Friday, May 30, 2014

While Love Stirs by Lorna Seilstad

WHILE LOVE STIRS, the second book in Lorna Seilstad's historical fiction Gregory Sisters series, is a light romance set in the 1910 Minnesota Twin Cities.  Headstrong Charlotte Gregory, a recent graduate of the Fannie Farmer School of Cookery, is set upon a food industry career.  Her schooling has left her overflowing with ways to improve the sanitary and nutrition aspects of both restaurants and hospitals, but she can't get anyone to give her a chance, not even the young, good looking Dr. Joel Brooks, her sister's doctor.
When Charlotte's younger sister shows her an ad for a cooking contest sponsored by the local gas company, Charlotte enters.  Gas stoves are the new technology of the day, and Charlotte has the advantage of being familiar with them.  Soon the gas company offers her a job giving cooking demonstrations across Minnesota. Traveling with her is an older chaperone and the young, talented musician Lewis Mathis who entertains at each lecture.

This book is one of those easy reads that although there is nothing unexpected within the pages, it is just plain entertaining to read.  Sparks continually fly between Dr. Joel and Charlotte, while it is clear that Lewis is growing fonder of Charlotte each day they are on the road.  From the time I was young, I've always been drawn to books in which the female character was a bit of a rebel, someone who pushed society's barriers for women.  Charlotte does that, as do her two sisters.  The story of older sister Hannah journey to becoming a lawyer and Charlotte's decision to study cookery are told in WHEN LOVE CALLS, and I am sure we'll see younger sister Tessa's exuberance and daring take her on her own adventure in the next book.
Seilstad's decision to set this story in several Minnesota cities and then to include local sights/activities pertinent to the time is one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much.  At one time, Charlotte travels the oldest city in Minnesota, the river town of Stillwater.  I've traveled those old river streets and seen the buildings that were probably "newer" in 1910.  On another of her lecture tours, Charlotte visits Red Wing, long famous for its pottery and selects several crocks for her demonstrations.  Today, those same crocks are prized finds for antiquers.

Want a fast, easy read for the beach; or perhaps a gift for a reader of Christian fiction, but you're not sure just what they've already read?  I think you can safely choose WHILE LOVE STIRS or its prequel WHEN LOVE CALLS.  I received a copy of WHILE LOVE STIRS from Revell publishing for my honest review.
If you are interested in learning more about Lorna Seilstad's writing check her

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Home Front by Kristin Hannah

It's been several years since I've read a book by Kristin Hannah but I've always liked her writing so I was pleased when our book club selected a title by her.  HOME FRONT did not disappoint and it certainly was a sound choice for this Memorial Day time frame.  It's 2005 and Jolene, a National Guard helicopter pilot is deployed to Iraq, leaving behind her two daughters and her husband, a lawyer who has allowed his career to separate him from the family.  Jolene's youngest daughter is only four and Jolene fears the effects of the long absence.  While Jolene would like support and help from her older daughter, what she seems to get from preteen Betsy instead is a lot of drama and criticism.  Only her next door neighbor, best friend and co-pilot (all one person) seems to understand just how good Jolene is at her job and how much the military has shaped the person Jolene actually is.  Despite her family's protests and Jolene's fear that her absence may signal the end of her marriage, she answers the call to duty, but once in Iraq, Jolene carefully selects what she shares with those back home.  Despite not being assigned to combat, her missions are dangerous and she sees death all around her.  None of this does she reveal to her family.

Like other war-themed books, HOME FRONT tells the price of war, this time not on a country, but on the individual and the family.  Perhaps for one of the first time, that story is about a woman, a mature woman with family that must carry on without her.  HOME FRONT is also the story of PTSD and its devastating effects.  While only a fiction story, this book left me thinking about the real soldiers who have difficulties leaving war behind and finding their way back to "normal."  Our country should not fail them.

