Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride by Miralee Ferrell

I've read hundreds of adult Christian fiction titles over the past twenty years, and while not all been hits with me, I can solidly state that Christian fiction, and all its subgenres, have attracted some talented writers.  I think the genre has a dedicated group of followers and a demand for more stories.
It makes sense that those voracious readers might come from the body of younger readers that have "aged" into adult books.  One would think then, that  Christian fiction would have also developed a large body of teen, preteen, middle school, and elementary school fiction titles.  I don't think that is true, so I was happy to see that Miralee Ferrell and David C. Cook publishers have created a mystery series called HORSES AND FRIENDS.  When I was a school librarian, I could always count on having a group of horse crazy girls, somewhere between third and sixth grade.  If I could get them interested in a series featuring horses, we were set for several months of eager reading.  And many other girls trended toward mysteries or friendship series.  So right off the bat, I think Ferrell has made some good choices in focus.

With all the bullying, and excessive focus on beauty, possessions, and technology in the child's world today, I commend Ferrell for developing characters who are thoughtfully kind and accepting. Thirteen year old Kate Ferris and her three besties decide that a trail ride would be a wonderful way to raise money to send Kate's autistic brother to a summer camp that the family can't afford on their own.  Like an old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie, they work together to get sponsors and set up the ride.  But it appears all will be a failure when the antique tin box Kate's mother has been using to hold the entry fees is stolen.   While the kids' attempts to solve the mystery of the missing money offers some humor (a forage through a hoarder's house and a bucket of manure used as a trap), it doesn't quite deliver the suspense that I've seen in other kid's mysteries.  This book is number four in the series, so I am sure the ring of best friends is already strongly established by now, but even so, I think the friendship aspect clearly shines above the plot. Another strong quality to this book is the relationship between Kate and her parents.  While many secular children's books (and television shows) depict the parents as buffoons, obsessed with their own lives, or simply missing, Kate's parents are there supporting the kids throughout the book. That said, they aren't hovering helicopters and there is room for the kids to make mistakes. As the book nears the end, it seems like everything just falls together too suddenly. The trail ride happens without really being covered much by the author, the thief comes forward and confesses, makes amends and the book ends.  While this ending does give a good lesson on guilt and forgiveness, it seems slightly abrupt.

I really wanted to like this book more than I did.  I find so many positives to commend.  First and above all, I want there to be quality Christian reading choices for kids, like there are for adults.  That demands walking a fine line between telling good story and "preachiness."  From an early age, kids are sophisticated readers, and, in order to be genuine, stories must have a mix of strong characterization and compelling, believable plots. Somehow, action, humor or suspense or all need to be present.  Ferrell has gotten some of that right in BLUE RIBBON TRAIL --the hayloft/computer/manure incident are clear evidence of that.  Also true horse lovers will enjoy the chapter where Kate and her friends work on their jumping skills.  But I felt the mystery aspect fell flat.  Also I would like to point out that these titles feature 13 year old characters and are labeled middle school books, but I would have had a hard sell to any readers above early fifth grade in our school district.  I really think these books hit a target age of 10 and 11 year olds.  I am going to pass these books along to my 11 year old granddaughter (will be 12 in June) and hope she enjoys them. I fear I may be a year too late, as her reading interests have matured quite a bit recently.  I received the four books in the series from Litfuse and the publisher.  I was only required to review BLUE RIBBON TRAIL RIDE.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Some spring projects to pass the winter away



Been doing a bit of donation sewing  in spring colors to pass the winter days away.  As I have mentioned before I like making "string" squares and then devise creative ways to use them.  I've also started using larger scraps to make 5 inch squares which get sewed together on two sides and then cut in the middle to make strips called piano keys.  I've got some photos to show what I've been up to.
First, a bag of scraps.  These scraps are tiny, using about 2 inches by 6 inches or even smaller.  Called strings, these get sewn on the diagonal on a foundation piece of muslin or sheeting cut in squares slightly larger than the final square size.  One the foundation piece is completely covered, I square it up.
Notice that this bag of scraps is almost full.  Well, it was that way before I started my projects and it seems that I really did not make much of dent into the pile.  So more string projects are on the horizon sometime in the future.  I've got to get these used up, but I am afraid I create more scraps with each project than what I use.  Confess up, other sewers, isn't that the truth?


 A close-up of the embroidery for the center of the table runner.
The table runner is made mostly of assorted blue and pink strings.  The outside binding and strips were from a larger piece of pink left from another project.  
The pillow is made from similar scraps, only they were large enough to cut 5 inch squares which I then made into "piano keys"  Added decorative stitching on keys and used another embroidered center.  It's a very plump and cheery pillow. Finished the pillow is about 14 inches square.


