Thursday, March 31, 2016

Recent reads

With preparations for our family Easter gathering, sewing projects, and a bit of outside work, I have
gotten behind on blogging about recent reads.  So I've decided to do abbreviated reviews of several books in one posting.  None of these are reviews required by publishers for receiving a book; all are library books, so my main reason for reviewing these books is to have a personal record of what I've read.  That someone else might stop by and read the reviews is just extra sweet.

First, I read RISEN by Angela Hunt; this is a novelization of the movie RISEN which came out late this winter.  We had planned to see the movie, but found it quickly left movie theaters around here, much to my husband's disappointment.  Our plans to see it right before Holy Week fell through when no theater was still showing it, and now we have to wait for the dvd release.  A novelization of a movie means the book was written in conjunction with the writing of the screenplay or after it.  From comments made by Angela Hunt at the end of the book, it appears the book and the movie are quite different.  Hunt has included characters, including a principal character named Rachel, who are not in the movie.  I enjoyed her version of a widowed Jewish woman and the Roman officer charged with finding Jesus's body after the resurrection.  I wonder if the movie version will have as much introspection and thought as this novelization, or will it be sweeping action, focusing instead on the violence of Jerusalem.  Even Hunt made it part of the Roman's character that he was tired, so tired of all the killing that had surrounded his life.
Risen, paperback


Next, I read ONE PLUS ONE by Jojo Moyes, a popular British contemporary author.  This is our bookclub selection for March and we will be discussing it tonight.  Jess, a single mother, has been struggling to survive ever since her husband abandoned the family two years earlier.  Juggling a cleaning service with a friend with her night job at a pub, Jess fears she never has enough time for her children -- a teenage stepson and a elementary age daughter, and worse, she fears that she cannot protect them from the bullies of their public housing neighborhood.  An opportunity to send her daughter to a  top-rated private school for math wizards hinges on getting her daughter to a math contest in Scotland.  Only problem, Jess cannot afford the train fares and does not own a car.  When she "nicks" her ex's rusty limo and attempts the journey, she barely makes it out of town before attracting the bobbies.  To her rescue comes a stranger, or sort of a stranger.  Ed owns one of the many vacation condos that Jess cleans weekly.  Unlike most customers, he has actually met Jess, just a few nights previously when the inebriated Ed treats her obnoxiously at the pub and Jess must arrange a ride home for him.  Readers will find that Ed's life is as mixed up and miserable as Jess's.  A misfit all his youth, Ed finally found acceptance when he and a friend built a tech empire.  Then Ed's wife leaves him, and in a moment of weakness he hooks up with a former classmate, one of dozens who ignored him years before.  Soon he found himself accused of insider trading and is released from the firm that he helped create.  ONE PLUS ONE is the story of a rocky, sometimes hilarious and sometimes painful journey.  First, there is the slow journey of Jess, her stepson, daughter, and the family dog with Ed to the math contest (Daughter Tanzie gets carsick if they drive too fast).  Second, is the deeper journey each character makes to find acceptance and happiness.
I can't wait to discuss this tonight.

One Plus One

At under 150 pages, Elizabeth Strout's book MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON is the shortest read I've had this year, but it may be the book that stays with me the longest.  Strout won the Pulitzer Prize a few years ago for OLIVE KITTERIDGE, a loosely connected series of stories which piece together a picture of retired school teacher Olive Kitteridge's New England life.  When our book club read this title we had so much to discuss including Olive's strained relationship with her adult son, her long marriage which alternated between cold and cherished.  What stood out was how much story there was, when really Strout had written so little.  In MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, Strout has written even fewer words and the result is hauntingly powerful.  Lucy Barton narrates the book in tiny segments, some only half a page.  Herself a published author, Lucy is mainly reflecting back on a time in the 1980s when she was hospitalized for 9 weeks.  Her husband, who always had a hospital phobia, arranges for Lucy's mother to fly from rural Illinois to New York City to be with her daughter.  This amazes Lucy.  First, because her mother has never traveled anywhere, and second, because she has been alienated from her parents ever since marrying her husband, the child of a German war prisoner.
As Lucy looks back on her mother's five day hospital visit, she sees it as both a time that the two repaired old wounds and as a time that they failed to say what needed to be said. That so much came from  a series of seemingly mindless conversations about some old neighbors shows Strout's ability to capture human nature.  I read this book quickly yesterday, starting it late afternoon and finishing it in the evening.  Despite the speed that I read, this was not a light read.  Lucy's story reminds us of the crippling harm of poverty, especially the poverty that marks one's family as different.  There are veiled and not so veiled allusions to physical and emotional abuse, but what seems even more painful is that her mother and father, the perpetrators, themselves suffered greatly.  He obviously was traumatized by the war; the mother's source of pain, not so clear.  While I've read many books which featured traumatizing childhoods being left behind, I don't think I've ever experienced one that so realistically showed how what seems to be put behind us, still follows, Does it make us stronger?  Perhaps.  Does it define us? Perhaps.  Does it haunt us in ways we do not acknowledge -- most certainly.

