Wednesday, April 29, 2015

THE OUTCAST by Jolina Petersheim

High Res The OutcastTHE OUTCAST is an emotional, modern retelling of THE SCARLET LETTER.  Rachel Stoltzfus, an unwed mother of an infant son, who has not repented or revealed the father's identity, faces such strong alienation from the Old Order Mennonite Community of Copper Creek, Tenn. that she feels forced to leave.  When her brother-in-law Tobias becomes bishop after his father's death, Rachel knows she can not stay one day longer feeling his condemnation.  When Tobias's brother Judah, who has loved Rachel since childhood, offers to leave with her and marry her, Rachel cannot accept.  She knows she could never start a life with him without revealing her past and she cannot do that without hurting the person she loves most beside her son, her twin sister.

Her new life, alone without family, is made slightly easier by Ida Mae, the eccentric shopkeeper who has taken Rachel in.  Both have secrets that they aren't willing to share, but both are willing to accept the other and to love little Eli.  When Eli becomes ill, Rachel turns back to her family, but it is Ida Mae who is the most comforting and dependable through the dark days.

A copy of THE OUTCAST has been sitting on my to-read pile for months, ever since I won a copy of this and Jolina Petersheim's other book THE MIDWIFE through Petersheim's blog.  I don't read a steady diet of Amish/Mennonite fiction so I just never picked up either book.  Finally, I did, and I
am glad that I did.  Petersheim writes with an authenticity, realism and depth that seems to be missing in other Plain fiction I've read.  Although it becomes quickly apparent who Eli's father is, the motivation behind the destructive sin takes longer to reveal.  Clearly everyone (except the young children and maybe Judah) in this book has secrets and flaws they struggle to keep hidden behind their beards and prayer caps.  Petersheim shows that the Plain life is not a perfect one.  Only truth and forgiveness can save Rachel and her family and bring them hope.

At the time Jolina Petersheim wrote THE OUTCAST she lived in Tennessee.  Since then she and her husband have moved to the Driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin.  Being a Wisconsinite myself, I now consider her a Wisconsin author.  I am hoping her future writings will reflect the move to Wisconsin and their new life here. You can check out her blog

Saturday, April 25, 2015

All in Good Time by Maureen Lang

All_In_Good_Time_Screen_Shot1880's Denver is the settting for Maureen Lang's historical romance novel ALL IN GOOD TIME.  Henry Hawkins is such a successful banker that all the eligible ladies and their families would like to catch his attention, but Hawkins has a secret past that keeps him from entering too far into Denver's growing society.  Keeping mostly to himself, Henry has made profit his life's goal.  When he hears that his uncle, an officer at the bank, has agreed to lend money to young Dessa Caldwell, who has the dream of opening a refuge for women trying to put aside lives as prostitutes, Henry is sure that the investment is a loss.  Then he meets the determined Dessa and becomes more and more drawn into her dream for Pierson House.

Dessa has a secret herself, and never thinks that romance is in her future, but of course, readers see it. Clearly Dessa is quite naive as shown when "theatre" owner Turk Foster offers to help  Dessa's raise money for Pierson House.  Could it be that, he, too, is personally interested in the young woman, or does he have a darker reason for offering his assistance?

 1880's Denver appears to be quite a dichotomy with its seedy side of town and then the emerging
upper society.  That there may be connections between the two is denied by all.  This may be the most realistic part of the book.

This was a fast, enjoyable read for me, but nothing really seized my interest and demanded that I read this book.  As in most books, I found a few things to like.  Here they are -- First, I really like Dessa's name.  I would borrow that name if I had a little girl to name or even a female pet.  Second, I liked that both Henry and Dessa had secrets from their youth that they wanted hidden because they thought those past actions made them unacceptable.  They both learn otherwise.  Third, Lang did a good job in creating some interesting secondary characters --Uncle Tobias, the young street urchin Nadette, and the drunk who lives in Dessa's stable.

