Saturday, January 31, 2015

At Home in Last Chance by Cathleen Armstrong

At Home in Last Chance (A Place to Call Home, #3)  Spunky haircut, hip leather jacket and scarf -- the cover of Armstrong's latest novel will surely draw in Christian fiction readers who want a contemporary story and setting.  AT HOME IN LAST CHANCE is the third novel to be set in this small Texas town which many, like main character Kaitlyn Reed, would classify as the last place on earth for starting a new life.  But fresh starts are possible and just maybe Last Chance is a special place for those who need those starts.  Despite having parents who supported her through her rough and rebellious teens, Kaitlyn has continued to mess up and now finds herself trying to reestablish a relationship with her seven year old daughter whom she recklessly left with her brother to seek personal romance and adventure.  She knows she has changed, that she's found an inner maturity and a need to make amends.  While her brother has given her a job at his cafe, it seems that everyone is waiting for her to make a wrong move, and the one who seems most sure it will happen is Kaitlyn herself.

She finds a kindred spirit in Steven, who would classify himself as the town's recovering bad boy.  While both feel an attraction to the other, and both can see the tremendous effort the other is making to begin a new, each is warned to stay away from the other.  Cries of "He's bad news" or "Stay away from her; she doesn't need you" come from every direction.  But like I said earlier, Last Chance is a special place, and despite the typical gossip and nosiness of small towns, there is genuine caring and when one begins to see the good in another, just maybe, one will  finally see the goodness within yourself.

I have not the read the first books in this series, but can tell the writer is following the series pattern of developing one person's (one couple's) story per book, while always tying the stories together.  I especially liked the inter-generational plot of this book.  Steven's 88 year old grandmother is the baby sitter for Kaitlyn's daughter Olivia, and it is her hospitalization that brings Steven and Kaitlyn closer.  She is also the person who first sees how much both "misfits" have changed.  From her aged perspective, she can clearly see that the two have plenty of time to leave the past and make a future.

Final word --- This is not a romance of boy meets girl, couple falls in love, problems hit and misunderstandings abound, followed by a miserable break up and then finally a reconciliation. Rather Kaitlyn's and Steve's personal stories take center stage, and as they find themselves, they find each other.  This is a much quieter story, but very affirming.

I would like to thank Revell Reads for a review copy of this book.  All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook by Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph

 The mother and daughter team of Becky Johnson and Rachel Randolph combine tales of life's highs and lows with tales of the foods that bind them together and define their separateness. Daughter Rachel has plenty to tell about the food journey she and her Texan husband undertook when they put aside the barbeques and briskets in favor of a vegan lifestyle.  Mother Becky's stories clearly show that food is tied to our emotions and sense of love and security.  You will laugh when the women share that Rachel, a definite type A personality (think compulsive neatness and cleanliness) grew up with Mom Becky who daily misplaced her keys and could not create a simple dinner without turning the kitchen into a war zone.   Each chapter is followed with family recipes, each one clearly showing the pair's great love for good food.

Is there a casserole that shows up at every family reunion, a cake recipe you pull out whenever there is a birth or death in the neighborhood, or perhaps a lost recipe for a secret sauce that a favorite aunt never shared?  If so, you will connect with Becky and Rachel even if you've never eaten one vegan meal.  While searching for a jpg of the book's cover to include on this blog entry, I found Rachel and Becky's blog.  More fun reading! And it appears that the duo has a new book with an even more delightful title --  Sure hope some library in our system has added this to their collection, as I am intrigued.

Nourished cover final

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 Sewing Bucket List started

Early in January I posted that I planned to take part in Whipstitch's 2015 Sewing Bucket List, and I have finished my first item ---# 16, a project using an unfamiliar tool or machine.  I am new to the challenge world, and maybe I am supposed to complete these in the order written on the blog.  Since I didn't see any clear directive, I am going to do the list as opportunity and purpose dictate.

I always like to make something homemade for some of the February birthdays in our family, so my first project of the bucket list is a table topper using a large 60 degree ruler.  I've had the ruler and the pattern for some time, but never got around to trying them out.  I loved both and will be using them again.  Cutting with a triangle ruler may not be much of a challenge but getting the whole idea of creating the layers and then using the ruler was new to me!

