Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron

For the past two weeks, blogger have been reviewing Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron.  Check my early posting for a listing of those bloggers.  Today, I am among the group that will review this latest installment in the Quilts of Love series, each written by a different Christian author.  First, some information provided by Litfuse and the publishers, then my review.

About Quilts of Love: Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family histories. A new book releases each month and features contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery. You will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

About the book: Tess has taken some ribbing from her fellow officer, Logan, for her quilting hobby. He finds it hard to align the brisk professional officer he patrols with during the day with the one who quilts in her off-time. Besides, he's been trying to get to know her better and he'd like to be seeing her during those couple nights a week she spends with her quilting guild.

Then one afternoon Tess and Logan visit her aunt in the nursing home and she acts agitated when Tess covers her with the story quilt. Aunt Susan seems to be communicating a message to them about Tess's uncle. There's a story behind this quilt, they realize, one that may lead them to a serial killer. Will they have a chance to have a future together or will the killer choose Tess for his next victim before they find him?

About the Author: Barbara Cameron is the CBD, CBA, and  ECPA bestselling author of 24 books including the new Stitches in Times series for Abingdon Press. Barbara has written fiction and non-fiction books for Abingdon Press, Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, and other publishers. She sold three films to HBO/Cinemax and is the first winner of the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Barbara's first two novellas won the 2nd and 3rd place in the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest from the Faith, Love, and Hope chapter of  RWA. Both were finalists for the novella category of the Carol Award of the American Christian Writers Award (ACFW). 


St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States, is the setting for Cameron’s addition to the Quilts of Love series.  The author does a commendable job of blending insight into the city’s historical heritage along with a contemporary mystery.  Tess has just made police detective and is partnered with Logan McMillan, a seasoned officer who has been recruited from Chicago.  The pair expect some leisurely duty time, allowing Tess to acquaint Logan with the city and its people.  Instead, a murder within days of Logan’s arrival has everyone afraid that a serial killer hides among the centuries old streets and alleys. To Tess finding the killer is a personal quest since her childhood friend may have been the killer’s first victim over a decade previously.  As the two search for clues to solve the new murder, they pull out the cold case and begin to search for similarities.  

Throughout her despair over her friend’s unsolved murder and  the subsequent decision to pursue a career in law enforcement, Tess has always found comfort and release in the time she spends at her aunt’s quilt shop.  Now in the midst of her biggest case, Tess finds that her aunt may also need rescuing from hidden abuse;  As the two face the truth Aunt Susan has long denied, they  also question the origins of a bag of quilt scraps stored away in the shop for years.  I would rank this novel about 3.5; Cameron created admirable main characters in Logan and Tess. Tess’s love of quilting and Logan’s rescue of a wounded cat give us both a flavor for life in St. Augustine and this couple’s solid caring natures.  Being a former English teacher myself, I especially liked the caring way Tess responds to the “nuisance” calls made by her former English teacher, now an elderly woman with early dementia.  I did get bored with the repeated lunches and dinners throughout the book, probably placed there to help establish time sequences and also develop the romance between Logan and Tess.  Unfortunately, to me, they seemed artificial and made the pursuit of the murderer almost a forgotten item.  That said, I think fans of cozy mysteries will enjoy a trip to St. Augustine to meet Tess and Logan.  Those who pride themselves on solving the mystery may not find much of a challenge.  I was provided a copy of this book by LitFuse for my honest opinion.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Blog Tour for Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron

Book Info

About Quilts of Love: Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love series focuses on the women who quilted all of these things into their family histories. A new book releases each month and features contemporary and historical romances as well as women's fiction and the occasional light mystery. You will be drawn into the endearing characters of this series and be touched by their stories.

About the book: Tess has taken some ribbing from her fellow officer, Logan, for her quilting hobby. He finds it hard to align the brisk professional officer he patrols with during the day with the one who quilts in her off-time. Besides, he's been trying to get to know her better and he'd like to be seeing her during those couple nights a week she spends with her quilting guild.

