Thursday, May 28, 2015

Hutterite Diaries: Wisdom from My Prairie Community by Linda Maendel

Plainspoken, an imprint of Herald Press, is an attempt to give the Anabaptist groups (Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite) a written forum to share their lifestyles and faith in a truthful manner.  As the introduction to HUTTERITE DIARIES reports, "novels, tourist sites, and television shows offer second or third-hand accounts of Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite life. Some of these messages are sensitive and accurate. Some are not.  Many are flat-out wrong."
About thirty years ago, Amish began moving to our rural community in Wisconsin.  Now we have a strong Amish population, known for their furniture, greenhouses, and produce.  Are they accepted?  By some, but not by others.  Are they misunderstood and misrepresented?  Most certainly.  Because they are my neighbors, I've always been interested in the "real story."  Last year, I had the opportunity to hear a speaker who has been welcomed into Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite communities and has written several books about the Amish.  His talk took us all the way back to the Reformation in the 1500s, cleared up some differences among the three groups, and peaked my interest in the Hutterite people who live in Christian community, sharing most worldly possessions.  The day of his talk, I purchased a cd of a Hutterite choir, and it is one of the most beautiful hymn cd's I've ever heard.  It is that talk and the purchased CD that led me to excitingly request a reader's copy of
HUTTERITE DIARIES by Linda Maendel to review.

Linda Maendel lives in a Hutterite colony in the Canadian plains.  Everyone within the group has a job, and then there are many other tasks that are shared.  While it may be someone's job to oversee the poultry barns or to work as a cabinet maker, every able person may help with grounds upkeep or the potato harvest.  Linda herself is an educational assistant, teaching kindergarten and German.  Linda's diary entries explain in detail the origins of the Anabaptists in the 1500s and the persecution they experienced over several centuries.  Throughout the years that the Hutterites moved from one area of Europe to another, they tried to always hold to their ideal that they should follow the example of early Christians to live in common, sharing all.  When the Hutterites came to North Dakota and then Canada in the 1800's, they continued that practice.  Linda notes that other religious groups through time have tried communal living but have abandoned it.  For the Hutterites, it works and Linda shares some of the reasons why. As shown in her diary entries and commentaries, Linda is clearly content in her lifestyle and faith.  She often mentions the choirs within the community and the special times they sing.  Having my own cd, I could just imagine the a cappela sound.  I was also interested in her explanation of how the Hutterites embrace technology when it benefits the group, while the Amish still tend to abstain from most technology.

At only 154 pages, HUTTERITE DIARIES was very informational but short.  I hope that Linda continues to write and can share more day to day glimpses into the Hutterite world.
To read Linda Maendel's blog or to learn more about her, check out  You may also learn more at this LITFUSE PAGE
  I want to thank Litfuse for giving me the opportunity to review this title.  All opinions are mine.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund

  Recently the e-book LOVE UNEXPECTED by Jody Hedlund was on sale.  Before buying it, I checked to see if it was available from WPLC (Wisconsin Public Library Consortium) and since it was, I opted to borrow rather than buy.  I've read Jody's books before and enjoy the rugged settings of  1800's Michigan.  This title is the first in the series called Beacons of Hope.  Emma, an Irish immigrant whose life there was devastated by the potato famine, finds that misfortune has hit again when the steamship she is on sinks near Presque Isle in the Michigan Territory.

When a whirlwind set of circumstances lead to a "no-strings attached" marriage proposal, Emma accepts, hoping she will finally be able to let her brother go on alone to seek his fortune.  Quickly Emma finds that her new role as mother to a two year old is tougher than she anticipated.  She also quickly learns that her "husband" is a kind and gentle man which is why she has trouble believing some dark rumors that a neighbor keeps intimating.

Stormy weather, lighthouses, and Great Lakes pirates all mix with secret pasts and budding romance in this fast reading novel.  Hedlund is an author who makes the Christian message part of the story, not an added thought.  Emma has had too much hard luck in her life to see God's hand in much.  Her new husband Patrick only has to look at his own life to know that God gives second chances, but still he fears telling Emma too much about his past.