Our book club met tonight and I went expecting to dissect Hannah's writing and listen to others'comments on Jolene and Michael's troubled marriage.  Instead our facilitator had a wonderful surprise; she had located a female veteran of the Iraqi war who shared an overview of her time there (2004).  When she served, she, like the character Jolene, left behind two children (quite small).  During her talk, it was easy to see that Hannah had done her research before writing the book.  Not only were the scenes in Iraq realistically described, but even the interactions between Jolene and her flight crew matched the way our guest speaker spoke about the relationship between officers and enlisted soldiers.   I recommend HOME FRONT if you'd like to give Kristin Hannah a try.  I also recommend that we all take time to listen to our veterans, young and old. We don't have to be super-patriots to realize that their deployments meant sacrifices that changed their lives forever.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Stones for Bread by Christa Parrish

"I'm young, four, home from nursery school because of snow.  Young enough to think my mother is most beautiful when she wears her apron; the pink and brown flowered cotton flares at the wait and ruffles around the shoulders.  I wish I had an apron, but instead she ties a tea towel around my neck . . . Mother pushes a chair to the counter and I stand on it, sturdy pine, rubbed shiny with age. . . Mother adds flour and yeast to the antique dough trough.  Salt. Water. Stirs with a wooden spoon.  I want to help, I say." (p. 11 STONES FOR BREAD)  

Such is the opening scene from Christa Parrish's book STONES FOR BREAD as Liesl  McNamara begins to tell readers through flashbacks and historical/Biblical tidbits the story of her deep connection to bread and its almost miraculous properties.  This beginning reminiscence was enough to capture my attention as my own memories floated to the surface.  This, I thought, is a book I can connect with.  Images of the snow days when I helped my mom bake bread, a tradition I carried on into adulthood, although like thousands of bakers I began to take the easy way out when bread machines hit the market.  Never as a child did  I think that our old bread dough bowl had its own name - "bread trough" and that it would be an object I would remember fondly.  Memories of the first time I baked with our own children and now our grandchildren follow those older childhood ones.  I know the grandkids cherish those baking times - I can tell by their smiles and the fact they are always asking if we can make something.

For Liesl, however, breadmaking and its early memories are more than reminiscences.  They are an almost spiritual connection she has forged with the grandmother who has died and then her mother who took her own life when Liesl was only 12.  While her father turned simultaneously to religion and alcohol to cover his grief, Liesl withdraws into a smaller and smaller world.  As she tells it, for a while she cannot even tend the precious sourdough starters her mother and grandmother had tended.  It is not until she tires of her successful, but stagnant job in the IT world, that Liesl returns to the world of bread.  Her bakery is known for its authentic sourdoughs and artisan breads but she is still living in a very restrained world of her own creation when a reality cooking show offers her a challenge.  Then comes a phone call that will shake Liesl's understanding of self to the very core.  Is her bread, what she felt was a gift, really "stones"?

Parrish has managed to blend a fascinating history of bread -- what we too often consider an afterthought with a story of self discovery a midst the challenges of hard word and new relationships,
As Liesl learns even facing the worst of the past brings opportunities to see God's blessings and the love that others have for us.  I especially liked the recipes, historical perspectives and the strong secondary characters of this book.  Each adds another layer to the story.

I found my copy of STONES FOR BREAD through our library system.

Stones for Bread, Christa Parrish

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Day at Bay Beach

View from the Ferris Wheel

The park is right on the bay of Green Bay

Great buildings - clean and well kept
Yesterday, Russ and I went to DePere, picked up our daughter and granddaughter and then spent the day at Bay Beach Amusement Park, a wonderful family city park in Green Bay.  Check out their website to learn more about this great place.  One of the more recent attractions is the Zippin Pippin, a roller coaster that the city of Green Bay bought from Memphis where it had been Elvis Presley's favorite amusement park ride.  The wooden roller coaster has been totally rebuilt and can be ridden for a mere dollar.  Since I am not a roller coaster enthusiast I let Russ enjoy this icon on his own. Cheap prices are the main draw to the park which sits right on the beautiful bay.  Tickets are 25 cents a piece and most rides are either 1 ticket, 2 tickets, or 3 tickets.

Our granddaughter is only three, so she stuck to the merry go round and the train which travels around the park.  One of the nicest features I feel is that there are two super playgrounds, and for Lizzie, she was just as happy on the "free" playground equipment as she was on the ticketed rides.
Picnic spots are abundant, making this a reasonable day out for families.  As the website points out, enjoying summer is a great way to stave off winter blues and that awful cabin fever.  Considering last winter, I plan on savoring lots of special times this summer as a way of preparing for another long Wisconsin winter, should it come.  Another great feature is the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary which is just across the road, making it easy to combine amusement with education. The Sanctuary has many displays about ecology, biology, and has trails along the wetlands.  No admission charge for either the Amusement Park or the Wildlife Sanctuary.