 The pattern is called Box of Chocolate by THIS & THAT, Sherri K. Falls and I found this cute little one page pattern at Sew Pieceful Quilting in Tomahawk, WI  Once the method is understood, the mixtures and layers of fabric could easily be altered as long as you end up with six panels that can be cut with the 60 degree ruler. I was able to use scraps from my brown and gold box, but the pattern is also perfect for charm packs.   As I said before this will be a gift.  The hexagon shape is perfect for round tables.

I love it when new patterns work out so easily and lend themselves to being used again and again. Unfortunately, it does not always work out that way and then I feel like I wasted time and materials.  Yesterday I tried a new purse pattern (messenger bag style) that I was sure I would love.  The pattern called for all the outside pieces to be bound to an iron-on interfacing before sewing.  I misjudged the weight, thinking I was supposed to use some of that newer stiff interfacing made for purses and bags.   I should have listened to my inner voice that said that the stuff I had bought was too stiff and would be hard to work with.  I had a very hard time sewing the project, especially at corners.  I broke several needles, kept hopping from one machine to another, and ended up doing some of the sewing on my 1922 hand crank Singer machine.  It seemed to be able to handle the thickness, but even on that machine I broke two needles.  I almost gave up but ended up finishing it and figured it will make a fun bag for the girls to use when they play store.  I doubt I will use it as a purse because it feels so stiff.  I may make the pattern again but with lighter interfacing or I may try to adjust the pattern so I can use batting.  I like the shape of the purse, but now that I see it finished, I see that I would need to make adjustments in depth to accommodate all my stuff.  Hope my next project goes better!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


Wander over to LITFUSE PUBLICITY who is organizing a blog tour for the new book THE CASE OF THE JEWEL COVERED CAT STATUES. You'll be able to enter to win a bracelet and other goodies.  Also, read on to get a taste of the mystery.  I'll be blogging about it on Feb. 1

OR YOU CAN GO TO to enter the contest and to learn more about the series.


Buckley and Bogey, Cat Detectives, find their next big case with the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Agency to be their most complicated ever! It all starts when someone hides a mysterious package in their Mom’s antique store – in the middle of the night! Of course, the boys find it, and put it in a nice, safe place, until they can open it . . . and, find the rightful owner. But that’s when a whole bunch of suspicious people show up in St. Gertrude, and every single one of them seems to be after that package! Holy Catnip! Plus, everything happens just when a priceless, jeweled statue collection goes on display at the St. Gertrude Museum. Missing from that collection are two jewel covered cat statues that disappeared almost a hundred and fifty years ago.
But soon Buckley and Bogey wonder how long those statues will stay missing. Because this is one case that really keeps them on their paws! From a trip to the Museum, and to an old church for the Blessing of the Animals; and from dinosaurs to diamonds, they end up dodging shady suspects the whole time. It sure helps to have their friends with them, especially when the bad guys make a beeline for boys. That’s because it becomes very clear, very quick — the priceless cat statues aren’t the only cats those crooks are after! Holy Mackerel!
Cindy Vincent


Cindy Vincent was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and has lived all around the US and Canada. She holds an M.A.Ed, and is the creator of the Mysteries by Vincent murder mystery party games and the Daisy Diamond Detective Series games for girls. She is also the award-winning author of the Buckley and Bogey Cat Detective Caper books, the Daisy Diamond Detective book series, and the “Cats are Part of His Kingdom, Too: 33 Daily Devotions to Understanding God’s Love.” She lives with her husband and the real, live Buckley and Bogey, who run surveillance on her house each and every night.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Saintly Killing: A Faith Morgan Mystery by Martha Ockley

Jacket ImageA SAINTLY KILLING, the third Faith Morgan mystery, continues the story of a British policewoman turned vicar (minister).  While mostly settled in her new role at St. James in the village of Little Worthy, Faith is feeling slightly overwhelmed with all the preparations for the church's 900th anniversary.  (Just what activities would be significant enough to mark a 900th anniversary, anyway?)  When the body of Sal Hinkley is discovered, Faith sets aside her stack of "post-it" notes and begins to investigate who might want the controversial artist dead?  Did her death have anything to do with her commission for the anniversary painting of St. James?

