Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Eden Hill by Bill Higgs

In July, I saw a promotion for the release of Bill Higgs's novel EDEN HILL and the 1950s era car on the cover caught my attention. Further investigation revealed the novel had an early 1960's setting.  That was enough to hook me, and I was lucky to find a copy (just being processed) at a library in our system.  It was not until I actually had the book in hand and ready to read that I learned that first time novelist Bill Higgs is the husband of Liz Curtis Higgs, one of my favorite authors of both Christian nonfiction and historical fiction!!  I have actually heard Liz Curtis Higgs speak and followed her online writings for a while, so I feel like I know a bit about husband Bill.  In a nutshell, it meant I was psyched to like this book, and I can honestly say that I did.

Virgil T. Osgood, like many men, has shown his love for his wife and son by being a hard worker.  For him, that work is the tiny one pump gas station and garage he has run ever since coming home from the service.  When his wife shows him a "romance quiz" from a magazine she's taken from local the beauty shop, Virgil doesn't even know the meaning of some of the words, but he gets the general gist -- wife Mavine is disappointed in him! Somehow he has failed to show her that he loves her.  As he begins to unravel just what it is that she expects from him, life throws the couple another curve ball.  A ZIPCO full service super station begins building across the street from his simple cement block station.  Can Eden Hill support two gas stations?  Will the community be loyal to one of their own or be tempted by the penny lower gas prices and the promise of a free coffee mug?

Immediately Mavine fears for the family's future, making Virgil even more unsure of himself.  While she hints that Virgil should take some kind of stand against the new station, Virgil's long time mechanic (and sometime barber) insists that he should treat the competition with God's love and kindness, a sentiment that Virgil's preacher Rev. Caudill heartily agrees with.  As for the owner of the new Zipco, readers quickly learn that Cornelius Alexander is a young husband who wants a solid future for his wife and baby, and  perhaps his dream for that future may have led him to make some unwise choices.

From the movie magazines, Sunday afternoon fishing excursions, and local grocery store that also made fresh bologna sandwiches to Mavine's outrageous gelation creations, this book evokes a feeling of simpler times. Even the sketch of the old fashioned gas pump that begins each chapter tells you are in the 1960's.  But the messages of family love, neighborly concern, race equality, and forgiveness of past mistakes is as up to date as any messages can be.  Job well done on your first novel, Bill Higgs.  I hope that both you and Liz are busy at work on your next novels.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Room for Hope by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Product Details   Neva Shilling's life was comfortable despite the effects of the Great Depression.  Her twins Belle and Bud helped her manage the family's small store during the weeks their father was out on his sales route.  As Neva prepared a modest supper for his return, she was certain that there would be leftovers enough to share with the hobos who often appeared at their back door.  In no way was Neva prepared for the Sheriff's Deputy that would arrive from Beloit, Kansas with news that would change her life forever.  Soon she would learn not only that her husband had died of botulism, but that he was a bigamist with another family.  Having been raised in an orphanage, Neva knew she could not abandon the three children her husband left behind from his other family, but neither did she give them her heart.   As she struggles to provide them a home and protect her own children's memory of their father, Neva learns that she will have to forgive her husband if she is going to move ahead with her life.  As the months pass and the community begins to sense the truth of why the children are with her, Neva's business falters, son Bud rebels, and Neva feels at a loss. It is with the help of the pastor, the deputy, and a neighbor that she realizes that she must love these innocent children as God loves her. 

I enjoyed this book, and always felt that there should be a romance between Sheriff Jesse Caudel and Neva, but it seems that the author had other ideas ( can't spoil the story). Vogel Sawyer has written a story about surviving with one's head held high without losing one's faith in the toughest of times, a story of recognizing that others are hurting more than you, and that in order to be comforted and loved, one needs to give comfort and love.  ROOM FOR HOPE does end just that way, with room to hope that Neva's life will improve, that the family will bond and become strong, and that there might be someone who cares deeply about her.  I obtained this book from our library system.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Service Tails: Morre Stories of Man's Best Hero by Ace Collins

If you're a dog person, someone who has your own tales of man's best friends, then you will
enjoy Ace Collins second book about four pawed heroes.  Collins shares twelve powerful stories of
dogs whose service training forever changed the lives of their owners.  First was Buddy, a German Shepherd trained in Germany, who became the eyes for Tennessean Morris Frank in the 1920's.  Through a Saturday Evening Post magazine article, Frank learned of Dorothy Eustis and the endeavor to train dogs as working companions for blinded British WWI vets. Frank convinced his family that he could travel to Europe alone, and after training with Buddy, he never again felt the prison like isolation that his blindness had sentenced him to.