Little realistic details are what bring historical fiction to life for me.  In ALL IN GOOD TIME, Lang
refers to Dessa's wonderful baked goods, all baked in her Monarch range, her one extravagant purchase.  Most people would just visualize an old fashioned stove and move on with the story, but
that captivated me.  I knew that the Monarch Range Company was a Beaver Dam, WI company which went out of business in the 1980's.  I knew that they had been around for a long, long time, but I wondered if Monarch ranges existed in 1880.  An internet check showed, that no, the Monarch range dates to the 1890's but not before.  I guess that is a minor miss, but I don't like details that aren't accurate.

Final analysis.  I would give the book about a 3.5, a nice read, but not compelling.

Friday, April 24, 2015


unnamedI don't how I came upon  BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR by Karin Gillespie; I think it was
a special priced e-book recently.  When I see an e-book that I may be interested in, even if it is on special, I always check to see if our library system has the book.  Then I evaluate whether I want to buy the book or borrow it.  Borrowing usually is my decision, and it was with Gillespie's book.

Set in the tiny town of Cayboo Creek, South Carolina, BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR is a refreshing light read about a close knit community who really doesn't like the expansion into their territory of big box stores.  When a chain dollar store announces its plans to build there, 25 year old Elizabeth, the Bottom Dollar's store manager decides to fight back.  While townspeople swear they won't shop at the large, new dollar store, Elizabeth knows the temptation of all those shining display shelves stocked with overchoice will soon beat out the tiny Bottom Dollar.  That means Elizabeth, Attalee, and store owner Mavis will be out of work.

Elizabeth's story, complete with a broken engagement, a rebound romance, and shocking revelations about Elizabeth's parents,  is told with humor and wit.  You may like the over the top puns and tongue-in-cheek sayings or not, but BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR was just the nonsensical, silly story that I needed at this time.  There are two other books in the Bottom Dollar series. Read more about them and other Gillespie writings at

On the 26 Books to read in 1015 Challenge, I am counting BET YOUR BOTTOM DOLLAR as #25, a book that is more than 10 years old since the publication date is 2005.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Buried Secrets by Irene Hannon

Buried Secrets

Irene Hannon has earned a spot as one of my favorite suspense writers, right next to Mary Higgins Clark, Dee Henderson, Terri Blackstock, and Lisa Wiehl.  BURIED SECRETS, the first book in her new Men of Valor series, features ex-Navy SEAL Mac McGregor, a St. Louis detective who has been sent to assist small town police chief Lisa Grant when a shallow grave is discovered at an excavation site.  Mac and Lisa soon find they have much in common; both have left behind intense, dangerous careers in hopes of finding balance between work and personal lives in smaller communities.  Although both like their new, somewhat less stressful jobs, they have not managed to carve out any meaningful personal lives.  That is, until they meet at the unmarked grave.

Professionalism demands that they set aside any personal attraction and focus on identifying the body and cause of death.  When it appears that the body is a college student who disappeared two decades earlier, Mac and Lisa question the former roommate and two other acquaintances.  Across the country, real cold cases are being opened and new forensics methods are finally providing both justice and closure, and our fictional heroes are on the same quest for the family of the young coed.  Little do they realize that their efforts are upsetting the carefully orchestrated life plan of one person who never wants the truth known.

BURIED SECRETS begins with panic and a chilling decision that will hook readers who like suspense.  Hannon keeps the tension throughout the book, even while interspersing a more pronounced romantic vein than other titles I've read.  And for fans of this book, she lays the groundwork for Mac's brothers to show up in the next Men of Valor books. I know I will be looking forward for book two.  I received a copy of this title from FAMILYCHRISTIAN  for my honest review.

On my 2015 Bethany House Reading Challenge, BURIED SECRETS completes the BEGINS A SERIES square!

Letting Go

My father passed away last Sunday after a two week hospitalization.  Dad was 96. Eight years ago, when it became apparent that my dad could not live alone and would be in a wheelchair for his remaining time, my brother and I researched facilities and made the decision that Dad would come to
the resident home near my home.  It is actually less than a mile from the school where I worked and we felt it offered a chance for one of us to be super close to Dad.  However, that meant my father left behind the community he had lived in most of his life.  Certainly none of us expected that Dad would live another 8 years and that he would come to miss his old community so much.