Lavender, yellow, and green scraps were used to make a small table runner, a hot pad, and two towels.

I used simple strips of varying widths to make two squares and then added an embroidered square in the middle.  I
just love this happy bunny in the sprinkling can.  The toweling is about the same weight as aida cloth but has a slightly different texture.  I can't remember where I got the fabric but used it all up on this project.  Again the seam lines have decorative top stitching in several patterns but the camera did not catch that.  Very simple projects and all are being donated.  Fun to make and hope someone appreciates them.  Now what can I do with that bag of tiny fabric strips?  Because there are more bags and boxes lurking around!!

While I was busy in the sewing studio, Russ has been finding his own projects.  The only one I am going to share is the story of a little drop leaf end table.  Many, many years ago my father was gifted a little drop leaf table by my great uncle Bill. Since Uncle Bill had made his living as a carpenter, I think perhaps he made it, but I don't know of him making any other furniture, so I am unsure.  Anyway my dad replicated the table without any pattern whatsoever and his table was a near match.  For many years, Mom and Dad had them in their living room on the farm, and they went to the apartment when the moved.  When Dad moved into the nursing home, the tiny table he made came to us.  Sadly, the pedestal and one of the feet had broken and could not be fixed.  Russ removed the drop leaf top and stored it in the garage.  After dad died, I brought home the other table, the one he'd inherited from Uncle Bill.  It is also in bad shape, but I found a spot for it in the sun room and have hopes to restore it.  This week Russ took the drop leaf top to a friend who constructed legs for it -- four straight legs, not a pedestal.  It looks wonderful.  Then Russ sanded the whole table and restained it.  He has it in his music room and uses it to hold his devotionals.  I especially like that he can put pens and such in tiny drawer.  As for the table in the sun room, I am now storing my colored pencils and coloring books for grownups in that drawer.  I promise I will show pictures of Russ's redo soon, but until then here is a photo of the table in the sunroom. The tables no longer match, but I am so happy to have the one my dad made restored.

Maybe, just maybe we will find enough projects to keep us busy and content until spring!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Secrets of Midwives by Sally Hepworth


Image result for secrets of midwives by sally hepworth reviewsSECRETS OF MIDWIVES is a contemporary story of mother/daughter relationships across three generations of midwives. It is also a story of secrets and the havoc they create.  Twenty nine year old Neva, a midwife at a New England birthing center, has kept secret her own pregnancy from everyone until it is impossible to hide it any longer.  Even then she will not share the identity of the father, saying only that there is not one.  Her situation causes her grandmother Floss, herself a retired midwife, to contemplate a secret she has held for sixty years.  Has she done the right thing? Has she permanently scarred her relationship with her own daughter with this secret?  Grace. mother to Neva and daughter of Floss, is super determined the moment she learns of her daughter's pregnancy to find out the identity of the father.  Having been raised without a father herself, she wants better for her own grandchild, but soon her actions at a crisis delivery have her creating and keeping her own secrets.

This book read quickly.  The pages just seemed to fly by, and I found myself so close to finishing the entire book in one afternoon/evening that I pushed ahead and finished it.  I was intrigued by the midwife component to the story, especially Floss's early days in England.  That part made me think of the PBS series CALL THE MIDWIVES, and of course Floss's long held secret kept me intrigued.  Grace, who is closest to my age, and who is thrilled at the thought of becoming a grandparent, should have been someone with whom I connected, but I didn't.  Certainly her work as a midwife carried some drama, but her story fell a little flat, mostly the relationship with her husband.  It was supposed to be a strained relationship, one under a lot of stress, but mostly it just seemed a blah, underdeveloped part of the book.  I am sure some will disagree.  That leaves Neva.  I want to like her.  After all, she is bringing new life into the world.  But everything about her pregnancy, her new romance with Patrick, a stand up doctor, to the slowly revealed details about her past "relationships" reads too contrived to me.  I've checked several other reviews on Goodreads, and many confirm my original feelings about Grace.  Some also agree with my reaction to Neva, and that surprises me more.  I am curious how the age of readers affects the reaction to this book.  I would expect that younger readers can accept Hepworth's depiction of Neva much better than someone my age.  Mores and society do change, but still I found Neva's story too shallow and too much like a soap opera.  Caution a bit of spoiler coming up, but you just have to figure out right away that a pregnant midwife with two other midwives in the family is going to have a crisis delivery situation, far away from a hospital and any medical help except for the midwives, right???






