recommendation, perhaps for birthday gifts, school libraries, or Sunday school libraries.  I plan to share my book with our fourth grade grandson. He seems to be the perfect age, and we always enjoy a good laugh together.

Thank you to Revell for giving me an opportunity to review this book.  All opinions are mine.

Big Book of Laugh-Out-Loud Jokes for Kids, The: A 3-in-1 Collection

Monday, January 27, 2014

Six Years by Harlan Coben

I used to make most of my reading choices by simply browsing the shelves at the library.  Online book sites, web-based library catalogs, review blogs, and social media have changed all that. For this blog, I often review books that I have received as prepublication copies.  The other titles I read are usually ones I've heard some "buzz" about which I then try to find at the library or through interlibrary loan.  That's how I got a copy of Six Years by Harlan Coben.  Funny thing is, I don't remember where I read a review of this book or when I actually requested it. It was a total surprise when it showed up at the library last week.  But once I sat down and read the first pages, none of that mattered.  This contemporary thriller pulled me in right away and kept me guessing right until the last page -- literally.

Six years prior to the start of the book, Jake Fisher watched the woman he felt he would love forever marry another man. Despite his broken heart, Jake  consents to Natalie's demand that he never bother her or her new husband Todd.  In the six year interim, Jake has settled into life as a professor at his alma mater, but has never gotten over Natalie.  When Jake sees a small obituary notice on the campus website, he recognizes the photo as Todd's.  For some reason, Jake had never remembered Todd's name, but he finds himself sure that this Todd Johnson is the man Natalie surprisingly decided to marry that August six years ago.  Feeling Jake has been given a second chance to connect with Natalie, or at least a chance to say that he is truly sorry for her loss, Jake flies to the funeral.  When he finds that widow is NOT Natalie, but that the deceased IS the man he saw marry Natalie, Jake is plunged into a quest for truth that will cost him his job, friends, and possibly even his life.  Despite being 350 pages, this was a book that demanded I read it in just two days. Chores and such would have to wait!

Many main stream thrill/mystery authors have gotten so dark and bloody that I feel ill at ease reading them.   I didn't feel that way with Six Years.  I don't know if I've read any other Harlan Coben books -- don't recognize any titles, but I know I will try some of them.  I sure do wish I could remember how I found out about this book!

Six Years

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser

Rebecca Musser lived most of her life as a member of the FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints).
Although she understood that their religion was not widely accepted, Rebecca was raised to believe that the group was unfairly persecuted by the outside world, and that many of their ways needed to be kept secret.
For the few years that she atteneded Salt Lake City public schools she never disclosed that her mother was a second wife.  Instead Becky held tight to their secret existence in the basement of the family's ranch home and accepted that her father, an engineer, would sometimes entertain customers upstairs without revealing that a second wife and group of children were quietly hidden away downstairs.  Soon Becky, her siblings, and other FLDS students were attending an academy where Warren Jeffs taught and served as principal.
Despite having once held a dinosaur bone in her hands (at public school) and having a father who sold o-rings to the space industry, Becky was expected to believe that both dinosaurs and space travel were lies perpetrated by the evil world.   Deep inside Becky hears a quiet, questioning voice, but she pushes it aside and strives to be the best student possible, just as she has pushed aside early memories of abuse by Mother Irene (her father's first wife) and her half brother.  Through her preteens and early teens, Becky tries to follow every rule and edict of the group, hoping to please the church's prophet.  Later, at age 19, she is told that she will marry the prophet, a man 85 years old.  As he takes wife after wife, despite his ailing health and diminished mental capacity, Becky begins to again question what is happening.  When the prophet dies several years later, she fears that she will again be forced to marry someone seeking to climb the power ladder of the sect.  She especially fears her old teacher Warren Jeffs, son of Becky's prophet husband, as he appears set to declare himself the new prophet.