To me, Martha Ockley's writing is a perfect example of a cozy mystery.  Faith is warm and genuine, and readers will care about her decision to be a vicar, her former life as a police officer, and her continuing feelings for her department partner and boyfriend Ben.  And the side stories of her sister and her mother who has early stage dementia add another realistic layer, but one that is gentle and true, not one added for drama or mere filler.  I liked being transported to Great Britain -- its language and quaint villages.  Imagine being the gardener or parishioner of  an edifice that has stood for 900 years. or living in a blacksmith's cottage that has belonged to your family for more than five generations?  Being American, I can't claim such a heritage, but reading gentle British fiction gives me the tiniest taste.

If you liked MURDER SHE WROTE, ever read Agatha Christy, or consume one of the new cozy mystery series like candy drops, why not give Martha Ockley a try?  It'll be a trip.  I want to thank Kregel Publications and Lion Fiction for the opportunity to read a copy of this book and review it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I've Got You Under My Skin by Mary Higgins Clark

I've Got You Under My Skin, by Mary Higgins ClarkLaurie Moran has tried to build a life for herself and her son after her husband's brutal murder several years earlier.  That her son, then only three, witnessed the shooting and heard the attacker yell that he would be next, then his mother leaves a sense of imminent danger that will not fade.  Laurie's father, retired from his job as a police detective to protect the young family, is very uneasy when Laurie announces that she will be directing a new reality show which examines cold cases.

The first show will feature a twenty year old murder case, known to the press as The Graduation Murders.  Four friends had celebrated their college graduations together at the home of socialite Betsy Powell and her wealthy husband, only to awake the next morning to the screams of the housekeeper who had discovered Betsy's dead body.  For twenty years each girl has lived under suspicion and even Powell himself feels he remains a suspect.  All gather together at the Powell mansion along with the television crew.  Laurie's father fears that the publicity of this show may prompt Moran's killer to carry out his threat despite his absence for five years.

I used to grab every Mary Higgins Clark book as soon as they hit the library shelves, but have missed a couple in the past few years.  When I saw the this one sitting on display, I could not resist and I am glad I didn't.  It appears that Laurie Moran may show up in future books written by Clark with a co-writer.  Clark usually writes with multiple points of view, and like many thriller writers, relies on a making the villain an anonymous narrator whose demented mental state adds tension, mystery and fear to the story.  This book reads a little differently.  We soon find out that each of the college girls had a reason to hate Betsy Powell and each is a little foggy about what they did the night of the party. For the past twenty years, each has hidden a secret fear that she may have murdered Betsy and not remembered it.  Like readers of Agatha Christy stories, readers will be piecing the bits together to solve the mystery. Soon, we'll know that the four girls are not Betsy's only enemies. Meanwhile, Laurie, so caught up in the twenty year old cold case, doesn't realize that other danger is just steps away.

Saturday, January 17, 2015


I first heard about Heimo Korth and his Alaskan Arctic life from my two sons.  Hunters, canoeists, and fishermen, they are always on the "hunt" for a great wilderness book.  Heimo originally left for Alaska as a young twenty year old in the 1970s, determined to never return to the lower 48.  Since he grew up in Appleton, WI, his story stayed with me.  When at our cabin a while back, I heard on NPR  several audio segments of THE FINAL FRONTIERSMAN, the story of Heimo Korth and his family, written by Heimo's cousin, James Campbell, also a Wisconsin native.  As Campbell highlighted Heimo's teenage daughters and wife and their views of living 10 months of each year above the Arctic Circle, cut off from civilization, I knew I wanted to read the whole story.  This January with its below zero temperatures was the right time to read about survival in temperatures that dip to minus 50 on a daily basis for months on end.