Monday, February 15, 2016

Thin Ice by Irene Hannon

Thin IceChristy Reed has long ago put her Olympic skating dreams behind her and settled into an after-competition lifestyle in Irene Hannon's new novel THIN ICE.  Then both her parents die in a freak car accident, and within months, her sister dies in a house fire, leaving Christy coping with the losses.  Slowly the young woman begins to get a handle on the grief when a strange envelope arrives in the mail -- an envelope seemingly addressed by her sister after the fire.  Fighting an urge to rip it open, Christy contacts the FBI, and a rookie agent takes the call.  Agent Lance McGregor is actually on his first week at the St. Louis office, but as a former Delta Force operative, he is not a true rookie.  When it appears that Christy's sister might still be alive and a kidnapping victim, Lance must identify whose body was discovered in that house fire, find a motive for a kidnapping, find the sister's captor, and above all keep Christy safe.

Irene Hannon shows again that she can pack layers of intrigue and thriller action right along a developing family story and that expected romance story. Plus she can create a villian that will make you shudder.  THIN ICE is the second in the MEN OF VALOR series which features the McGregor brothers, three of America's elite servicemen.  I started THIN ICE on Saturday reading at a leisurely pace, and while definitely interested I did not feel compelled to finish it in one sitting.  Then yesterday, I was a bit under the weather and started reading again so I would not overdose on television and facebook.  Before I knew it, I was at the last scene, out in the cold -- on thin ice.  Well done, Hannon.   I received a copy of this title from REVELL READS for my honest opinion.  All opinions are mine.

Friday, February 12, 2016

If I Run by Terri Blackstock

If I Run PKI've been reading Terri Blackstock's edge of the seat novels since the 1990's and I must say that IF I RUN, her latest tops everything that precedes.  I've been slightly disappointed with thriller novels by other authors that have the protagonist rush from one setting to another in such a rapid succession that there is no rhyme or reason for the moves except to stage another fight scene.  Yes, in this novel, protagonist Casey is on the run; the book opens as she flees the scene of a murder and she quickly, but smartly, plans her exit to save her life and to protect her mother and sister.  And soon, Dylan Robert, a veteran who has been hired by the deceased reporter Brent's parents to find Casey (now a suspect) is right on Casey's trail.  But there is a thoughtful pace to both people's actions, and as an author, Blackstock uses that slightly slower pace to develop both Casey (alias Grace) and Dylan's characters.  We learn that although the two have never met they have much in common.  Casey has been forever harmed by being the one who discovered her father's dead body when she was twelve.  While the police department maintains it was a suicide, Casey knows better but can't prove it.  Feeling that she has somehow failed her father's memory and her ill mother, Casey sought help from a friend. Now he is dead, another failure she must face.  As Dylan learns more about Casey and her relationship to his childhood friend Brent, Dylan recognizes Casey may be suffering the symptoms of PTSD, something he faces himself almost every day.  As Dylan interviews Casey's family and friends, he simply cannot believe she is a killer, but he remains wary and determined to do his duty: find the young woman and return her to justice.  As the chapters alternate between the viewpoints of Casey and Dylan, readers learn to trust and root for both, despite knowing that they are on a collision course.  Both cannot win.

Casey does not act like the typical book character on the run. She doesn't consider herself a believer, but finds that each day she is turning to God.  Her kindness and concern for others surfaces even when she knows that the slightest comment or action may make her recognizable or memorable.   Still she acts with her heart and her final decisions are made selflessly.  The last scenes of this book pack a mighty wallop and like they say on a certain television series, they are ripped right from the headlines.  The only negative comment I can make is that there are two more books to come in this trilogy and the whole story will not be known until the last page of the last book is read. And I simply DO NOT want to wait!!   I received a copy of this novel from Litfuse for my honest opinion.