If you like a historical setting for your romance, then try LOVE UNEXPECTED.  I especially liked Hedlund's notes at the end in which she explained how her book aligned with the early days of the actual Michigan territory.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Called to Be Amish by Marlene C. Miller

Marlene C. Miller's book CALLED TO BE AMISH: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order answers many of the questions we "English" have about the Amish.  First, the current Amish population is about 250,000 (and quickly growing). Second, non-Amish rarely convert. Miller says that another author has documented only about 75 outsiders who have joined Amish churches and remained members since the 1950s.

Marlene married her husband over 51 years ago and joined the Amish church 47 years ago.  You might think that she joined simply because she loved her husband, but that isn't the whole story.
Amish youth do not join the church until they feel called to do so.  Most join in their late teens or early twenties, and often make that decision once they start courting seriously. At least that is how our Old Order Amish neighbors do it. Before Amish teens commit to the church and therefore, the Amish life, they often have experience a little freedom.  In our area of Wisconsin, that freedom is quite limited, but I guess it is different in different areas.  And maybe the freedom was more expansive back in the late 1950s.  Johnny Miller, a young Amish teen met Marlene, a typical Ohioan girl, at the skating rink, and they quickly became a couple.  Johnny worked with non-Amish, played baseball with them, and even drove a car. Marlene liked his good looks, and his kind ways were a welcome reprise from her turbulent life at home.

It seemed that Marlene could do nothing good enough to please her mother, so when her mother voiced her displeasure over Marlene dating an Amish, it only made the young duo more committed.  When Marlene found out she was pregnant, Johnny agreed to marry her.  There is more to that part of the story, but I will leave that to Marlene to explain.  Just know that they did finally marry, and that meant that Johnny would always be an outsider to his family.

But after a few months, Johnny's family mentioned that they would welcome Marlene if the couple wanted to join the church.  Marlene felt a calling to do just that, and the couple began a three year process of instruction.  During that time, they left behind their modern ways -- the car and the truck were sold, they moved to a home without electricity, and Marlene began the life of an Amish wife.
Ten children and fifty-plus years later, Marlene has much to share about that journey.

Herald Press has published this title under the umbrella of the Plainspoken series.  As the publishers point out, the Amish corner a lot of interest, but what is presented as Amish life on television and even in well written fiction titles is far from accurate.  The Plainspoken series strives to give the Plain people (Amish, Mennonite, and Hutterite) an avenue for them to write their own stories.

I want to thank Herald Press and LitFuse for the opportunity to review this title.  


What’s it like to be one of the few outsiders to leave the Englisch way of life and join the Old-Order Amish—and stay? In Called to Be Amish, this rare memoir by Marlene C. Miller, she recounts her unhappy and abusive childhood, how she throws herself into cheerleading and marching band, and how she falls in love with Johnny, the gentle young Amish man who helps her lace her ice skates


Marlene C. Miller joined the Amish as an adult and has been a member of the Old Order Amish for almost 50 years. She and her husband of 48 years live on a farm in Ohio surrounded by their nine children, more than 40 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Find out more about Marlene at

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Joni and Ken: An Untold Love Story by Ken and Joni Eareckson Tada

9780310314691It's been many years since I read a book by Joni Eareckson Tada, but I need to credit her with widening my interest in Christian nonfiction and memoirs.  I've also had at least one devotional book written by Joni, so I was somewhat aware of her marriage to Ken.  And I faintly remember hearing something about her cancer diagnosis several years ago, so of course I was interested when I learned they had penned a book together about their marriage.  When I found it in audio format, I was even more delighted.  However, there must have been many other delighted people because I think I waited quite awhile between placing my name on the hold list at Wisconsin Public Library Consortium and actually being able to download the book.