Then one afternoon Tess and Logan visit her aunt in the nursing home and she acts agitated when Tess covers her with the story quilt. Aunt Susan seems to be communicating a message to them about Tess's uncle. There's a story behind this quilt, they realize, one that may lead them to a serial killer. Will they have a chance to have a future together or will the killer choose Tess for his next victim before they find him?

Purchase a copy:

About the Author: Barbara Cameron is the CBD, CBA, and ECPA bestselling author of 24 books including the new Stitches in Times series for Abingdon Press. Barbara has written fiction and non-fiction books for Abingdon Press, Thomas Nelson, Harlequin, and other publishers. She sold three films to HBO/Cinemax and is the first winner of the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. Barbara's first two novellas won the 2nd and 3rd place in the Inspirational Readers Choice Contest from the Faith, Love, and Hope chapter of RWA. Both were finalists for the novella category of the Carol Award of the American Christian Writers Award (ACFW).

Learn more about Barbara at:

The following blogs will be reviewing SCRAPS OF EVIDENCE.  I will be reviewing the book on February 27th.  Note there is a spelling mistake for my blog title.

Donna | Books and such
Deb | Deb's Book Review
Debra | 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy & Sissy, Too!
Victoria | Deal Sharing Aunt
Betsy | Glamamamas Goodies

Linda | Faithful Acres Books
Kristie | Moments
Mindy | A Room Wihtout Books is Empty
Jill | Book, Books Everywhere
Brenda | WV Stitcher

Melina | Melina's Book Blog
Amy | A Nest in the Rocks
Amanda | The Talbert Report
Carole | The Power of Words
Mary | Mary's Cup of Tea

Beckie | By The Book
Ladette | The life and Times of a pwnmom...
Crystal | Krystlbears Corner
Heather | Misadventures of the Dynamic Uno
Nancy | Sunny Island Breezes

Connie | Bookworm 2 Bookworm
Deborah | Book Reviews by Deb
Sara | Lost Island of Book Reviews
Angela | Griperang's Bookmarks
Jennifer | Adventures in Unsell Land

Jalynn | A Simple Life,really?!
Megan | When life gets you a book
April | Dixie n Dottie
Dianna | Savings in Seconds
J.C. | J.C.s BookShelf

Pamela | Daysong Reflections
Michelle | Our Little Corner of the World
Melanie | A Year of Jubilee Reviews
Paige | Electively Paige
Tara | This Sweet Life

Pamela | Pamela Black
Sarah | Growing For Christ
Erin | Tragically Dull Adventures of an Almost Librarian
Lois | The Minister's Wife Stamps and Saves
Shondra | Give Me Today

Ashley | Loving Mommahood
Sarah | Life Isn't Always A FairyTale
Jen | Happy Little Homemaker
Sue | Thougts from Mill Street
Veronica | Veronica's 'Views

Marjorie | Manifestblog
Abi | 4 the LOVE of BOOKS
Pam | Southern Gal Loves to Read
Billy | Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer
Erin | For Him and My Family

Bethany | Perfect Beginnings
Lori | Just Plane and Simple
Michelle | I hope you dance
Tina | Giving N Sharing
JoJo | JoJo's Corner

Cindy | Cindy's Book Reviews
Laura | Lighthouse Academy
Sharon | Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews
Patricia | It's Time To Read Mamaw

Vida | Sunflower Faith
Debra | Footprints in the Butter
Margaret | The World As I See It
Karen | Crazy Stepford Wives
Lauri | Knits Reads and Reviews

Julie | More Of Him
Amada | ASC Book Reviews
Ramona | Create With Joy
Kathleen | Reviews From The Heart
Victor | Vic's Media Room

Shecki | Greatly Blessed
Heather | Married To The Cloth
Kay | Kaisy Daisy's Corner
Pamela | Lavish Bookshelf
Kathleen | Lane Hill House

Karla | Quiet Quilter
Shirley | A Mom After God's Own Heart
Jennifer | Jen's Journey
Ruth | My Devotional Thoughts
Kathleen | Jersey Girl Book Reviews
Lena | A Christian Writer's World

Angie | Once Upon A Book
Carla | Working Mommy Journal
Ginger | My Mis-Matched World
Nathania | Sophie and Momma

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Irrestistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses

home-page-book-cover Promotional blurbs say that readers of Nicholas Sparks, Jan Karon, and other books featuring a heart warming story and a charming small town atmosphere such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will enjoy Mary Simses's first novel The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe.  Reading those advance praises and seeing the irresistible cover peaked my curiosity, so despite having a hefty stack of "must read" books at home, I couldn't leave a recent trip to the library without Simses's book.