We had a great day and made it home for a quick, but late supper.  Then we popped some popcorn and headed out to the woods our youngest son and his wife recently purchased.  It is only a few miles from their house, but they decided to camp out there this holiday weekend.  The grandkids were delighted to see us, and we were able to enjoy some campfire time while still being able to make it home for a good night's rest in our own bed!  Great start to the holiday weekend!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Daisies are Forever by Liz Tolsma


Daisies Are Forever
Gisela must hold on to hope and love despite all odds in the midst of a war-torn country.
Gisela Cramer is an American living in eastern Germany with her cousin Ella Reinhardt. When the Red Army invades, they must leave their home to escape to safety in Berlin.
However, Ella is a nurse and refuses to leave, sending her young daughters with Gisela. During their journey, Gisela meets Mitch Edwards, an escaped British POW. She pretends she is his wife in order to preserve his safety among other Germans, especially one wounded German soldier, Kurt, who has suspicions about Mitch’s identity. Kurt also has feelings for Gisela and tries to uncover the truth about her “marriage.”
Their journey to Gisela’s mother in Berlin is riddled with tragedy and hardship, but they strive to keep Ella’s daughters safe so they can reunite with their mother. During the journey Gisela and Mitch begin to develop feelings for one another beyond friendship. They reach Berlin, but their struggles are far from over. Gisela and Mitch must learn to live for the day and find hope in the darkest of circumstances.
In this moving, historically accurate portrayal of WWII Germany, the characters learn that, even with destruction all around them, some things last forever.
Liz Tolsma


“New York Times” best-selling author Liz Tolsma is the author of “Daisies are Forever,” “Snow on the Tulips,” and the contributing author of “A Log Cabin Christmas.” When not busy putting words to paper, Liz enjoys reading, walking, working in her large perennial garden, kayaking, and camping. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and children, all adopted internationally.
Find out more about Liz at

MY REACTION:  First, I am always excited to read a book by a Wisconsin author.  It adds an extra specialness to the whole reading experience.  Somehow I am more connected just knowing that the creativity was birthed here in our state.  Liz Tolsma's second book did not disappoint.  Like her first book, SNOW ON TULIPS, she turns to actual people and their World War II experiences for inspiration.  For DAISIES ARE FOREVER, she combined the tales she heard from her Aunt Lillian and another into Gisela's heroic flight from the approaching Russians.  These are not the stories of powerful people making historic decisions in battle, nor are they the stories of individuals called to assume leadership roles that will change the war's path.  Instead Liz's writings show how the women, elderly, wounded, and children left in the war's path must make difficult daily decisions just to survive.  They are forced to leave behind loved ones and cherished possessions.  Despite having no professed political affiliation or loyalty, they face constant bombings and air raids.  Food rations are dwindling and starvation threatens as surely as the Russians advance.  This is truly a book of "darkest circumstances" yet Liz tells the truthful and powerful story of faith, hope, love, and survival.  She did a superb job of filling the book with informative details which all supported the realism and believability.  Even the most minor of characters were well drawn, often underlining how the actions of a single stranger can change the outcome of a desperate situation.  I highly recommend Gisela and Mitch's story in DAISIES ARE FOREVER.  I also hope that Liz Tolsma is at her Wisconsin writing desk, already planning another novel because I've become a fan of her work.  I received a copy of this book from LITFUSE and the publishers for my honest review.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sincerely Yours, A Novella Collection by Jane Kirkpatrick, Amanda Cabot, Laurie Alice Eakes and Ann Shorey

Cover Art

I don't often read novellas but when I saw that Jane Kirkpatrick was one of the authors in the SINCERELY YOURS collection, I wanted to see what she'd written.  Jane Kirkpatrick's historical novels are always woven around a real person or event; many are centered in America's West or Northwest.  While I find many novellas too simplistic, featuring one dimensional characters and limited plots, I do understand that readers seeking a quick finish to a story will find them appealing. With the less than 100 page restrictions, all four authors did well, but I give top honors to Jane Kirkpatrick who again managed to create a story based on an actual tidbit of Washington history.