Today, we are quite familiar with service animals, but still we probably do not understand the power the dogs have in changing their owners' lives.  Besides doing their "guiding" or "work" activities, they offer a way for those of us who are not disabled to overcome our hesitancy to interact with the disabled.  By approaching the animal or merely asking about the animal, conversation is started.  The ice is broken, and barriers fall down.  Several stories told of connections between dog and owner that went way beyond the initial training and duties.  Dogs trained to aid those with physical limitations developed the ability to identify oncoming seizures or muscle weaknesses.  Perhaps the most heroic story was about a Collie-Malamute mutt named Patches, who was not a service dog, but instead a family pet.  On a cold night in Washington state, Patches accompanied his owner Scott to check on a boat being battered against the pier by the December winds.  When the ice and wind sent Scott into the sub-freezing water, Patches entered the water to save his master.  Before the night was over, Patches would save his master, not once, but twice.  You have to read the book to find out how.

Collins also writes about programs that pair prisoners with shelter dogs, giving both chances to serve.  The prisoners learn how to train animals and use their skills to train the shelter pups.  The trained dogs then are placed with owners needing mobility support.  But perhaps the most "tear-invoking" story was the plight of Salty.  For  seven years Salty gave his all as a guide dog to an elderly Florida woman.  While the two were a wonder to see in action for many years, frailness and probably dementia caused the woman to relinquish the dog to a new owner, someone who chained the dog and was actually abusive.  Salty, who lived a life to please, lost all purpose and hope, until someone from a local collie rescue group learned of the dog's predicament and negotiated a rescue.

I received a copy of this book from Litfuse for my honest review.  I think that any animal lover would enjoy SERVICE TAILS.  The writing is simple enough that even upper elementary school students could handle the book, and I think it would appeal to reluctant readers who are dog people.

More about the book and author:

Service Tails (Abingdon Press, August 2016)

Heart-tugging true stories of the courage, faith, and loyalty of remarkable service dogs.

Not all heroic dogs wildly toss themselves into lifesaving situations. Some save lives simply by their incredible commitment to duty and service. Some lead the way to independence for people whose disabilities were supposed to limit their lives.

In Service Tails: More Stories of Man's Best Hero, prolific author Ace Collins introduces us to leaders whose entire lives are wrapped in the banner of service. Their stories are remarkable snapshots of the value of vision and teamwork, as well as devotion to duty and unconditional love and acceptance---stretching the way we see both canine and human potential. Their training was intense, their loyalty unquestioned and each step of the way they constantly adapt to better serve those they lead. These unforgettable dogs are more than heroes; they are models from which we can learn how to love and serve unconditionally.

Purchase a copy:

About the author:

Ace Collins defines himself as a storyteller. He has authored more than sixty books that have sold more than 2.5 million copies. His catalog includes novels, biographies, children's works as well as books on history, culture and faith. He has also been the featured speaker at the National Archives Distinguished Lecture Series, hosted a network television special and does college basketball play-by-play. Ace lives in Arkansas.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A bit of summer sewing

Wow! It's already August 24th.  Where has the summer gone?  I certainly have not spent much time
in the sewing room.  I did manage to make a few donation items, but no way did I accomplish what I thought I would.  I dashed off a few "pillowcase" dresses (sundresses that tie across the neckline) to be sent to Haiti via a church project in Green Bay, and while at the cabin I managed to make some "string" blocks that I used in a bright pink lap quilt that will be donated to a different project.
On the sold pink squares, I machine embroidered a series of silly farm designs.  The scenes come from an embroidery pack I purchased several years ago and were designed for a week of towels.  Each embroidery features a cute pig and cat doing the farm chores, along with the farm cow.  I especially like the design meant for Sunday -- it is the day of rest, and the animals are enjoying a leisurely picnic. 
String lap quilt

Embroidered farm scences

Weeding in the garden

Did not get as much sewing done in winter as I thought I would.  Did some in spring, but not as much as I would have liked.  Summer flew by and fall is approaching.  Wonder what I will accomplish!!
I do not understand how some people turn out new quilt tops almost every week!! 
Little pillowcase dresses.  So easy and fun to make.

