Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Saffire by Sigmund Brouwer

Image result for saffire by sigmund brouwerHave you ever watched a suspense move (think James Bond) and find that you never quite get a good grip of whether a character is a "good guy" or a "bad guy"?  In fact, you find that neither you or the protagonist can get a handle on what is happening around him?  That is how I felt when reading Sigmund Brouwer's new novel SAFFIRE.  Having read and loved Brouwer's Christy Award novel THIEF OF GLORY, I knew that staying with this book until the pieces fell into place would pay off, and it did!  Set in 1909, the novel opens as James Holt, a South Dakota cowboy, is sent secretly by outgoing President Teddy Roosevelt to the American Zone of the Panama Canal for a secret errand.
James does not want to leave behind his young daughter, but knows that he cannot turn down Roosevelt.  Plus there is a payment which could save his ranch from foreclosure. History buffs will like the political intrigue and the descriptions of one of the world's greatest engineering feats.  Suspense readers will not be disappointed as what seems as an unlikely task of helping an orphaned girl plunges Holt into a world of intrigue, deceit, danger, and possible revolution.  I received a copy of this title from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016


Image result for ace collins the most wonderful time of the yearAce Collins, author of more than 60 books, has written a countdown book which delivers 31 short devotionals, each accompanied by the story of a Christmas carol and a simple craft or food gift. Pampering those you love is the theme behind each gift idea, and the stories behind the hymns are ones you probably do not know, but the strongest section are the uplifting and encouraging devotionals.  Most of us, especially moms, are so busy during the Christmas season that any new task can be a burden. Don't look at Collins' book as one more thing to get done; instead see it as a well deserved break.  Read it while having a cup of tea or cocoa.  Share the message by reading it out loud with an older child, or savor the quiet time alone. I guarantee Collin's thoughts and observations will
help you see this Christmas season in the right light, and that might just make the next few weeks go more smoothly.  Even the tiresome task of Christmas cards could have new meaning after you read the December 13th entry.  Collins encourages us to revive the card habit, but instead of sending that accompanying "family brag" letter, he suggests that we follow Paul's example and take time to thank each recipient for what they have meant in our life.  What a powerful, simple gift. Whether you make one or all or none of the homemade gift ideas in this book, whether you sing any or all of the songs mentioned, you will be glad you spent time with Ace Collins; THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR.
I received a copy of this book from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

Following Ace Collins' advice about Christmas cards, I want to stop and thank anyone and everyone who stops by this little site and reads my reviews.  I look at this endeavor as a way to keep my writing and thinking skills a bit sharper.  Writing (reports, essays, tests, graduate school papers, articles, reviews) was an important part of my job and so was teaching of writing.  Being able to continue to use those skills a bit is a joy.  That anyone would stop by and read what I write is unbelievable.  Thanks again!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Small Great Things by Jodi PicoultJodi Picoult, the author of more than 25 novels, most of which sparked some kind of controversy or made us look at issues that made us uncomfortable, has returned with a new novel SMALL GREAT THINGS, which the author herself believes is her most important book yet.  What elephant in the room does she tackle this time?  Racism and prejudice, and by the time I was done reading the book, I began to see the essential difference between the two. Before I give even the slightest summary, I want to clarify a few things which Picoult shared at the end of the book.  Number one,  Picoult is not Black and understands that many will criticize for trying to tell a story from a black point of view (as well as from a white supremacist).  Picoult points out that all authors take on characters, points of view, and roles that they have never lived; that is the definition of fiction.  But then she goes on to share the in-depth research she did including the case of a group of Afro-American nurses who sued a Detroit hospital for discrimination and interviews with a former white supremacist who know teaches tolerance.  Although I was often uneasy with the words and thoughts I read (truly, I could feel my skin begin to crawl when I read Tuck and his wife's thoughts), I never felt anything was portrayed inaccurately or exaggerated for fiction's sake.

Ruth Jefferson, a labor and delivery nurse of more than twenty years, arrives at work one morning and takes over the care of an infant boy born during the night.  As she examines the baby for the preliminary health report, she senses that both the mother and father are extremely tense.  Still she is taken aback when the father Turk shouts not to touch his wife and demands to see a superior.  Soon Ruth learns that Turk and his wife are white supremacists who demand that no black is to be involved in their son's care.  Since Ruth is the only black nurse in this small maternity ward, the restriction, which her supervisor agrees to, clearly means Ruth is NOT to touch the infant.  Ruth is called in a day later to cover for a sick colleague, and when all the other nurses are called away from the unit for an emergency C-section, Ruth finds herself watching the little boy who is recovering from a circumcision. When he begins to show respiratory distress, she must make a split-second decision that ultimately leads to a murder charge when she is "thrown under the bus" by the hospital.