When I sit down to start a book and look up in what seems like mere minutes to find I am approaching page one hundred, one of two things has happened..  One, I have been reading a children's novel.  No matter how well written, I seem to speed right through those books.
The other reason (the one applicable here) is that the author has cleverly and yet effortlessly created a story that has drawn me in so deeply that I've simply left "home" for another place and time.  Simses, in her first novel, has selected small town Maine for that escape.  New York lawyer Ellen Branford has come to tiny Beacon in response to her grandmother's last wish that she deliver a letter to someone from her grandmother's secret past.  Ellen quickly registers at the local inn whose accommodations are definitely several "stars" below the expectations Ellen and her fiance have become accustomed to.  Her attention is drawn to an old pier and she decides to take a walk before attempting to hand deliver the letter.  One misstep and Ellen finds herself being pulled out to sea despite being a strong swimmer.  Seconds pass, thoughts of certain death fill her mind, even as she attempts to swim to shore.  Then she sees someone from shore swimming toward her and rescue seems likely.

If I laid down the basic plot elements of this title, you would most likely say, "Oh, another chick lit book.  Girl must choose between old boyfriend and new guy. I've read that story dozens of times before."  And you would be right, but it is the WAY that Mary Simses tells the story that will entertain you.  You will laugh when the whole village begins calling Ellen "swimmer" after her near drowning.  There is even a newspaper photo of Ellen spontaneously kissing her handsome rescuer.  When Ellen first sees the photo on the front page, she buys all five hundred copies so her fiance will never see the photo.  I especially liked the way the author developed our understanding that Ellen was high strung, with a career and life that was just slightly too controlled.  Simses accomplishes this with the tiny details-- the indulgence of a cider doughnut, a dart game, and later a simple pair of jeans.  And then there is the intriguing story about her grandmother's past -- nothing sinister or dangerous, simply the story of one dream fading and another replacing it.  But don't you wonder what are the stories that your grandparents or parents never shared?

Although the two stories are nothing alike, the writing in this novel reminded me of Ellen Airgood's South of Superior. Both are first novels; both female authors do commendable jobs of creating setting and making it an integral part of the story.  I hope that Simses returns to Beacon, Maine.  I am sure there are some stories that the new Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe can tell.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Heart of the Country by Rene Gutteridge and John Ward

I have not seen the movie Heart of the Country but chose to read the novelization of the film when I saw Rene Gutteridge had taken on the project of turning the script into a novel.  In it, Faith and Luke have what seems to be an ideal marriage until Luke's firm is charged with operating a massive ponsi scheme.  When Luke refuses to answer Faith's questions about his involvement, she flees New York City, escaping back to her childhood farm and a family she had left years before.  Basically, the story is a double "prodigal son's" story.  Faith is welcomed back by her father, but her sister Olivia harbors resentment over the 10 year absence and Faith's pattern of running from adversity instead of dealing with it.  Olivia is the dutiful sibling and her jealousy, despite having a good marriage and healthy kids, runs deep.  I am sure this sibling rivalry would play well in a movie; on paper, it seemed a little forced.  They would seem to be on the road to mending and then Olivia would get upset again.  Too much on/off for me.

Meanwhile Luke has his own "prodigal" story.  Before joining the Michov Investment firm he had been partner in his father's firm, along side his older brother Jake.  While both his father and brother immediately stand beside the younger sibling to help defend him, Luke feels unworthy of their continuing trust and help.  Hurt that Faith has left him, he believes that his own family sees her disappearance as proof that she was not the "right" wife for him.