Rebecca will decide to flee the group, along with Ben Musser, a young man who Becky will later marry.
Despite her escape, Rebecca continues to suffer.  First, she is cut off from most of her family and life time friends.  Secondly, both she and Ben find themselves totally unprepared for work and life in the outside world.  Thirdly, Becky cannot escape deep despair as she hears news that Warren Jeffs is forcing girls as young as fourteen to marry.  Slowly Becky realizes that her former life as a wife to the "prophet" has given her a unique window to the inner dealings of their church.  When Warren Jeffs is arrested and charged with being a party to child rape for the forced marriage of Becky's fourteen year old sister, it is Becky who will take the stand against him.  Later, she will help Texas law enforcement and child protective services as they investigate the ranch that Warren and hundreds of loyal followers have built.  What is uncovered will sicken readers, but will also have you admiring Ms. Musser for her strength.

The title of this book comes from one of Warren Jeffs edicts to the young FLDS women.  They are always to wear clothes and hair that is modestly pleasing to their husbands.   Red is a color too bold and too wicked.  To Rebecca, red becomes a color of challenge and truth.  Each time she testifies against the sect, she will wear red.  I obtained this book on cd through interlibrary loan.  At fourteen hours, it is a lengthy book, much of it quite disturbing.  I already had listened to the first four cds when my husband and I took a weekend drive to our daughter's.  Once I popped a cd in the car player, Russ was hooked.  When we still had 4 or 5 cds left after arriving home, we decided to listen to one cd per day.  That quickly became 2 per day, with both of us feeling compelled to listen to Rebecca's story in its entirety.   May God bless Rebecca Musser, her efforts to help others achieve the dignity and freedom they deserve, and all the others who have helpe women and children (including the lost boys) who have found the courage to leave the group.

Check out her website to learn more about this book and also about the FLDS.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Musical Quilt project in progress

My husband loves music and spends much of his semi-retirement free time either on his violin, guitar, or computer music program.  I found several pieces of music themed fabric over the past couple years and wanted to make a quilt for the day bed in his little office/music room.  However, I mainly make baby quilts and small projects so I was hesitate to start this project.  Also I couldn't decide on a pattern that would fit the fabric.  Finally I decided on a design based on ten inch squares ( sometimes called layer cakes) that are then cut two different ways.  I added some plain large print squares and also some framed squares that are music quotations.

Here are some rows ready to be stitched together.

A large block of rows sewed together.

Close up

I now have the flimsy sewed together along with a pieced backing.  Yesterday R. helped me lay the layers out on a large table that I use for cutting and such.  Today I pinned the layers together.  Now will come the actual quilting.  I plan to combine some stitch in the ditch with free motion.  I had a quilting frame but never could master it.  I had no problems loading quilts, but none of my machines liked to "perform" on the frame and I got so frustrated that I sold the frame.  This will be my first large project completely done without the frame.  Hope it goes well.  His birthday is in a few weeks and this is his gift.  He knows about it, but seems delighted that I am making this for him!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Calling by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Calling by Suzanne Woods Fisher is the second book in The Inn at Eagle Hill series. As it opens, Bethany Schrock finds her life unsettled and troubled.  Her father has recently died following the scandalous demise of his investment business, her brother has disappeared, and she has ended a romance with Jake Hertzler, fearing he was somehow involved in the failure of her father's business.  As her step-mother tries to build a new livelihood for the family as innkeepers, Bethany has consented to help five elderly Amish sisters clear decades of clutter of their home. While Bethany's heart may not be truly into her work, she can't imagine what else she should do with her time.  She certainly isn't interested in courting and she certainly doesn't want anything to do with Jimmy Fischer despite his adorable smile and his obvious interest in her.

When Geena, an "Englisher" youth pastor without a church shows up at the inn for a much needed vacation and retreat, Bethany finds someone she can confide in.  Together, the women learn more about the elderly Amish sisters and their quiet ways of helping others.  However, when Bethnay's brother comes home, it appears that danger is not far behind.

The Calling ranks a five star among Amish novels.  Too often I find the characters in Amish fiction are mere paper doll cut-outs, near duplicates of characters in other books.  Not so in this book.
Bethany, her half-sister Mim, Jimmy Fischer, his mother Edith, and even the elderly clutter-loving sisters are all unique and memorable.  In many other novels, the Englishers are portrayed as villainous characters destined to lead the innocent Amish astray or they are naive admirers of the Plain lifestyle, serving as mere witnesses to the true action.  Not so Geena, lawyer Allen Turner, and troubled teen Rusty -- all are depicted realistically and their interactions add much to the book.  I hope that their stories, as well as Bethany's and Mim's will continue in the third book of the series, The Revealing.
Suzanne Woods Fisher has earned a spot as a favorite author of the Amish tales.  Check out her http://suzannewoodsfisher.com/  to learn more about her other books, both fiction and nonfiction.

