Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

Sentinels of AndersonvilleA nonfiction expose of Andersonville back in junior high or high school is one of the books that sparked (or shocked) me into a life long interest in our country's history, especially those stories which often miss others' attention.  Hopefully, most of us recognize that Andersonville was a Southern prison for Union captives in Georgia; it has taken a place in history as one of those events that must not be forgotten, lest it be ever be repeated.  Over 13,000 soldiers died there during the last 14 months of the war due to overcrowding, lack of medical care, and overall inhumane conditions.  Over a hundred years later, there is still no set consensus for why such an atrocity happened.  Some point to shortages of food throughout the South, but reports show that there should have been adequate supplies.  Blame for the atrocious lack of sanitary conditions and humane care were quickly pointed at one man, Henry Wiz, commander of the inner stockade, who was the only man convicted and hung for war crimes in the Civil War.

Author Tracy Groot, having learned about the life-saving actions of a few sentinels (guards) at Andersonville, has written a historical fiction novel which explores how the act of compassion can weaken those boundaries between enemies and restore love for one's fellow man.  In the book, three staunch Confederates join forces to make conditions better at Andersonville, and in doing so, they call upon the small town nearby to reach out to those dying within the prison's walls.  Sentry Darcy  Pickett has witnessed the worsening conditions for months and can remain silent no longer as the stench, starvation, and filth fill his every thought.  Confederate Corporal Emery Jones has just delivered a Yankee prisoner to the camp, a man he has come to know and admire as they journeyed for days from the point of capture to the prison.  As he waits for his new orders, he sees for the first time the awful conditions and curses himself for ever delivering another human being into such a place.  Violet Stiles, proud Confederate supporter, finds herself near the prison one day to pick up a package and decides to meet up with her doctor father for a ride home.  The smell coming from the camp alone is enough to tell her that her father has been protecting her and her family from the truth about Andersonville.  Impulsive and naive, Stiles believes that her neighbors will eagerly help her in a quest to improve the lives of the prisoners, but while she feels she is acting out of basic humanity, they see a Northern sympathizer. How can she forget that these prisoners were responsible for the deaths and disabilities of their loved ones?  Why even her beau died by Union hands!

This book will have you thinking about others through history who have risked their safety to nobly act to protect and save the downtrodden and the underdogs -- those that others saw as only enemies.  As the publicity for this novel states -- compassion has its cost, both when given and when withheld.
Personally, this story reminded me of a small, but significant action of compassion taken by mother in law back during World War II.  At the time she was the mother of four (later to be six) on a struggling hillside farm.  In the same Wisconsin county was a prison work camp for German POWs.  From everything I've read those camps in the Midwest and even Canada were clean, safe, secure and humane; prisoners were well taken care of, but they were still prisoners.  Anyway, one day a small group of them, probably young men in their twenties, were on roadwork duty, right outside the family farm. My MIL Gen, who often struggled to keep enough groceries in the house, was baking pies that day.  Filled with compassion, she took a warm pie out to the road crew.  Collaborating with the enemy? A Nazi sympathizer?  No, she maintained through the years.  She was a mother, doing what she hoped some other mother would do should if any of her three sons (eventually four sons) were ever in similar circumstances.  Compassion erases our differences, compassion lets us speak with our hearts.

I obtained by copy of SENTINELS OF ANDERSONVILLE from the Winnefox Library System.  Check your library for it or purchase it through a local Christian bookstore, Family Christian books, or Christian books

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Dancing Through Life by Candace Cameron Bure