Collections of novellas often have a simple link which binds the different stories together -- For example, they could all take place at Christmas or at the beach. In SINCERELY YOURS, all four novellas are set in the late 1800s or early 1900s and all begin with a letter which sends a heroine on a journey which that takes her away from all that is familiar and safe.  In Moonlight Promise by Laurie Alice Eakes, Camilla is trying to catch up with an old friend who has offered her employment.Jumping aboard a steamboat on the Erie Canal seems like a sure way to make it to her destination on time, but she learns differently.
Lessons in Love by Ann Shorey is one of those light hearted stories of mistaken identity.  M. M. Bentley has been writing articles for a women's magazine but when a letter arrives from the editor suggesting a face to face meeting, M. M. has problems.  While not purposely trying to hide her identity, Marigold M. Bentley just never corrected the editor when he assumed her "M. M." submissions about marriage and family life were written by a male. In  One Little Word by Amanda Cabot  Lorraine flees an overbearing uncle demanding that she marry and fulfill her parents' will.  Traveling to the inn where her brother has quietly began a new life away from the family's money and obligations, Lorraine begins to understand the remote country inn's appeal.  There, despite her society upbringing and fine manners, Lorraine finds herself quickly attracted to the handsome wood carver who is creating a fancy carousel to be the inn's featured attraction. A Saving Grace by Jane Kirkpatrick tells the story of Grace Hathaway who, when she receives a letter from the young daughter of a dear friend, drops everything and travels to a clinic nicknamed by the locals "Starvation Heights" to rescue her friend from what appear to be criminal quacks. All four stories offer risk taking heroines, dashing love interests, and glimpses into times past.  Kirkpatrick's story has the added bonus of using a real medical scandal at the backdrop.  That added reality makes it my favorite of the four.

I received a copy of SINCERELY YOURS from Netgalley for review purposes.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Chasing Mona Lisa by Tricia Goyer with Mike Yorkey

Recent investigative reports about art stolen during World War II finally being returned to descendants of the original owners along with the popular movie Monuments Men has peaked my interest in the whole plot of Nazi leaders to procure the world's most famous art, both to create an unparalleled museum named after Hitler and to build their own personal wealth.  As years go by I find there is so many different facets to much of world history- events, plots, and ramifications that we never learned about in school, even in advanced history classes.  When  fiction writers take on one of those lesser known aspects, I always want to know what level of research they did and how close to truthful events they stay.  I find we can learn so much from historical fiction, but only when we evaluate what is fiction and what is fact.   

Recently I read Chasing Mona Lisa by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey.  Swiss OSS workers Gabi Mueller and Eric Hofstadler have arrived in Paris just as the German are fleeing.  Many fear that the retreating Germans will burn the city (in fact that had been Hitler's orders) and the different factions of the French Resistance fight to save Paris.  During the years of occupation, Paris's vast art collections, especially the works housed in the famous Louvre have been systematically loaded on trains to be hidden by the Nazi's.  Some were destined for the large museum Hitler has planned, but other masterpieces made their way into Nazi officer's private collections.  Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring sends Colonel Heller to arrange for the theft of the world's most beloved portrait, the Mona Lisa.
Goring feels if he can get the painting to a neutral Swiss bank, he will have the bargaining chip he needs for his own personal safety.  Throughout the war, he has been able to track the various hiding places of the Mona Lisa by threatening the safety of young Louvre's curator and her boyfriend, a resistance hero.  This book had plenty of action and I learned a lot about occupied Paris.  I had never realized that there were different factions of resistance fighters, including a strong Communist presence.  Much of what this book said about the Louvre was similar to what the movie MONUMENTS MEN portrays.  Of course the large question that loomed as I read Chasing Mona Lisa was whether the Nazis ever tried to steal this particular work, so when I finished the book I did a little internet research myself.  If you are interested in the answer read this article.  
Chasing Mona Lisa is actually the second book featuring the war adventures of Gabi and Eric.  I imagine the first book's plot tells their romantic story, but I did not need to have read The Swiss Courier to understand or enjoy this book.  Goyer and Yorkey did a fine job of telling a fiction story but also deepening our understanding of a unique place and time.

I got a copy of this novel from WPLC, Wisconsin's Public libraries' source for ebooks.  