Often when we read a book, we get the feeling that it would make a good movie.  For me, that is usually because the characters are complex and the story compelling.  This time, as I read, I could tell that this was a recreation of one acting scene after another.  Any character development had to be blended into the dialogue or simple action.  Missing were the extras that in a book build the flavor of the setting  -- the interaction of place, time, and circumstances. To be honest, there are slight attempts at establishing the flavor -- the horse barn, the old church, and such, but all are presented foremost as places of action, not vehicles to developing deeper understanding.  A trip to New York by Faith and her father attempts to do this, but my brain kept saying, "Well, this would be interesting to watch on screen but there really hasn't been any attempt to capture that same feeling in words."

My final vote is that this would be a good read for a young romantic who just can't find enough other romances to read (Is that possible?)  Possibly someone who was enthralled with the movie would want to give the book a try.  If you have never read Rene Gutteridge before, I would simply suggest you preview her other writings before making a choice.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A chance ot see Monuments Men and win a book

Yesterday R and I saw Monuments Men. I have wanted to see that movie ever since I first heard about it. I was not disappointed. Casting was spot on and, like many historical fiction and nonfiction books I've read, this movie helped fill-in my understanding of history and culture. A tough question opens and ends the movie -- Is a work of art worth the life of a person?  The monuments men, whose careers had been in art and architecture, the answer was yes.

I checked WPLC (online Wisconsin library) and there are 495 current holds on the ebook Monuments Men; our library system has several copies but over 50 holds.  I guess I will be waiting until the popularity dies down or I'll be buying my own copy.  While I wait, I wanted to share the following opportunity.  I know I am curious about Putman's book and will be getting a copy sometime.  Maybe I will win!

Below is a link to a chance to win two movie tickets to Monuments Men and also a copy of Cara Putman's historical fiction book, also inspired by the men and women who rescued some of the world's most precious art.  If the link doesn't work, then find Cara Putman's page on Facebook and enter!
Contest ends 2/23.

Enter Today | 2/10 - 2/23!
Cara Putman Shadowed By Grace Monuments Men

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Special supper

Minute® Multi-Grain Medley

I don't usually post recipes or food ideas, partly because I don't want to fuss with the camera, but we enjoyed last night's belated Valentine meal so much that I decided to share.  Both R and I like pepper steak, but I like my meat tender, so I slice the sirloin into strips,season it with a seasoning blend (Aunt Hazel's rub - a Wisconsin product,  brown it and then place it in the slow cooker along with soy sauce, small amount of water, a teaspoon of beef bouillon (soft, low sodium kind) and plenty of fresh garlic. I cook this on high for 3-4 hours.  Really three hours is plenty.

Right before supper, I stir fry a multitude of sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes.   Last night I had red and orange peppers, one large sweet yellow onion, and both fresh roma tomatoes and a few frozen yellow cherry tomatoes.  I thicken the crockpot sauce with cornstarch and top it off with generous drops of toasted sesame seed oil.  Right before eating, I cooked the rice (or it could be noodles) and mix the veggies with the meat.

A while ago. I tried the new multi-grain medley by Minute Rice which consists of white rice, red rice, wild rice and quinoa.  I really liked the combination, partly because it doesn't have added salt or flavoring, so that is what I prepared last night.  Since it was our special Valentine meal, we opened a bottle of white wine from a local winery.  To top off the meal, we had a warm cherry cobbler.  Everyone knows this recipe -- cherry pie filling, dry yellow cake mix, and melted butter.
Maybe it isn't good for you, but come every February I need to make this or a cherry pie.  Since I spent most of the afternoon pinning the quilt layers for my latest sewing project, this cobbler was the easy choice.

A little more about the wine -- Friday I ate lunch out with two friends.  Afterward we stopped at the Vines and Rushes Winery outside Ripon.  Using Wisconsin grapes from their own vines and from other vineyards, they make about 9 different wines.  They offer wine tastings and host special events.  Pretty good for a business under two years old. I picked a Frontenac Gris Semi-sweet wine for our meal.  I liked its light taste, but it wasn't too sweet to drink with a meal. I'm not a wine connoisseur and don't really know the ins and outs of choosing a wine, but I knew I would enjoy this choice with a meal.  

