Saturday, December 30, 2017

2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge and end of year reading

 Image result for free clip art new year

Remember January 2017 and those resolutions and goals you embraced?  Now is the time to reflect back on your success, near success, or utter failure.  Although I do try to stay active, I have long ago given up the resolutions to exercise or lose weight, but I have set other goals.   This past year I joined the GOODREADS reading challenging, setting my goal at 102 books.  There have been years when I have read 125 books and more.  When I worked my year end totals were usually around 90, so I thought 102 would be a no brainer.
Well tomorrow is December 31st and I could possibly finish one more book (if I don't sew today or sleep tonight) but it seems that I will end the year at 95 books - 7 off my goal.  The GOODREADS tally is a couple books shorter; at sometime I missed entering a book or two.  My handwritten list is more accurate, but even that may be missing a book or two.  So I came close to my goal but did not hit it.  I must confess there have been times during the year when reading was a bit tedious and it took second place to other activities.
So will I set a new reading goal for 2018?  I already have a lengthy list of new titles I want to snatch hold of, and I am considering joining a second book club, so I am definitely still in the reading game. 

As the last hours of 2017 approach, here is a recap of some recent reading and listening ( and I do place my audio titles on the "read" list).  Last night I finished NOTE YET UNSUNG, the conclusion to Tamara Alexander's Belmont Mansion series.  Rebekah Carrington has just returned home to Nashville after 10 years in Europe studying music.  With her grandmother no longer alive to protect Rebekah from a stepfather that Rebekah does not trust, she decides to find employment and live independently.  An audition with the newly formed Nashville Symphonic Orchestra ends with dashed hopes as the conductor tells her that the world is not ready for female members, leaving Beca to take a job as a private tutor for the daughter of the Belmont estate owner.  This book has some carryover from the previous Belmont novels, but it had been months and months since I read the other books and I had no trouble following this book.  A trip home to the isolated Tennessee mountains by  conductor Nathaniel Tate Whitcomb adds another layer to this story which centers around the love of music and pursuing one's dreams.

IN SUCH GOOD COMPANY, a fast paced memoir by Carol Burnett was a delightful audio title that I enjoyed while driving this past month.  Read by Carol herself, her reminiscing took right back to her variety show and all the hilarious skits I enjoyed along with family in the late 60's and 70's.

MAKE YOUR BED: Little Things that Can Change Your life is a short self-help book by Navy Seal Admiral William H. McRaven which begins with a chapter on making your bed.  After being married for over 45 years to someone who spent 4 years in the Navy, I know about a well made bed (and a Navy shower).  Long story short, no matter how badly your day goes, you have accomplished something if you started your dad with a made bed!  I believe much of what Admiral McRaven says in this book is drawn from a graduation speech he gave at his college Alma mater.   I listened to this book.

HOME FIRES: The Women's Institute at War 1939-1945 (published first as JAM BUSTERS) by Julie Summers.  Have you seen the PBS series HOME FIRES which follows the women of a rural British village during WWII?  Members of the international organization known as the WOMEN'S INSTITUTE, the ladies work together to see that the town has a safe bomb shelter, that refugee children from the cities have homes, and that food sources are wisely used.  Being a television series, family stories of hardship, romance, and more make the show watchable.  The book, however, is equally fascinating in a more scholarly way.  Author Summers gathered all kinds of statistics and personal stories to give a well deserved homage to the sacrifices and efforts women all over Great Britain gave toward the war effort.  Mass preservation of fruits and vegetables, carried out in British homes and meeting places, kept both families and troops fed.  Recycling of even the smallest amounts of metal, glass, and paper served the war effort.  I was amazed at the detail Summers went into; and equally amazing is that much of the information came from the diaries, journals and calendars of country women who never thought that their thoughts would be made part of history.    Since this lengthy book was so packed with facts, unusual British village names, and statistics, it took me several months to finish the book.  I would listen for a while and then put the title aside for a bit, then come back to it when time allowed.  Truth be told, I sometimes started listening to this title thinking it would be put me to sleep.  However, most times its appeal kept me awake for more than a hour before I tired enough to doze off.