After finishing the book last night, I had such mixed emotions that I turned to online reviews to see what others thought of the book.  I thought perhaps I had missed something, but what I found was mostly an agreement with my reaction.  Some people praised the book and it's ability to tell so much while really telling so little.  Some people dismissed the book as a let down and a waste of money.  I perceive that this title will soon be taught in literature classes right along with Olive Kitteridge.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Second Sister by Marie Bostwick

THE SECOND SISTEREver put aside a tasty tidbit, perhaps your favorite dark chocolate, postponing the wonderful moment you know you are going to have when you finally eat it?  Well, I do that sometimes with books.  I know I want to read a certain title, and I am certain I am going to enjoy reading it, but I keep putting it aside and read something else instead.  When I see the cover of that special book, I can smile and know that I have a great read coming up.  Silly? Perhaps, but it shows I can do delayed gratification, at least in a small matter. LOL.

THE SECOND SISTER by Marie Bostwick was one of those special books, set aside for nearly a whole year.  I believe I have read everything Bostwick has published, and I believe she is the only well known author that I have met twice -- once at QUILT EXPO in Madison, and then last year at a book signing/luncheon at NANCY'S NOTIONS.  I also follow her on Facebook and often read about what she is doing.  When I saw her last spring, THE SECOND SISTER was just publishing, and Bostwick was on tour promoting the book.  NN's sponsored a wonderful lunch, and then Marie talked about writing the book, shared some of her quilts, answered audience questions, and signed books.  THE SECOND SISTER is set in Door County, a place Marie is quite familiar with, as she and her husband lived in NE Wisconsin for several years early in their marriage.  Lucy Toomey shook the Nilson's Bay sand from her feet and left Door County right after high school, never wanting to return.  Other than attending her parents' funeral, she has kept her word.  Not even her sister's frequent middle of the night phone calls could persuade her to take time from her career as a political campaigner for a visit to Wisconsin's "thumb."  Then she gets a call on the eve of the election that makes her drop everything and rush home.  Only Lucy is too late.

When we heard Marie Bostwick last spring, she read the first pages of the book which set up the scenario I just relayed.  Then she went on to explain a bit more about Lucy and her sister.  Alice, just a year or two older than Lucy, had almost drowned as a teenager.  Although she survived the accident, she suffered brain trauma and never fully recovered.  Depression seemed to haunt Alice, but she fought it and made a life for herself in Nilson Bay, working with animals and quilting in her spare time.  Soon after arriving at her sister's Lake Michigan cottage, Lucy finds out that if she wants to inherit, she must commit to spending time there.  As she settles in, she meets an eclectic group of women whom the village have dubbed FOA (Friends of Alice), and they are none too happy how Lucy has treated her older, but needier sister over the years.  Wanting to walk away from Door County one final time, instead Lucy finds herself staying and discovering Alice's final gift.