Dancing Through Life: Steps of Courage and ConvictionMost of us will recognize Candace Cameron Bure from her childhood days as DJ Tanner on FULL HOUSE.  For a while she was absent from television, taking a decade off to be concentrate on being a mom and wife.  Then she did take on another series, this one on ABC Family channel, and starred in several Hallmark movies, but what caught my attention again and that of many of her fans was her role on Season 18 of Dancing With the Stars (DWTS).   Candance definitely had an up and down experience on this show.  First " up" was securing a spot, as she had been a diehard fan of the show since Season One.  Second "up" was securing Mark Ballas as her dance partner, a professional she had long admired on the show.  Despite a strong start, Candace's performance varied widely from week to week and so did her scores.  Drama surrounded her moral stance on the sexuality of dances and costumes, creating both a flutter of supporters and critics.  Candace made clear to everyone that she was drawing strength from her personal faith as a Christian.  In the end, Candace placed in the finals and ended with a third, a spot she felt was appropriate.  Now that the dance shoes and glitzy costumes have been replaced with mom sneakers and a full film schedule, Candace has taken time to reflect on the hardships, challenges, and joy she faced on the show. She has shared those reflections and lessons in DANCING THROUGH LIFE, hoping that readers can be supported in their own stands for their Christian convictions and their daily challenges.  If you or someone you know is a fan of DWTS or FULL HOUSE, this would be an excellent purchase.  The book is arranged by week on DWTS (or by dance performances) and I found myself easily remembering most of the dances and costumes.   I don't watch every DWTS season, but I did watch most of Season 18, mainly because of Candace and Mark. I liked that she let us peak behind the Monday night live show into the inner workings of DWTS, but mostly I liked what she stood for, and this book added to my understanding of her deep commitment to living a faithful life.   I received a copy of this book from FamilyChristian for my review opinions.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon

Hope HarborThe previous books I've read by Hannon have all been suspense books, and I was curious how she would handle a contemporary romance novel.  HOPE HARBOR lays all the ground work for a continuing series set in fictional Hope Harbor, one of those ideal small towns, similar to Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove (although a little quieter).  A quick glance at the last pages show advertising that another book RETURN TO HOPE HARBOR will follow next year, yet I never felt like this first book was overladen with extra characters who would likely reappear in later works.  Hannon centers this story on Michael Hunter, a Chicago nonprofit executive who has come to this western small town for an extended visit.  Clearly he has a reason for coming, but readers have to wait awhile before they discover why.  Hunter's vacation does not start well -- first, he finds the small motel where he had reservations has suddenly closed.  Then he accidentally runs into a young woman on her bike, causing her to loose her groceries and hurt her hip.  Of course, you know that there will be romance between the two, and you won't be disappointed.  Hannon has created very likable characters in both Hunter and the young, hardworking Tracy.  Local color comes from the struggling cranberry farm which has been in Tracy's family for years and the eccentric food truck owner Charley.  Faith lessons in forgiving oneself  and second chances are there for both Tracy and Michael, while Michael's new landlord, widow Anna has need for a different kind of forgiveness.  Warm hearted and sincere, this novel is a quick read, but one that will leave you satisfied; it is perfect for a late summer read as you travel.  Personally, I will welcome novels by Irene Hannon. She's shown she is a success at writing suspense series and now contemporary romance.  I would like to see her branch out again, into those contemporary novels which go beyond romance into deeper stories of character and faith.  I received a copy of HOPE HARBOR from Revell Reads for my honest review.  

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Burning Sky by Lori Benton

  I don't how many white settlers, especially children, were actually kidnapped by Indians and then lived among them for months or even years, but that premise has been the source for several books.  Some that I have read have been based on real people, but I never encountered a nonfiction book or a fiction one with solid facts backing it up.  When I started reading BURNING SKY, I knew the story was fiction and I had some other novels to compare it to, but I had the slight wish that someday I would read an authentic tale about a white being taken into the Indian world.  Despite that, I found this a delightful read. Benton's book does not cover the actual years character Willa Obenchain spent with her Mohawk captors, instead, her depiction is of Burning Sky/Willa's return to her parent's New York cabin.  Benton has created a story with believable emotional and cultural conflict.  Having recently lost her Mohawk husband and their two little daughters, Willa feels her life with the Mohawks is over.  When the group must move, Willa does not leave with them and she is not stopped from finding her way back to New York.  On the way there, she comes across an injured Scotsman whom she rescues.  With Willa's parents missing and reported to have been Tory sympathizers, Willa feels that she does not really belong to her old settler life, but she remains at the cabin to nurse Scotsman Neil McGregor.  When an old childhood friend reports that her parents farm will be seized and that he plans to take it over, Willa is determined to stay and fight for what her father had pioneered, but her decision is complicated by the arrival of Tames His Horse, her Indian clan "brother."  Clearly the two have love for each other, but because she was adopted into his clan, they could never have a relationship in the native world.