The yellow dress is made from a hand appliqued vintage pillowcase.

The gold and blue dress is made from a pillowcase with colorful fish.
Bright colors will be so much fun to wear

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Things We Knew by Catherine West

9780718078102Catherine West has made her Christian fiction debut with a touching contemporary family story set
in Nantucket.  In recent years, a multitude of novels have appeared showcasing the sibling who stayed home (and thus dutifully caring for aging mom or dad) versus the sibling(s) who went out into the world expecting to fulfill their every dream.  Depending on the author, one or all of the siblings are unfulfilled and a reunion of sorts back in the old hometown, always a small, quaint place, brings about all kinds of truth finding.  West has not strayed too far from that much used plot, but somehow, her story was refreshing.  Lynette Carlisle is the daughter who has remained at home, and now years after all four of her siblings have left, she alone is responsible for their father who is showing signs of early onset Alzheimer's.  Her daycare job doesn't pay enough to keep their large home going, and even she realizes that they may have to sell it.  Only her mother's will stipulates that there can be no sale unless everyone is in agreement and is physically present when the decision is made.  As Lynette calls everyone home, she must also face the nightmares that keep her awake most nights.  Is her mother trying to tell her something? 

As not only the siblings return, but also Nicholas Cooper, the neighbor who was Lynette's adolescent crush, it seems that there may be a dark secret surrounding Mrs. Carlisle's accidental death when Lynette was only fourteen.  Could the life that Lynette remembers, the one full of beach parties, boat races, dancing, and her parents' art, be only a childish memory?  The returning siblings bring with them present day, adult problems, but perhaps facing the past is the only way to help their little sister, their father, and themselves. 

As I first said, the plot of this novel is NOT new, but West draws her characters as well as Lynette does her seaside art, and I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Her masterful character development and the mixture of multiple siblings with vastly different problems gives the book a depth that other stories may lack. I believe this book will be especially popular with younger readers of contemporary fiction.  I obtained a copy of this novel through our library system.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Flight of Arrows by Lori Benton

Lori Benton, who was raised in the Appalachian Mountains surrounded by history,
has chosen to make those early days of the fight for America's independence come alive through her writings.  But her prize winning books go so much deeper than the conflict between Patriots and Loyalist, as Benton delves into the worlds of multiple Native American nations, who they align their loyalties with, how they interact with white settlers, and even how some of them accept missionary influence.  A FLIGHT OF ARROWS is book two in the PATHFINDER series and continues the story begun in THE WOOD'S EDGE.  I have not read the first book, but I was able to follow A FLIGHT OF ARROWS without any difficulty.  However, I recommend that others read the first book and then this one because  you will have a deeper understanding of the characters and their conflicts if you do.

In book one, Reginald Aubrey, then a young redcoat, stole a baby boy, the lighter of Oneida twins, and replaced the boy with his own dead newborn.  For years,  he and his wife (deceased in book two) raised the Oneida twin as their white child, even sending him back to Wales to live.  As a young man, he attended Oxford.  It is only at the end of book one that William learns his true identity and flees his American home, determined never to see his adopted father again.  As book two opens, he has joined British forces and will soon fight the patriots.  His sister Anna and their father Reginald have a precarious relationship, partly because of the lie Reginald has kept secret all these years, but mostly because he does not approve that Anna has fallen in love with William's darker, Oneida twin Two Hawks.  Clearly Reginald's entire life has been tainted by his deceit, even his chance for a second marriage to Lydia, a midwife who cares deeply for him and Anna.  Even though William's Oneida family -- his mother Good Voice (a white who had been a captive since childhood), his father  Stone Thrower, and the twin Two Hawks -- have chosen to forgive Reginald, an action drawn from their faith, Reginald cannot let go of his guilt.  As the days grow closer to battle, the two families  decide that they must find William before it is too late to make amends. 