Normally when I read a well written book, I quickly become so involved that the book's reality takes over.  That the book had an author slips way into the back recesses of my mind.  For the first seventy or eighty pages of this book, Marie Bostwick and her engaging personality were too much with me.  I kept thinking about her reading the first pages, sharing stories of her days in Northern Wisconsin and how she returned to Door County for a visit before writing the book.  As a new detail of the story was revealed, I would remember her talking about it.  Finally I realized that all these author/me connections were keeping me from becoming fully enmeshed in the story.  So I took a day's break from reading and when I came back, I pushed myself into the story and LOVED it.  Finally, it became about Lucy and her life. Yes, I still smiled at any Wisconsin/Door County detail, but I was no longer thinking about Bostwick's writing process.  I can't really share too much without slipping in some spoilers and I don't want to do that .  Suffice to say that there is romance (but it does not dominate) that the FOA are delightful and quirky, and  that Alice kept some surprises from even them. In a note at the end, Bostwick says that this book was written as a stand-alone, but with reader support, she might consider a series.  Please return to Door County, Marie, please.  I promise I won't wait 10 months after buying the book to read it.

Now that I've finished THE SECOND SISTER, I can get her latest book FROM HERE TO HOME as soon as it comes out this week.  FROM HERE TO HOME is the latest installment from her Too Much Texas series and features appearances from characters from the Cobbled Court Quilt series.  If you have not read Marie Bostwick and you enjoy gentle, inspirational (but not sappy) fiction, written with both tears and laughs, then you should seek out Marie Bostwick's titles.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Guarded by Angela Correll

GUARDED is actually the second book by Angela Correll which features Ann Taylor, her grandmother, and the rural Kentucky community where Taylor grew up.  While I did not read the first, titled GROUNDED, I had no problems following this second novel.  Taylor is now living with her grandmother and wants to restore the family's stone house which had previously been damaged in a fire.  Hoping to access some historical grant money, Taylor turns to an elderly black woman in a nursing home who believes the stone house was the first home built in the state.  As Taylor begins working on restoration, she finds an old tin of letters beneath the floor boards of one bedroom.  Most of the letters were written by her great uncle (older brother of her grandmother) who died in WWII.  But beneath those letters was one single letter written in Italian.  When Taylor has the letter translated by a friend, the contents send her and the friend on a trip to Italy to discover a secret kept for over fifty years. While working to find the truth for her grandmother, Taylor is trying to face some truths about herself and her past.  Is she like her father who could not settle down and who abandoned his young family long ago, or can she embrace her rekindled romance with Jake?  Will she be content to permanently return to the farms on May Hollow Road?  Correll has written a gentle novel filled with warmth, occasional laughter, and true heart.  I had to chuckle when the Italian mother-in-law of Taylor's friend comes and spends a week with Taylor's grandmother Beulah because the Italian woman could not be trusted to stay alone back in New York.  Both Beulah and Rossella believe their way, especially their foods are the best, and it appears that battle lines would have been drawn, but this is a novel of heart, and Beulah's lets her see beyond Rossella's actions into the overbearing woman's heart.  It is then Beulah learns that beliefs and culture do not define a person; love for friends and family and having a purpose in life does.

I like "community" novels which feature a cast of interesting minor characters and Correll has supplied those.  We have Jake's mother Evelyn who has been acting slightly forgetful and Tom, a lawyer and widow whose been acting the same.  Then there is the town gossip Betty Gibson whose curiosity often is the source of trouble.  Add in a few goats and chickens and there is plenty to like.

I want to thank Angela Correll for sending me a copy of this novel to review.  I am delighted to recommend this novel to my fellow readers.  I really recommend that you get both books and enjoy the whole story of Taylor, Jake, Beulah, and the town.  I can see from Angela's website that she is making several personal appearances in Kentucky to promote the book.  Just like I am thrilled when I find a new Wisconsin author who can capture the feel of our world, I am sure Kentucky readers are glad to have Correll on the scene.  But I assure you that you don't need to be from Kentucky to enjoy her work.  I want to also point out that Angela Correll and her family run a guest house, a farm to table cafe, and goat-milk soap business.  You can read about all of them at her website.  When Angela sent me a copy of the book, she pointed out that her guest houses were on Mill Street in Stanford, KY, the same street name as our residence in Wisconsin.  Is that connection strong enough to dictate a trip to visit?  Perhaps!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Time in the sewing room




Spring promises its return, but mixed between the warm days have been some rainy ones and now a multi-day cold spell is upon us.  So I've put dreams of gardens aside for a bit and pushed through some sewing projects.  First up is a small table topper made from scraps.  I used a FRONT PORCH QUILTS' pattern called TABLE SCRAPS, but modified the center so I could use an embroidery design.  In this pattern, three paper template wedges are from each 5 inch square.  I found this topper goes together quickly and uses up scraps.  A decorative center and fancy stitches outlining each wedge (doesn't show up for photo) made this a fun project to plan and complete. The finished size is 14 inches, a bit small for a true topper, but just fine for a small side table.