Published in 2004, the book obviously is not totally up to date.  The girls have grown up and no longer live out with their parents.  Even so, I was totally captivated by their story.  This is a hard life and danger is always present.  A daily routine like checking the traps can turn into a life and death situation within seconds - a failed snowmachine, a fall into the ice, or poor visibility are always possibilities.  As Heimo learned his first winter out, the daily task of keeping a fire going burns more calories than he could provide himself.  Securing enough protein (caribou, duck, fish, squirrel, grouse, beaver) is constant and the family always faces a true scarcity of  food, therefore nothing is wasted.  Greenhorns like the readers probably think the arctic is filled with animals, but we quickly learn that migration patterns, seasons, and the vast wilderness itself make the presence of game an ever fluctuating commodity.

Despite being published ten years ago, I still recommend this book  It has become a classic of outdoor/wilderness literature.  Ever curious of the "rest of the story" I googled Heimo Korth's name to find an update on him and his family.  Lo and behold, I found a blog written by James Campbell's teenage daughter, who had been four years old when her dad spent several trips to Alaska to live with the Korths.  What has this teen been doing?  Going to Alaska to the Arctic to witness first hand what her dad wrote about.  Haven't had the time to read about this Lodi, Wisconsin girl's adventures, but I have the blog marked and I will be checking back to read more.

THE FINAL FRONTIERSMAN is my pick for A GENRE I DON'T NORMALLY READ in the Bethany House Challenge.  I read nonfiction on a regular basis, but not titles about wilderness, survival stories.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and found myself reading sections outloud to my husband all the time.  So glad I was able to locate a copy through our library system.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The River by Beverly Lewis

Sisters Tilly and Ruth both left their Amish home behind, but for different reasons.  Tilly could never shed the guilt she felt after their younger sister drowned at a family outing near the river.  When several years later, young Ruth had her tender heart broken by her Amish suitor, she reached out to Tilly and eventually joined in the fancy world.  Now happily married and the mother of twins, Tilly is hesitate about going back home on their parents' anniversary despite being told by her older brother that she and her sister would be welcomed.  But when Ruth hears that their father's health is failing, she convinces Tilly that a short visit would be wise.  

Beverly Lewis has again selected Lancaster County for her new Amish tale,  However, the time period is not the present, but late 1970's.  Perhaps, Lewis did not want her "fancy" sisters to have the luxuries of cell phones and computers.  No matter the reason because the themes of acceptance and redemption which dominant the story fit any time period.  Clearly Tilly and her father have had a rocky relationship even before her decision to leave the Amish way of life.  While others assure her of his love, she knows that he has always treated her more harshly than he did other siblings. On her return, Tilly is not subjected to a full out shunning by her father, but neither is he ready to accept her or her new way of life.  Ruth seems to be accepted with more openness, but being unmarried and only gone for a couple years, everyone expects her to walk back into her Amish life.  When her former beau seems to have reformed his "bad boy" ways and shares that he has always had feelings for her, it appears Ruth may return to the plain life.

Beverly Lewis is one of the only Amish fiction authors that I had read before I started reviewing titles and blogging.  I believe she remains one of the best, telling stories that have an authentic feel. I fear too many other authors are writing to fit a market demand.  Lewis, I believe, still has a message to tell in her stories.  My husband even watched  and enjoyed the movie versions of her stories THE SHUNNING and THE CONFESSION.  While I felt THE RIVER was a gentle, well told story, I personally did not find it as intriguing as, say, THE FIDDLER, which remains a favorite of mine.  If you are a fan of Amish fiction, do pick up a copy of THE RIVER.  You will want to meet Tilly, Ruth, and their strong mother.  

I found my copy of THE RIVER by Beverly Lewis through the Winnefox Library System. As part of the 26 Books to read in 2015 Challenge (see, I am counting this as A BOOK FROM THE LIBRARY.  That is sort of a LOL because almost all my books come from the library!!  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Recycling and revisiting 1987

A few years ago I scored a few vintage calendar towels at a garage sale, thinking I would be recycle them in some sewing project.  My original idea had been shopping bags.  Well, that never happened and the towels got stored with the fabric stash, to be rediscovered today when I was searching the stash for something I needed.  The bright colored birds on this towel caught my eyes anew, and while daydreaming about how I could use the panel I noticed that January 1st was a Thursday.  This January 1st was a Thursday.  Sure enough the whole year matched, no Leap Year problem.  I glanced at the bottom to see that the towel year was 1987.  I've since hung the towel in our sunroom where I watch the birds eating at the feeders each morning while I eat my breakfast.  Now I will also reminiscence about 1987 when ---

I turned 38.  At the time that did not seem young, but it sure does NOW!  We celebrated our 16th anniversary that year.  Who would have thought that would seem like newlyweds to this couple of almost 44 years.  