I want to thank Revell Publishing for a review copy of this title.  All opinions expressed are mine.

The Calling

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Messenger by Siri Mitchell: A Revolutionary Tale of Courage and Independence

Raised a Quaker, Hannah Sunderland has always found life quiet and calm, much like the 
Friends Meetings she attends each Sabbath.  Then everything changedsas Boston becomes a hot bed of Revolutionary discontent and British troops occupy the city.  First, Hannah's twin brother s to join the patriots; his choice to fight makes him an outcast in his own family and faith.  But how can Hannah so completely shun her own twin?  When a British officer commandeers the Sunderland home as his own quarters, the family flees to relatives who are not Quakers.  Within these walls and its constant bustle of two families, social visitors, and a household of servants, Hannah is able to escape away and make arrangements to visit her brother who is now in a British prison on Boston soil.  

It is this decision to see her brother that brings about a most unlikely partnership between Hannah and Jeremiah Jones, a local tavern keeper who holds deep bitterness and grudges against the British, having been left for dead when he served with them against the Indians.  Now at the center of a colonial spy ring, Jeremiah finds he needs the assistance of young innocent Hannah. How can a gentle woman, raised to be anything but completely honest, undertake a mission of subterfuge and possible lies?

Mitchell succeeded at recreating an occupied Boston, a city split by deeply felt allegiances and crippled by boycotts and military siege.  Clearly there were divisions within families as devastating as those felt later during the Civil War. Those like the Quakers who refused to choose sides or to participate in violence were criticized by all.  To add another layer of depth to the story, as Hannah makes most of her trips to the prison, she is accompanied by a young slave girl belonging to Hannah's non-Quaker uncle.  Being a Quaker, Hannah is appalled at this situation and willingly offers to help the girl escape along with the prisoners and does not understand the girl's reasons to keep living the only life she knows.

I borrowed this book from WPLC for my Nook.  I enjoy historical fiction and this story, along with Washington's Lady, has added some humanity to my understanding of the Revolutionary
War times.  I did find the story a little slow at times which makes it difficult to judge how much others will like it.  If you have read other stories by Siri Mitchell, then definitely try this one.

Monday, January 13, 2014

When a Heart Stops by Lynette Eason --Well crafted and fast paced thriller

After reading and reviewing an advance copy of Lynette Eason's new book No One to Trust I was eager to read more of her books, so naturally when I got notification from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium that I could download a copy of When A Heart Stops I did so right away.  I didn't even pay attention to the tiny print on the cover identifying it as the second book in a series.  Quite often that doesn't matter anyway as the author will usually bring the readers "up to snuff" about any carry over story.  While Eason really didn't do that very well, I just plunged ahead in ignorance about some of the back story because this suspenseful tale pulled me in.  Medical examiner Serena Hopkins is hiding a package recently sent from her friend Jillian, someone she has not since the girl disappeared on their graduation ten years earlier, but when her home is burglarized and Serena's decision to fire a weapon leaves the burglar in a coma, Serena knows he must have wanted the package.  Even then she does not realize that her own safety is tied directly with the murders she investigates over the next few days -- that is UNTIL the department and the FBI pinpoint that each victim was a classmate of Serena's a decade previously.

I actually liked this book better than Eason's most recent one.  I didn't feel that I was being dragged from one spot to another.  Still there was the right amount of suspense and the pace was nonstop. I would say the writing stacks up against Mary Higgins Clark and Terri Blackstock.  The fact that I have to read the third book in the series to know the absolute end of the story will be just fine with me!  To anyone wanting to give Eason a try, I suggest you start with When the Smoke Clears, the first in the series.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politicsmeand by Charles Krauthammer

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

I detest the habits of most political commentators (all viewpoints) to latch onto pet phrases, oversimplified stances, and then outshout those opposite them on the panel.  It seems that he (or she) who can talk the loudest, fastest, and longest WINS!!  Perhaps that is why I have started to listen more carefully when I see Charles Krauthammer on Fox News.  (Note, I watch more than one news channel and find that I do not totally agree with anyone viewpoint.  Does that make me unable to make a decision or fully capable of independent thought? You be the judge)  Anyway, back to Charles Krauthammer.  I find him extremely articulate and most importantly he commands such respect that others listen to him, usually without interrupting.  I also find his background as a psychiatrist  adds a unique perspective to most discussions.