Benton has done a superb job of illustrating the cultural differences through out the book.  Even the speaking and thought patterns of Two Hawks' family differs from their white counterparts. And the seemingly impossible love between Two Hawks and Anna is examined from many different perspectives including why his Oneida family would disapprove of the union.  Amidst the brutality of battle (especially the Seneca Indians quest for revenge), the message of Christ's love and sacrifice shines through. While the battles, the differences in culture, and the wide cast of main characters made the book a slower read than many Christian historical fiction titles, it is well worth the necessity to read slow and digest what is happening.  I received a copy of this title from Blogging for Books for my honest review. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Remembering the Kitchen Table

What was your childhood kitchen like?  Share with me.  Did your mom have the latest appliances?
Are you young enough that you ate breakfast or maybe all your meals at a peninsula or island?  I grew up on a farm with a house that had been built by my grandparents when my mom was two years old; however, the kitchen part was actually a remnant of a previous house on that same spot.  I can guarantee that no one ever walked into our house and proclaimed that they wanted a kitchen just like ours.  Counterspace was minimal, one length on each side of the large sink.  The left counter held the breadbox, baking canisters, and a standing mix master.  The right counter, home to the coffee pot, offered a bit more open space, that it is, until it was time to stack the dirty dishes to wash.  (Mom did not get a dishwasher until I was in college).  I guess you could call the kitchen a galley kitchen, although the floor space was a bit wider than modern galley kitchens.  Across from the counters/sink was the refrigerator and stove.  When I was very little, our stove had a wood burning component to it, but then we replaced it with a more modern stove, one that had a griddle in the middle and made the best pancakes. At one end of the kitchen there just enough room for a washing machine.  That meant the dryer had to be placed on the back porch.  Like most farm families, the dryer was only used in the winter or on rainy days.  

On the other end of the kitchen was the kitchen table, not a huge one, really only big enough for four chairs. Being the smallest, I always had to be the one who crawled into the chair that was snug against the wall.  Nope, no one ever pined to have a kitchen just like ours, but over the decades there were thousands of wonderful meals served there. No gourmet kitchen served better.  Egg customers and visitors often gathered at the table for a neighborly chat.  Even our gas man (a fishing buddy of my dad's) would take a break there to share the latest news.  In the summer, we'd squeeze a couple extra chairs at the kitchen table for whoever dad hired to help with haying and combining.  If the weather was too hot, or if we'd heated up the kitchen too much with fresh pies, we might eat on the porch instead.

That small kitchen table was for more than just eating.  It was our main meal prep space.  Unless we were on the porch, that is where we shucked peas, snapped beans, froze corn, canned tomatoes and pickles, decorated cakes and cookies -- you get the picture.  People today want  huge islands or peninsulas, and then rarely eat at home.  And if they do eat at a peninsula, they aren't actually looking at each other.  We had the smallest space and it was constantly in use. Every meal, we looked at each other and actually talked about our days. At the holidays, it was the kids' table; when the day's cooking was done, it was where I spread out to do homework.  My mom, who loved to arrange flowers from her garden, would use the same space to create her bouquets.  When my parents entertained their card club, the kitchen table was always table #1 for the night.  

Before we built our house, I looked at thousands of house plans, and while I would have loved to have a huge kitchen with room enough for both a kitchen table and an island/peninsula, I ended up with a relatively compact kitchen with a small baking island -- no room for a table.  Instead we put a table in our sunroom, just off the kitchen/great room, and I like to think it has the same "heart" as my mom's kitchen table.  It is where we eat with our grandkids when they spend the day.  It's the kids' table at the holidays.  The grands and I have decorated cookies there.  I can sit down at the table to snap beans or freeze corn, all while watching the neighborhood traffic or the birds out the large windows.   It's my favorite place to have a cup of coffee or tea, and I've even been known to do a bit of "studying" out there.

As for that kitchen of my childhood, it is gone now -- sort of.  My brother and his wife returned to the farm in retirement.  After a carefully planned (and total) remodel, that kitchen now IS one that people will say, "I'd like my kitchen to look like that!"  And best of all, there is still a special place for a small kitchen table, a place to pull up a chair, share a coffee, visit, and know that you are home.