Earlier this year, I posted photos of a donation quilt I made using large bricks of reds and browns featuring a farm print I had.  Like all projects, that one left behind some scraps and by adding a bit of other fabric, I had the makings for two more donation lap quilts.  Both used a new plastic template I bought at THE WELCOME HOME, a quilt store in Portage, WI.  (Side note:I've joined a group there that has does mini-lessons and projects each month.  Some are sewing related, while others are embroidery themed.  Last month we made Easter applique towels or scarves.  The store staff there is super nice, and for a small space, they offer a lot)  Back to the template; it is called FAB FIVE and it is a wedge-type ruler.  A pattern for a pillow comes with it, plus there is a book of patterns which feature quilts made with rows of the wedges, set off by strips, and featuring one wide appliqued strip.
I decided to make a quilt similar to the book, except I would use a wide strip of my farm fabric rather than an appliqued strip.  Since this was a scrappy quilt, I needed to improvise on the narrow strips and could not make them all the same color.  Did not have enough fabric for that.  I like my results.  The wide farm strip is free motion quilted and the wedges showcase decorative stitches.
Close up of the farm prin

Nice size for a nap on the couch



The quilt sewed together so fast that I found I had cut more wedges than I needed, so I cut some more and added more neutrals and stitched up the flimsy for a smaller wheel chair-sized lap quilt.  I make finish this off next week, or I may set it aside while I work on some spring embroidery projects.  I think I will make a scrappy backing for this quilt, as I do not want to have to buy more fabric in the browns.  Doesn't this version look like rows of ties?  Haven't decided how I will quilt this one.  I want to work on my free motion skills, but not sure if this is the right project for that.


Happy sewing.  And to my confusion, I have to confess that my scrap pile is now even bigger and I have some more leftover brown/farm/red bricks to use up. What will I do with them?  Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Margaret M. Johnson's FAVORITE FLAVORS OF IRELAND



Margaret M. Johnson gathered over 100 traditional Irish recipes, some previously published in her other cookbooks, and arranged them by season in this new delightful cookbook, FAVORITE FLAVORS OF IRELAND.  The color photos of the food will make you hungry, while the equally appealing scenic photos will have you dreaming of a trip to the Emerald Isle. Of course, I expected a recipe for soda bread and one for Irish stew and they are there, but I also found a surprising variety of other recipes. Coffee hour with friends and breakfasts promise to be more exciting this spring as I try several of Johnson's suggestions.  I certainly plan to try the rhubarb muffin recipe as soon as my spring rhubarb pops up, and I already picked up pears for spicy pear muffins. And when summer arrives, I must remember to try the blackberry-almond crumble cake.  Just saying the name makes my mouth water.  The blackberries in the store have been looking good, so I may not wait until summer.  Last night I made the quick bread called spotted dog, a round loaf made with 2 cups of buttermilk, a bit of melted butter, and oodles of raisins.  I did omit the caraway seeds (because I am not a fan), but still the flavor was great, especially warm.  Next time I think I will give this Irish recipe a bit of a Wisconsin spin by using half raisins and half craisins.  We are the top cranberry producers, you know.

Recipe measurements are given in both cups and metric, so those of us in the US do not have to do any math adjustments.  Naturally, Ireland's famous Kerrygold butter is suggested in all the recipes requiring butter, and I know it can be found here in the US in larger supermarkets.  I had to substitute regular butter, and I still had a fine flavored quick bread.  Don't think this cookbook is all about breads; there is the traditional colcannon (mashed potatoes with cabbage) as well as an intriguing recipe for blue cheese potato cakes, as well as a heavenly recipe for dauphinoise (creamy, thinly sliced potatoes with cheese).  Plus there are wonderful recipes for both beef and lamb.  I plan to try the beef and guiness soon.  What surprised me the most were the lovely salad and soup recipes included.  Doesn't "Carrot Soup with Bacon Bread Crumbs" sound like a superb lunch?  And I have walnut oil on my grocery list so I can try the walnut vinaigrette on a bed of spring greens tossed with sliced new potatoes, topped with walnuts and thinly shaved cheese.  MMM good and hearty.  And my eyes did a double take when I saw a recipe for grilled rib eye, served with grilled tomatoes and herb dressing (a buttermilk dressing with fresh herbs and dijon mustard).  With the suggested baked potato, this would be a feast.