Vines and Rushes Winery, Ripon, WI

So that was our Saturday evening. Nothing lavish or outrageous, but it felt special and it didn't break the bank. I wish I could say that television offered up a great movie to top off the night, but nothing caught our interest, and we each pursued our own interests.  R practiced music, and I read.  Today, however, we went to a showing of Monument Men which was top notch.  Now I need to find a copy of the book so I can enmesh myself in the true story of those who helped saved the art treasures of the Western world.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The newest novel by Sue Monk Kidd, successful author of The Secret Life of Bees is another literary success, destined to be so, I believe, before it ever hit the shelves.  Book clubs love her writing, rich and full of detail and unforgettable characters for endless discussion.  I see that The Invention of Wings has been recently selected for Oprah's bookclub 2.0 (post tv show club) and that alone will sell thousands of copies. I obtained my copy by placing a hold on the WPLC website for an ecopy.  There were about 60-75 people ahead of me, but with 27 copies owned, soon my turn came.  I just checked the website and there are 397 holds after me!  That is just for ecopies. Our library system owns 25 or more print copies, with 85 current holds.  Obviously, The Invention of Wings will be on the best seller lists for many more months and I foresee many book clubs picking this for next year's reads.

According to Kidd, she had been wanting to tell a sister story when she came upon information about the historical Sarah Grimke and her sister Nina, who, despite (or because of) being raised on a Charleston plantation with slaves in the early 1800's, became outspoken speakers and writers against slavery.  Their abolitionist views were so strong that both woman were forbidden to return to their hometown.  Even the Quaker faith that they embraced in adulthood found their independent nature and personal desires for women's rights to be too extreme. Kidd felt the two sisters would be ideal for her next book, and when she learned that Sarah Grimke had been "given" a young slave named Hetty as a eleventh birthday gift - a gift that Sarah attempted to refuse, Sue Monk Kidd knew she had found a method for writing the novel.  The real Hetty died as a young teen, but Kidd recreates her as Hetty "Handful" the smart, strong-willed daughter of house slave
Charlotte, a seamstress so talented that she is allowed to have her own sewing business on the side.
Much of the magic and tragedy in the book is told through the relationship between Handful and her mother, and the special tales Charlotte tells as she recreates her life in the patches of a story quilt.  Sarah and Hetty are the narrators of the book, and their alternating voices move the story along at a vibrant pace.  Beginning when both are children and then continuing for over 35 years, the stories shows how slavery and the mores of the time affect both women, making both women prisoners, although in different ways.  Sarah teachers Hetty to read, but both suffer consequences because of that choice, and for a while their worlds actually narrow, not expand, as a result. In the book, it is Hettie's life that helps shape Sarah's stand against slavery. What we read about is a complex bond, a relationship more powerful than a simple friendship.  When I learned that there was not a "real Sarah/Hetty connection," at least not an adult one, I was disappointed.  However, I understand the historical fiction writer's choice to use one character (Hetty) as a vehicle to explain just how two Southern girls like Sarah and her younger sister Nina could take such a powerful stand against the evil of slavery.  If you normally borrow your books, instead of buying them, you may be waiting a while to get  your hands on a copy of this book, but I recommend you try!  
This is a powerful read.  Actually, I listened to an audio version of The Secret Life of Bees and with such strong narrators in Sarah and Hetty, I think that listening to this story would be a great way to experience The Invention of Wings.  May Charlotte, Hetty, Sarah, and Nina continue to fly.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

It Happened in Wisconsin by Ken Moraff

Ken Moraff's depression era tale of a Racine baseball team won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and with Wisconsin in the title, I simply had to find the book.  Our library system came through again and soon I had the title in hand.  Old time baseball teams and Wisconsin have strong connections- Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Racine all fielded professional girls teams in the 1940s, and there remain semi-pro teams littered all over Wisconsin.  Why Hank Aaron even played on one.  So I imagined that I would be reading a tale of country fields, small town competition, and the love of the cracking bat.

