Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Wedding Chapel by Rachel Hauck

WeddingChapel email

My Review --  I love that Hauck was inspired by a wedding chapel that she saw and from that one sight was able to construct such a lovely, complex story.  More and more I am reading novels with characters who span the spectrum of adulthood, and that is so refreshing.  That Jimmy (Coach) and Collette are more than elderly minor characters added to the story for a little color is what makes this romance a romance worth reading.  That Jack and Taylor were drawn to each other by their past and their hometown, yet don't have a solid footing for their marriage underlines how much our perceptions, even of ourselves, affects how we behave.  Both Jack and Taylor were preparing themselves for failure rather than investigating what it took to be successful at marriage.  Sadly that is probably a reality being played out daily in homes across the world.  When given the opportunity to review this book, I almost passed, despite having enjoyed other novels by Rachel Hauck.  Another "wedding" book just did not appeal to me, but I am so glad that something prompted me to accept LITFUSE's invitation to review THE WEDDING CHAPEL.  This book gives us a look at commitment and lasting love as well as at the damaging effect of unchecked jealousy and self-doubt.  I would highly recommend this title to Christian bookclubs, and just a book to share with a friend.  Take the time to discuss who is favorite character and then maybe investigate the history of some (wedding) chapels near your home.  

Summary and press information for Rachel Hauck's the wedding chapel


10/20/2015 || Seattle: In a day when marriage seems incredibly disposable, best-selling author Rachel Hauck weaves a story rich in symbolism that reminds us of timeless truths about love. Hauck is captivated by the 1940s, and in The Wedding Chapel (Zondervan/ November 17, 2015/ISBN: 978-0310341529/$15.99), she juxtaposes two story lines: one capturing the simple romance and commitment to family embodying the earlier era and another showing the challenges and complications of romance in a modern world.    
Retired football hall-of-famer Jimmy “Coach” Westbrook never imagined anything would come from the wedding chapel he built, stone by stone, for the beautiful Collette Greer, the woman he fell for back in 1949. He lost her long ago, and for 60 years his labor of love has sat empty, a monument to his memories. Then one day an offer arrives to turn the chapel into what it was meant to be: a place of love and eternal promises. Coach sees no reason to hang onto his dream any longer.
Meanwhile photographer Taylor Branson is trying to make a life for herself in New York. She leaves her home in Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, determined to put the broken promises and dreams of the past behind her. Given how divorce tore apart her family, Taylor tends to be more cautious with relationships but surprises even herself when she falls head-over-heels for Jack Forester. Taylor allows her heart to carry her into a whirlwind elopement, but doubts, disagreements and second thoughts enter shortly after they say “I do.” Jack has his own demons to battle and struggles to show Taylor his true self and the depths of his love for her.
When Taylor takes an assignment in Heart’s Bend, the job does more than send her back to her hometown. She becomes immersed in a world of long-buried family secrets and finds her journey intersecting with Coach’s in a surprising way. Together they rediscover the heartbeat of their dreams and find it’s never too late to seek love— and it’s worth every single moment of waiting.
Many people are afraid of commitment and marriage because they’ve seen the way divorce can destroy a family — maybe even their own. Hauck reminds readers that their family history doesn’t have to determine their destiny. “In Christ we can break those family iniquities. We don’t have to carry forward whatever our ancestors did,” she explains. “‘Old things have passed away,’ the Apostle Paul writes. ‘All things have become new.’”
Above all The Wedding Chapel affirms the truth that while the pressures of life will always be with us, true love never fails. “I always hope my stories leave readers uplifted, hopeful and aware of God’s love for them. In this book, I tried to show how His heart beats for us, even when we are running the opposite direction.”
For more information about Rachel Hauck and The Wedding Chapel at or on Facebook (RachelHauck) and Twitter (@RachelHauck).


Rachel Hauck is a USA Today best-selling and award-winning author of critically acclaimed novels such as The Wedding DressLove Starts with Elle and Once Upon A Prince.
She also wrote the Songbird Novels with multi-platinum recording artist Sara Evans. Booklist named their novel Softly and Tenderly one of their 2011 “Top Ten Inspirationals.”
Hauck has a journalism degree from Ohio State University and is a huge Buckeyes football fan. She worked in the corporate software world before she began writing full time in 2004. Hauck serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is also a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, a conference speaker and a contributor to Southern Belle View Daily
Hauck lives in central Florida with her husband where she writes from her two-story tower.

Here is a link to a contest for $100 gift card from Rachel Hauck which ends Dec. 31st.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Education of Ivy Blake by Ellen Airgood

THE EDUCATION OF IVY BLAKEUP author Ellen Airgood has returned with a second heart warming middle school novel.  THE EDUCATION OF IVY BLAKE starts shortly after PRAIRIE EVERS ended.  (See my review of PRAIRIE EVERS here.)  Ivy, now a fifth grader, is living with her best friend's family and she loves the security of Prairie's caring parents and grandmother.  But she knows that they struggle financially and with a new baby on the way, Ivy wonders if the Evers have enough room in their house and in their hearts for her.  So when her mother returns to get Ivy, with promises that everything will be alright this time, Ivy willingly leaves with her.  Soon Ivy knows that "everything is NOT okay," but she shields the truth from the Evers family and tries to cope on her own.

This is a tender story about a young girl who often faces neglect and embarrassment from a mother who isn't able to (or chooses not to )  handle the responsibility of parenting.  The topic may seem a little serious for middle schoolers, but Airgood has again handled it with finesse.  Caring, supportive people, both young and old, enter Ivy's life at just the right time,  A few encouraging words by Ivy's new teacher provide a nugget of hope that drives Ivy's summer quest to make a movie.  A fight between best friends over really nothing will resonate with readers.  I believe this novel will give encouragement to kids who have difficulties at home and will instill better understanding and compassion in those kids who are lucky enough to have loving, secure home lives.