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rhubarb is ready

Spring has arrived late in Wisconsin.  Despite being mid-May, we don't really feel confident that spring is here to stay.  I haven't set my flowers out yet and the only garden I've planted has been some onion sets and early lettuce.  With every thing so late, those spring staples asparagus and rhubarb have extra special appeal this year.  We've had asparagus several times already.  On Mother's Day we grilled it.  Last night I made asparagus soup while we were up north at our cabin.  We came home today, and while catching up on Facebook I saw this recipe for a rhubarb blueberry crumble.  That sounded more appealing than making my own birthday cake, so I picked some rhubarb and took the last bag of blueberries out of the freezer.
Rhubarb-Blueberry Crumble Recipe
Photo and recipe from Taste of Home

Actually easier than an apple crisp since there is no time spent peeling fruit, this dessert is wonderful.  Hubby ate his ice cream; I just savored the sweet fruit.  It was a great birthday.  We packed up and left the cabin right away this morning, ate breakfast at a restaurant which had just won a "taste of the town" contest for their apple cranberry stuffed french toast.  This is what hubby got for his meal; I had eggs, but did sample his french toast.  Then we made a short detour to Tomahawk to visit one of my favorite quilt shops.  Once home, we got to skype with our daughter and granddaughter.  Afterwards I got birthday calls from a dear cousin in Texas and then one from my brother.

All that excitement and unpacking left me not to motivated to make supper.  That's when I saw the rhubarb recipe on Facebook.  I quickly defrosted some cod, breaded it and baked it in the oven. Served it with that new minute rice medley which has quinoa in it, plus stir fried asparagus and a spinach salad.  I thought the supper was quite healthy and certainly earned me the right to indulge in that warm, gooey dessert.  Now I need to catch up on emails, finish unpacking, and maybe catch a little television.  It's also time to start a new book.  Finished two World War II stories while at the cabin and will be blogging about them this week.

   What are you fixing for special meals this spring?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Glamorous Illusions by Lisa T. Bergren

When I sew, walk, or work in the garden I often like to listen to a book on tape.  Since my mind is also concentrating on the project at hand, I usually like something entertaining but not too difficult to follow.  I've found that many of the Christian historical novels (often romances) fit the bill.  The uniqueness of a different time period holds my attention, while the stories are often pretty predictable so I am not processing any deep plot or complicated characters.  I guess you could compare it to watching a Hallmark movie while you sew.  No surprises as the story progresses, but it's fun and often heart warming.

This is a stark contrast from the type of audio book I like for car trips.  If I am going to listen to a book while traveling, I want quality literary fiction or more often nonfiction.  Part of that distinction in choosing such books is that my husband might also be listening.  All this commentary is a lead in to a review of my most recent audio experience.  While sewing last week, along with some time on the treadmill, I listened to Lisa T. Bergren's novel Glamorous Illusions which was promoted as appealing to Downton Abbey fans.  I didn't catch an exact time period, but I figure it is turn of the 20th Century or a little earlier.  Young Montana native Cora has just returned to the family ranch from her first year at college when her father suffers a stroke.  Then a stranger comes to their home and reveals to Cora that he, a wealthy copper baron, is her real father.  When Cora's mother confirms this truth, Cora is shocked.  She comes to realize that his offer to send her off on a world tour with her half-siblings is something she must accept if Mr. Kenningston is going to finance the medical care her adoptive father needs.

The extravagant life Cora is thrust into is a big shock, and naturally, there is conflict between her and her half siblings, although this book really is Cora's story. It is ironic that her "rich" traveling companions, including those newly discovered siblings, do not accept her or her new status, when they themselves are somewhat looked down on by their European hosts, those long established upper class families whose titles goes back generations.  Even in audio format, the glamorous residences, over the top parties, and the snobbery were intriguing to witness.  It was easy to see that Cora despite her honest love for her hardworking Montana family was getting drawn into the luxury and pampering.  When she realizes that she is developing feelings for William, the American guide, she cannot decipher whether her interest is reciprocated.  Then she meets Pierre de Richelieu, a charming Frenchman.  When a masquerade ball and a special dance are directed at the impressionable young American, people notice, including Richelieu's enemies.  

While most of this book was focused on Cora and her "awakening" to the wider world, suddenly the last fourth of the book becomes a story of danger and intrigue, a rather fast and abrupt change.  As I was listening, anticipating a solid resolution, the book just ended.  That's when it hit me --- this is part of a series.  And it is not the kind of series in which one story ends and  related characters continue in the next book.  No, this is a series of three books, all about Cora and her journey through Europe.  
Now, I still like the book and can give a solid recommendation to those who like light historical fiction with a little romance and suspense.  However, I think you should get all three books at the same time and consider them one story! Now I have to locate the other two books so I can know what happens to Cora.