I was just a couple years into my educational career, working with at-risk students at the time.  It was
a good job and I got along with the kids, but I have to confess I enjoyed teaching English and being librarian better.  However, I always liked the adults I worked with and Markesan was (is) a great school district.

Life at home was more hectic than today -  Vince would turn 7 that year, Olivia 10, and Clint 15.  It was about time that Clint moved himself to makeshift bedroom in the basement so he could have some privacy.  Sharing a room with a little brother 8 years younger was difficult when you liked loud music and Mom thought your brother should go to bed at a reasonable time.  Lots of running around with the kids for 4-H and friends.  Russ would have been working nights, and I certainly don't miss all those nights alone, feeding the woodstove and corralling the kids to bed at a decent hour.   

Give it a thought.  What are your 1987 memories?  Let me know!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wintery chills and a personal pantry challenge

This is a really long posting,  Sorry, but I promise there is a good recipe at the end.

Brr! Brr!  The temperatures here in Wisconsin have been below zero all week with wind chills dipping into the the negative 30 range.  Our school district called school off yesterday, but not today, and I think today is a worse day - no sun, light snow all day, and wind!  Each day we've had somewhere we had to go -- nowhere far enough that the car would actually warm up, and I think that makes the trip even worse.  I guess I should be glad that roads were okay for driving and that the little trips broke up the week, but I was delighted that today was a day I could stay home all day.I know I'll sing a different tune if later this winter I get home bound for several stays due to storms, but today I am content to be here.

I've already blogged about the reading and sewing challenges I've undertaken this year, but I have another to share.  I know almost everyone is watching their pennies after the holidays; it just seems like the right thing to do.  Grocery shopping for all the Christmas doings felt overwhelming this year as the cash register totals steadily rose.  So I made a personal challenge to stay out of the grocery store (except for milk and other fresh essentials) and shop our pantry/freezer for a while.  So far this New Year, we've done okay.

Sunday we were invited to a "FIRST SUNDAY OF THE NEW YEAR" party, an annual affair that some friends host.  We aren't required to take anything, but I like to take a little something.  Only thing is, I totally forgot about the party until Saturday night.  Usually I would have just made a trip to the grocery store to pick up mixed nuts or dip/veggies, but we weren't going near the closest grocery store, so I shopped the pantry and refrigerator and made a big batch of caramel corn -- a smart thing to do because I had bought a large bottle of corn syrup for one Christmas recipe and I knew it would be sitting around for a long time before I used it up.  Now I have much less to use.

Monday we had our grandson with us for the day which can make cooking a little difficult as he is a picky eater.  Luckily when I gave him some choices based on what was in the house, he went for the tomato soup.  Easy lunch and I selected two frozen hamburger patties for supper for hubby and me,  With the mushrooms and cheese in the frig, I knew I could make mushroom swiss burgers  Only problem, no buns and hubby likes buns! A search of the freezer showed that I had a partial package of freezer dinner roll dough.  I thawed four of them, flattened them and stacked two apiece, then let them rise to make two hamburger buns (already sliced).  Fresh from the oven, they were perfect for a cold night.

Tuesday, I thawed a baggie of  roasted turkey breast left from a family holiday dinner and used it in the classic pot pie made with pie dough, cream soup, thyme and mixed veggies.  It was SO good and the leftovers make our Wednesday lunch.  I had a meeting Wednesday night and knew I didn't really want to cook.  Besides I didn't need much after that potpie lunch.  Russ suggested we use up the frozen pizza he had bought on sale before the holidays, so I left him to "doctor up" the pizza while I was gone.  With red peppers, olives, onion, mushrooms, and a handful of extra cheese, the on sale pizza turned into quite a feast.