Time to end my blogging for 2017 and sneak in some sewing room time.   Wisconsin will end the year with arctic cold temperatures, but the wishes from my heart are warm.  Wishing everyone a great 2018.
                                                                                   Image result for free clip art new year

Thursday, December 21, 2017

I, ELIZA HAMILTON: Behind the most timeless of heroes stands an exceptional heroine by Susan Holloway Scott


The success of the musical HAMILTON has brought Founding Father Alexander Hamilton to everyone's attention.  Still when most of us (that have not seen the musical) think of him, we think first about the duel that took his life and second might recognize his influence in establishing a national bank.  Few of us would be able to tell much about his personal life or his family or his other influence on early America.  It was that lack of knowledge that drew me to Susan Holloway Scott's new book about Eliza Hamilton, wife of Alexander and mother to his 8 children.  After reading FOUNDING MOTHERS by Cokie Roberts, I understand a bit better that the wives of the founding fathers were themselves opinionated, supportive and sacrificing all while enduring the hardships and dangers of war in their communities.  Many including Eliza also faced long and frequent separations from their husbands. And this novel makes clear the toil that frequent pregnancies, unsanitary cities, and fatal diseases like yellow fever took on wives and mothers.  Eliza survived her husband, living to 97 years old, making her the last remaining widow of a Founding Father.

I, ELIZA HAMILTON tells the story of Alexander and Eliza's courtship and 24 year marriage.  They met and married while Alexander was General Washington's aide-de-camp and their years together parallel the last years of the war, the early shaky days of the Republic, and the administrations of the first three presidents.  While never elected president or vice-president, Alexander was in the thick of every political decision and debate. He was Secretary of the Treasury under Washington at a time when our country was disjointed and seriously in debt.  His ideas were spelled out in THE FEDERALIST PAPERS and his influence is still felt in our banking system.  While many of the early Americans we remember came from wealthy or noted families, Hamilton was an orphan whose rise to prominence was the result of his intelligence and determination.  Through this book we also see what type of husband and father he was.  While professing to love Eliza, Hamilton strayed and one affair almost destroyed his career and nearly broke Eliza's heart.  We see the building antagonism between him and Aaron Burr.  Author Holloway Scott makes clear that all those we claim as the Fathers of our country were dedicated to the country, but were also flawed and at many times stubborn and uncooperative.  Hamilton was no different and spent much time and money fighting his adversaries.

When I first started the book, I thought it was going to read slowly, but soon I was deep into Eliza and Alexander's story and the pages flew by.  This is a tender, but strong book of love, family, disappointment and survival, making it one of my favorites for 2017.  I highly recommend it.  I obtained my copy from our library system.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Imperfect Justice

A lawyer herself, Cara Putnam gives readers into the stressful world of those who use the legal system to help victims of domestic
abuse in the new book IMPERFECT JUSTICE.  As the book opens lawyer Emilie Wesley waits for a client to appear at a hearing for a domestic protective order.  When Kaylene does not show, Emilie fears that the woman has lost the courage to seek protection from her husband.  Within minutes of arriving back at her office, Emilie learns that Kaylene is dead and so is her teenage daughter.  Video recovered by the police make it appear that Kaylene was the shooter, and now her younger daughter is in critical condition at the hospital.  Her husband maintains that Kaylene went on a shooting spree intending to kill the whole family.  Nothing in this scenario seems believable to Emilie, and the failure to get Kaylene and her daughters away from their home situation weighs heavily on Emilie.
Although the director of the Haven, the shelter where Emilie works, tells the young lawyer to move on, she just can't.  So when Kaylene's brother Reid contacts her saying that he discovered a letter requesting him to seek custody of the girls if anything should happen to Kaylene, Emilie agrees to work with Reid to find out the truth about the shootings.