I've read three novels by Ellen Airgood now, two written for middle schoolers, and then her adult novel SOUTH OF SUPERIOR which I reviewed here.  I love her characters and hope she continues to write for both age groups.  I actually contacted Airgood after reading PRAIRIE EVERS and then again when I heard that she was working on a sequel.  She was gracious enough to answer my email and sent me a galley for THE EDUCATION OF IVY BLAKE.  That means that may have been edits and changes between what I read and the published version.  I must confess that this novel sat on my to-read shelf for months and months while I read other titles, most of which had blogging deadlines.  I also felt I needed to reread PRAIRIE EVERS because I really did not remember anything except it had chickens in it.Prairie Evers  Well, it only took one page of reading and I was totally back in the story of the two friends and I ended up reading the entire book before I went to bed.  I apologize to Ellen Airgood for taking so long to read this.  As I told her in the original email, I want to share her writing with my granddaughter who is now in 5th grade.  It will be a good reading fit! If you have a middle school girl in your life, consider getting both books.  I am sure she will enjoy them.  Even better, read them together.  There are great characters and tough situations that will make great discussions.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh

Keeping Christmas coverJudith and Stan Winters have just spend their first "empty nester" Thanksgiving.  Actually while their three children have been adults for quite a bit already, only recently have all left their home state of Florida.  The obligatory Thanksgiving day phone calls from each child did nothing to lift Judith's mood, especially when she learned that not one of the families could make it home for Christmas either.  While Stan follows his day-after Thanksgiving tradition of fishing with his buddy, Judith sits looking at the boxes of decorations he has taken down for her.  Her depressing funk only deepens as she thinks of decorating the house alone.  One thing she knows; she will never be able to hang those special handmade ornaments, the ones made by her children when they were little, the ones Stan has always called the uglies.

It's December 20th as I write this review, and almost all of us are in the midst of those holiday traditions we hold dear.  Anyone who has faced having significant changes in what seems to be the only way to celebrate Christmas will feel an immediate connection with Judith.  Perhaps we've handled the change better than Judith does, but certainly we can empathize with her.  And that Stan, one of those guys well settled into his routines -- fishing with a best bud, dinner on time, etc., is wise enough to notice his wife's pain is a wonder to behold.  KEEPING CHRISTMAS is just over 200 pages so it will be a quick, entertaining read.  I make it a point to read a few Christmas novels each season and Dan Walsh had delivered another one that touched me.  I received a copy of this book from Revell for my honest opinion.

Christmas for our extended family won't be on Christmas Day, but we will be together soon after.  That we had a Thanksgiving Day with everyone here, including all 6 grandchildren was a true delight.  My dad died this past April at age 96 and that has brought another one of those life changes that seem so much stronger at the holiday time.  Today had me looking at my parents' old photo albums searching for a certain photo.  What I found were decades of family Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthday celebrations. I could almost taste my great aunt's famous Parker House rolls, Mom's wonderful sugar cookies and angel food cakes (from scratch), and that glossy fudge.  And the smiles on our faces.  What a joy to have been able to "keep Christmas" with these people.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Day They Gave Babies Away by Dale Eunson

THE DAY THEY GAVE BABIES AWAY by Dale Eunson tells the story of his father's childhood, mainly focused on the Christmas immediately after Robbie Eunson's parents died.  Robbie's parents had been Scottish immigrants who settled along the Fox River in Eureka,WI.  They worked hard, Robert, Sr., as both a lumberman and a boat builder.  Soon the family had grown to six children, three boys, followed by three girls.  When Robbie was around 11 or 12, the youngest brother Kirk came down with diphtheria.  Since it is highly contagious and often fatal, Mr. Eunson took his other children out of the home to an isolated cabin, while his wife remained to nurse Kirk.  Kirk's eventual recovery was met with great relief, and Robbie remembers that the only time the kids saw their father cry was when he received news that Kirk was better and that the family could reunite.  Sadly, Robert, Sr. became ill shortly after their return and died within days.

Imagine being a woman in 1868 Wisconsin caring for six children all alone.  Like many, Mrs. Eunson was illiterate when she arrived in America and only learned to read when her children did.
Her own health quickly deteriorated and by December 1868, she knew she was dying.  She called son Robbie to her and shared quietly that she would not recover.  As was her wish, Robbie pledged that he would personally see that each of his siblings would be placed in homes where they would be loved and cherished.  He was also supposed to try to place them in homes which already had children so they would not be lonely.  Clearly Mrs. Eunson knew that no one would be able to take on all 6 children.  Robbie also knew that at age twelve he was considered old enough to work and survive on his own.

This book began as a story written in the 1940s for Cosmopolitan magazine when Dale
Eunson was editor there.  Soon after it was rewritten and published as a book.  Several editions have been published; the one I read was published in 1990 as a children's book.  The story is indeed quite short and simple, but it is very moving.  I saw the story mentioned on Facebook as a story that someone read every Christmas, and I can see why.  As I began to search for the book, I realized that it was set in Eureka, a small community in Wisconsin about an hour from us.  That really peaked my interest.  After Mrs. Eunson dies, the villagers feel obligated to see the children are placed somewhere quickly, probably in a nearby orphanage.  Robbie convinces the adults to let the children spend Christmas eve and Christmas day in their family home (a cabin) one last time.  As soon as the adults leave and the younger children are in bed, Robbie and his brother fly into action.  Robbie's plan is to take the children, one at a time, to the homes of families he has chosen for each child and "give the sibling away" as a gift.  For Robbie believes that no one can turn away a babe on the day of Christ's birth.  The rest of the book tells why Robbie chose certain villagers for each of his siblings.  You will smile at his reasoning, perhaps even laugh a little, but underlying the whole story is the sweet sadness of a young man, a boy really, carrying out his mother's wishes because he loved her and his father.