Please take a moment and tell me about your kitchen memories. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Beauty Refined by Tracie Peterson

A Beauty Refined (518x800)


A Beauty Refined (Bethany House, July 2016)
What does it take to reveal the true beauty of a hidden gem?
Phoebe Von Bergen, the daughter of a German count, is excited to visit America for the first time while her father purchases sapphires in Helena, Montana. Little does she know, however, that her father’s intentions—both for her and the gemstones—are not what she thinks.
Ian Harper, a lapidary working in Helena, finds the dignified young woman staying at the Broadwater Hotel more than a little intriguing. Yet the more he gets to know her, the more he realizes that her family story is based on a lie–a lie she has no knowledge of. And Ian believes he knows the only path that will lead her to freedom.
Meeting Ian has changed everything for Phoebe, and she begins to consider staying in America, regardless of her father’s plans. But she may not be prepared for the unexpected danger that results when her family’s deception begins to unravel.
Tracie Peterson


Tracie Peterson is the bestselling, award-winning author of more than one hundred books. Tracie also teaches writing workshops at a variety of conferences on subjects such as inspirational romance and historical research. She and her family live in Montana.
Find out more about Tracie at

My review:
Tracie Peterson, one of the top Christian writers of historical romance fiction, has returned with another success.  She captivates the reader's attention from the first page as she describes the elegant Montana Broadwater Hotel. While the plush carpets, silk draperies, and reknowned natatorium (swimming pool building) may enthrall we readers, it does not impress Count Von Bergen, newly arrived from Europe to make sapphire purchases. His daughter Phoebe is less critical and has determined that she will enjoy every moment of her visit trip to America.  Little does she realize that soon life as she knows it will begin to unravel, as she learns that the father that has always doted upon her is a very different person than what she believes.  This Montana story set in 1907 is a success on all counts. Peterson has always excelled in capturing the beauty and the danger of America's west at the same time she creates characters whose challenges, temptations, and successes are  the fabric of life, no matter what time or place. The themes of greed, deceit, and abuse versus love, trust,faith and loyalty which run through this story could find homes just as easily in a story set in Biblical times or even modern day America.  I received a copy of this title from Litfuse for my honest review.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Worthy Heart by Susan Anne Mason

Product DetailsA WORTHY HEART is the second novel in the COURAGE TO DREAM series by Susan Anne Mason.  Book one IRISH MEADOWS, set on the New York horse farm of the same name, left me eager for the next book.  Unfortunately, I had to wait for its publication, but A WORTHY HEART does not disappoint, even months after the first title.  Maggie Montgomery and her brother Gabe have traveled to New York City to see brother Rylan (who is one of the lead characters in the first book) for the summer.  What Maggie has not told anyone is that she hopes to find a job teaching organ and piano here so she can stay permanently. Gabe is sure that he will return to his life as a fireman in Ireland, but first he wants to glean whatever expertise he can from the fire precinct near the orphanage that Rylan and his wife oversee. Meanwhile, he keeps close watch on the Irish "troubles" brewing back home.  Soon however, both Maggie and Gabe find unexpected interests - love interests that is.  Gabe meets a wealthy young woman set on pursuing a nursing career rather than marry someone chosen by her banker father, while Maggie becomes involved with Rylan's brother-in-law Adam.  Soon Maggie learns that Adam is recently released from prison, but still estranged from his family.  Illness that forces the orphanage to be quarantined and a rejected suitor who follows Maggie to America bring the two couples closer together despite family opposition.   Author Susan Anne Mason masterfully interweaves the stories of these four young people against a backdrop of turn of the century New York City.  Events near the end of the book add unexpected layers of suspense and danger.  While I found I could leisurely read the first 60 percent of the book, putting it down without being drawn back to it, when I got to the last few chapters I had to push ahead and finish because not knowing what happened to one particular character was NOT okay with me!!  For a bit, I feared that the book would end without complete resolution, but Mason did not choose to end the book with a cliffhanger, and for that I am most appreciative.  Book three in this richly written series will be in bookstores and online in mid-September.  I can't wait.