Putnam has made Emilie an interesting protagonist.  Kaylene's death has put her in a tailspin, resulting in her work suffering, both at the Haven and at her second job writing legal stories for an online publication.  Then she begins to feel that someone is following her and when she finds an unsigned note in her purse, she is sure she is being stalked.  She doesn't share her fears with Reid or anyone, but
as her anxiety increases she becomes more sure that her car accident months earlier is somehow attached to whomever is following her now. Reid himself is a bit of an unlikely action hero.  The younger brother of Kaylene, he could have probably helped her, but he never knew of her abusive situation.  Her death makes him feeling guilty and bound to honor her letter, but his real skills lie in making investment profits for his wealthy clients, not in confronting police about crimes. Naturally as Reid and Emilie work together, attraction grows, but really both are too fragile to see how deep that caring goes.

This book clearly does show that justice can be imperfect.  Emilie's job shows that protective orders (restraining orders) can seem to risky for abuse victims to seek, and too often the professionals who want to help cannot convince victims that action will be successful.
Then there is the weak, slow moving investigation of the supposed murder-suicide.  This suspense book is NOT a book of chase scenes, but rather a quieter gathering of bits and pieces of truth about Kaylene's family.  Emilie's own stalking story, well - that's another story!
If you've read other Cara Putnam books and liked them, then I am sure you will like this addition by a best-selling legal thriller author.
At times I felt the book moved a bit too slowly, but I was drawn into the world of those who chose to help victims of domestic situations. Although Kaylene's husband's presence in the novel is very much in the background, Putnam did an excellent job of showing his cruel domination and his perverted sense of power.
I received a copy from Litfuse.  This review reflects my own opinions.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

WHITER THAN SNOW by Sandra Dallas


A few weeks ago my cousin and I met for a long overdue lunch date and then she graciously invited me to her book club group.  I enjoyed both the discussion of the book ORPHAN TALE by Pam Jenoff and the opportunity to meet this strong opinionated (in a good way) group of readers.  Like so many encounters with readers, I came away with suggestions of even more books to read.  One lady mentioned that one of  their first group reads over two years ago had really impacted her, and her mind traces back to the book WHITER THAN SNOW often.  When I discovered that the book had been written by Sandra Dallas, I knew I had to read the book  and soon.  I’ve read several Dallas novels, including PRAYERS FOR SALES, and have never been disappointed. 

WHITER THAN SNOW is the story of an April avalanche in a Colorado mining town in 1920 just as school lets out for the afternoon.  Nine young children have already started their walk across the town to their homes and are caught in the slide that rumbled down Jubilee Mountain.  Only four will survive.  Sandra Dallas’s craft is fine-tuned and her works always stand out as unique gems of story- telling.   As the book opens, Dallas describes a normal day in the mining town, speculates on what happenstance may have caused the avalanche, and then ends the first chapter  with the shock that only four of the nine children trapped will survive.  
Then for the next 200 pages, Dallas ignores all mention of the avalanche, instead telling the stories of individual adult residents of the town, sharing with readers their youthful dreams and the broken paths that brought each one to Swandyke and the Fourth of July Mine.  Soon we will realize that we are learning the back stories for the parents and guardians for the nine children who will soon be taking that fateful walk home from school.  For the last 80 pages, the author returns to the subject of the first chapter – the avalanche, the nine trapped children, the effort to rescue them and then the tragic recovery of the five bodies.  After the earlier chapters which jumped around the country and across decades, these last pages center on only a few hours and very little is written about the children’s experience in the snow. This is really a book about the parents (in one case, grandfather) and how these few hours change their lives as they realize that no one is “whiter than snow.”  This is truly a story that shows that tragedy and grief brings together people who believe they have nothing in common. It can also lead to forgiveness, acts of courage, and new paths, as people realize that no one is "whiter than snow."  One of the greatest levels of praise I can give to an author is to say that I cared about the characters as if they were real people. WHITER THAN SNOW will stay in my memory in the months ahead.  I checked out this book from the library system.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson


Amelia Richards and her baby's father were like hundreds of other couples in the early days of World War II as they found their romance pushed into overdrive by thoughts of the distance that would soon keep them apart.  When a
last minute change in orders makes it impossible for the couple to marry as planned, they go ahead with the honeymoon.  When she finds herself pregnant, Amelia moves in with a friend, keeps her job as a hairdresser, and tells everyone that she is married.  Then comes the news that James has been killed in the war, and Amelia feels
she must travel to the rural town where James lived, meet his parents, and tell them the truth so they can know their grandchild.  Just as Amelia and James's marriage did not happen according to plan, Amelia's new plan does not go smoothly.  But could a decade old manger scene, crafted by a young teenage James, be an answer to Amelia's needs?

