Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Dear Readers,

Author Susan Rieger has undertaken the complicated task of telling the story of Mia and Dan Durkheim's divorce, along with an insightful look into the personal life of Mia's lawyer Sophie Diehl all through the "papers" -- legal documents, memos, emails and transcripts of the case.  It is the format itself, not the subject, that first caught my reader's eye.  Most of us have encountered some fiction work which has relied heavily on letters to convey the characters' thoughts and actions.  Some are successful, some not so.  Very few novels rely on the documents alone to be the narrator.  One of my favorite middle school novels, a delightful graphic novel ( one I frequently shared with students) told the life of sixth grader Jenny through the notes, report cards and even store receipts that littered her household.  As a group, we had fun piecing together just what was happening in her life.

Author Rieger expects adult readers to do the same "piecing together" in this novel, but in order to the tell the whole complex story of Mia's life leading up to the divorce, there is too much information that must be shared through letters and memos.  In most novels, we would have either Mia or Sophie or both as narrators which would allow us better insight into their thoughts about Mia's past.  In the very least, readers would witness some type of face to face encounters between the two that would not have to be translated to a written report or transcript.  Even a phone interview would have given more life to the tale.

Then there is the is whole subject of young lawyer Sophie.  The author's decision to make her a criminal lawyer who is coerced into taking this civil divorce case gives a convenient avenue to insert lots of documents about the business end of divorce, but this twist adds another layer to the story that I found lacking.  Mostly I felt Sophie's correspondence with her boss was poorly done.  Both her emails and office memos smacked of being inappropriate, mixing business, personal ramblings, and office flirting.  Certainly if there was an office crush, wouldn't the flirting take place in the break room or at the water cooler rather than through the printed word? And while it is probably true that an aspiring lawyer would spent most of her time consumed by work, distilling her entire personal life down to a series of emails between herself, a girlfriend and her dates fell flat for me.  Mia and her husband's prominent place in the society's upper crust makes this divorce a touchy one and the eleven months of transcripts and documents show just how complicated.  Whether or not you are interested enough to read of them to learn the whole story (and Sophie's story ) will be entirely up to you.  I received a copy of this title from BLOGGING FOR BOOKS for my review.  All opinions are mine.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Easter Stories: Classic Tales for the Holy Season compiled by Miriam LeBlanc

Cover image for Easter StoriesThis anthology of classic tales newly collected by Miriam LeBlanc is for everyone who believes that Easter is more than the annual egg hunt, new shoes, and another reason for sugary treats.  She has selected works from famous writers like Tolstory, C. S. Lewis, and Alan Paton and equally powerful stories from writers most of us won't recognize. Some take parable form; all are tales of faith and God's love.  Lisa Toth's black woodcuts that accompany each story add to that nostalgic feel that permeates the whole book. 

Remember in classic stories how families gathered together to hear father or mother read out loud.
Well worn volumes were lifted lovingly from the shelves so that favorite tales and poems could be read again and again.  Reading the family Bible often followed the evening's stories.  Our modern
life has abolished most incidences of such family gatherings, but why can't they return?  Once a few years ago my husband and I spent a few evenings snowed in at our remote up north cabin.  No real connection to the outside world except our radio.  He had with him a volume of Jack London Alaskan stories.  Soon we were entertaining each other by taking turns selecting and reading aloud stories from the volume.  What excitement and fun.  With each story of danger, we felt cozier and cozier.

I feel this volume will call you to do something  similar.  Read the stories, let them soak in, and then select those that speak most to your heart and share them.  Retell or reread them to the children, to the elderly, or to the whole family.  I had the volume with me today to read as we traveled to an appointment.  After reading Jane Tysson Clement's THE WHITE LILY, I had to read it out loud to my husband as we traveled.  What a wonderful description of how we change when we accept God's grace and salvation.  I could visualize the transformation of the old man and the little boy as they changed so that the lily would not be "dirtied."  A truly "old fashioned" story that has so much to remind us.  Alan Paton's foot washing story had an equally powerful impact as I read it.  What powerful literature, each item only a few pages long.  