Glamorous Illusions

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Promise in Pieces by Emily T. Wierenga

About Quilts of Love: Quilts tell stories of love and loss, hope and faith, tradition and new beginnings. The Quilts of Love seriesfocuses 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: A baby quilt touches many hearts as it travels from family-to-family and through generations.
After the end of World War II, Clara Kirkpatrick returns from the Women's Army Corp to deliver a dying soldier's last wishes: convey his love to his young widow, Mattie, with apologies for the missed life they had planned to share.
Struggling with her own post-war trauma, Clara thinks she's not prepared to handle the grief of this broken family. Yet upon meeting Mattie, and receiving a baby quilt that will never cuddle the soldier's baby, Clara vows to honor the sacrifices that family made.
Now a labor and delivery nurse in her rural hometown, Clara wraps each new babe in the gifted quilt and later stitches the child's name into the cloth. As each new child is welcomed by the quilt, Clara begins to wonder whatever happened to Mattie---and if her own life would ever experience the love of a newborn. Little does she know that she will have the opportunity to re-gift the special quilt---years later and carrying even greater significance than when it was first bestowed.

Learn more about this book and the series at the Quilts of Lovewebsite.

About the Author: Emily Wierenga is a former editor, ghostwriter, freelance writer and staff journalist, a monthly columnist for The Christian Courier, and the author of Save My Children (Castle Quay Books, 2008), Chasing Silhouettes (Ampelon Publishing, 2012) and Mom in the Mirror(Rowman & Littlefield, 2013). Emily resides in Alberta, Canada. This is her first novel.

Learn more about Emily at:


As 77 year old Clara and her husband make a cross country journey with family, Clara begins to share the couple's story with the grandchildren.  It is a gentle tale of overcoming the fear of loving amidt the aftermath of WWII, finding one's purpose in life, and of realizing the role others have in helping you find your place.  A very special quilt takes center stage in this story, making Emily Wierenga's QUILT OF LOVE novel one of my favorites in the ever growing series. Being a "mature" reader, I love that this is an older couple's story, one which quietly spans the decades, illustrating once again that the greatest loves do not necessarily arrive in a blaze nor do they command the attention of the multitudes.  I received a copy of this title from LITFUSE for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

To see the reactions of other reviewers check out their entries on the blog tour for A PROMISE IN PIECES on this link

Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin

When Crickets Cry

Within seconds of seeing Annie outside her lemonade stand, Reese can tell that the frail pale youngster has serious health issues.  Just by watching her respiration, he can see that her heart is diseased and weakened.  Also clear is that her charm and smile have captured Reese's heart, a feat readers will learn shortly is not easily done.  In fact he's spent the last five years protecting himself from any meaningful involvement with the human race.

Just as Reese turns away from the girl's lemonade stand, a freak wind blows her money cup over and Annie makes a rushed attempt to catch the coins and bills.  At the same time a truck approaches and the girl is hit.  Annie's aunt runs to the scene but Reese is the one who commands the immediate care, seeming to understand what could be happening with the girl's weakened heart. Minutes later as Annie is loaded into an ambulance, Reese gives no more detailed explanation of his skill than a sketchy story that he worked as an EMT when he was in college.  A casual relationship will develop over the weeks as Reese learns more about Annie and her aunt.  They, however, will learn almost nothing about Reese except that he likes to restore boats.  Readers, in carefully measured snippets, will learn the essentials of his great love, his abandoned career and the mistake that he can't forgive himself for making.

I read a professional review of this book which really slammed its strong Christian message and the unlikely chain of events that drive the book.  I may agree on the unlikely sequence of events, but found the writing compelled me to continue reading.  I wanted to believe this story -- I wanted to see Reese's extraordinary love, a love that gave his life purpose from childhood on.  I wanted to believe that one person could care so deeply for another.  Some parts of the book did not click with me (such as the bar with the "transplant burgers" and scripture napkins), but like authors such as Nicholas Sparks, Martin told a story I could not put down.  I learned so much medical information about hearts and transplants and I enjoyed the literary quotations that helped shape the story. With words as effective as a paintbrush, Martin creates the landscape of Lake Burton and the town which has rallied around Annie. Even the cold, austere walls of the surgical units and the emergency helicopters are softened as the author peoples them with caring individuals whose stories go beyond a simple need to make the story realistic.