When I first heard of the book a few weeks ago, I also learned that it had been made into a movie in 1956 titled ALL MINE TO GIVE.  Perhaps because this is part of Fox Valley's history, I found a library in our Winnefox library system (which covers most of the Fox Valley) which had a dvd of the movie.  After reading the book (really that takes only 30 minutes or less), I watched the movie with hubby.   I liked that the movie followed the book so closely; often the script matched dialogue from the book word for word.  Now you need to remember that the movie is a 1950's movie and the settings may seem a bit hokey for today's standards, and I got a good chuckle when a panoramic shot of the cabin showed mountains in the background.  Winnebago County with mountains ??  But otherwise I enjoyed the movie.  Russ and I were curious enough after viewing the movie that we wanted to find out just how much of it was true.  It was an easy search and we found information from both historical societies and newspapers confirming this tale of early Wisconsin.

Here are some links:

Why not share this tale of others seeking shelter, love, and a home on Christmas Eve with
your loved ones.  I can see from Amazon that the book is out of print and that older copies have quite
a hefty price tag.  Perhaps a library near you has a copy or you can read a version of the story on
the Winnebago County historical society sight.  The movie may be easier to find.  I'd be curious to hear if anyone reading this posting has heard of the story.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

Product DetailsSix year old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz when she and her sister are told to jump by her grandmother and mother.  Miraculously the two survive the jump, but Gretl's older sister is gravely ill and soon dies.  Gretl, really too young to understand what has been happening to her family, believes that her grandmother and mother plan to jump also and waits in the bushes for them to arrive. Only after hearing a large explosion and seeing the nearby railroad bridge burn, does she realize that she will never see her family again.

Through a rapid series of events, Gretl ends up in the care of Jakob Kowalski, a young Polish freedom fighter, and his family.  Gretl, a German by birth, is told to speak only Polish and to never reveal that her grandmother was Jewish.  The secrets she and Jakob share keep her safe during the war, but after it ends, Jakob returns Gretl to Germany because German orphans are being given a chance to be adopted by South Africans.  Jakob knows the hardships of Poland under the new Communist rule and he wants Gretl in a safe place.  As he returns the young girl , now just 10 years old, to the Germany of her birth, Jakob tells her that she must keep even more secrets.  She must not reveal her years in Poland or that she has been passing as a Catholic, as the South Africans seeking children only want Protestant orphans.

This book is just wonderful.  Gretl's growth from a homeless child into a young adult who deeply loves her adoptive parents, but who needs to face the truth of her past will tear at your heart.  To think that hundreds or thousands of young war survivors went on to forge new lives under similar circumstances makes her journey all the more poignant.  Jakob's part in the story is equally striking.  First, there is the background of the Polish freedom fighters, and the fear that Russia will replace Germany as the power which controls Poland.  Then later through Jakob's eyes we get a realistic look into those Communist-run years, and how a simple event of speaking out made him an enemy of the state.  Frankly, the South African setting and its conflicts between  Protestant Afrikaans and English settlers was totally new to me.  I had never heard of the movement to adopt German orphans, and I found the plan fascinating.

The book covers 15 years of Gretl's life, but it flows smoothly from one time period and one setting to another.  Irma Jourbert was a history teacher for over 35 years and then turned to writing.  Her knowledge of and interest in history certainly shows in this novel which has been translated from the Dutch.  If her other books are as interesting as THE GIRL FROM THE TRAIN, I hope they make the transition to American publishers.  I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley for my honest opinion.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Thousand Shall Fall by Andrea Boeshaar

When Carrie Ann Bell learns that her younger sister has run away with a traveling peddler, Carrie Ann knows that she must search for her, no matter that their home town is right in the middle of the fight for Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.  Already several years into the war, the town has been under both Confederate and Union control.  Just last year Carrie helped care for some injured Union soldiers held up at the inn where she works for a pittance of a wage.  It would be dangerous for Carrie to speak out in favor of the Union, but she can't embrace the Confederate cause either.  Mainly she concentrates on caring for her two sisters and her mother, and wondering what has happened to their newspaperman father.

With help from a childhood friend (a Confederate soldier), Carrie disguises herself in an Union uniform and sets out across territory held by the Union.  Quickly her plan falls apart and Carrie finds herself under arrest for impersonating an officer.  When Colonel Peyton Collier turns out to be an ally, Carrie is swept up into the world of war and its strange allegiances; as Collier tries to find a safe place for her, Carrie finds that love and family do not always come from blood relatives.  This is not a book of big battles, but focuses on the impact that couriers, spies, and those who travel between both sides had on the war's outcome.