Every Christmas season, I try to find at least one new holiday novella to read.  The short length is perfect for busy times when I still need some reading time for my nightly "unwinding."  And though many of these novellas lean to the predictable (from early in the book, I was quite sure how this one would end), I am always up for the positive, heart-warming vibes that the authors present.  Melody Carlson, author of more than 200 books, does not disappoint.  The World War II setting adds an additional layer of nostalgia; Amelia and baby Jimmy's trip on the train, an old fashioned creche scene, a quaint boarding house each add to that special feeling.  Really, everything in this book is ready for filming a Hallmark period movie.  On this anniversary of Pearl Harbor, I recommend this short title that captures a bit of our country's sacrifice in a very readable story.


Friday, December 1, 2017

CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall

Some stories are evergreen, their themes and lessons standing the test of time and connecting with readers generation after generation. Reconnect with Catherine Marshall’s beloved Christy as it celebrates its 50th anniversary with a new edition! As nineteen-year-old teacher Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home of Cutter Gap, some see her—and her one-room school—as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families of the Cove. Yearning to make a difference, will Christy’s determination and devotion be enough?
Celebrate the new 50th anniversary edition of Christy by entering to win one of TWO $50 Visa cash cards (details below) and by attending a Facebook Live party on December 5!

TWO grand prize winners will receive:
  • One copy of Christy
  • One $50 Visa Cash Card
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on December 5. The winner will be announced at the Christy Facebook Live Party. RSVP for a chance to connect with authors who’ve been impacted by Christy and other readers, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

RSVP today and spread the word—tell your friends about the giveaway and Facebook Live party via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 5th!

Catherine Marshall

{More About Catherine Marshall}

Catherine Marshall (1914-1983), “The New York Times” best-selling author of 30 books, is best known for her novel “Christy.” Based on the life of her mother, “Christy” captured the hearts of millions and became a popular CBS television series. Around the kitchen table at Evergreen Farm, as her mother reminisced, Catherine probed for details and insights into the rugged lives of these Appalachian highlanders. Catherine shared the story of her husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, Chaplain of the United States Senate, in “A Man Called Peter.” A decade after Dr. Marshall’s untimely death, Catherine married Leonard LeSourd, Executive Editor of “Guideposts,” forging a dynamic writer-editor partnership. A beloved inspirational writer and speaker, Catherine’s enduring career spanned four decades and reached over 30 million readers.
Find out more about Catherine at


Knowing that CHRISTY is a timeless story with both romance and life lessons as powerful today as they were fifty years ago when Catherine Marshall's book first hit the shelves, the author's family has decided to publish a special 50th anniversary copy.  I can't pinpoint the exact time that I first read the novel set in the mountains of Cutters Gap, but I know it was soon after its publication, and I always felt everyone should read it. And when the book was made into the popular television series starring Kellie Martin, although not a consistent viewer, I did like the series.   So when given the chance to reread the book and write a current review, I anticipated that I would enjoy the book and be able to easily write a glowing review.  Little did I realize that this reading would captivate me in a totally different way.  Already remembering the basic story line of 19 year old Christy Huddleston's arrival in Cutter's Gap to teach at the Appalachian mission school, I found my attention was drawn more to the details about the Scots-Irish people who settled this section of Appalachia -- what brought them to America in the 1700s, the Old English language which morphed into a dialect unlike any other area of America and the music that brought a bit of brightness to a mostly dark existence. As every page turned, it seemed that another ramification of their isolated way of life was presented for us to examine.  Their love of poetry, music, and even Latin seemed a glimpse back into an earlier time, one more suitable for the British upper class than these impoverished hills.  And as mission worker Miss Alice points out again and again, these people had an emotional sensitivity that ran deep within their veins, but too often instead of being used for creating or appreciating beauty, the sensitivity led to petty smallness, blowing up into destructive feuding.  How perceptive that seems now, with all the recent research on emotional sensitive people.