The book's narration alternates between Ruth, who is trying to process how she who has always done everything right and has overachieved her entire life can suddenly come so low simply because she is black; Turk, whose grief transforms quickly to hatred and revenge; and Kennedy, the defense attorney who finds herself drawn into Ruth's saga.  Privilege, hard work, perceptions, hatred, and race all come under close scrutiny in this powerful novel.  Like most Picoult novel's, SMALL GREAT THINGS offers surprises and twists, producing a powerful and soul searching read.
This book just released in October and I was fortunate enough to score an e-copy through
https://wplc.overdrive.com/ our state's library for digital books. 

BIRDS IN THE AIR by Frances O'Roark Dowell

When I selected BIRDS IN THE AIR as my next read, it was because the book's press had
promoted it as a warm, a  humorous books about discovering the world of quilting and fitting into a new community.  Naturally this wanna-be quilter was attracted, especially when I saw recommendations from a favorite television quilter.  It was not until I was almost done with the book that I really looked at the author blurb (Sorry, Frances) and realized Frances O'Roark Dowell is a children/tween author, most widely known for her books DOVEY COE, THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF GIRLS, and CHICKEN BOYS -- all books I "booktalked" and promoted when I was a school librarian.  So it should be no surprise that this awarding winning queen of exploring the ins and outs of friendships and not fitting in for the tween reader would see fertile ground for exploring the same themes in an adult book.

Emma Byrd, her husband and their two children have just moved to Sweet Anne's Gap, a small mountain town.  Excited to have escaped the stressful pace of suburbia, Emma is sure she will be able to start writing her long-awaited novel --except she has no idea what to write.  As the children attempt to settle into school, 10 year old Sarah experiences the pains of being the new girl with no friends.  When the queen bee of her grade receives word from her mom that she should have nothing to do with Sarah (reason for this is part of the novel's small town plot so I won't spoil it), it appears the quiet newcomer will remain on the outside for a long, long time.  As Emma considers how to help her daughter, she experiences her own immersion into small town culture.  A next door neighbor, obviously a recluse, closes the door on Emma, but the lady's granddaughter shows up at Emma's soon after and encourages Emma to explore the old trunks hidden in the attic.  There they find a fragile quilt and a mysterious photo of a young woman.  A trip to the quilt store helps Emma identify the quilt's age and pattern (civil war BIRDS IN THE AIR), but more than that, the trip brings about Emma's own attempt to quilt and an avenue to meet new people.  But all is not smooth.  Not everyone is ready to accept a newbie, especially someone who just might consider herself better than the mountain folk that surround Sweet Anne's Gap, and who just might be in possession of a valuable, stolen quilt!

The book was a really fast, entertaining read.  It was not until I started to write this review that I realized that there is a lot to think about in the themes of the book.  I commend O'Roark Dowell for entering the world of adult fiction and I felt laid the ground work for this story to continue in more books.  That said, I still wish this book had been a bit longer with more character development and depth.  I got the feeling that Emma was "colored in" but other characters never moved much beyond the pencil outline of who they were and how they affected the story.  I want to visit this town again, hear more of their stories, and perhaps watch Emma finally write her novel.  There are so many colors and layers the author could bring to Sweet Anne's Gap. I received an e-copy of this title from Netgalley.  All opinions are mine.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World by Lonnie Hull DuPont

 Image result for kitkat and lucy

KIT KAT AND LUCY is a tender memoir about two cats who help Lonnie Hull DuPont (and her
husband) make the adjustment to a m ove from bustling San Fransisco to the quieter and more remote life in rural Michigan.  Lonnie had grown up in the same Michigan area, but had moved to larger cities for her career in the book industry. A later in life marriage led to a decision by the couple to move their careers back to Lonnie's home area, and eventually they moved into a rambling farm house not too far from her childhood home.  Just months after their arrival, Kit Kat, an adolescent gray cat, showed up on their steps. Since her husband was allergic to cats, Lonnie fed the cat, secured it in an outbuilding, and made arrangements for a family member to give it a home on a farm.  But Kit Kat (not named yet) had other ideas, and after she returned to Lonnie's yard, the couple knew they had a new family member and the need for some allergy medicine.