Andrea Boeshaar, a Wisconsin author, has written many Christian and romance novels.  A THOUSAND SHALL FALL is the first in a series set in the Shenandoah Valley.  I received a copy of this novel from Litfuse for my honest review.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Daily Guideposts 2016

Daily Guideposts 2016Guidepost magazine has been an inspiration to millions of readers for over 65 years.  I remember my mother reading that small magazine; and after she died, my father continued getting it.  He would always share his issues with me after he finished reading every article.  The vast backgrounds of the authors and their heartfelt stories are what drew me to trying a DAILY GUIDEPOST devotional.
Told in first person, each day's story is a testament to God's presence in our lives.  A Bible verse helps center our attention to the day's theme and additional Bible references are included for those wishing to dig deeper.  The theme for 2016, the 40th edition of DAILY GUIDEPOSTS, is "Abide in me."  A "Fellowship Corner" follows at the end of the book which gives more information about the authors, and a detailed index allows readers to search by topic.  That is a great feature if you keep your devotionals and use them for church talks, visits to nursing homes, and such.  Sometimes you just need to go back and reread a message that truly spoke to your needs.  I must confess that I've gathered some DAILY GUIDEPOSTS from previous years and I still read them.  One I keep at our vacation cabin, so I always have something inspirational to read myself and to share with others who use the cabin.  For those who are hard to buy for on your Christmas list, for those who live alone, for those who need encouragement, and especially for yourself, give this lovely small gift.  Join the million plus readers of this staple of inspiration.

Did you know that Family Christian Bookstores donate 100 per cent of their profits to Christian charities?  Find your nearest Family Christian Bookstore and make it part of your Christmas shopping, or if you don't live near enough to one, check out their website
Here is a direct link to the Daily Guidepost 2016

I received a copy of DAILY GUIDEPOSTS 2016 from Family Christian for review purposes.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


The Christmas Joy RideI so want to be like the character Joy in Melody Carlson's new Christmas novella THE CHRISTMAS JOY RIDE.  A young 85 years old, Joy writes a Christmas blog/website, and now that she has sold her Chicago house to move to Tuscon, AZ, nearer her two sons, she has decided to make the trip west a special one.  She's loaded up the twenty-year-old RV she and her deceased husband loved with boxes of Christmas decorations and gifts.  She's held a special contest on her blog and has chosen a handful of winners to receive a special  "Joy-filled" Christmas.  Each winner is located somewhere near the old Route 66 path she plans to take to Tuscon.  Miranda, Joy's much younger next door neighbor is sorry to see the elderly woman move as the two have become close.  Miranda has helped Joy with her website, and Joy has helped Miranda cope with a lost job and failed marriage.  When Joy suggests that Miranda join her on the RV trip, Miranda knows there is nothing keeping her in Chicago.  Soon foreclosure will take her home, plus she feels that someone should accompany Joy who has not even let her sons know about the unique travel plans.  So just a week before Christmas, the two women depart, driving the cumbersome, aging, but brilliantly decorated RV, spreading cheer wherever they stop.

We are campers in our family, and I smile whenever I see a RV on the highway. For a few years we didn't have a camper (we have a small cabin now) but I missed it so much that this past year we again bought a camper.  The idea of a spunky 85 year old taking to the road in her motorhome is just delightful.  Of course, you know the trip in Carlson's book will be memorable, and not all sparkly fun. As the book blurb says, "Fasten your seatbelt, because it's going to be an exciting ride."  If you've got a reader, who is also a camper, on your Christmas list, why not get this book?
I received a copy of this title from Revell Reads for review purposes.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

THE THREE-YEAR SWIM CLUB: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory by Julie Checkoway

Image result for three year swim clubIn the mid-1930's Soichi Sakamoto, a school teacher on the island of Maui, noticed the sugar plantation kids playing in the filthy camp irrigation ditches.  Something sparked his interest in the kids and he organized a swimming club, despite being a non-swimmer himself.  As many of the kids began to show natural abilities in the water, Soichi Sakamoto continued to coach them, even though he was not paid.  He instilled in the best swimmers a goal that they could be Olympiads by 1940 and named their group The Three Year Swim Club.  Soon they were being noticed beyond Hawaii, entering competitions on the mainland and in Europe.  Sakamoto's coaching methods were called extreme and unorthodox by most, but the results could not be denied.  Today we would label Sakamoto's methods a mixture of cross and interval training, both widely accepted techniques in almost all sports.

This book is lengthy and was not an easy read, but in the end it was worthwhile.  Author Checkoway goes into each swimmer's home life, swim competitions, and records, and sometimes I got a little lost in descriptions of races, but real swim aficionados will love those details.  It was another of those "undiscovered gems of history" that I find so entertaining.  The sugar ditch kids were born and raised in poverty, most Japanese-American and their sudden success in swimming plunged them into a world beyond the ditches and sugar cane.  When they traveled on the mainland and abroad, they were a curious oddity, superheros of the swimming world. While they witnessed blatant discrimination against blacks, their own treatment depended entirely on who was willing to speak out for them. A parallel story to their training and success is the one of Japan's quest for the 1940 Olympics.  Finally their bid was accepted, and Sakamoto fully expected a group of his swimmers would represent the United States (Hawaii was then a US territory), but then Japan invaded China and the IOC decided Japan was not a safe country.  After quick deliberations,  Helsinki was chosed as the alternate cite.  Then as Hitler's aggression through Europe grew, the games were totally cancelled.
Later in 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed the families of many of the sugar ditch kids (now young adults) were held in detainment camps.  As the war progressed, Japanese-Americans were allowed to serve, and many of the swimmers were sent to Italy and France.  Miraculously none died in combat and all returned home.  Bill Smith, one of the swimmers, served his entire time at the Great Lakes Naval Base, a safe duty, but his contribution to the war effort was huge.  Early in the war, over half of those entering the Navy could NOT swim.  Smith and other top American swimmers were sent to set up a much needed swimming component to basic training.  Thousands of lives were saved that way.  The book ends with the 1948 Olympics where some of  original sugar ditch kids and also younger members of the Three Year Swim Club represented the United States in London.  I requested this book through my library system.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Midnight Visitors by Juliet David and illustrated by Jo Parry