It was worth the wait.  I usually listen to audio books when in the midst of projects that take a concentrated block of time.  In this case, I learned about the ups and downs of Ken and Joni's marriage while washing the windows on the lower level of our house.  Like most people, I don't like washing windows, and these windows involve alternating between being inside the house and outside the house.  Listening to the narrator describe the couple's wonderful story of meeting, then marrying despite Joni's quadriplegia was inspiring.  That they have traveled all over the world, even behind the Iron Curtain in the 1980s to bring awareness and caring was even more inspiring.  But learning that behind the public view this couple struggled as all couples do made an impact just as strong.  That both could grow in their faith, but be stagnant in the their relationship will probably speak to many couples.  Joni and Ken both view Joni's cancer as an opportunity to clearly redefine their marriage and an opportunity to truly live their vows.

The narration, delivered in third person, lets the listener (reader) experience both partners's thoughts, but at a wider perspective that it might have been if Joni and Ken had told the story themselves.  They do speak at the end of the audio, and that short segment packs an emotional impact.  I hope to do a little web searching to find some videos of other messages by them.

If you are like me and have a faint recognition of this duo and their work, I would recommend you learn more about the private life of the Tadas.  Even those who have no previous knowledge of the pair, but are married or thinking about marriage, should consider this view of a commitment made stronger by hardship.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

One more box ticked off my list 26 BOOKS TO READ IN 2015

The Dream Lover by Early in 2015 I committed to two book challenges, one called 26 BOOKS TO READ IN 2015 by Well the six month mark is quickly approaching and I have been making very little progress on either list, despite always being in the midst of a book.  Life just keeps getting in the way and then I am also easily led astray by new books which don't fit the list.

I just finished reading Elizabeth Berg's new book THE DREAM LOVER and I've decided to let it "tick off one of the boxes" on my list of 26 books.  I've read several books by Elizabeth Berg and I've always enjoyed her titles which seem to explore women characters becoming stronger through crisis.
I don't know what drew me to THE DREAM LOVER, probably some review or notice that book clubs were reading it, but somehow I placed a hold at the library for it, and when it arrived, I moved it near the top of the TO-BE-READ list. Unlike Berg's other books with their contemporary settings, THE DREAM LOVER visits early 19th Century France and examines the life of George Sand, the famous female novelist who shocked many with her fiction, her choice to often dress as a man, and her scandalous lifestyle.  After reading the book, I think maybe her actions were not so outrageous for her social group as we think, but the real scandal was in her openness about her ways.  

I am not going to recommend or not recommend this title.  Berg is as always a talented writer, and I believe she has portrayed George Sand in a realistic, forthright manner.  I am counting this title as a book by an author I love (make that like, please).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

No Place to Hide by Lynette Eason

#3: No Place to HideLynette Eason has continued her HIDDEN IDENTITY series with NO PLACE TO HIDE, another suspenseful tale.  Jackie Sellers works for the same secret organization featured in the earlier HIDDEN IDENTITY titles.  A news flash that her childhood friend Ian Lockwood is considered a suspect in a security breach at Wainwright Labs sends her on a late night visit to his home for answers.  Soon she and Ian are attacked and on the run for their lives, leaving her little time to assess whether Ian is innocent or not.  Trying to rely on her head and her training at the same time, she also follows her heart, making for an exciting, edge of your seat story.

While the entire plot at Wainwright Labs won't be known to readers (or Jackie) until much later, readers do know that a forced theft at the CDC has placed the US under an immediate threat for the release of the smallpox virus.  How or if the two stories will connect
is part of the suspenseful plot.