The backdrop for this intriguing story is rich in historical details. Benton has made Tames His Horse a Christian believer, having been introduced to God by Anglican missionary Samuel Kirkland.  Although the real Kirkland did not preach among the Mohawks, he did convert many Indians.  Also explained was why Tames His Horse, a Mohawk, would have worked with the British (he located and returned deserters) while other Indian nations would have sided with the colonists.   When I finished the novel, I finished I had read good story, but I also felt I understood late 1700s New York and our young country much better.  Since writing BURNING SKY, Benton has written two more historical fiction books with Native American characters.  I plan to add them to my reading list.  I obtained my copy of BURNING SKY through the Winnefox Library System.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Desperate Measures by Sandra Orchard

Desperate MeasuresResearcher Kate Adams cannot let anyone know that she has rescued a few specimens of the rare "miracle plant" that has caused so much turmoil across two decades and more than one continent.  Sure that she can figure out just healing powers the plant has, despite knowing that people have been killed because of its existence, Kate has hidden the plants in her fruit cellar. Despite her feelings for Detective Tom Parker, she does not fully trust him and feels resentment that Tom is responsible for sweeping away her father, a person she has only seen for a few moments in twenty years.  That Tom says the secret safe harbor her dad has been sent to is to protect his life does not make the separation any easier.  DESPERATE MEASURES is the third and final book in Sandra Orchard's suspense series PORT ASTER SECRETS.  Readers who have followed the series will be glad to finally fit all the pieces together.  Like the other books, DESPERATE MEASURES moves at super speed from one danger to another.  Kate's research assistant appears to be suffering from dizzy spells and the medical team suspects a possible poisoning.  Was Kate the real target?  Then the assistant's car is tampered with, but it is Kate that is driving.  A fire threatens that Kate's secret plants will be discovered.  And Detective Tom must divide his time between working on the case of a missing teenager and making sure Kate is safe.

Even if books are part of a series, I can usually read one without reading the others, or can at least handle the time between publication of the earlier books and the later ones.  In this case, the story that twists through the three books is so intertwined, I totally recommend reading all three books in short succession.  The time frame in the story between book two and three is just a matter of weeks, but having read them more than a year apart is just too much time to carry forward that suspense.  I did like that the whole jungle plant mystery and Orchard counterbalances the danger nicely with a mixture of real life, faith, simple humor, and romance.  If you've never read Sandra Orchard, then grab all three books at once and enjoy.  I received a copy of this title from Revell Reads for my honest opinion.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Still, a CD by the Booth Brothers

II was fortunate to attend a Booth Brothers' concert last summer and found the trio to be entertaining and inspiring.  So when Family Christian Bookstores presented an opportunity to review the group's new CD STILL I was delighted.  Within seconds of inserting the CD into the car's player, I knew that this was an album that I would play and replay.  Now the group has its roots in traditional Southern Gospel going back to the group that Ronnie and Michael Booth's father sang in; the Booth Brothers themselves date to the late 1990's.  This album strays from that traditional route; instead it is an astonishing mix of styles, tempos, and accompaniments.  A fresh percussion beat strikes out on FAITH KEEPS WALKING, the first song on the cd.  HAPPY RHYTHM, the second song echoes a bit of a big band sound.  STILL, the song for which the album is named is sweet and slightly more traditional.  With each of the ten songs, you will find a distinctive sound and message.