My normal rule is that I will not write a review until I am completely done with a book, but I am breaking that rule right now.  I still have stories in EASTER STORIES to read.  I am saving them during the coming days and hopefully will be able to share some of them with family.  I want to encourage others to find your own copy so you can do the same.  I want to thank Plough Publishing and Handlebar providing me with a review copy. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

One Glorious Ambition by Jane Kirkpatrick

Image result for one glorious ambition jane kirkpatrickI have always been fascinated by those strong willed activist women of the 19th Century, the ones who names and accomplishments take but a sentence or two in our general history books, but whose true impact on history has such a greater significance. While wars, land acquisition, economic turns, and politics itself shape history, and need to be studied, what lessons dynamic and determined women like Clara Barton, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Jane Addams, and Dorothea Dix can teach us.  When I saw Jane Kirkpatrick, a historical fiction author who I've admired for bringing light and life to some of America's most interesting (and unknown) women of the late 1800s and early 1900s, had written a book about Dorothea Dix, I knew that I wanted to read it. Luckily I was able to obtain ONE GLORIOUS AMBITION for my Nook through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium.

What most of us learned in history class is that Dorothea Dix was a tireless advocate for the mentally ill who often visited the jails and horrible facilities where they were housed.  What we don't learn is that Dorothea was a tough advocate from a young age --  starting first as an advocate for her two younger brothers and herself.  With an unavailable mother (perhaps mentally ill or a victim of postpartum depression) and a father who shirked his duties in favor of drink and poor business choices, Dorothea and her brothers really had no nurturing.  A grandmother, bound by duty and family name, provided financial relief but not the love and security Dorothea needed.  By age 15 Dorothea was running her own school to make money and to give girls a chance at education.  By her early twenties she had published several books on educational discipline which offered a modest financial independence.  It was shortly after that she began to take an interest in treatment of the mentally ill, obviously haunted by her father's death and her mother's disappearance to be cared for by "her people."

Jane Kirkpatrick does a wonderful job of showing us this complex, determined yet fragile woman who makes being the spokeswoman for the mentally ill her "glorious" life ambition -- her life purpose.  Over the years her health and personal happiness suffered, but she never gave up working for the most fragile of humanity.  Compassion ruled all she did.  When the country politicians were ensconced in fights over states rights and whether new states should be slave or not, Dorothea never stopped her fight  to get a bill passed that would sell federal lands to fund building of mental hospitals in every state.  While that bill never became law, she became  respected across the world for her basic belief that the mentally ill should be treated with respect and compassion.

Jane Kirkpatrick has kept a page on her website with further information about Dorothea Dix including an audio interview
I thank Kirkpatrick, who has had a career working with those experiencing mental illness, for writing such an informative story.  Please keep bringing light and life to the women who have made our history.  I am counting ONE GLORIOUS AMBITION as my book with a female heroine for THE 26 BOOKS TO READ IN 2015 CHALLENGE from

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Beauty of Grace edited by Dawn Camp

Cover ArtDawn Camp has gathered stories of God's love from popular Christian writers and has coupled them with
her black and white photography for her new book THE BEAUTY OF GRACE.  The end result is a book of encouragement and worship.  Divided into sections on purpose, perspective, trust, hope, and lessons learned, as well as encouragement and worship, the book offers something for every day and mood.  As the back cover reminds us, we all need time of quiet, time to seek peace, time to wait to hear God in our lives, and a time to purposely choose joy.
These short reflections by a myriad of talent writers will help readers achieve these gifts.  Really, the whole book is a reminder that each of us is loved.

I received a copy of THE BEAUTY OF GRACE from REVELL READS NONFICTION for my honest review.  I am thrilled with the book.  This title would make a wonderful gift for so many occasions; even its colorful flowered cover speaks that this is a gift to someone loved. It's the type of book meant to be read one selection at a time.  For review purposes, I quickly moved on from one selection to another, but I intend to reread the selections and savor the message behind each.  Look for this title at your favorite Christian bookstore or an online vendor.

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey

Sabotaged - Alaskan Courage Book 5 - by Dani PettreySABOTAGED is Dani Pettrey's fifth adventure novel in THE ALASKA COURAGE series, all centered around the McKenna family.  In what appears to be the last story (at least at this point) Reef McKenna is trying to overcome his trouble maker image, especially when it comes to Kirra Jacob.  Although Kirra, now a veterinarian, has known Reef since kindergarten, they have never had a smooth relationship.  Reef hopes their joint duty on the Iditorad race will give him a chance to show he has put his wild and careless ways behind him.

But it is McKenna's turn to be surprised when he catches Kirra outside the race station well into the wee hours.  His amusement turns to concern when he hears that Kirra's  uncle, a musher on the race, has gotten a message that his daughter has been kidnapped.  Reef and all the McKennas will rally around Kirra as they furiously try to locate Kirra's cousin before her uncle is forced to carry a task that will threaten Alaska itself.