I've spent an evening drooling over the recipes and have decided what ones to try soon.  Now I plan to read the whole book slower and savor the cultural information, including the short articles about the many seasonal food festivals in Ireland.  This book would be a wonderful addition to a library's international cooking section.  It would also be a great gift to anyone of Irish heritage (especially those of us who claim to be Irish, but haven't traveled there).  And it would be a treasured gift to all those cookbook collectors like myself.  Pinterest and Facebook recipes cannot compare to these!
I received a copy of this title from Ambassador Books for my honest review. If you are interested in learning more about Margaret M. Johnson and FAVORITE FLAVORS OF IRELAND, check out this link to the book.  You can also find Margaret Johnson at www.irishcook.com and www.facebook.com/IrishCookbook.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

When I first saw the trailers for the movie BROOKLYN, I knew I wanted to see it, but it did not make an appearance at a theater near us (or if it did, it exited very quickly) and I did not get the opportunity.  Of course, I also wanted to read the novel it was based on, and I am actually glad that I received a copy of the book through inter-library loan before the dvd came out.  Irish writer Colm Toibin has been shortlisted for the Booker Award (a British literary award) several times and BROOKLYN was winner of the 2009 Costa Award, another British award. After reading summaries to some of his other novels, it is clear that Toibin excels at telling "people" stories, small stories that revolve around family relationships and obligations.  BROOKLYN begins in a tiny Irish village in the 1950s.  Young Ellis cannot find a job, despite her great skill with numbers and accounts.  Secretly Ellis's sister and mother arrange for her to immigrate to New York City where an Irish priest (friend of the family) will see that she has a safe place to live and an entry job at a large department store.  Ellis leaves without protesting.  On the ship to the United States, Ellis shares quarters with a woman just returning from a visit to Ireland.  She takes Ellis under her wing, instructing her on how to dress and behave when she arrives so that she will not be sent back by immigration officials.  That Ellis follows her advice is just one example of how Ellis's thoughts and actions are never quite her own --everything she does appears to be planned or molded by someone else.

She is never taken advantage of, but it is clear that she is very naive.  She came to the US because of a strong sense of obligation to her older sister who has sacrificed to provide for the family and because she knows her frail mother wants the best for her.  But once here, Ellis never completely shares with them her new life.  Only bits are relayed in the letters, and when Ellis begins to see a young Italian, she only tells sister Rose that she has gone to a few dances and movies with someone. To her mother, she tells nothing.

The other single women who live at the boarding house with Ellis seem petty and that part of the book did not interest me, but there is a kind of repressive dormitory mentality to their actions that is probably realistic.  As I read, I kept thinking about the millions of immigrants who came to this country, probably knowing that they would never return to what was (and for many always remained) home.  At least those who came as couples or families were prompted by  a dream of building a new life, but for those who, like Ellis, came because home held no options, life here must have been a challenge.  Other reviewers have remarked about the novel's unhurried pace and unremarkable events.  I thought the same, and for awhile feared I was missing some great message. Finally, I settled that this was simply Toibin's way of telling the story. We are privy to Ellis's thoughts, but they are always guarded, almost half-formed and then forgotten.  Even Ellis's romance with the young Italian seems measured and almost void of emotion.  Then a death occurs in Ireland and Ellis returns home.  Within hours, Ellis falls back into the old life there and the memory of Brooklyn becomes fainter and fainter.