One of the reasons this album will take a favorite place in my collection is the group's rendition of TOUCH OF THE MASTER'S HAND.  This is the song which tells the story of an old violin discarded on a wagon.  When the auctioneer presents it, no one will bid, not even one dollar.  Then a gray haired old man picks up the violin and plays the sweetest music.  Clearly the master has changed the worth of the instrument.  The rest of the song draws parallels to God, our Master and our own changed lives.  The men's choir in which my husband sings has performed this song (different arrangement) and I've come to love it.  Partly because it is a true life parable for us.  About 16 years ago, my husband, then in his mid-50's accompanied me to an auction.  An old, battered violin case on a wagon of junk caught his eye.  My husband sings and plays guitar, but had never touched a violin.  Something told him that day that he needed that violin.  He bid, and brought that violin home.  Caring reconstruction of the instrument by a luthier, lessons with an accomplished teen violinist, and my husband has become the "gray haired" older man who makes the useless instrument, an instrument of God's love.  And he, too, has been changed.

Back to the CD review -- Give a listen to the mix of music styles and sounds.  You will find a favorite among the ten songs, one that will encourage your faith, bring a parable to life, or give you strength.  Even if you have other Booth Brother CDs, you want this one. Thank you Family Christian for the opportunity to review this album.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Not by Sight by Kate Breslin

 FINAL layout_Breslin_Not by Sight.inddNot by Sight, Kate Breslin's new WWI historical fiction set in England, is being compared to Downton Abbey and with good reason.  The rash and spontaneous behavior of young suffragette Grace Mabry will have Downton fans thinking of Lady Edith or perhaps cousin Rose.  Grace has a sense of honor and duty toward England's war effort, so much so that she crashes a society ball, along with her servant, and hands a single white feather, the symbol of cowardice, to each "conchie" - conscientious objector- there at the ball.  To her, they are nothing but cowards, shirking their duty, while her brother bravely fights in France.  She is delighted to hand the last feather to Jack Benningham, the handsome heir to the Earl of Stonebrooke.  When he quickly leaves the ball, she is certain that her action has shamed the handsome playboy.

But weeks later, when Grace joins the Women's Forage Corps and travels to the countryside, she and Jack meet again under very different circumstances.  I won't say anymore about why they meet, least I say too much.  I will say that Breslin's inclusion of the Women's Forage Corps brought to life an aspect of the Great Britain's war effort I knew nothing about.  And Breslin has the perfect touch for character development.  As Grace works for the WFC, we see the flighty, exuberant  young girl mature into a courageous, caring woman who thinks about the consequences of her actions and beliefs. While this is definitely a story about Grace and Jack, even the minor characters such as Mr. Tillman and Mrs. Vance are written with authenticity and heart, making Not by Sight a complete success.  If you want a taste of England as it faces the war and a changing society, mixed with romance, and a bit of spying, then don't miss Breslin's newest novel.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House and the author for my honest review.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Gone Without a Trace by Patricia Bradley

Livy (Olivia) Reynolds resists every effort to treat what her superiors call PTSD after an incident in which she shoots a teenager.  Then one day in a dangerous situation she hesitates before she takes action and that slight hesitation almost costs her partner his life.  Deciding to take some time to reassess her mental state and her career, Livy returns to her hometown Logan Point, the same town her cousin Robyn disappeared from two years ago.  Now it seems another waitress has disappeared, this one single and a Logan Point resident for a very short time.  Samantha Jo is also the granddaughter of a powerful politician and only days after her disappearance, he has sent a Texas PI  to the small Tennessee (or is it Mississippi?) community.  Will Alex Jennings be able to find the young, aspiring singer, or has she, like Liv's cousin, "gone with a trace?"