I've read the entire ALASKA COURAGE series and like many other readers find many similarities to Dee Henderson's O'Malley series.  Each book focuses on a different family member who becomes in both a mystery and a love interest.  Other family members and villagers complete the cast, usually with some kind of lead in to the next book's romance. Despite this repeating pattern,  I've enjoyed this series for several reasons --1. In almost all the books, the readers are placed right in the danger from the first pages.  Whether it is a plane crash into the ocean or the discovery of a hiker's dead body, the McKenna family is in the midst of danger in each book.  2.Alaska's rugged setting and unique lifestyle permeates each book. I loved reading about bush pilots, fishing boats, cruise ships, snowboarding, and even the famous Iditorad dog race.  3. The characters are fun to follow.  The whole family connection and interplay will be much easier for readers who discover the series now that it is done.  They will be able to start with book one, SUBMERGED, and quickly make their way through the series, instead of waiting months for the next installment.

I obtained a copy of SABOTAGED through our library system.  Check out your libraries for the series.  If you can make recommendations and if your library system selects Christian Suspense books, then suggest Dani Pettrey.  Meanwhile, I hope she is already in the process of creating a new suspense series.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Miracle at the Higher Ground Cafe by Max Lucado with Candice Lee and Eric Newman

Miracle at the Higher Grounds CafeChelsea Chambers is trying to pick up the pieces of her life and the pieces of the Higher Grounds Cafe she has just inherited.  While everyone still assumes her marriage to a NFL legend is a dream-come-true, Chelsea believes the coffee shop my be the only way she can make a needed new start for herself and her young children.  When the IRS arrives with a payment due summons, Chelsea realizes that tasty cupcakes and a nostalgic coffee shop may not be enough.  She needs a miracle and when one arrives, she will never suspect that Manny, the eccentric barista she hired on a whim, is the guardian angel behind it.  Coffee and faith that God is control of the unknown combine to make this a sweet tale.

I've always loved Max Lucado's imaginative narratives that run through his nonfiction and children's books.  When you see his name, you know are going to be served a great story coupled with a biblical lesson.  MIRACLE AT THE HIGHER GROUND CAFE is his first novel, and while I don't know how much was his actual writing vs the co-authors, the story does not disappoint.  From the first pages, it had the feel of an old movie in the vein of IT'S WONDERFUL LIFE or other classic angel movies with a "techy" twist for today.  Perhaps plans are already in place to make this a movie. If not, Hallmark take notice, this would be make a heart warming family movie.  I received a copy of this book from LITFUSE for my honest review.

Learn more about Max Lucado and his new book  There is also a contest to win an IPAD.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Dandelion Field by Kathryn Springer

  THE DANDELION FIELD's Wisconsin setting and Wisconsin author (Kathryn Springer) are what first caught my attention.  I am glad they did because this is a well written thoughtful novel.  I don't read too many contemporary novels, especially if they carry the label romance, but this book has much more to offer.  No one character dominates the story.  Single moms, Evie and Ginevieve, both are young to be mothering teenagers. Both want a better future for their kids. Despite those similarities their worlds in small town Bannister Falls are totally separate, that is until they learn about Gin's daughter's pregnancy and her declaration that Evie's son is the father.  As Evie's dear friend and Cody's surrogate dad Dan tries to help everyone navigate the gossip and tough decisions the young couple faces, it appears that Dan may be interested in Gin. How can that be when he has been waiting for years for Evie to be ready for a relationship beyond friendship?
Both Gin and Evie are well developed characters.  Tiny details layer throughout the book providing the basis for a developing bond, one they don't even realize.  The greasy spoon diner in the bad part of town where Gin works is the perfect setting to show that Gin is not the flaky, outlandish newcomer that many believe; it is also the perfect place to teach everyone a few lessons about compassion, new starts, and going the extra mile for others.  The title THE DANDELION FIELD has its own story, a lesson in love and parenting -- a reminder that we all can use.

I received a copy of THE DANDELION FIELD from BookLook for review purposes.  All opinions are mine.  Below is some more information about the book from their website.