That isn't what Moraff has written.  His tale is an interesting one, a tale of men who have labored hard in the industrial world, but see no chance for opportunity and view the world of the bosses and owners as the enemy.  These baseball players become the poster boys for the growing socialist movement and its affiliation with the labor unions.  Wherever the team plays, the guys also speak out about workers rights and the changing world.  The Racine Robins are a rag tag group of idealists who just happen to have a couple really strong ball players.  One of them is the unnamed narrator of the book and the other is his best friend.  When a freak snow storm forces the players to abandon their ramshackle bus for the safety of a hotel far too luxurious for their wallets.  An unknown traveler offers them dinner and conversation.  As the snow drifts deepen, it appears that romance and money may one player's devotion to the worker's way and the team's unity.

I remain disappointed that this wasn't the story that I expected.  Usually I appreciate a historical fiction story that enlightens me about the time period, its politics, social changes, and such.  This one seemed a little too heavy handed, especially as the narrator, now an old man, seems to still maintain the same views as he did when a member of the basebell team.  I do believe Moraff has a writer's talent, especially for slowly revealing his characters and his story.  I am sure others will find the book more satisfactory than I did.

Product Details

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shadows of the Past by Patricia Bradley

Shadows of the Past

Psychology professor Taylor Martin has established a reputation as a criminal profiler, something she's kept secret from her family back in Mississippi.  Recently,she's begun to be haunted by recurring nightmares, similar to the ones she suffered as a child after his father's disappearance.  If only she could find answers to why he suddenly deserted a family he had seemed to love so much.  When it appears that a college student might be stalking her, the nightmares increase and Taylor decides it is time to leave Washington for a trip back home.  Perhaps this time her extended family will answer her questions about her father.  And she will have to share the truth of her career choice.

Behind Nick Sinclair's persona as a successful mystery writer is a very different man.  First, he is still grieving the senseless death of his wife and the shattered life he has been left with.  When his teenage step brother disappears into a world of drugs and alcohol, Nick seems powerless to intervene.  Now, finally after months of searching, Nick has a lead about Scott's whereabouts -- a small college in Washington.  Within hours of arriving there, Nick finds that Scott is a suspect in the campus stalking of young professor Taylor Martin and that Scott has again disappeared.  Nick assures police and the beautiful young Taylor that Scott would never harm anyone, but keeps hidden a secret -- that the dark words of a poem found in the stalker's last letter are actually words that he himself penned for an unknown story he'd written a few years earlier.  Could Scott have found that poem?  Could he really be intent on harming the professor?

Patricia Bradley won the 2012 Daphne du Maurier award and the 2012 Touched by Love award, as well as being a finalist for the Genesis award.  This is the first book in The Logan Point series.  Shadows of the Past is packed with suspense and just enough romance. I never felt the plot or the action scenes were contrived or stretched out like so many recent books I've read.  It was edge of the seat and I was never quite sure how the mysteries of the past and present would connect.  I just knew that they would!  Reading this was a great way to spend a cold, subzero afternoon. I am sure Bradley is set to take her place alongside Terri Blackstock, Dee Henderson, and Dani Pettrey.  I know I will be looking for the second book, A Promise to Protect when it comes out in the fall.  Thanks Revell for taking on a new author!

I received a copy of this book from Revell for a honest review.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Seams Unlikely by Nancy Zieman