That brings us to today's main meal- another personal favorite.  A few years ago I discovered this recipe when planning a brunch and wanted one dish made with egg beaters.  Turned out that I liked that dish more than the one I made with regular eggs.   The original eggbeater recipe was made with egg beaters, ham, frozen potatoes, cheese, and milk.  Sometimes we use browned sausage instead of ham and we always add chopped red peppers, mushrooms, and onions.  It is so easy and good.

Breakfast Casserole (just as good for lunch or dinner)

1 cup diced ham
1.5 cups frozen chunky hash browns or o'brien potatoes
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
2 8 oz containers egg beaters or 1 16 oz container
1 C milk
A mixture of chopped peppers, onions and mushrooms
salt and pepper

Lightly beat egg beaters in a bowl, then add all other ingredients.  Pour into
an 8 inch pan, sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.
Mine always takes a few minutes more.

Egg dish before baking

Ready to eat

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Noble Groom by Jody Hedlund

Book summary (taken from Jody Hedlund's website)
2014 Carol Award Winner for Historical Romance
Michigan, 1880
Annalisa Werner’s hope for a fairy tale love is over. Her husband failed her in every way and now his death has left her with few options to save the family farm. She needs a plentiful harvest. That, and a husband to help bring it in. Someone strong, dependable. That’ll be enough. A marriage for love…that’s something she’s given up on.
So her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.
Then a man appears: Carl Richards, from their home country of Germany and a former schoolteacher–or so he says. He’s looking for work and will serve on the farm until her husband arrives.
With time running out, she accepts his help, but there’s more to this man than he’s admitting. He’s also gentle, kind, charming–unlike any man she’s ever known. But even as Carl is shining light into the darkness of her heart, she knows her true groom may arrive any day.
My REACTION: Jody Hedlund's historical fiction always seems to have powerful  historical threads behind her stories of romance and hardship in  1800s Michigan, threads often ignored by other writers.  In her story of the logging industry UNENDING DEVOTION,  she showed the life of those women trapped in prostitution  In A NOBLE GROOM, we see that the antagonism between the social classes of Europe did not get left behind when the immigrants came to America looking for a better life.  Carl Richards, the hero of this novel, knows he needs to keep his true identity a secret.  If revealed Annalisa's father would certainly kill him, all because Carl's father was the lord over Annalisa's family in Germany.  But even more historically relevant is the lowly place of daughters and women held in new immigrant families.  Clearly much was sacrificed to bring whole families over, but as Annalisa and her sister show, women needed husbands and the patriarchs of the community held a responsibility to see that suitable marriages were arranged. Whether a man was kind and gentle were not as important as whether he could provide.  Hedlund did a wonderful job of showing that even someone as strong as Annalisa would feel an obligation to obey her father and pastor.  Family duty did not diminish with age.  A few years ago I read an article written for a Wisconsin history magazine written in the 1940s or 50s which recorded the history of the small Scots-Irish church/community where I grew up.  The writer told of the family obligation to care for the matriarch, especially if her husband had died.  In most Scots-Irish families, the writer revealed, one daughter was chosen to remain single and be the caretaker/companion for the mother.  This tidbit jumped out at me because I had a sweet maiden aunt raised in that church who had done just that -- lived with and cared for her mother until she died.  My mother had always told me that my Aunt Beth had wanted to be a teacher, but she had been told by her father that she needed to be home with her mother.  And that became her life.  Family obligation in the early 1900s was still strong.   I see that same dynamic in Hedlund's story of the early German immigrants in Michigan.  
I've read other authors whose historical details add depth and richness to the stories, but Hedlund is one of those authors who can do that while telling a story that just flows so smoothly.  I read this book in just a couple hours, not because it is too simple a story, but because she writes so well.  That is probably why A NOBLE GROOM was a 2014 Carol Award winner.  I got my e-copy of  this title from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Challenges I've undertaken for 2015

I enjoy flitting around on the blogosphere and checking out links that come my way on Facebook, but I have not ventured into joining any challenges or linky-parties --- until now.
First, Bethany House Publishers posted a small reading challenge and I thought that would be fun, so I decided I would attempt that. BingoFinal