With illustrations so rich and soft that they look simultaneously 3-D and fuzzy, THE MIDNIGHT VISITORS is among the newest of Christmas read-alouds for the wee ones.  I believe it is destined to become a favorite of young families.  Miriam the cow is just settling down for the evening in her cowshed when she hears a knock.  It's the rabbit family seeking a warm and dry bed.  Thus begins a procession of creatures seeking shelter in the shed, including of course, Mary and Joseph.  Miriam is overjoyed when her feeding trough is used for the babe's cradle, and she learns from the shepherds who quickly come to view the infant that he is a very special.  As the book ends, the shepherds tell Mary and Joseph that they will never forget this night, and all the creatures of the stable know they won't forget either.

Of course, this book is not biblical, but there are many other fiction tales that brilliantly exhibit the essence of Christmas.  We can all identify with the little drummer boy, right, but of course, we know that there was no drummer boy at the actual birth.  One of my favorites as a child was GOLDEN BOOKS' LITTLE LOST ANGEL.  Decades later, I still love that story.  This new title by Juliet David and Jo Parry will make wonderful stocking stuffers (although it WON'T fit into the stocking) or Sunday School exchange gifts for younger kids.  If would also be a great gift to a Christian Daycare or Preschool class.  Don't forget to make reading and stories part of your Christmas tradition with your family, especially the younger ones.  If you want them to understand the message of Christ and love and peace, you need to tell them that again and again, and in many forms, and on their level of understanding.   I received a copy of MIDNIGHT VISITOR from Kregel Publications for my honest review.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A few days of calm after the Thanksgiving rush and some short reviews

Unlike many Americans, I am not a Black Friday person.  After Thanksgiving Day's full house and full stomach, I always savor the calmer, quieter weekend that follows.  When I was still working, hubby and I would try to escape to the cabin early Friday morning and enjoy a long weekend there.  Maybe I would venture into a quilt store or craft fair, but mostly I curled up near the wood burner and read.  Since hubby is experiencing a different kind of adventure this week, I've settled into a very quiet weekend at home.

Friday evening and Saturday morning I visited with three nieces.  Recently they reconnected with L., their Egyptian exchange student from 32 years ago.  L. now works in New York City, splitting her time between Egypt and America.  She and her two college age daughters made a trip to Wisconsin over this long weekend to see her "second family."  My nieces's father died 9 years ago; they miss him deeply, but this visit with L. allowed them to share memories and also catch up.  Russ and I were just in our thirties when L. was here and our lives really centered around our own three kids.  L. was very outgoing, even as a 16 year old, and she settled into our small community amazingly well.  By the winter months, she would even babysit for us. I was touched to learn that she has kept all these years a fabric jewelry case I made for her.  As I prepared to join the group for Saturday morning coffee, I searched through photo albums hoping to find some holiday pictures from the year L. was here.  No luck, but I was able to find a group of great photos to share with the nieces.  It was great remembering, but today, that's got me thinking about the present.  I don't like having my photo taken anymore, being extremely self-conscious.  Plus I am very, very, very (is that enough emphasis) busy on holidays being the hostess.  And it appears we have a whole brood of people who share my camera aversion.  The result -- we have very few posed photos with everyone in them, and the candids are not that plentiful or good. Thirty two years from now, how will the grand kids gather and laugh over outdated hair styles and clothes, but then move on to deeper reminiscencing?  I guess I will need to work harder on getting those photos taken (without me appearing, of course!)

Before I plunge into the necessary Christmas shopping and some sewing projects, I plan to savor decorating the house and also my end of the year reading.  Last night I finished THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB by Vanessa Greene and last weekend read SUMMER SECRETS BY Jane Green.  Both of these books are popular contemporary fiction which feature English characters.  SUMMER SECRETS's main character Cat is a recovering alcoholic whose drinking has totally messed up her life.  Now a single mother, focused on sobriety and being a good parent to a teenage daughter, Cat undertakes a trip to Nantucket to make amends for a terrible mistake she made almost twenty years earlier.  Although the cover blurb says this novel has characters you will "fall madly in love with," I did not love anyone in this book, except perhaps Cat's ex-husband.  Jane Green's writing is good; this just was a story that did not appeal to me.

Image result for vintage teacup club
It was the premise of THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB that caught my attention.  Three women discover they want the same set of gold-rimmed forget me not teacups at a flea market.  Rather than fight over them, thus driving the price up, the women sit down over a cuppa and learn that they want the cups for different reasons and at different times.  With a little planning, they can all have their needs satisfied. They join together and buy the set, hoping to add more vintage cups over the summer weeks.  Like other books with a "sharing" premise, the three women are very different (different ages,even) and the shared teacups bring not only them, but their significant others close together.  Weddings, unexpected romance, family finances, problems with children, and betrayals are part of this book as the lives of the trio unfold.  I enjoyed the women's stories, but I found the teacups a bit of a weak connector.  Perhaps because I enjoy tea, old tea pots and china, I felt their presence in the story would be stronger.  This is the type of book that could have a sequel and I've just discovered that there is a digital short story that shows the three women a year later.  Think I will need to locate that. As I said earlier, both of these books are popular contemporary fiction.  Normally, I blog about Christian fiction and nonfiction, but I do read other genres and like to also review them.  I am never quite sure what readers of this blog think about that, so I simply try to clearly label what type of book I'm reviewing.   I obtained both of these books from our library system.  Goodreads gives a ranking of 3.55 to Vanessa Greene's THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB while Jane Green's SUMMER SECRETS earned a 3.59.  Personally I would rank SUMMER SECRETS a low 3 and THE VINTAGE TEACUP CLUB a 3.5.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch

9781400206742I don't know how much Dickens's A Christmas Carol has affected the Christmas culture of other countries, but it is deeply ingrained in America's Christmas lore despite its British setting. That Victorian era snow covered streets and people with bonnets and top hats conjure visions of Christmas nearly as much as the stable or the sleigh.  We receive or send cards adorned with period inspired drawings (much like the book's cover).  Why in a neighboring town to ours, there is a "Dickens of a Christmas" every year and shop windows for one night look like the shops near Scrooge's office.