As the subtitle indicates the writings in this book cover three decades; most of these essays are from his various newspaper and magazine columns while some were adapted from scholarly lectures he gave. Reading the entries was like an intense course in recent US-world history except his views are those he held at the time of the event.  Reading them with the clarifying distance of months, years or even decades made them all the more interesting to me.  I must be honest here -- some of the topics he discussed were way more political or intellectual than I normally seek, but even in those essays I enjoyed his style.   Often he writes as if he is taking an intellectual meandering with no clear purpose -- then wham, with one or two sharply crafted sentences he hits the reader with a precise, powerful, and worthwhile conclusion.  I was especially interested in the commentaries on gun control, stem cell research, monuments, and the aftermath of the fall of Communism.  I read this as an ebook, having checked it out from WPLC.   I would recommend getting the book in that format, otherwise I recommend having a good dictionary nearby.  Several times within each essay, I found myself using the definition feature of my Nook.  Let's just Krauthammer's vocabulary is as sharp and precise as his argument style.  And it was good exercise to stretch my brain!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lost and Found by Jacqueline Sheehan

Rocky's life has plunged to a deep, deep low.  Her husband Bob, only 42, has died of a massive heart attack.  When Rocky can't crack through her numbing grief, she requests a year's leave from her job as a college campus psychologist and flees to tiny Peak's Island where no one knows her.  When a part-time job as Animal Control officer becomes available, Rocky takes it.  Perhaps she believes it will bring her closer to Bob, who had been a veterinarian.  

Lost and Found has a unique tone and approach.  This is not one of those slick stories where traveling to a new location means an instant fresh start, complete with exciting romance.  Add to Rocky's grief an anorexic teenage neighbor, a Labrador retriever who has been shot with a primitive arrow, and the tale of a mentally ill woman who it seems has taken her life, and the book could be too dark to be entertaining.  For a few pages, I thought it was, especially when Rocky reveals that even in her practice she had never been able to deal with eating disorders.  Glad that no one realizes her mental health background, Rocky actually makes some rude, insensitive remarks to the young teenager and her mother.  But Lost and Found clearly becomes Lloyd's (the name given to the dog) tale as his daily care and the quest to answer what really happened to him changes not only Rocky but those around her.

When I finished this book, I was pleasantly surprised that the story had unwound as it did.  I was also surprised that I had come to like Peak's Island, Rocky, her neighbors, and, of course, Lloyd enough that I plan to read the sequel Picture This.  I'm not sure how I missed these two books along wtih Now and Then also by Sheehan when they first came out, but I am glad that I've discovered them now.  If you want to give Sheehan a read, the books are available as paperbacks or ebooks.  I found both Lost and Found and the sequel at WPLC, Wisconsin's library source for ebooks.  I am sure they are also on many library shelves.

Lost and Found

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

No One to Trust by Lynette Eason

Summer, still emotionally wounded from her rocky childhood, falls fast and deeply when she meets
Kyle.  When a quick romance leads to a marriage proposal, all Summer asks before answering "yes" is that Kyle never lie to her. Soon they settle into life as contented newlyweds -- until the day that armed thugs show up at Summer's door demanding that she turn over a computer that she knows nothing about.  Within seconds Summer's life changes as she realizes that her husband Kyle is really David Hackett whose tightly held secrets (to Summer, outright lies) have now put both of their lives in immediate danger.  How could the man she loves do the one thing she's asked him never to do?

As the couple flees from one "safe site" to another, they never seem able to be more than one step ahead of further danger.  Clearly someone is tracking their every movement, or worse yet,
one of their protectors is a mole.  The immediacy of their flight gives Summer little time to assess whether she can trust Kyle, aka David, but she quickly realizes she is not safe without him.