Read here for more info about the book and Terri Blackstock

{MORE ABOUT IF I RUN}

If I Run (Zondervan, February 2016)
Casey knows the truth. But it won’t set her free.
Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they have failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.
But what is the truth? That’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up. Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?
Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices. The girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.
Terri Blackstock

{MORE ABOUT TERRI BLACKSTOCK}

Terri Blackstock has sold over seven million books worldwide and is a New York Times bestselling author. She is the award-winning author of “Intervention,” “Vicious Cycle,” and “Downfall,” as well as such series as Cape Refuge, Newpointe 911, the SunCoast Chronicles, and the Restoration Series.
Find out more about Terri athttp://www.terriblackstock.com.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Likely Story: A Library Lover's Mystery by Jenn McKinlay

I just discovered a new-to-me cozy mystery series which features a librarian, written by Jenn McKinlay, herself a librarian. What could be better for this mystery-loving former school librarian? Within the first few pages, Briar Creek library director Lindsey Norris deals with a plumbing clog caused by a stuffed duck set free by a toddler after hearing MAKE ROOM FOR DUCKLINGS at story hour and then has joined the children's librarian on an "in-disguise" visit to a neighboring library to check out the new hot male children's librarian who is wooing all the young mothers away from Briar Creek.  I could not keep from chuckling at the tongue-in-cheek humor.  But when Lindsey loads up a box of books to deliver to two reclusive brothers who never their island home, I knew I was going to like Lindsey and her adventures.  A LIKELY STORY did not disappoint.  I especially liked the fast pace and the twists near the end. Briar Creek and Lindsey's circle of friends offer plenty of "filler" to create a wider story than just the mystery, but not too much to slow down what's happening in the murder investigation.  Also I liked that the library stays an essential part of the story; even the newspaper files (on microfiche) provide vital information. Yes, there is the tiniest hint of romance, but it never dominates and I am sure that light vein runs through all the books.  I am definitely adding McKinlay's other Library Lover Mysteries on to read list.  And after that I can begin her Hat Shop or Cupcake mysteries. I recommend McKinlay's titles for mystery lovers looking for light, quick reads -- wonderful choices for traveling, taking to appointments and such.  I never felt compelled to read from beginning to end like some thrillers force me to do, and it was always easy to pick up and start reading again.  I borrowed this title through the Winnefox Library System.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Beyond the Silence by Tracie Peterson and Kimberly Woodhouse

Cover Art
Tracie Peterson was one of the first Christian authors I ever read (the Alaska series) and I remember waiting no so patiently between books.  Her heroines are strong, resilient, and inventive and the villians are SO dastardly.  When given a chance to review her newest book written with Kimberly Woodhouse, I hopped right to it and signed up for the blog tour.  Check out this Litfuse page for more information about Peterson, Woodhouse and the book; you can also sign up for a contest.

BEYOND THE SILENCE is set on a California olive orchard in the late 1800's as Lillian Porter struggles with two powerful silences in her life -- one the complete break with her grandfather, the only living relative she has, and two, the trauma-instilled silence of her young charge at the Angel Camp olive grove.  The plot lines of this book have been done before.  First, a young woman faces family alienation after making a decision to strike out on her own.  In this title, Lillian's defiance against her wealthy grandfather's control causes a complete rift, leaving Lillian totally alone as she travels west.  Of course, her new job as a nanny leads to her falling in love with her young charge and the child's father.  And the father's past and present are shaded with mystery and suspicion.  And another familiar plot twist is the young boy's silence -- He has been traumatized by witnessing his mother's murder and has been silent ever since.  No one realizes that the murderer threatened to also kill his father if the boy spoke a word about the attack.

Despite the familiarity in plot, I enjoyed this book.  The setting of the olive grove was refreshing, and the town of Angel Camp's suspicion of father Woodward Colton in the murder of his wife presents ample opportunities for lessons about gossip and misjudgment.  Like Peterson's first novels I read, the villain in this book is REALLY, REALLY villainous, made even more apparent by the juxtaposition of his actions and thoughts with those of his brother Harry, a clearly simple minded young man whose past has been filled with mistreatment and cruelty by everyone except his mother.  When Harry stumbles upon Lillian and young Jimmy, the book takes a turn that makes it refreshing and redeeming.  I received a copy of this title from LITFUSE for my honest opinion.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock

Travelers Rest by Ann TatlockJane Morrow is house sitting for the summer, not so much to help her Europe-bound friends, but more so that Jane can be near her fiancee.  What should be those happy months right before the most wonderful moment of her life have become days of confusion, waiting, and despair.  Seth, once a gifted carpenter with the softest heart now lays paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a sniper's bullet in Iraq.  Now state side and stabilized, Seth has asked Jane to stay away and to forget him; neither wish can she honor.  But she soon finds that the Seth in the military hospital is NOT the Seth she has known since childhood.  She asks God for help, but is not sure what help she really seeks; and knowing that her faith has never been strong, she wonders if he will answer at all.