Being confined to a wheelchair (unable to even transfer from chair to recliner or vice versa without
multiple aides and special apparatus) was so limiting, especially to one who had worked so hard all his life.  But he met his challenges and everyone there came to know his joyful whistle.  I've learned over his time at the home that people who choose to work with the seriously ill and the elderly are angels in disguise.  Those CNAs, nurses, activity aides, cooks, and volunteers who brought sunshine into my dad's days have earned a special place in my heart. They learned to see Dad as part of their "work family" and as he declined they helped us with our emotional turmoils. During his time at the resident home, my dad got to see his 9 great grandchildren on a regular basis.  Five of them were born after he was there.  He was also able to keep track of his adult grandchildren's active lives.

The past week was a whirlwind of preparations - emptying his room, meeting with the funeral home and the officiating pastors, the funeral itself, and then a luncheon with relatives and friends.  Sharing one's loss with loved ones really is a comfort, and our faith tells us that Dad is now in his true home, but as the busyness subsides the reality of our loss has hit me.  For the past 8 years unless an illness or special commitment prevented it, we spent a portion of every Sunday with Dad. To be truthful, there were Sundays when I longed for a nap instead of a visit and another game of canasta. That was my selfish streak and I regret it showing its face once and awhile. Today there seems to be a hole in my day and I would give anything to be able to spend an hour or so with the greatest dad in the world.  I would even let him beat me at canasta.  Or maybe I wouldn't, because as my niece pointed out at the funeral, he never let anyone win.  He treated everyone of us as worthy opponents and let did everything in his power to win, even the youngest.

You were the best dad I could have had, Dad.  I will always love you.  I thank God that he let you
be part of our lives for this time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Secrets of Sloane House: A Chicago World's Fair Mystery by Shelley Gray

SloaneHouse_300Shelley Gray's first Chicago World's Fair mystery is set in the lavish home of the wealthy Sloanes.
Every aspect of the gilded mansion from its delicate bone china tea cups to the elaborate nightly parties is overwhelming for the newest maid, Rosalind Perry, straight from Wisconsin's farmland. Trying to understand the workings of the house is challenge enough, but soon Rosalind realizes that Vericona Sloane feels maids are about socially equal to a stray cat, and her brother Douglass's interactions with the young women of the staff is a mixture of disdain and inappropriate attention.  
What the other staff or the Sloanes do not know is that Rosalind is really the sister of a former maid who has disappeared without a trace, and her real purpose in coming to Chicago is to find answers.
At first Rosalind fears trusting anyone with her story, but eventually it is to Reid Armstrong, a friend of Douglass, that Rosalind turns.

If you like Downton Abbey or late 19th Century period pieces, you will like this story.  Gray captured the inner workings of the house and even the atmosphere of the streets surrounding the wealthy neighborhood.  The book does tie into the World's Fair, but that is not the predominate setting. I don't think anybody will top THE DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY for bringing the fair to life.  But this is a different type of book and it is well done. Gray keeps the intrigue and mystery under close wraps.  I had several theories about what happened to Rosalind's sister, and although one theory was close, it was not correct. While it is great to figure out a mystery before the end, being surprised with a believable ending you had never considered is a great surprise.  I am looking forward to the second book in the series DECEPTION AT SABLE HALL which releases this spring. I think this is the first book by Gray that I have read and from her website, it appears most of her books are Amish romances, so this historical themed book is new ground for her.  I obtained a copy of SECRETS OF SLOANE HOUSE through the Winnefox Library System.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Life Unstuck by Pat Layton

Pat Layton, author of A SURRENDERED LIFE and founder of the Life Impact Network, has written a verse by verse study of Psalm 139.  Titled LIFE UNSTUCK, Pat shows readers how to the use the Psalm as a guide to finding peace with one's past, purpose in one's present, and passion for one's future.  All of us get stuck at one time or another.  Too many of us let those episodes of "stuckness" become our life's narrative.  It may be regrets over our past mistakes or grudges held too long while for other's it may be an inability to find worth in our current circumstances, If we are stuck in either our past lives or present lives, we are unable to see the potential of the path God has selected for our future.