At times I was not sure I liked Ellis, and as she begins to settle into her Irish life, that feeling grew stronger.  I could see how "home" could so quickly feel comfortable, but I knew where I wanted her to be.   I can't say anymore, except that I do recommend BROOKLYN.  It's the quiet type of novel that will have you filling in the spaces between lines with your own thoughts and questions.  And Ellis will only become a complete person for you after you read the whole book, close the cover, and think back on what you've read.  Now to see the movie!!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

My Mother's Quilts:Devotions of Love, Legacy, Family and Faith by Ramona Richards

MMQ Cover revised  Ramona Richards has written a warm, insightful book of devotions based on thirty family quilts, most stitched by her mother and grandmother.  But the sincere appreciation for the heritage that is expressed through fabric and stitches goes back even further in her family.  For years, Ramona's mother was the caretaker for a 1830's antebellum quilt that survived the Civil War by being buried in the barn and then was transported west when the family moved.  The once red and green Carolina lily quilt has faded and being quite fragile has now been donated to a museum.

Ramona has multiple stories for most of the featured quilts.  She tells how fabric or patterns were chosen, what was going on in her mother or grandmother's life at the time the quilt was made, who the recipients were, and lessons she's learned through those quilts.  I greatly appreciate that she had spoken to her mother about these quilts and in sharing her mother's thoughts with us, she is adding another "piece" to the life of each quilt.  If taken care of, these quilts will live for future generations to enjoy, but by writing about them and the strong women who made them, Ramona is preserving an essence of each woman that the quilts cannot reveal.  Everyone who has every fingered or looked at an antique quilt has probably wondered about the creator and her life. We wonder about the woman's life, her family, her struggles, and above all, her faith. Ramona's family will forever have those questions answered.

My mother was not a quilter, so I do not have many mementos that she created.  But Mom showed her love of God and her gifts in different ways.  Her flower garden was a joy to behold, and as a teenager I was sometimes irked that every flat surface in the house had either had a bouquet or houseplant on it --- even the desk in my bedroom. But today, every time I cut fresh flowers and set out a bouquet in a crystal vase before we have company, I feel my mom smiling.  Mom's home cooking was the best, and she always preserved the bounty of our garden and orchard.  We can no longer taste those sweet morsels, but as my daughter makes Mom's special sugar cookies or I continue the holiday tradition of making a special "no-nuts" pan of fudge for my son, we still feel her influence.  This fall I even made batches of crab apply jelly, something I first made as her kitchen sidekick back almost 60 years ago.

While Mom's gifts did not include a needle and thread, several women in my extended family helped make sure that I could count sewing among my favorite things.  My paternal grandmother was a hand stitcher, and everyone in the very large extended family got pillow cases and dresser scarves (remember those) embroidered by her.  I learned hand embroidery from her, although it has been years since I've done it.  Two aunts, one paternal and one maternal, were excellent seamstresses and they helped teach me the very basics of sewing, something I embraced enthusiastically.  Richards' book brought so many smiles and memories to mind.  The similarities in women's lives and what they treasure will resonant with readers. Whether your heritage values a particular piece of land, an ethnic style of cooking, a lifestyle of farming, or perhaps, the love of tiny bits of fabric stitched with love, you will appreciate this book, and like me, I think you will be embracing old memories.  Appropriate prayer starters, attractively highlighted  accompany each devotion.  And of course, the book is full of colorful photos of the featured quilts.  This book is a wonderful gift book.  Give it for Mother's Day.  Give it to quilting friends.  If you have someone in a care facility, is aging, or is recovering from an illness, share this book.  Read it to them.  Start some conversations.

I want to thank Worthy Publications for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Cozy Mystery Time



If you have stopped by this blog more than a time or two, you know that I enjoy a cozy mystery now and again.  Now, I certainly can't take a constant diet of them, and if you are one of the many readers who read them constantly, please excuse that statement.  It's just the rational part of me (the part that has to be put away to even start reading or watching cozy mysteries) keeps saying, "Why are there always murders wherever she goes?  Why doesn't everybody just avoid her??

Anyway, I recently started a new-to-me mystery series set in Wisconsin's Door County by Christine DeSmet.  Fudge and Door County, what's not to like?  For some reason I had some trouble getting into the story.  It did seem a bit disjointed at the beginning and I could not get a grasp on the characters.  But I am going to place the majority of blame on myself. I only read this book at night and I was reading it on my Nook tablet and my eyes just didn't like the type, despite attempts to adjust it. Besides I was trying to multi-task and watch television also. My eyes and brain said no, so  I only read a few pages at a time and  then gave up to watch television instead. Finally one evening, I gave the book more attention and got caught up in the last third of the book.  I can see threads of story that will continue and that I will like: a high functioning autistic teen who works at the fudge shop; Eva.the fudge shop owner herself and her side kick gal pals; her handsome ex who is trying to win her affections again; and a couple other possible suitors.  I especially liked her spunky grandparents who run the bait shop, and her ex's dog who seems to have the run of the entire village.  Just like the real Door County, this fictional town on Wisconsin's touristy "thumb" has strived to keep its heritage which stems from the Belgians and Norwegians who settled there.  I got this book for my Nook through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium/Overdrive, and I plan to read the rest of the series.  Next time though, I think I will have some fudge on hand when I read.