With this reading, it seemed that Christy became more and more my ears and eyes, a pathway to witness the beauty of the hills (one description of a hike to the top of a mountain had me almost believing fairies would start dancing at the summit), but also its harsh realities.  An eerie darkness seemed to hover over the tiny cabins, almost imprisoning the women to a life of hardship and grief.  And then the reader, along with Christy, must contemplate God's role in this poverty and along with the purpose and value of charity.  The lessons that Christy, Alice, David, and Dr. MacNeil learn are the same ones that missionaries, teachers, and social workers even today must face.  How do you help a single person or a whole group better themselves without destroying or invalidating that which makes them individuals, unique and valuable in their own right?   

Throughout the first 200 pages, I found myself jotting down quotations, little nuggets from
Miss Alice's perspective and then later,from Christy herself.  First there is Miss Alice's thoughts about the difference between a religion of fear versus a religion of joy.  Then there is the "staking" or "claiming" of our gifts from God.  And I had to stop and contemplate Miss Alice's observation that sometimes we have to accept that someone was meant to be our "bundle."  Those of us who have worked in education, who have raised children, and then cared for aging parents will know what she meant -- we've had many bundles over the yeasr.  Then later as I watched Christy experience so much illness and sudden death, I better understood the phrase "grief not my own."  Don't you think that in today's world we often face grief not our own, and we need to find a way to work through it to find God's joy?  

So my review of this book is much deeper than I ever anticipated.  I would highly recommend this as a Christian book club choice or as an accompaniment to a Bible study.
There is a lot to discuss here, much more than romance and coming of age. If you read Christy years ago, why not read it again.  You will not be disappointed. I received a copy from the publisher and Litfuse; all opinions are mine. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

LONG WAY GONE by Charles Martin

 Long Way Gone

I've never read a book by Charles Martin that did not pull me in with its haunting beauty, spiritual lessons, and unforgettable characters.  LONG WAY GONE, a modern and yet ageless retelling of the Prodigal's son, is Charles at his best.  What delights me most right now is that I have NOT read all of his titles and I will not have to wait for a new release to taste his writing again -- I can simply find one of his previous novels that I haven't read and put it on my to-read pile.  Meanwhile, LONG WAY GONE continues to fill my mind.  LWG tells the story of a musically talented 18 year old who, tired of his father's strict upbringing and tent revival ministry, rejects all his father's values and steals not only his father's savings, but also his precious gifted guitar, and flees to Nashville.  Expecting to be
welcomed into the music scene for his unique talent, instead Cooper O'Connor finds himself homeless and penniless after two robberies.  For years he works at menial jobs, regretting the pain he has caused his father, but "too far gone" to return home.  Martin has written a superb book that weaves together family love, romance, regret, redemption and more. 

Recently, Charles Martin's book THE MOUNTAIN BETWEEN US was made into a movie, which has led to many discussions about what Hollywood does to books when they change the story line. Most people expressed their disappointment in the film version of that powerful story.
In the same time frame, Hollywood released a remaking of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, a mystery classic.  When I saw ORIENT EXPRESS, I was actually quite pleased with the production and found the visualization of the train and the blizzard plus the portrayals of the suspects made Agatha Christie's words come alive.  Since then I've been reading more with an eye and ear for what would translate from book to movie successfully and what would be lost in a move from one medium to the other.  Although there is enough drama to make LONG WAY GONE a powerful movie, I think Martin's continual narration about music and its role in Cooper's life would fall flat on the screen. My husband is an amateur musician, while I am woefully tone deaf and without one single bit of rhythm, but Martin's characterization of music really brought me into my husband's world for a bit. His words made the music come alive; something that I think a movie, even with its sound capabilities, would fail at doing. And I won't even begin to explain the author's powerful descriptions of what can only be called a guardian angel, or perhaps, a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  

LONG WAY GONE will remain one of my favorite reads for 2017.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