Book Description

The handsome firefighter makes a living coming to people's rescue, but Gin is used to fighting her own battles.
Nothing has ever come easy for single mom Genevieve Lightly. Over the years, she's managed to pay the bills waitressing, and she is deeply devoted to her daughter, Raine. Gin has been satisfied moving from city to city, never putting down roots or making commitments. But when engine trouble temporarily strands them in the small town of Banister Falls, Wisconsin, Gin promises her daughter they will stay put until Raine graduates from high school in the spring.
Dan Moretti couldn't imagine a life without Evie, but she married his best friend. After Max died while fighting a huge blaze, Dan has looked out for Evie and her son, Cody. Evie has always made it clear she thinks of him only as a friend, but Dan has secretly held out hope that her feelings would change. When a small town scandal erupts, Dan is caught in the middle and his loyalty put to the test when he realizes his feelings are the ones that are changing. He's falling for a beautiful, unconventional waitress named Gin.
As Cody and Raine move closer to making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives, Dan makes a decision, too. But can he convince a woman who doesn't believe in happy endings to take a chance on a new beginning . . . with him?
About the Author
Kathryn Springer is a full-time writer and the award-winning author of Front Porch Princess. She won the ACFW 2009 Book of the Year award for Family Treasures. Her most recent book, The Soldier's Newfound Family, hit theNew York Times best-seller list in November 2012.
Kathryn grew up in northern Wisconsin, where her parents published a weekly newspaper. As a child she spent many hours sitting at her mother's typewriter, plunking out stories, and credits her parents for instilling in her a love of books—which eventually turned into a desire to tell stories of her own. Kathryn has written 19 books with close to two million copies sold. She lives with her husband and three children in Marinette, Wisconsin.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Still Life by Christa Parrish

Christa Parrish has written a powerful contemporary novel that illustrates how faith and mercy bring the possibility of healing and hope in the worst of modern life.  And the agents of change can be the most unlikely people.  Ada was born into a fringe religious cult.  When she finally escaped her "prophet"father at age 25 she was virtually an emotional child.  She had only five months to begin to understand love and life when her famous photographer husband (and rescuer)Julian Goetz is killed in a plane crash.  Knowing she does not belong back with her family, she must make her way alone, and begins by meeting each of the subjects of her husband's Pulitzer winning photographs.

At the same time, a mere hour away another family is in crisis.  Karen Walker's world falls into a shambles as her family learns that she had given up her seat to Julian Goetz on that ill fated plane
so she could spend one more night with her lover, who just happens to be the father of her youngest son's best friend.  As their small town gossips about the affair, the two broken families face the future in different ways.  Karen's son, whose heart condition has always made him feel fragile, knows he must find Jullian's wife (Julian had been his hero) and make some kind of apology.

I can't describe any more without ruining the story. Let me end by saying that the alternating threads of the story join in a powerful way.  Christa Parrish is a master at story telling and character development  Despite the tragedy that begins this book, you will want to be with these characters and learn the lessons they are learning, especially Ada's.  You will want to believe that there are people as good as Julian Goetz.  I believe there are.  And most importantly, you will end the book, hoping that Christa Parrish is busy writing another already. I received a copy of STILL LIFE from NETGALLEY for my honest review.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Cinderella Murders by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burk

Image result for mary higgins clark cinderella murdersIn her last book, Mary Higgins Clark introduced readers to Laurie Moran, whose idea for a television series which re-examines cold cases has become a reality.  In I GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN,  not only was a twenty year murder solved but so was the murder of Laurie's husband.  Now Higgins Clark is co-authoring a series of books featuring Laurie and her successful television program.  THE CINDERELLA MURDERS focuses on another murder over two decades old.  Moran has been contacted by Susan Dempsey's mother with a plea to finally find her coed daughter's killer.  As Laurie and her crew begin to interview Susan's former roommates and college friends, there appear to be several who have secrets they are unwilling to share. One roommate may have gotten her big acting break simply because Susan didn't show up for an audition the night she was murdered.  Mrs. Dempsey has always felt Susan's longtime boyfriend, and known cheater, was involved in the death. And Susan's best friend virtually disappeared from Southern California within weeks after the funeral. Then there is the computer geek who left school and launched a successful right after the murder.  Did his success have something to do with the program Susan was working on?  When a neighbor of Mrs. Dempsey's is found dead, Laurie's retired police officer father fears his daughter may placing everyone in the show in danger.

In a style similar to I GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN, readers are introduced to a parade of characters, most of them possible suspects as they reveal the tiniest bits of the past.  Someone begins to follow the television crew and even a few of the interviewees.  While I liked this book, I was never on the edge.  Usually when I read a Mary Higgins Clark book, I need to read it cover to cover in a VERY SHORT time. This series is definitely lighter in tone, more mild mystery than thriller.  This one I set aside for several days and never quite felt the rush I associate with Higgins Clark. I had picked the murderer quite early, although I wasn't sure of a motive until the end.  I like the developing story around Laurie, her son, her dad, and the person (Alex??) who has fallen in love with her, so I will probably read the next installment.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Smiles and Hoots - a 2015 Sewing Bucket List Project to donate

I've finally spent a little time in the sewing room and have finished another project from the 2015 Sewing Bucket List Project Challenge, the challenge I found on  and  I believe the original challenge is following a specific order, but I am moving through the 17 projects as I see fit.