You may not know this, but Charles Dickens was a 19th Century rock star of literature.  When he came to America, crowds waited at the docks to meet his arriving ship. He was known to sign 500 autographs at a time for admiring fans.  Some of his writings were released in serial form, making the waiting for the next installment equivalent to waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey.  While most of his books exceed 500 pages, the one title most modern Americans recognize is his novella The Christmas Carol has fewer than 125.  Whether you've read the actual book or seen one of the many movie versions, you certainly know the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his selfish, stingy ways.  Why his last name in lower case form is now recognized as a noun meaning a cold-hearted, stingy person.

Bob Welch's new holiday book 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM A CHRISTMAS CAROL beckons you to look at this classic with new eyes.  First, the author shares the social and political climate which spurred Dicken's to write the novella and then he shares "little life lessons" drawn from the actions of Scrooge, Marley, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's nephew, and of course, Tiny Tim.  With 52 lessons, and each one being only a few pages, the concept of the book seems to fit a schedule of one per week over a year's time span but I know I would set aside a Christmas topic mid-year, so I recommend planning to read Welch's title as an accompaniment to reading the actual novel or watching your favorite movie version.  Or why not schedule a family Christmas Carol marathon?  Read the story orally over a couple nights (maybe with family members taking roles), then watch more than one movie version, and each time share several of the lessons provided by Welch.  52 LESSONS would make a great gift and is sure to be one that can be read each Christmas season or passed on to many readers in the extended family.

Here are a couple lesson titles -- Misery Loves Company, Don't Let People Steal Your Joy, Everyone has Value, and See Life as a Child.  I let you wonder how each lesson ties into the story itself.  I am sure you can tell that the last one is about Tiny Tim's life attitude.  But as Welch explains, there is a strong parallel between Dickens's joyful and hopeful Tiny Tim and Christ's admonishment that we should seek the kingdom of God with the heart of a child.  I received a copy of 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM A CHRISTMAS CAROL from BOOKLOOK for my honest review.  I encourage you to find this title, and if you find it as entertaining as I did, then check out Welch's books 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM LES MISERABLES.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Another Way Home by Deborah Raney: A Chicory Inn Novel

Another Way HomeDeborah Raney has hit another home run with her latest installment in the Chicory Inn series.
ANOTHER WAY HOME can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, but its family-centered story is made richer if the reader has already met the cast of characters.  When Grant and Audrey Whitman became empty nesters they decided two things: one, to turn their large home into a bed and breakfast inn, and two, to gather their grown children and extended families together every Tuesday night for supper. I definitely connected with how Grant and Audrey want to step back and let their adult children live their own lives.  That said, neither can totally protect their own hearts when they see their family suffering in any way. Raney's family drama has all the warmth and humor of a real family that loves each other despite everyday stress, personal drama, and imperfect people.  As the book opens, middle daughter Danae and her husband are beginning to dread the Tuesday night dinners because they know the siblings will skirt around the obvious --despite fertilization treatments, Danae is still not pregnant.  For the past three or four months, Danae has been decorating the large house she and Dallas purchased from sister Corinne and husband.  Now that the house is perfect, Danae has realized that it wasn't the house that she wanted, but it was her sister's life-- the one with a household full of kids.  When Danae learns that big sis is having another baby, Danae is sure that God's fairness meter is busted.  Encouraged by husband Dallas, she starts volunteering at a women's shelter in an attempt to break through her despair.

As the title hints, Danae and Dallas will find their way home to the life God has planned for them, but it's another way, one they never could have foreseen.  I received a copy of this title from Litfuse for my honest review.  I recommend fans of family dramas plan on reading this entire gentle warm hearted series.

    Thanksgiving weekend could be disastrous for the Whitman clan in @AuthorDebRaney's new book! Enter to win a copy:

Just in time to cozy up for a winter of reading: @AuthorDebRaney's new book just released, and you can win a copy!

About the author

About the author: 

Deborah Raney's books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deborah's novels---for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away.

Find Deborah online: websiteTwitterFacebook

To learn more check out this Litfuse page

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

The Five Times I Met Myself PKTo the worldwide customers who flock to purchase Black Fedora coffee, Brock Matthews, the brother behind the unique, top-selling blends is a coffee success.  But Brock knows differently; despite the money, the push to help their coffee growers and the fame their generosity has brought, he senses there are cracks to his life.  First there is the failed relationship with his father that was never healed before his father's death: then there is an unspoken, almost unacknowledged jealousy that his father made his younger brother CFO and chief stockholder, not himself.  And now, with his son ready to leave for college, Brock has to face what he has known for awhile, that his marriage has "lost the wind in its sails."   When he begins to have a recurring dream in which his fathers seems to be warning to prepare himself for a disaster, Brock knows something bad is going to happen and shares his fears with longtime friend Morgan.  Morgan gives Brock a book about lucid dreaming -- dreaming in which you know you are in a dream and suggests that Brock could approach his father and try to get him to share just what he wants Brock to do.  Brock reads the book and gives the technique a try, but not before he learns that Black Fedora is about to go under due to some illegal pilfering of funds and that his wife wants a separation.