If you have been a quilter or sewist for more than a few months, you have most certainly encountered the name Nancy Zieman.  If you reside somewhere in Wisconsin or neighboring states, you have probably made the pilgrimage to the Beaver Dam, WI store bearing her name, perhaps shopped at the big spring catalog sale and sewing weekend, or attended the Madison Quilt Expo also sponsored by Nancy's Notions.  Somewhere in your stash of fabrics, sewing books, patterns, and instructional dvds and notions there is an item with Nancy's name attached. Perhaps, like me, you religiously record the Saturday morning episodes of Sewing with Nancy on public television, to be watched when you're in a sewing mood.  I am fortunate enough to live only 30 minutes from the retail store, so I've been able to see the business grow over the years and have indulged myself in a few patterns, rulers, and such over the years.  Although I've drooled over some of the classes offered, I have never taken any.  Well that isn't quite true -- I did take one class from Nancy herself, before there was an empire and all those employees.  Back in the early/mid-1980s I attended a seminar in downtown Beaver Dam --maybe fifteen women and Nancy herself.  I am not even sure if she had her first warehouse at that time.  It was her warmth and sincerity at that time that has made me a fan of her success for over 30 years.  Naturally when I heard that she was writing an autobiography with the help of Marjorie Russell, I knew I would read the book.  When I received an invitation to a book signing, I made the short trek in the frozen temperatures to hear Nancy tell about her life.

All that leads to today's book Seams Unlikely, an autobiography of this determined entrepreneur who turned an average "home economist" degree into a world recognized financial success.  Actually, although you'll read about the expansion of the business over the years and Nancy's forays into new territory such as garment design for McCalls and machine embroidery design, most of the book covers the "back stage stories" -- a frank explanation of the bell palsy that left her face asymmetrical and her ego fragile, the blessings and hardships of growing up on a typical Wisconsin farm in the 1960s and 70s, dreams threatened by continuing health issues, and the lean days of first jobs.  

What a compelling read which connected with me on so many levels!  Let's begin with the rural setting. Farm chores, barn cats, gardening, and a life centered around the family's church and faith -- certainly sounds similar to my own early years.  Just four years older than Nancy, I, too, found 4-H as a place where I could excel and the experiences there also helped shape my education, career, and leisure choices later in life.  When Nancy described her first 4-H sewing project, I could see my own, almost identical to hers.  (Sadly, I do not have the perfected talent she does).  Her courage to strike out in her own business when very few women did is something I admire.  Even she did not realize how big the dream could become.  As she tells her story, readers will see just how wide a successful dream reaches into other people's lives.  Many, many of Nancy's employees started with basic jobs and responsibilities, but grew in skills and talents over time.  This is not just a success story of a wife and husband, but of the many others whose efforts behind the scene make all the "gears" move.

Although a few parts of the 300 pages are repetitive (something I often find in memoirs), I highly encourage fellow fabric/thread enthusiasts to seek out this book.  I also suggest you follow Nancy's blog where she posts several sewing messages a week. You might also want to check out the special website set up for the book.  And of course, you can replay episodes of the television series whenever you want from your computer.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Chance to win two great books.

Tamera Alexander's ebook From A Distance is on special through February 10th.  Her historical novels are very well written.  If you have never read one of her books, this is a great opportunity.
I also suggest you check out her blog for an opportunity to win two other special books.  I know I entered.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Reason for My Hope by Billy Graham

Billy Graham has spent his life preaching the message of forgiveness and salvation.  Now in his mid-nineties and not physically strong enough to continue the crusading life, he has NOT put aside his desire to share Christ's promise.  Instead he shares through his writing, something he can do from his armchair at home. His new title The Reason for My Hope shows clearly that there is only one reason for true hope and that is Christ's death on the cross.

Graham warns that too many are trying to make Christianity into their own designer religions with a main focus on belonging, not believing.  People search for the spot where they fit right in, where they can enjoy activities and socialization, and feel good about themselves. But that is not what we are called to do. Graham reminds us that Christianity is not a spectator sport; we cannot buy a ticket and remain on the sidelines.  Becoming a Christian means changing our lives completely -- a butterfly kind of metamorphosis.  Christ is not someone you can relegate to a corner of your heart and life.

Graham also warns that our busy lives which often leave no time for reflection or prayer are harmful. The pop culture that surrounds us can be much more dangerous than we think, for some equaling a 21st century version of pagan worship.  There have been several recent books lately offering glimpses into Heaven.  Graham makes clear the path to that future, but also earnestly forces us to consider the alternative that no one seems to take seriously.  While the writing is easy to read, this is not a book to be read for pleasure and then put aside.  Just like his crusades, the book asks us to look inside our hearts and to listen to the warnings.