I've written about Isabella Alan's Amish Quilt Shop Mysteries before.  I like to listen to these while I sew, and again, because  I borrow the titles from WPLC/Overdrive, I need to put my name on the wait/hold list and download them as they become available.  That means I have not gotten the books in order.  MURDER, PLAIN AND SIMPLE is actually the first book, but I had already listened to two other books when I got this one.  In the first book of a series, especially a cozy mystery series, the author lays a lot of ground work, and then in later books refers back to that information.  That means I already knew quite a bit about Angie Braddock, her tuxedo bull dog, and the quilt shop she inherited from her Amish aunt when I started listening and had to have all that revealed again. But even so, I enjoyed the story and will be waiting for a chance to listen to the last two books and maybe even read the prequel novella that has just been published.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Every Secret Thing by Ann Tatlock

Every Secret Thing by Ann Tatlock  As Elizabeth Gunnar begins her new teaching job at a small private high school in Delaware, the same one she attended twenty five years earlier, old memories surface with a strength she never expected.  It was while a student in book-clad walls of this campus, that she first discovered her passion for literature and language, and when she begins a tentative, nurturing relationship with an emotionally fragile student, Elizabeth finds herself thinking more and more about Theodore Dutton, the teacher who both greatly inspired her and failed her.  While Elizabeth can clearly credit her passion for teaching and literature to Dutton's own passion, she has never been able to accept and forgive the one action she still believes was a betrayal.  Worse, she continues to believe the school deliberately lied to the student body, and she and her closest friends are the only ones who know the truth, or at least a part of it.

Of course, I bonded with Elizabeth right away -- lover of books, teacher and all.  Having never married, Elizabeth's single status is, of course, a matter of concern to her mother, but not majorly one for Elizabeth herself.  There is a thread of romance to the story, but I like how it takes a back seat to Elizabeth's mentoring of troubled Satchel Queen and how the job at Seaton Prep brings back unsettled memories.  As stated on the back jacket of the book, Tatlock has written a multi-layered story with memorable characters.  This isn't a book whose characters throw out Bible verses
left and right, demanding readers to see their ideal faith.  Instead Tatlock gives her characters a bigger question, "How do the individual know that God exists?" and you will need to read the book to know how Elizabeth and Theodore Dutton answer the question.  The book also brings to mind the fact that teenagers, while on the brink of adulthood, are very impressionable; and the people they give hero status to have a great responsibility and influence, something that should not be taken lightly.  People who enter the education or coaching field do not get to leave their job at the end of the day.  If they choose to interact with kids and shape them, you don't get an off switch.  All parts of your life may in some way be an influence.

This makes the fourth book by Ann Tatlock that I have reviewed.  I really like the depth of her writing.  When I read TRAVELERS' REST, it seemed familiar and I finally came to the conclusion that I had read the book several years ago.  When I ordered EVERY SECRET THING from our library system, I also ordered THINGS WE ONCE HELD DEAR, which I started reading last night when I woke up at 3:00. (Yeah, I know I have sleep issues.)  I am about 50 pages into the book and while I do not remember any part of the book, a forward by the author sounded so familiar that I felt I must have read the book.  This morning I checked my trusty reading lists; the book published in 2006, so I began with that list and went forward.  There it was on the early 2007 list.  Now I have a corundum.  I still do not remember the story, and I am somewhat interested now that I have read 50 pages.  However, I have an endless stack of books, and more specifically have about 6 books that I need to read before the end of the month.  What do I do???  I even checked GOODREADS reviews in hopes of igniting my memory, and now that I know more about the plot, I am even more curious as how the story progresses.  Perhaps I will give the book a bit of attention this afternoon and then decide.  If I am lucky, I will remember most of the story and can just skim.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Gift of Friendship:Stories that celebrate the beauty of shared moments Dawn Camp, Editor