Smiles and Hoots is a baby quilt that will be DONATED.  Made of scraps I followed an adapted version of Jera Brandvig's Rainy Days, a quilt as you go block shown in Brandvig's book QUILT AS YOU GO MADE MODERN.  Scrap rectangles 7.5" by 10", are centered on 10" batting squares, then are framed with 2" strips of solid fabric, creating a quilt as you go piece.  Each piece is then squared up to a 9.5" square.  This is the fun part because you create the squares by placing your 9.5" square template slightly askew on the larger, rough square.  The trimmed squares are sewn together in rows, creating a quilt of what look like rectangles and alternating squares.  Really you have sewn perfect squares together.  Here is a link to directions for an earlier version of Rainy Days which Brandvig posted on her blog The dimensions of the squares are different from the pattern in the book, but the directions here are much clearer than my summary.Image result for jera brandvig rainy days

When I started my baby quilt, I knew that I did not have enough large pieces to make 7.5" by 10" rectangles, so mine are 6.5" by 5".  I surrounded each rectangle with strips of pink which were between 2 and 2.5" wide.  Then I trimmed them to make 7.5 inch squares.
Before trimming the squares, I quilted a design of either stars or swirls on the block using my embroidery machine The embroidery machine did the work quickly while I sewed new blocks.
Because I thought the quilt needed to be a little bigger and I was out of my pink scraps, I added borders around the outside.  Once this top was done (remember it is already quilted to batting pieces) I just pin basted the backing on and stitched in the ditch along the seams.  Very easy to do and to handle.  Last step was adding binding.
Quilted star design on "smiley flower"

Pin basted, ready to sew along seam lines

Finished "Smiles and Hoots quilt, named for the Owls and Smiley Flowers

Backing which shows the quilting through all three layers.

If you have lots of scraps to deal with, I suggest either getting Jera Brandvig's book or checking out her website.  Her ideas are super easy and give you an alternative to working with huge batting pieces.  Her ideas are unconventional (modern) and you may have some issues with a little bulk at the seam lines, but read her suggestions and you will do just fine.  I feel very happy that I have a finished quilt made entirely out of scraps (except the backing).  I can see all kinds of further adaptations of this simple pattern.   I love the skewed look.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Image result for the rosie projectIt took Australian author Graeme Simsion five years to complete his novel THE ROSIE PROJECT, a bestselling romance novel, called warm and humorous by critics.  While our book club readily agreed that the book had a warm element and a happy ending, we were not ready to label it as humorous. It will take readers only a few pages to identify that Don Tillman, a college professor of genetics, is more than just eccentric. As Tillman delivers a lecture on Asperger's Syndrome, one will see clear similarities to his extreme intelligence, profound lack of social clues, and his rigid habits to the information he shares about Asperger children.

Tillman's "project" to find the perfect wife (one who never arrives early nor late, among a myriad of other qualifications) gives the reader plenty of exposure to Simsion's wit.  When Tillman meets Rosie, a young bartender who is about as far from his perfect mate as possible, Don puts aside his project for THE FATHER PROJECT, a plan to identify the young woman's biological father. Becoming a bar tender, swabbing drink glasses, flying across the world to New York City, crawling out a bathroom window to escape an irate potential "dad" are just a few of the preposterous actions Don willing does to help Rosie.  Could he be emotionally attached to her?  Could feelings help him break out of his confined life?

Our book group includes several retired teachers and our discussion quickly moved away from the comments of humor, quirkiness, and delight that seem to dominate most reviews.  Having worked with or been around real people who are "wired differently" (as one reviewer describe Don), leaving them always on the fringes of social acceptance, we saw so many of Don's revelations about his life in a different light than other readers.  While the quirky narrative read like a happy ending, fun to witness romance, a few members of our group just could not get beyond the reality of what life for an Asperger Syndrome person or their family can be.  Those who had never heard of the Syndrome appreciated being exposed to the condition through this novel, but we mostly felt it was handled in too light and silly of a manner.  That said, I like to think that everyone can fall in love.