The book details how a second cat came to join the family and how they handled becoming a two cat family (something that is not always easy).  But more importantly, the author shares how the pets helped her deal with feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety. She mixed in reminiscences of her childhood pets and how they helped her cope with the rough spots of growing up.  I learned a great deal about cat behavior ( perhaps I should say cat psychology) and enjoyed following the antics of these two furry friends.  At times I wished that I could eliminate my cat allergies like Lonnie's husband seemed to do, but I don't think I will be that lucky.  Clearly animals and humans can share bonds that are deeply meaningful, and anyone with a special feline in their lives would enjoy meeting Kit Kat and Lucy.  I received a copy of this book from Revell Reads.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

North of the Tension Line and The Audacity of Goats by J. F. Riordan

Image result for north of the tension line bookOkay, I admit it.  Sometimes I listen to talk radio, especially when in the car.  This is partly because my husband is a news junkie and it has sort rubbed off on me.  But listening to Charlie Sykes on WTMJ a few weeks ago actually led to a productive, entertaining end.  Charlie mentioned an editorial piece that was going to run in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that shed a positive light on small towns (imagine that) and that the piece had been written by his wife.  Well, I never did see that opinion piece (but plan to search for it), but I did learn that his wife is a published novelist whose books are set in small town Wisconsin -- Door County's Washington Island.  I searched out the books, finding NORTH OF THE TENSION LINE as an ebook through Wisconsin Public Library Consortium https://wplc.overdrive.com/ and the second title THE AUDACITY OF GOATS through the Winnefox Library System http://www.winnefox.org/catalog.html.

Both books feature the same cast of characters, centered around Fiona, a research writer, who following a dare, decides to purchase a dilapidated house on remote Washington Island and live there for at least a year.  In that time she makes friends with several island residents including Pali the ferry captain who is also an aspiring poet, but her presence is met with skepticism by some residents and outright fury by her next door neighbor Stella.  When her friend Roger, a quirky Door County coffee shop owner, gifts Fiona with a loud, obnoxious goat named Robert, Stella is determined to run both the animal and its owner off the island.  The story that begins in NORTH OF THE TENSION LINE continues in THE AUDACITY OF GOATS, although the second book could be read alone without too much trouble.
Image result for audacity of goats
Despite Stella's outrageous, open disdain for Fiona, these two books tell wonderful stories of finding one's place among your loved ones, your neighbors, and within yourself.  The allure of island living is balanced with the realities and isolation that it brings.  If you actually know someone who lives in Door County, you will know that the people there pride themselves on their individuality, their ability to withstand hardship,their tradtions, and their unique home on Wisconsin's landscape.  Riordan has captured all of that, although some of her characters might be a bit "tongue in cheek". She also handles the almost unnoticeable "creeping in" of the outside world through Roger's decision to buy an expensive, complicated Italian coffee maker and then his secret entry into the world of yoga to get closer to his feminine side to please his new wife.

I always like finding a new Wisconsin author, and I hope Riordan continues to make our special state the setting for future works.  I just found Riordan's blog and am happy to report that there is a third book coming featuring Washington Island.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Sister's Wish and An Amish Family Christmas by Shelley Shephard Gray

A Sister's WishAn Amish Family Christmas   -     By: Shelley Shepard Gray

Shelley Shepherd Gray completes her CHARMED AMISH LIFE series with two delightful, warm
stories.  A SISTER'S WISH focuses on Amelia, the youngest sister in the Kinsinger family featured throughout the series.  While all the other siblings are busy with either jobs and spouses or both, Amelia is left to tend the large house, made all the more empty by the death of both their parents.  Without telling her brother Lukas, Amelia has begun to see Simon Hochstetler, Lukas's boyhood friend.  But Simon has a troubled past and secrets from the years he left Charm, and when Lukas finds out his little sister has been seeing the prodigal Simon, Lukas wants it to stop.

Amelia and Simon's story actually continues a bit in AN AMISH FAMILY CHRISTMAS, but most of this Christmas novel features Levi Kinsinger, the brother who had left the family mill after the large fire that took their father's life.  Levi has decided to return to Charm and begin work at the mill again, but he can't make himself move back into the large family home.  Instead he rents a small, run down cottage near the mill.  Soon he notices the young woman and child who live across the street.  A newcomer to town, Julia tells everyone she is a widow, but that is not the truth.  When she and Levi become close, her lies, originally told to keep her daughter and herself safe, threaten to crush any hopes of happiness.

The scars of domestic abuse, the destructive powers of secrets and lies, and the even stronger power of forgiveness, truth, and new chances are the dominant themes of these entertaining novels.  For readers who have not started the series, I recommend getting all four books; you'll want to know all members of the Kinsinger family.  Plus they are quick reads; I read each book in just a few hours.  While I always have minor problems reconciling what the Amish characters do (and don't do) in Amish fiction with the strict behavior of our real life Old Order Amish neighbors, I thought Gray's books were well written and entertaining.  If you know someone who likes Amish fiction, this series would be a great Christmas gift.  The themes of forgiveness and starting over make them solid choices for church libraries.  I received copies of this novels from Litfuse.