Good fiction should help us in our lifelong quest to be better people, to be more empathetic, to understand others better.  With fiction, we can see that everyone has a story worth telling and cherishing.  Often the best writers use the minor incidents as pivotal observation points.  In When Crickets Cry there is a gentle, non-preachy conversation between Reese and a teenage boy about "girlie magazines" that I will always remember.  That kind of writing is why I will seek out and read more Charles Martin books. Since first reading that negative review, I've seen many, many positive reviews.  Clearly those who choose to read Christian fiction or gentle stories found much to like in this book.  I found this title through WPLC, our Wisconsin library source for ebooks and audiobooks.  If you have never read anything by Charles Martin, check out his website for summaries of his books.  Most have a medical connection and they all sound exciting.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Scotties Learn About Respect by Stephanie Robinson and Illustrations by Wendy Hope

Countless attempts have been made to illustrate the abstract concept "respect" through stories.  I know because I've purchased many of them for the elementary library where I was librarian.  I've used several of those books for story times. Somehow most stories lacked something.  Children seem to understand being "nice" to those they like, but following through and choosing to find something to like about all people, or treating fairly even those you don't really like is harder to carry out. Perhaps that is why I requested a review copy of Stephanie Robinson's book The Scotties Learn about Respect.  I wanted to see how this latest book faired in explaining the elusive concept respect. 

When Archie, one of the Scottie puppies, digs up the tomato plants after being asked by Mom (the human) to stay out of the garden, Mom becomes sad.  Archie is admonished by Flea that he did not respect Mom's wishes.  Bewildered, Archie asks what respect is.  Flea replies that respect is form of caring.  If Archie had followed Mom's wishes instead of his own desire to roll in the dirt, he would have been showing a form of respect.

This is a gentle book with illustrations to match.  Both the author and illustrator were lovers of Golden Books when young, and this book has that flavor.  Again, the lesson about respect centers around characters who already know each other and love each other, but the story itself is a quiet, heartwarming one.  I received a copy of this title from Ambassador International for review purposes.

The Scotties Learn About Respect

Stephanie B. Robinson was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. She holds a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Stephanie now lives on a farm in Oxford, North Carolina with her husband and two children. When not meeting every demand from their needy dogs, cats, chickens and horses, she loves spending time with her family, writing about her Scotties, playing her violin and thanking God for all his blessings.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: Wendy B. Hope was born and currently resides in Richmond, Virginia. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from Virginia Wesleyan College. When not drawing, Mrs. Hope spends time with her husband, three children and new puppy. Mrs. Hope is active in her church and children’s schools. She is thankful everyday for all the many blessing in her life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Critical Condition by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Critical Condition, Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

About the book: Dr. Frasier couldn't save the gunshot victim on her front lawn. Now she's fighting for her own life.
It began as a quiet dinner party honoring Dr. Shannon Frasier's colleague, but became a nightmare when a man was shot on her lawn, reviving emotions from a similar episode a decade ago. Then a midnight call from her sister, Megan, causes Shannon to fear that her sister is on drugs again.
Her "almost-fiancé" Dr. Mark Gilbert's support only adds to Shannon's feelings of guilt, since she can't bring herself to fully commit to him. She turns for help to her pastor-father, only to learn that he's just been diagnosed with leukemia. Shannon thought it couldn't get any worse. Then the late-night, threatening phone calls begin, the rough voice asking, "What did he say before he died?"
With everything around her in a critical state, simply staying alive will require all the resources and focus Shannon has.

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About the Author: A retired physician, Dr. Richard Mabry is the author of four critically acclaimed novels of medical suspense. His previous works have been finalists for the Carol Award and Romantic Times Reader's Choice Award, and have won the Selah Award. He is a past Vice-President of American Christian Fiction Writers and a member of the International Thriller Writers. He and his wife live in North Texas.

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MY REACTION: Richard Mabry, MD combines the pace of a crime thriller and the equally stressful world of medicine with a well crafted, complex personal story of Dr. Shannon Frasier.  All three worlds collide the evening Shannon finds a victim of a fatal gun shot wound on her lawn.  Despite all her medical training, she cannot save him, and the flashbacks to a eerily similar event a decade has her again questioning her life as a physician. Within hours, she receives a phone call from her sister, begging for yet another personal rescue.  Could her sister's newest trouble have something to do with the stranger on Shannon's lawn?  

I enjoy medical suspense books, why I am not sure.  Perhaps it is because I know so little about medicine and so I am a more forgiving reader of that subject.  I recommend Richard L. Mabry's books if you like that genre or want to give it a try.  Shannon's boyfriend (almost fiancee) lends a realistic, solid component to this novel, and yet his role is quiet, almost fading into the background.  Only when you think about him do you see his importance.  I leave it for you to discover if Shannon feels the same way.