Author Patricia Bradley has suspense down to a science.  Alex and Liv had just the right chemistry.  Their personal problems and their attraction to each other add complexity to the story, but don't detract from the search for Samantha Jo. A profile of the likely kidnapper emerges, and as it does, Bradley supplies readers with an intriguing set of suspects, each as credible as the next.   I'd like to say more about the back story of Robyn, but I can't do that without ruining the book-- again, the work of a talent suspense writer.  Too many suspense novels I've read lately have the protagonists running all over the country, often so frantically that I have trouble following the action.  And too often those chases seem to be just filler.  Nothing like that in Bradley's writing. This novel is the third book in the Logan Point series; I read book one SHADOWS OF THE PAST, and gave it a positive review at the time.  I have not read book two, but I can tell you that reading the first books are NOT required.  GONE WITHOUT A TRACE truly stands on its own.  I received a copy of GONE WITHOUT A TRACE from Revell for review purposes.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

How does a modern woman find her way in 1893 New York City? By breaking every rule. Tiffany Girl - May 5th.I just love when a book opens my eyes to the changing social mores of another time, and Deeanne Gist's TIFFANY GIRL has done just that.  Thanks to Antique Roadshow, I knew about the famous Tiffany glass lamps and vases, but I did not know that Tiffany also designed a glass chapel for the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago.  Even more fascinating is that a strike by male glass workers put the whole project behind schedule, even endangering its completion.  So Tiffany who already had a few female workers, sought out a crew of Tiffany Girls -- artists who could learn to trace the patterns and cut the glass for the beautiful panels.  Author Gist, who studied the letters of one of the original designers/Tiffany Girls, takes readers into the studio, but also to the Chicago Exposition, and to Tiffany parties as we follow the life of one fictional Tiffany Girl, Flossie Jayne.  When Flossie Jayne, an aspiring artist learns that her parents will no longer be able to pay for her painting lessons due to her father's gambling, Flossie is determined to live on her own, work, and earn enough money for art school.  A chance visit to her school by the famous Louis Tiffany gives her just the opportunity she wanted.

Without realizing it, Flossie has thrust herself into a society that does not look kindly on the New Women of New York.  She is called names and threatened by the striking glass workers, never completely safe when traveling the streets or public transportation, and is even criticized by the handsome newspaper reporter who lives in her boarding house. Of course, you realize there will be romance mixed with misunderstanding between the reporter and Flossie.  Certainly most of us have heard of boarding houses, but Gist really gets into the minutiae of  1890's boarding house social etiquette.  All of that, even the popular recreations such as ice skating and playing board games, gives the book such a realistic feel.  Pencil drawings of Tiffany designs, women's fashions, and scenes meant to be drawn by Flossie added much to that realism. 

This book is long, and usually I am ready for a book to end before page 400, but TIFFANY GIRL kept my interest right up to page 497, and I found myself immediately reading the historical notes which followed.    I obtained a copy through our library system WINNEFOX, and I know that WPLC our library source for ebooks also has copies.  This is the second book I've read by
Gist with ties to the 1893 Fair.  I wonder what piece of history she will select next.  

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Refreshing the bathroom

Last summer I was on the look out for a new bathroom shower curtain.  Loved all the fresh, contemporary prints but never found one that really would fit my decor.  I was not willing to totally start from scratch with wall hangings.  In the end I bought a red/brown subtle striped shower curtain.
Doesn't sound very appealing, but it actually looks good in our bathroom, especially with the chocolate brown bathmat and towels.  It also complements the picture (Celebrating Home) I have over the toilet and the flower arrangement on the wall.  However, the small plaques I had on the corner by the vanity weren't a good match.

Recently I bought some embroidery designs from Embroidery Library and decided to do up a couple in red/pink tones.  Here are the original designs. I changed the colors to be a better match for my room.

After I completed the embroidery on white cloth which resembled aida cloth (used for cross stitch) I decided to frame them in simple frames.  I repurposed 3 8 x 10 frames I already had and painted them with a deep red undercoat, followed by a dark brown top coat, sort of like antiquing.  I paid about $1 per design so my total project cost $3.  I already had the paint and truthfully I can will use the embroidery designs again, so that would make the cost even lower.

Here are some photos of the bathroom with the new wall art hung on the corner by the vanity.  Our bathroom is small, so taking decent pictures was difficult.  I really need a better camera, also, but I hope you get the idea.