I like suspenseful thrillers and Eason does have a flair for writing this genre.  At times, I felt overwhelmed by the never ceasing change of location and characters.  This story has many, many secondary characters who don't get much development, but as readers you need to pay attention because one of them could become important as the mole or a vital rescuer. I don't think is really a flaw in Eason's writing.  I've noticed that tendency in many recent suspense novels, a move toward MORE, MORE quick action instead of deeper development.  I found the back story of why David chose the alias Kyle and how he met Summer makes theis story stand out from other contemporary suspense stories.  If you like suspense novels, or if you've read other stories by Lynette Eason, I would recommend No One to Trust, book one in the Hidden Identity series. To learn more about Lynette and her other writings search here.  Currently, I have When the Heart Stops, a 2013 Carol Award winner checked out from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium and loaded on my Nook.  Look for that review soon.

Note:  I would like to thank Revell Publishing for providing a review copy.  All opinions expressed are mine

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Hot Flashes and Cold Cream by DiAnn Hunt

Hot Flashes and Cold Cream

Couples approach the empty nest years differently.  Some shout "Hallelujah" and  see it as a time to rediscover each other, with plenty of time for personal freedom.  But for other couples, it is just another indication that they see everything differently.  So it seems for Maggie Hayden and her spouse.  He is totally bogged down at his law firm and probably hasn't even noticed the too quiet rooms in their big house.  Maggie, however, feels a deep emptiness and loss as their daughter departs for her honeymoon and their son returns to college.  What does Maggie do with her new found leisure time?  Depending on whether or not she's battling a hot flash, she focuses on the minutiae that she believes is screaming "over the hill."  Disgust for her own body and fears that her husband may be attracted to either a female client or his new paralegal, or both, run rampant. To top it off, her best friend begins dating after being a widow for several years.  Maggie feels it is totally her responsibility to protect her best friend from the predators of dating.Told with humor, Hunt's story may be putting on paper what thousands of newly turned 50 females are feeling.  I am sure that any gals nearing those menopausal years or those of us who've recently departed them can see spot of ourselves in Maggie's needless rantings.  It is way too easy to remember those flushed cheeks and instantaneous moments of panic, but it is the slapstick-like humor mixed earnestly with a caring story about a needy teenager that will keep readers interested.

This is a very quick read, but one I enjoyed -- a better way to spend some time than watching the vindictive, revengeful sagas on television or the endless cooking competitions!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Washington's Lady by Nancy Moser

What do we typically remember about George Washington, father of our country?  His surveying days, the tales of his childhood honesty, the long, suffering winter along the Potomac, his call to be the first President?  All are important details to learn about the man and most of us know them.  If you've had a trip to Mount Vernon (as I did way back when a teenager), you also know of his love for his land and home, but probably don't remember any specific details about his family.  Nancy Moser's recent historical fiction book Washington's Lady brings to life the forty year marriage of Martha Dandridge Custis to George Washington.  Speculation that the young widow Martha's wealth and land holdings may have first attracted George, but years of loyalty and sacrifice tell another story.

While there may have been times of luxury, especially in their young years, and excitement as the independence fever grew, the harsh reality of sacrifice, separation, and war dominate more than a decade of their life. Add in the specter of death that seemed to haunt Martha's family, and I became a sympathetic admirer of Martha's.  I believe Moser has realistically portrayed the private woman, who saw herself mainly as a wife and mother, but who realized her mothering duties included an extended family that eventually encompassed an army and a "baby" country.  As you read, you will witness Martha's insecurities over her short stature in comparison to the slender beauty who had long held George's attention, her inability to discipline a headstrong and totally spoiled son, and her never ending fear that those closest to her will die. But you will also see her strength as she deals with each of these conflicts and more.  The Martha Washington that Moser has portrayed the remarkable life of a remarkable woman married to a remarkable man.  That their deepest goal was to sit under the "vine and fig tree" to enjoy each other's company and the Potomac River view is something too few of us know.

In the epilogue of the book is the following quotation:
         It is said that without George Washington there would be no United States, but without Martha, there would no George Washington.  In his eyes, she was truly the 'other self.'

If you are a history buff, may I recommend this fictional historical account of our first "first family."  Moser's notes at the end of the book show just how skillfully a fiction writer weaves the 
well researched historical facts into an entertaining and compelling read.  This is my first book finish for 2014, and I hope all my selections for the upcoming year are as satisfying.
 Martha as a young woman from Wikipedia