NO PLACE TO HIDE was a fast paced read with lots of twists. Despite all the action, Eason also gives us an interesting story about Jackie, Ian, and a childhood friend. The messages within that personal story are the ones that make this a Christian novel. The final ending is a huge surprise although parts of it I had pieced together.  The true motive for the crimes are a shocking reveal in  the last pages.  I received a copy of this title from Revell Fiction for review purposes.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wonderful Mother's Day and a WONDERBAG

Everyone is posting about their Mother's Day and so I will add a bit about my day. Saw all my children and grandchildren even though we did not have a "formal' get-together planned. That made it extra special. Got sweet and special gifts from all, but I am going to highlight the unique gift I got from my daughter, her little girl, and my hubbie.. Called the WONDERBAG, it lets you slow cook or keep food hot/cold without any electricity. It looks sort of odd, but when you read about it, you realize it is an age old technology put to modern use. When you buy a WONDERBAG, one is given to a family in Africa or another 3rd world area where obtaining cooking fuel is difficult. The WONDERBAG does not eliminate the need for a stove or cooking fire entirely since the food and its container must be heated before it can be put in the bag, but it cuts down on the time that fuel must be used. We may not realize it but in Africa some women or their children spend the whole day foraging for cooking wood and many cooking fires actually pollute the air within their homes. The WONDERBAG helps eliminate some of those issues. My bag is the blue one and I can't wait to give it a try. Here is a link to the site about this effort to help others

I hope to try it out next week when we are camping.  I'll start a soup or a chili on the camper stovetop and finish it in the WONDERBAG while we go off and take a hike.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Anzac Girls DVD

Anzac Girls (2014) Poster I recently watched the Australian Television mini-series called ANZAC GIRLS which tells the story of the Australian and New Zealand Nursing Corps during World War I.  The six part drama focuses on a small group of women who served in Africa, an island in Greece and then France and is based on a book written by Peter Rees.  Rees searched diaries and letters of the real ANZAC nurses for his book and now that I've seen the series, I want to get a copy of the book to get even more details.  I've read that by the end of the war, 45 ANZAC nurses had died and over 200 were decorated for their bravery and service.  The television series does a superb job of mixing the harsh field hospital scenes with the personal stories of the nurses. Yes, there are bloody scenes, but this production is not out to shock and is not filled with violence, bad language, or such. I believe great care was taken to cast the roles as each of the actresses seemed to be perfect matches for the real nurses they were playing.  My favorite was Olive, a slightly tom-boyish young nurse who tackled every circumstance with a song, sort of the female equivalent of "keeping a stiff upper lip."  Sister Ross King (all the nurses are called sister) is the dark haired beauty featured on the DVD
cover, and her story revolves around to whom she will give her heart. The real Sister Ross King was given a medal for her bravery in an air attack in France (or that is what the movie shows).  Another nurse is one of the first nurses to learn how to give anesthesia and when the top officials say all Australian nurses must cease serving as anesthesiologists, she stubbornly points out that she is a New Zealander and continues her training.

A major element in the story is how the ANZAC's must earn the respect of everyone -- first, the military officials of their own countries and then the British nursing and medical corps.  The ANZAC women all wore long grey skirts and blouses, and when in dress uniform, they had vivid red capes.  Despite the squalor of the make shift hospitals and the bloody surgical units, those uniforms seemed to project such grace and professionalism. Despite being a war story, there is a beauty to this whole series.  Now that I have finished watching it, I wish it had been longer with more stories.  When I think about what I've learned about society's changes in the early 1900's from watching Downton Abbey and now this series, I appreciate even more the women who were brave enough to take on challenges that no one thought they could handle.

As far as I know, this series has not appeared on American tv, but maybe it was on PBS and I missed it.  I highly recommend it and am so glad that our library purchased the series.  We have a dish subscription and even get our local stations through the dish antenna.  With its escalating price tag, we are considering finally putting up an antenna for local reception and then cancelling the dish.
Since we watch so few programs on regular tv, I am looking for other avenues for my watching.  We have an Amazon prime subscription, but would like to hear from others just what you are watching.
More and more I have been searching for shows that I might enjoy and then seeking out what libraries have them on dvd.  What would you recommend?  Image result for anzac girls