The summer days pass as she and Seth tread new waters and while at the hospital Jane becomes close to two others. Truman lives in the community quarters of the hospital; a retired doctor and black, Truman's life has been shaped by one decision made decades before.  He's certain that it is too late to be forgiven, but then he meets Jane, who without realizing it, may have a key to the past.  Jane also meets Jon-Paul , a handsome lawyer who often comes to the hospital to play piano for the vets.  It is only after closely watching him play does Jane realize that Jon-Paul is blind.  TRAVELERS REST will grab at your heart as you realize that God may answer prayers in ways we do not consider.  This is a book about unexpected changes, life's deepest hurts, and paths to being whole.  Ann Tatlock is a sensitive author and I've enjoyed each of her books.  TRAVELERS REST was published in 2012  and was a 2013 Selah Award Finalist.  I wish I could say that no fiancee or wife or soldier today was faced with the circumstances that Seth and Jane faced in this novel.  Sadly fiction is often too close to truth, and I am afraid this may be true of this plot.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reading, quilting and catching up


Last week was quite busy and so it's been a while since I posted.  Our book club met, but with a different format than usual.  We each chose a different title written by Sue Grafton.  She is the author of the A-Z mysteries with Kinsey Millhone as a female PI.  The first book was written and set in 1982 and even though the series has made it all the way to X (to be published shortly), the timeline in the books has only progressed to the late 1980's.  I used to read all Grafton's books, but lost track of the series some years ago, so when I began S IS FOR SILENCE, my choice of book, I remembered a little about Kensey and her landlord neighbor, but not too much.  S IS FOR SILENCE followed a different format than most, as Kinsey was asked to investigate a cold case, a disappearance over 34 years old.  Her investigations alternate with flashbacks to July, 1953, the time of the disappearance of a young mother/wife known for her wild ways.  Our club discussions centered on what similarities run among all the books and what differences show up in particular titles.  It appeared that mystery lovers among us liked the books they read, and those readers who don't normally choose mysteries for leisure reading were not so satisfied with this month's titles.  One member who has read all the Kinsey Millhone books chose to read KINSEY AND ME, a book of stories by Grafton which tell more about the author and how/why she created her main character.
 Image result for s is for silence

Last fall I saw many Christian fiction bloggers were reporting on Shelley Gray's new title WHISPERS IN THE READING ROOM.  I was not on any tour for this title, but when I saw the book featured a Chicago librarian right after the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, I was intrigued enough to request the book from our library system.  I  have been fascinated by that period in Chicago's history ever since I read THE DEVIL IN THE CITY.  Certainly I did not expect the novel by Gray to compare to Larson's detailed nonfiction title.  Despite liking the main characters librarian Lydia and the stranger who daily comes to the reading room, I was not thrilled with this book.  Gray also authored SECRETS OF SLOANE HOUSE, also set in the fair's Chicago.  Both books reveal much about the social class structure of the time, and especially the limiting lives of unmarried women.  While much of what she revealed about social class was probably true, it felt too artificial to this reader.   Loved the cover though, and I liked that she choose for her "strong" woman to be a librarian and that the hero appreciates her intelligence.



Now onto another reason why I did not take time to blog last week.  I have been working on another donation lap quilt and finally finished it.  Let me share a little back story on this quilt.  I bought the farm fabric shown below several years ago because it caught my eye.  I had no idea what I would do with it and I did not purchase any other fabric to go with it.  It has only two colors, the tan background and the red of the rather large animals.  I could not just cut the fabric for pieced blocks; that would destroy the animal images.  I did not want to just pair it with red fabric; that I thought would be too bright.
I love the piggie and chickens.
 So the fabric sat and sat and I kept auditioning ideas for what I could do with it.
Finally I took a sample of the fabric with me shopping and I purchased some geometrics that somewhat coordinated.  Then one day as I was admiring quilts on the web, I ran across this snuggly brick quilt at THE POLKA DOT CHAIR,  The 9.5 by 6.5 inch rectangles were just a perfect size for
showcasing the red-line drawn animals.  So I plotted out what size to make the quilt and got busy.
Simple Double diamond quilting
Cutting the rectangles was easy and so was sewing together each row.  I have read Jera Brandvig's QUILT AS YOU GO MADE MODERN and I've adapted some of her ideas for quilting parts of the top to sections of the batting, then sewing those large pieces together and adding the backing which then is quilted lightly to hold everything together.  This allows me to work with smaller sections for most of the quilting process.  I still spent one whole afternoon pinning the quilted top to the backing, had to repin several times to get rid of all wrinkles.  Ugh.  After the first seam of binding was sewn on, I used those little mini-clips to hold the binding in place while I hand stitched.  So much faster and safer than straight pins.  Time for another projects.
Finished quilt