Throughout the book, Brock meets himself several times in dreams, each time asking his younger self to do one thing -- something Brock feels will fix the present. Each time when Brock wakes, he finds that the present has been altered.  What he has wanted done, has been done, but the "new present" is never what he expected or wanted.  I started this book after a full afternoon of shopping with my husband.  I expected I would read a few chapters during the evening and then set it aside for a good night's sleep.  Our granddaughter was going to sleep over and I knew I would spend the whole next day playing games with her.  And to be truthful, I wasn't to sure if I would like the book once Brock started altering the past.  But I kept reading and reading, and by the time bedtime came around, I got E. settled in and told hubby that I would be reading for a while before I came to bed.  By 12:30 I had finished the entire 381 pages.  There was simply no place where I could stop and not spend restless time wondering what was going to happen to Brock.  Each new present day seemed more disappointing, almost dangerous, then ... Well, I can't have spoilers, can I? I highly recommend this book.

If we are honest, we would all confess that we've longed for "do-overs."  We have things we wish we had made right; we focus too much on past mistakes, or we dream that if we'd only made some different choices life would be peachy.  Well, Brock gets do-overs, but he keeps avoiding the one thing he can't face, and the lesson for all of us seems to be that if we want a future, we must face our failures, our fears HERE IN THE PRESENT.   I received a copy of THE FIVE TIMES I MET MYSELF from LITFUSE for my honest review.  

I am sharing a press release about THE FIVE TIMES I MET MYSELF and James L. Rupart.Seattle: It will help you understand the power of the novel which goes way beyond simple entertainment.

What if you met your 23-year-old self in a dream? What would you say? No matter how young or how old, there’s a part of us all that wishes we could go back and tell ourselves what we should have done differently. It’s a desire award-winning author James L. Rubart explores in his new novel, The Five Times I Met Myself (Thomas Nelson/November 10, 2015/ISBN: 978-1401686116/$15.99). 
Rubart’s strength of teaching life lessons within the context of story shines in this new release that will appeal to fans of Andy Andrews and Mitch Albom. The author introduces readers to Brock Matthews, whose once-promising life is now unraveling. There is tension in nearly every one of his relationships, and with his son soon leaving for college he’s forced to confront the gaping gulf that lies between him and his wife. His successful company, where he’s found so much of his sense of identity and fulfillment, is suddenly on the rocks. He’s at a loss for how to deal with the pressures he’s facing, when one night he encounters himself as a young adult in a vivid dream. When he learns he might be able to change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance but soon finds that while the results are astonishing, they’re also disturbing. 
For Brock, getting what he wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn’t know how to let go. In The Five Times I Met Myself Rubart examines the role of dreams in our lives and raises the question of whether or not they’re sometimes much more than just our subconscious minds working out the events of the day. 

Pointing to Scripture that shows God uses dreams to speak to his people and even shape significant events, Rubart admits he takes his own quite seriously. “In the Old Testament Joseph had dreams that changed all of Egypt,” Rubart explains. “I believe God is still using dreams to change the lives of his children.” While we do not get the opportunity to change our past through a dream, Rubart believes redemption, restoration, and freedom can still come for our past choices and regrets. The Five Times I Met Myself encourages readers to ask themselves difficult questions about their choices and where their future is headed, while affirming that change and, ultimately, redemption are available to all, despite regrets and mistakes. Andy Andrews, the New York Times bestselling author of The Noticer and The Traveler’s Gift, has described The Five Times I Met Myself as life-changing. Rubart reveals that was precisely his hope when he sat down to write. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to start living with freedom. I don’t think there’s any brokenness God can’t breathe healing and life into. I’ve had people say my books are not fluffy reading, but that they stick with people months and years afterward. I hope that’s true. I want my stories to seep into people’s minds and, more importantly, their hearts and help them step into greater freedom

Sunday, November 15, 2015

June Bug by Chris Fabry

June Bug  Well, I did it again --- read a book that I felt I had already read, but since I couldn't remember the whole story, I read it from cover to cover.  Back a bit, I read the book summary/blurb for JUNE BUG by Chris Fabry, and was interested enough to order the book from Winnefox Library System.  That the story was going to be about a girl who sees an age-enhanced drawing of someone who looks like herself seemed just a tad familiar, but then there have been multiple books written about missing children and I've read some, so I never questioned if I'd read this particular title.  When the book came, the cover picture did not shout, "I've seen this before" and it went onto my reading pile. But when I started reading the actual book, it seemed vaguely familiar -- enough so that I went back and checked my lists of books read from 2009 until now.  Nowhere did I see the title JUNE BUG, but the further I got into the book, the more I knew that I had already read Fabry's tale.  I had a sense of what the ending was (but never peeked) but since all the action was reading like new material, I ended up reading the entire book.  Despite knowing I have a tall stack of books to be read before the holidays, I don't regret rereading this one.