I received this book from Book Sneeze for my honest opinion.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Waters of Star Lake by Sara Rath

The Waters of Star Lake by Sara Rath was our book club's pick for January.  A contemporary, up north story of a 60 year old woman who returns to the much loved family cabin for the first time after her husband's death.  What was intended to be a quiet summer of solitude and healing takes a different turn the first night when her dog is attacked by wolves.  A frantic drive to a nearby bar for directions to the nearest vet leaves Natalie somewhat beholding to Bud, a true up north woods hunter.  His annual road kill feast may be more than Natalie can handle.  Concerned that the wolves may return, Natalie reaches out to wildlife authority Will Davis.  His desire to protect the wolves DOES NOT match the views of many locals, and Natalie finds herself in the middle.  With barely time to "take a refreshing dip in the lake" after surviving the wolf attack, Natalie finds that she and her dog are going to be hosts to granddaughter Minnow, a rebellious teen with whom Natalie has no relationship.  Soon neighbor Ginger  from the nearby lodge and bar proposes that they search for the legendary Dillinger valise of money left behind at Little Bohemia.  Not the summer of solitude Natalie envisioned, but just the summer she needed.

Despite being a short 199 pages, The Waters of Star Lake gave us much to discuss.  Many of us have our own up north stories and we like sharing them. Stories of gangsters and the infamous shootout between Dillinger and the FBI at the Little Bohemia lodge figure heavily in the book.  Part of the movie PUBLIC ENEMY was filmed at Little Bohemia. That strikes a strong connection with me since hubby and I visited there one snowy evening in April (yes, April) right after the movie had been filmed.  We were the only customers and got to sit at the table right in front of the gigantic fireplace by the bar -- where Dillinger and his men were drinking when the Feds arrived.  Of course, we all had opinions about the dark, gloomy, foul-mouthed Minnow and her initiation into the up north life of outhouses, cold water baths, and loon calls in the middle of the night!  The Waters of Star Lake is the second book Rath has written about her imaginary lake town loosely modeled after the real Star Lake and Mercer.  Several of us have read both books, and which is the better seems to be a tie vote at this point.  My vote is strongly in favor of this, the second book.  In fact, I wished that Rath had expanded the story a little and written a longer tale.  Perhaps, Minnow and grandma Natalie will return in another volume.  Hopefully they will bring along Ginger for outrageous humor.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Prodigal: a Ragamuffin Story by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett

The Prodigal

The title alone is a strong clue that this novel is a contemporary retelling of the prodigal's son parable.
What Manning and Garrett have done is create a modern tale of a fallen man, megachurch founder Jack Chisholm, who while he finds himself saved by his earthy father's strong love, also finally finds the true meaning of this well known parable of God's willingness to accept us into the fold despite our pasts.
When Chisholm's one night infidelity is discovered and shared via social media, his life appears to shatter within hours.  His wife and child are whisked away from the press to a safe place by the church and won't communicate with Jack. Relieved of all his pastoral duties, his funds are cut off, and he is left to sink on his own.  Humiliated, Jack flees to Mexico to drink himself into forgetfulness and obscurity.  But his father, whom he had walked away from years ago, comes and takes him home to small town Texas.  There, as Jack begins to confront problems he'd left there a decade earlier, he really learns the strength of a father's love.

First, let me tell you that Rev. Jack Chisholm is NOT a likable person at the beginning of the book. His father and sister have every reason to leave him in his self-made heap, but they don't and it is through them, along with Father Frank, that Jack and the readers begin to see how redemptive love for another can be.  It is clear that Jack will need to decide which life - small town Texas and the good deeds he has undertaken there or a return to the coastal megachurch with its world wide following is the path that his earthly father and his heaven father want for this restored son.

Author Brennan Manning, a Catholic priest, is possibly best known for his work The Ragamuffin Gospel.
He spent much time working with the poor and considered himself a forgiven sinner. I believe his personal life gave realism to Father Frank and to the townspeople of this novel.  Manning died last year.
Garrett is an Episcopalian lay preacher, a professor of English, and author of over 15 books.  I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.