Best Friends, friends for the moment, childhood friends, being a friend -- all these topics are covered
in THE GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP, a book of reflective essays about the treasure that true friendship is.
Bloggers and writers, some I recognized, many I did not, shared their thoughts on what friendship has meant to them, both on the receiving end and the giving end.  Editor Dawn Camp wrote several of the essays herself.  The cover of the book shows two Adirondack chairs on a lakefront, with two glasses of ice tea on an empty table.  No one is sitting in the chairs, clearly meant to show that there is room to imagine yourself and a best friend sitting there, sharing the view, the tea, and a moment of time. This book would be a wonderful gift for a friend, but it is also a delight that you should treat yourself to.  I received a copy of this book from Revell Reads Nonfiction for my honest review.

 As soon as I began the book, thoughts rushed in about my friends, and I am sure that you will have the same experience.  Now, your circle of friends will likely be greater in number than mine, but as I learned in the book, that does not really matter.  Some people may find it strange that a person who chose to be a high school teacher (where you are always on stage in front of dozens of teens) is really an introvert, but I am.  I have no fear speaking in front of groups, both small and large.  Speeches -- I can excel at that, especially if I can insert a little humor, but social situations are a different story.  Or at least I imagine it that way.  So I've never been the kind of person who makes instant friends, and I've probably avoided situations where I could have made new friends.  That has bothered me at times, feeling I was missing something, but this book has helped me see friendship in a different light.

First, I've been fortunate to have some very, very good friends, and as I read this book I wanted to reach out via Facebook or by phone to talk to each of them and to talk about this book.  But since I read most of this title during one sleepless night, I figured they would not appreciate the 3 am phone call.  Randomly, here are some of the thoughts expressed in the book.  Life is messy, and friends go beyond the emergency baby or house sitter to fill the needs we did not even know we had.  In the groups we belong to, we build community, often with people we don't know all that well, but they are there at a time or for a  certain reason.  We are called to be friends, and without being a friend, we can never truly have a friend.  Sometimes we need to actively pursue friendships -- this is the lesson that this sometimes introvert needed to hear, and something I am working on now that retirement has given me the gift of time.

Another lesson -- Old friends are true joys.  Sorry dear "old" friends, we don't really mean age, but in order to pass the friendship test of lasting many years, we do actually age and now "old" does describe us.   I've been blessed to have a very good friend who was a friend back in elementary school.  Then we went to different schools for a few years and met again in junior high where we became part of a foursome that lasted through those awkward years right to graduation.  Marriage, kids, and distance in miles created years with not much connection, but there was always some.  And when we did get together, it was always SO good.  Meanwhile, life went on, with joys and bruises for both of us.  And maybe it was the bruises that made us re-connect most recently.  I thank God for that friendship and the freedom this time of life has given me to be "old" friends.   I also thought of friends who were once also co-workers, and who despite moving on to different jobs or retirement have remained friends.  And as a popular saying cousins are our first friends, and I have some great cousins to count as first friends, even though miles keep us apart.

Last lesson  from the book (or at least I think it was part of the book because I kept thinking of it while I read) -- It is important to let your friends know what they mean to you.  When I first went back to work, I had been an at-home mom for twelve years.  We had three kids and I was in my mid-thirties.  Despite my age, I was really a newbie educator and was so thrilled when I connected with another new teacher, a business education teacher straight out of college, the same college I had graduated from over a decade previously.  For the fifteen plus years that we both taught at the same school she was a confident and great friend, despite the differences in our ages. When her husband's job took her out of our school district and out of state, I missed her so much.  Life has never brought us back together again except through those Christmas cards and a few Facebook postings.  Always she was thoughtful and caring, but the parting gift she gave me is one I will never part with.  Both of us were avid readers, and as she began her family and I became the school librarian, we loved to talk about children's books.  When she left, she gave me a beautiful picture book THIS IS MY WISH FOR YOU with a precious personal inscription that filled the entire endpapers.  Just thinking of those words written over ten years ago brings me to tears.  Tell your friends what they mean to you!