June Bug, the name given to the main character by the man she believes is her father, is a gem.  She and her father have been traveling the country in his beat up RV and despite sometimes wishing she could remain in a town long enough to actually develop friendships and have a dog, she loves her dad and their life.  That he never wants to answer her questions about her mom really doesn't bother her; that is, until the day she sees that picture that she knows must be herself on the Walmart bulletin board.  Then when a newscast reveals that a car has been found in the bottom of a Dogwood West Virginia reservoir, he begins to make a trek across country, promising to reveal the truth when they get to Dogwood.  The grandparents in Dogwood and the sheriff there trying to solve a 7 year old disappearance, coupled with the people that June Bug and John meet on their RV trip are what made  this an interesting read  -- worth the second visit.   There is a wide range of skill in Christian fiction writing.  Fabry's tales always hit the high end on my scale, especially for complex character development -- even the second time around.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Guidebook to Murder: A Tourist Trap Mystery by Lynn Cahoon

Guidebook to Murder2 (eBook)When I purchased my new Nook Samsung tablet a few weeks ago, I wanted to read on it right away. Of course I could have read one of the many Nook ebooks which transferred over from my original Nook, but I also wanted to find out how to obtain books from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium downloaded onto my new device.  So I downloaded the OVERDRIVE app from GooglePlay (free app) and quickly picked an available title, one of Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mysteries.  I'd never read any of her books before, but I was pleasantly surprised. The series (6 books I believe) is set in the coastal town of South Cove, California, known for its tourist business, and features Jill Gardner, former lawyer who now runs a coffee/book shop.  When Jill receives a frantic call from her elderly friend Miss Emily, Jill believes it is because the City Council has been harassing the elderly woman about her refusal to sell her house for a new development.  Despite being the last holdout, Miss Emily has no intentions to move or sell.  When Jill visits soon after the call, she finds Miss Emily dead.  Even more surprising than the woman's untimely death is the news that her house and possessions have been left to Jill, not Miss Emily's nephew.

Intent on learning exactly what led to Miss Emily's demise and also to learn more about the woman's deceased only son, Jill finds she needs immediate help at the coffee shop.  She calls her retired aunt. You know how what seems to be the answer to a huge problem can soon be its own problem?? That pretty much describes what happens when Jill's aunt arrives and takes over.

Cahoon's book had all the easy reading qualities that I like in a cozy mystery.  No real gore, but still some suspense and danger.  There's a little humor and Jill is a genuinely caring person.  The array of possible "bad guys" are eclectic and entertaining, and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the ending  There were "bread crumbs" of clues but they were hidden enough that I did not quite catch them.

I liked GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER enough that I will be either reading or listening to the other books in the series, at least the ones I can get from WPLC or Winnefox Library System.  I just can't resist a series set around coffee and books!  If you think you might like this series, check out Lynn Cahoon's website for more information.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A CUP OF DUST: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner

Whenever I read historical fiction set in the Dust Bowl area and in the Great Depression years, I judge that book against several things: John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH, Dorothea Lange's iconic photographs, the recent PBS/Ken Burn's television series, and personal stories of my father's childhood in Depression-era Wisconsin.  From the first pages of her first novel, A CUP OF DUST, I felt that Susie Finkbeiner was authentically recreating a Dust Bowl era Oklahoma town and its people. I was almost through the 300+ page novel, when I flipped to the final author's notes and read that Finkbeiner herself gauges any Dust Bowl information against Steinbeck, Lange, and Burns.  Perhaps that is why the mix of setting and character meshed so well in her book.

Ten year old Pearl Spence's family is surviving the Depression better than most.  Her father, the town's sheriff receives a regular paycheck, although quite small, and her mother wisely rations it throughout the month so that she can quietly and sometimes anonymously be generous to neighbors with less.  Pearl's precious Meemaw lives with the family, and between her and Pearl's mom, Pearl is being taught how to act like a lady, especially a Christian one.  Like most ten year old's, Pearl is navigating that area between a child's world of innocence and an adult's world of responsibility.  Sometimes she hears things she does not quite understand and the not understanding weighs heavily on her.  As for responsibilities, Pearl's greatest one is keeping track of her older sister Beanie, who is mentally slow and a definite wanderer.  There is a special connection between Pearl and her sheriff father.  Even quieter than Atticus in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Sheriff Spence is both Pearl's protector, hero, and her moral compass.

If you've ever seen Dorothea Lange's photos of Depression era mothers and children, you will have no problem imagining Mrs. Jones and her son Ray.  They live in a soddy not too far from the Pence's and Ray is Pearl's best friend, while Mrs. Jones relies on doing the Spence's laundry for the family's meager income.  With each beating from her broken, useless husband, every sand-filled cough from her infant daughter and every inch of growth on Ray's frail frame, Mrs. Jones becomes more and more discouraged until no hope remains.  Their's is a story where you wished the author did not need to be so authentic.  Young Pearl (and everyone else for that matter) witnesses the abuse within the Jones's soddy, but even the sheriff feels that nothing can be done to intervene in "a man's home," so the family is quietly helped by Mrs. Pence's charity, but by nothing else.

I believe if this novel has simply been a tale of the Spence's survival during the Depression, it would have offered plenty -- the fight against death of their town by desertion, the endless dust storms and cleaning, the fight against the jackrabbits, the slaughtering of the cattle, and so on.  But A CUP OF DUST offers more -- a stranger who for some reason seems to know Pearl's name and whose very presence frightens the little girl.  When others begin to accept him, and when even her mother and father begin to trust Eddie, Pearl cannot understand why.  As Pearl's dreams turn into nightmares and Eddie seems to be at the center of all of them, Pearl must find a way to make her family understand her fears. Finkbeiner has used her lifelong fascination with the Dust Bowl to write a strong novel.  I hope she has many more stories left to tell.  If you want to learn more about Susie Finkbeiner's writing checkout her blog or her website.  I received a copy of this title from Kregel Publications for review purposes.  All views are mine.