Then Sunday evening I was checking out quilting blogs when I stopped in at Clare's Craftroom, a blog I check once and awhile.  That where I discovered two other challenges.  The first is a Sewing Bucket List.  Now I've always admired those quilting linky parties and challenges, but always feared that what they were undertaking was too difficult or time consuming.  This looked manageable and featured a few things I already planned to do.  It also had some challenges, as it should.  So I've decided to jump onboard.  You can check for details at Whipstich who originated the challenge or
Clare's Craftroom.  Heres the list.   Doesn't it sound fun?
sewing bucket list 2015

Clare's blog also had a link to Bringing up Burns and another longer reading challenge.  Despite having a few overlaps with the Bethany House Challenge, I decided to go for it.  What do you think, will I manage to do all this?  We will see!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Motherless by Erin Healy

Motherless  A simple summary of Erin Healy's new book would be that Marina, 20, and Dylan, 17, believe that solving the mystery behind their mother's disappearance and supposed suicide 17 years ago will help them survive in the new chaos they have been thrust in.  Their father, the only family they've known, has been declared brain dead after a truck accident at a work site, leaving them to flounder in a double-mortaged house.

Even that short scenario sounds complicated, but if you've read Erin Healy before, you know that she never writes simple stories.  This is a book of complex characters and not all of them are earthly. The book begins with the children's deceased mother hovering nearby, telling readers that the children deserve the one thing she has never been able to give them -- a mother, and then they also need the truth. The truth is what you, the reader, will also get the truth, but it will take until the very end of the book to receive.  This is not a book that you will easily figure out.  Packed with flawed people ( a mother with postpartum depression and bipolar symptoms, a 17 year old agoraphobic, a cousin who destroyed a marriage, and a father who kept his distance to keep his secrets), this book is hard to describe and slightly difficult to read, but like other Healy books, it is hauntingly beautiful.

I received a copy of MOTHERLESS from BookLook for review purposes.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Behind the Curtain: An Insiders's View of Jay Leno's Tonight Show by Dave Berg

My second read of 2105 is another nonfiction - 3 out of my last 4 reads has been nonfiction, unusual for me, but I have enjoyed the break from fiction.  I have been a night owl all my life, so naturally that meant that I was a regular watcher of the Tonight Show in high school and beyond.  I could have wept on Johnny Carson's last night on the air, but Jay soon drew me in as a fan.  And of course, any viewer of Johnny in the 1980s was already familiar with Jay since he was such a frequent guest-host. 

That said, I did get drawn into watching David Letterman, especially when his Top Ten was new and fresh.  Then Conan on Late Night caught my attention for a short time, mainly because some family members liked him. In recent years, my late night television had waned; if I did watch, I never made it beyond the monologue and Jay Walking episodes/comedy episodes.  Still I was fan enough to respect Jay Leno's quick wit and I felt that he was getting a raw deal from NBC.  That's why I wanted to read BEHIND THE CURTAIN.  Jay, himself, wrote a forward to this book.  At first I was surprised when he said he had not read the book, but that he trusted Dave Berg to tell a truthful story.
As I read the book, I totally understood that statement.  This is not a book of Jay whining about the bad things that happened behind the scenes, but writer Dave, who served as an assistant producer could point everything in a more neutral way.  He could point out mistakes Jay and his staff made, as well as show how Jay was often miscast and underappreciated by the bigwigs of entertainment.  I was actually surprised at all the behind the scenes action there was, especially in playing the ratings game against Letterman.  Snagging the "right" politician or star first was full time work for Berg, and he had many interesting stories to tell including stories about Hugh Grant, Jerry Seinfeld,  First Lady Laura Bush, and President Obama,  Being a book about Jay and the show, there have to be car stories and also some backstage dish about some of those animals that frequented the show.  My favorite part of the book were the small glimpses into the personal Jay Leno - his deep respect for his parents and his wife, his struggle with dyslexia, and his early days in the business.  If you've been a Leno fan, I suggest you read the book.  