Layton writes with a conversational style, provides many examples from her own life, and challenges readers at every step to examine their own lives and to use Psalm 139 as a guide to taking action.  A study guide can be downloaded to accompany the book and Layton maintains a website with further helps.  The book offers several "assessments" to take along the way to help readers evaluate their "stuckness" and personalities. This title would a good choice for a small women's study group, but it can certainly be read by an individual.

I received a copy of this title from Revell Reads Nonfiction for review purposes.  Life Unstuck by Pat Layton

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Sera James has left behind her successful art gallery in New York for California, marriage to wealthy William Hanover, and a new West Coast gallery.  Excitement abounds as the pair prepare for their wedding at William's family estate.  Family believe the reason for the sudden decision to marry now instead of waiting until after the gallery has opened is simply that they are in love.  But then police arrive only moments after the ceremony and arrest William for crimes he swears he has not committed.

Those readers who met Sera and William in Cambron's earlier book THE BUTTERFLY AND THE VIOLIN will soon realize that William's problems lie in the clouded history of art works owned by the family company founded by his grandfather.  Only this time William is unwilling to help Sera unravel the mystery behind the accusations against him.  Sera fully believes in her husband's innocence but cannot understand his reluctance to confront his alienated father in order to clear his own name.  Sera sets off for England to find her own answers.  As she digs for the truth about her husband, she will learn even more about Sophie, the Holocaust survivor who now owns The Butterfly and the Violin painting of book one.  I was thrilled with Cambron's first book and this second title
again tells a heart wrenching tale of humanity, courage, and faith among the dark, cruelty of the Nazi death camps. Like the first book, A SPARROW IN TEREZIN alternates between present day and the 1940s, each time period with its own stories of intrigue and love. Moving back and forth between Sera's story and the war period builds interest in both stories.  My suggestion is that readers get both books as reading them as a whole will have even more power.

I received an e-copy of this title from Netgalley for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Only God Can Make a Kitten by Rhonda Gowler Greene with illustrations by Laura J. Bryant

9780310731702 A young boy accompanies his mother and baby sister on walks in nature through the seasons, always asking his mama who made whatever wonder they find.  Whether it's a kitten, a tender bloom, or the vast ocean, his mama always answers with a rhyme that it is God who has done the creation.  Laura J. Bryant's illustrations are as delicate, warm, and  refreshing as a real walk in the spring air.  The book ends with the mom telling the little boy (and the tinier sister) that the best of God's creations is them.  Children will like the soft colored illustrations and joyous faces.  The rhyming verses have a tender rhythm and are easy to read and listen to.  As a grandparent, I see an underlying lesson for the parents who will be reading ONLY GOD CAN MAKE A KITTEN to small ears.  Those walks with your children may seem like they will go on forever, but they don't.  Your little one who wants to share everything with you and who bombards you with questions about everything will NOT stay little.  Soon the questions and the special walks will diminish.  Make those times count.  Share  God's creation.   Instill a sense of wonder and awe.   In one scene in the book, Mama, boy, and sister are lying on their backs looking up at the night sky, as he asks, "Who makes the sparkles in the night?"  That image brought back memories of a special night when my husband and I lay on a Lake Superior pier in Porcupine Mountain State Park with your two youngest kids watching an August meteor shower.  And just a few weeks ago we joined our son with his young family on an impromptu evening drive to catch a rare glimpse of the Northern Lights in our area.  Sharing God's creation -- it passes from generation to generation.

I can think of many reasons to get or give this book.  It would make a thoughtful addition to an Easter basket or perhaps a baby shower or baptism gift.  If your church has a children's library, this would be a fantastic addition. It will become a favorite.  I received a copy of this book from BookLook and ZonderKidz for review purposes.