I received a copy of this book from Litfuse and Thomas Nelson publishing for my honest review.  I want to thank them and Dr. Mabry for the opportunity to read this novel.

Check out these other review of CRITICAL CONDITION on Litfuse's blog tour

Saturday, May 3, 2014

One Perfect Spring by Irene Hannon

Multiple Christy Award finalist and winner of two Rita awards, Irene Hannon has written another contemporary romance that will satisfy those who crave a good romance story.  In fact, One Perfect Spring offers up two parallel stories, one of the reasons I liked the book. With two stories, there is more to keep you interested, but unlike some books which feature whole villages of characters, you will not be overwhelmed with an ever changing landscape of characters.  Claire Summer, a single mother, and eleven year old daughter Haley have bonded with their next door neighbor, sixty year old college professor Maureen.  When Maureen, recently recovered from cancer, confides to Claire that she once gave up a son for adoption, Haley overhears the conversation and decides to take action.  She writes a letter to McMillan Charitable Foundation, the positive PR arm of David McMillan's successful company, asking them to help find Maureen's son, now an adult in his twenties.

There the letter is read by the work alcoholic Keith Watson who quickly puts the letter on the discard pile, only to learn the next day that boss David has given the letter a second read and has decided that Keith should start pursuing an adoption search.  While the search's purpose is reuniting family, it will surprise you which people make "family repairs" and where romance buds.  As our high school's mixed choir said in their recent concert, "Spring is the time for romance."  So if it is going to be one perfect spring, there must be romance!

What I liked best about this book:

1. Haley adds interest to the story, but she isn't annoyingly over-mature or too infantile for the story.  Her presence rings true.
2.  David and Maureen are "mature" characters, age-wise, and I liked their presence.  As a reader, I am really beyond the romances targeted at the younger crowd.  The problems from their past which both are trying to resolve are realistic, the kind of mistakes that those in later mid-life really do regret.  Their flaws are not easy fixes and clearly show that we can sometimes be too late to make amends.
3.  Both David and Keith are well developed characters, even more so than Claire and Maureen, very unique in romance stories.  Too often the men in romance stories are nothing more than testosterone and good looks, or they are portrayed as perfect romantics who understand everything about their women (Have you ever met one of those guys?  Really?)  These two men have flaws, but are worth being "caught."

I received a copy of One Perfect Spring from Revell Publications for review purposes.  I was not compensated for this review.  All opinions are mine.

One Perfect Spring

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Avalon Ladies Scrapbooking Society by Darien Gee

9780345525376 Fictitious Avalon, Illinois(population 4,243) and its homey tearoom is the setting for this second novel by Darien Gee, a town whose friendliness and caring first became apparent in Gee's tale Friendship Bread. This latest installment was our book club's April selection and we had great fun last Thursday telling who was our favorite character and why.  Like Deborah Macomber's Cedar Cove books, Gee's novels tell several stories at once, this time with scrapbooking expert Bettie Shelton as the "glue" that connects everyone together.  Madeline, an older lady, who is very prominent in the first novel, is still running the tea room with the help of the young Connie.  When Connie adopts a "lost" goat it appears that trouble may be around the corner for the tea room again.  Perhaps the most dramatic interplay in the book is between Isabel (who has become withdrawn and bitter after her husband's unfaithfulness and subsequent death) and the young, lonely woman Ava who was his new love.  When Ava has no one else to help her with her young son, she turns to Isabel.

At first glance, you's expect townspeople to run from quirky, outspoken Bettie and her passion for scrapbooking (and indeed a few like Isabel try to), but it will soon be apparent that her special club membership is JUST what each person needs, each for a special reason.  And when it becomes known that Bettie herself has a new, serious challenge, the society members will be there to help.
The book offers light romance, fresh starts that require letting go of past hurts and hidden secrets, and most importantly opportunities to accept oneself and others.  Despite its length - 448 pages- this was a quick and entertaining read.  I thoroughly enjoyed the humor/serious mixture in both this book and Friendship Bread and can't wait for a return trip to Avalon.  Hopefully the next one will continue Connie's story along with that of Yvonne, the beautiful plumber, a recent Avalon transplant.  I am sure both young women have problems to overcome and secrets to share.