Reading the book made me a little sad that Jay isn't on tv right now, but as Berg says television is changing.  I do catch Jimmy Fallon for a few minutes once and awhile, but I sure do miss Jay's sharp-witted monologues.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

The White Cascade:The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalanche by Gary Krist

SThe White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America's Deadliest Avalancheoon after a disaster, even a natural disaster, hits today, speculation begins -- did those in control act in the most expedient and safest manner? How much did human error enter the equation?  Did some technology or mechanics malfunction, causing or adding to the disaster?  Human interest stories will quickly arise, telling tales of mankind's best and worst.  One often hears criticism of today's modern journalists for distorting, magnifying, and prolonging coverage of the event.  Little did I realize that all these phenomenon were significant parts of the true story of America's deadliest avalanche, a slide down the Cascade Mountains which killed approximately 100 passengers and crew on two Great Northern trains stranded at Wellington in late February 1910.   

Russ and I first heard of this gigantic, multi-day blizzard and the subsequent avalanche when watching some history mystery television show.  I was intrigued from the first and when one "authority" was identified as an author, I figured a book had been written about the disaster.  A quick check of the internet showed that I would NOT be interested in the supposed authority's writings, but that another work would be a possible read.  Next step, check Winnefox Library System for a copy, which produced a lucky match.  THE WHITE CASCADE arrived right before Christmas and it became my first read for 2015.  

It's the kind of nonfiction I like, chronological narrative (with lots of focus on the people) mixed with
an authoritative retrospective.  The life of this story is clearly provided by the memory of those who survived and the diary and letters that were found in the destroyed train cars during the clean up.  
Two westbound trains were stranded in the Cascade Mountains, first on the east side of the Great Northern Tunnel and then on the west side at Wellington, a tiny village whose only purpose was being a stop on the line.  While Wellington was able to feed the 100 plus pasengers and crew, there was no suitable off-train lodging. The late season blizzard raged for days, causing the passenger train and the speedy mail train to be stalled for 6 days while officials scrambled to fix the situation.  Almost all the huge rotary plows broke down and were quite ineffective anyway.  First day laborers had to shovel down to the 13 foot height of the plows and then soon after any area plowed would again be covered in drifts and newly fallen snow.  A months' long switchmen strike affected delivery of coal to the engines and plows.  Over the first days, hiking down the mountain to Scenic depot below was discouraged.  Poor visibility due to extreme wind along with deep and increasing snows made the trek seem too dangerous for even the healthiest passengers.  And no one wanted to leave behind those less able -- women, children, and a few disabled passengers.  As the days piled up and so did the snow, a few men did make that climb down to safety.  

In the end, there was a horrific avalanche that few survived. It is clearly another reminder that our ingenuity and technology, powerful as it is, will fail against mother nature at her fiercest.  From our 21st century vantage point, we may think it silly that 1910 America saw itself as modern and invincible, but it did,  The railroads were part of that invincible swagger as was the telegraph.  Both failed on that mountain range.  And that streak of opportunist journalism that we detest now-  wait until you read the wild untruths that flew across the country from the moment notification of the stalled trains hit the wires. And then after the tragedy, comes the blame game.

Gary Krist did a remarkable job with this book.  As I sat reading in the sunshine of our sunroom on a subzero day, I kept visualizing this story as a movie.  Probably not enough heroes or survivors to attract Hollywood, but then again maybe there are.  For almost everyone, this avalanche and Wellington are long forgotten (actually never known) and Krist has done a great service in pulling the true story together. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Reading finished; 2015 Reading started

For the past 8 or 9 years, I have tried to keep a list of all the books I read in the year.  I know I always forget to get a few books down on the list, but since I've started blogging I have been a bit more diligent.  This year I ended with 117 books on my list.  Now I did not blog about all them; some just don't seem to fit with what I normally blog about.  Some books I am disappointed in and don't want to write a truly negative review.  I know that like always I probably missed listing a few books.
Also, I may blog about kids' books throughout the year, but I do not put them on my reading log unless they are adolescent novels or above.

So today begins 2015 and a new list.  I plan to have at least 125 books on the list by December 31st.  I also found this reading challenge on Bethany Publishing's Facebook posting today and I think I will undertake the challenge.  Doesn't it sound fun?  As for book number one on my personal log, I just finished it and will be blogging about it tomorrow.  THE WHITE CASCADE (nonfiction) tells about America's deadliest avalanche which killed most the passengers of a stranded Great Northern Railway train on March 1, 1910.