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Image result for the nightingale kristin hannahWhen you've been an educator in a small town, you have the pleasure of seeing former students become adult members of the community, sometimes even co-workers and neighbors.  Of course many students move away, but surprisingly a strong number remain in or return to our cluster of villages and rural townships.  I've run into one such student, now a mom and wife, at our local library on several occasions.  I love that she points out how she NOW reads, something she did not enjoy doing in high school.  I recently had a massage appointment at her spa; I had woken with a stiff neck and could not turn it more than an inch or two.  I could not get in to see the chiropractor until the next day, but E. had a slot and I quickly took it.  E. was an angel with healing fingers that day, and despite my pain, it was nice to catch up on her life.  She also shared what she was reading and highly recommended THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristen Hannah.

I knew E. had our little library's copy of Hannah's new historical fiction, but I quickly put my name on the hold list and didn't have to wait too long.  Set in what will become Occupied France, the novel begins in 1939 and covers the war year experiences of two sisters Vianne and Isabelle.  The chapters alternate with the 1995 story of an American woman who is packing up her house to move into an assisted living facility, someone readers will assume has some connection to Vianne and Isabelle.  Only near the end of the book will you learn her true identity.

World War II fiction abounds recently; it seems I could read a new one each week and you might expect the stories to become similar.  While I have read several novels focusing on the civilians and how the war destroys any semblance of normal life, THE NIGHTINGALE remains distinctive.
Part of that reason is the unique family story of the novel.  Vivianne and Isabelle had lost their mother when young girls, leaving them with only their father, a man who was so emotionally damaged by WWI that he sends his daughters away to the country.  Vivianne, the older, a mere teen herself, is told to care for Isabelle.  Vianne, quiet and reflective, buries her sorrow and finds comfort in a young man who will become her husband, but she cannot understand her little sister's loud demands and defiant ways.  When war breaks out and Vianne's husband is drafted, Isabelle is suspended from yet another school.  Her father does not want her in Paris and Vianne fears Isabelle's presence in the village would be dangerous. Soon the two sisters and their father make very different decisions about how to survive the occupation, each heroes in their own way.

I believe Kristin Hannah has surpassed all her other books with this title.  The hardships of daily life in war time, the sister relationships, the father's grief, what constitutes bravery, and how one resumes a normal life after war -- there is a lot to discuss here.
Thanks, to E., for recommending the book.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Murder Simply Brewed by Vanetta Chapman

Murder Simply Brewed - Vannetta ChapmanAmber Wright likes her job running the Amish Artisan Village, a collection of shops and accompanying inn, but it leaves little time for a personal life.  And Amber doesn't believe the upcoming spring and summer season will be less hectic than the last.  Then Amber receives a phone call that Ethan Gray, the manager of Simply Brewed has been found dead in the shop.
It appears Ethan died of a heart attack, one that may have been brought on when someone shot a pellet gun at the shop's window.  The police believe the shot and the vandalism at another Amish shop are simply the work of wild teens, Amber begins to think otherwise.  Soon Amber, Hannah  the young Amish girl she has made new manager of the coffee shop, and Amber's neighbor Tate Bowman set out to piece together just really happened to Ethan and why.

Life has been just slightly hectic around here, and I have NOT read anything for almost a full week.
Luckily I was able to feed my fiction fix a little by listening to this cozy mystery on my MP3 player.
Basically I like two kinds of audio books.  The first, are those, whether nonfiction or fiction, that are so compelling that you just have to keep listening.  These may be quite complicated, packed with details, but that is okay if the writing and the narrator are top quality.  The second type of audio book I like is something short and simple, like this cozy mystery.  I was able to listen to MURDER SIMPLY BREWED while I was working on machine embroidery projects and even while I was pruning shrubs outside.  Author Chapman mixes just the right balance of mystery and innocent romance with a splash of humor and just a bit of danger. I downloaded this mystery from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium, and I liked it enough that I will be checking for audio version of other Vanetta Chapman books.