THE SEAGULL by Ann Cleeves

 Seagull (Hardcover) (Ann Cleeves)

More and more, I watch British television via PBS.  Sometimes, however, I don't catch a series
on its first run.  The mystery series VERA  is one of those that I did not watch when it ran on PBS,  but I discovered it later and have watched all 5 seasons via streaming and DVD.  I love that libraries in our joint library system often purchase whole seasons of British tv on dvd.  I have now have seen so many episodes of VERA that I forever have her dented, rusted Land Rover and her green vest etched in my memory.  But what remains even stronger is her voice, softly calling a victim or potential witness, "Pet," a combination of sympathy and support.  I knew from the beginning that the television series was based on a series of books by Ann Cleeves, but it was not until I had exhausted all the dvds that I decided to try one of her novels. THE SEAGULL is the latest novel, just published in the US in September, 2017.  At 393 pages, I found the book slower than the 90 minute television shows, but I was surprised that I saw and heard the tv Vera on every page, especially when she called someone "Pet."  The entire television series has an underlying thread regarding Vera's rocky relationship with her father, now deceased.  THE SEAGULL brings Vera back in contact with some of her father's old mates and brings to the forefront again that her father's activities were not always legal. 

While I would have liked this mystery without ever watching a single VERA episode, I found the book so much richer because I had.  Beside visualizing and seeing Vera herself and her young colleague Joe, I could imagine the seaside town which is the setting for the book. When the action moves to Vera's isolated cottage, the place where the lonely girl and her father co-existed, I know what it looks like.  I can almost feel the misty rain and the wind that always seems to surround it.  I will certainly try another Ann Cleeves novel, either another Vera Stanhope mystery or perhaps one from the Shetland series, which have also made their way to the tv screen.  And I hope both television series continue production.

I obtained my copy of THE SEAGULL through the Winnefox Library System.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy

You've heard of the Rosie Riveters who toiled on the production lines during World War II, and if you're a historical fiction fan like I am, you've probably read a book or two telling about the women who flew new aircraft to their home bases, a real need for the war effort.  And thanks to the movie HIDDEN FIGURES, you now probably know more about women's role in the early days of the space race of the 1960's.  Recently we took a trip to Dayton, Ohio and while at a museum, we discovered that Dayton and the Sugar Camp of National Cash Register Company, and hundreds of WAVs, played an instrumental role in building the BOMBE machines.The American  4- cylinder BOMBE machines were similar to the British 3 cylinder effort, but could decode German ENIGMA messages faster. Immediately, I said to my husband. "I wonder why someone hasn't written a book about this?" and we talked a bit about the Bletchly Circle effort in Great Britain. That was on Wednesday, October 18th.  Little did I know that on October 10th, Liza Mundy's in-depth nonfiction book CODE GIRLS was released.  Somehow, (I honestly don't know how) the book came to my attention a few weeks later, and when I did my normal check of our library system catalog, I found a copy had just been purchased by a nearby library.  You can imagine that soon the book was in my hands!

 Code Girls

In the early days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a plea went out to colleges and schools across the country.  Needed were women who were good at math for the war effort.  Not much was said about what they would be doing, but colleges selected their best and many school teachers were also recruited.  Tests, mostly consisting of math problems and puzzles, were administered and offers of government employment, with wages clearly better than school teaching, were extended to the best students.  Some were employed as civilians, others for the Army, and others for the Navy.  All were administered oaths of secrecy.  A former girls' finishing school, Arlington Heights, was retrofitted for living and working quarters for those who worked for the Army.  Soon it would be clear that the women would be working as cryptologists or code breakers.  While Great Britain and its famous Bletchly Circle were trying to break the German Enigma code, America worked on both the Japanese Army and Navy codes.

I am NOT a mathematician, and my foray into cryptology has never gone beyond a simple substitution code or a bit of pig-latin, so I really struggled with some of the descriptions in the book.  The Japanese Navy used multiple layers of code and actually more than one code within their messages, but the men and women working on these intercepted messages would build on what they had already discovered, often finding that even a name or a place would prove vital information.   It was the personal stories of the women that I found so fascinating. While their families and friends believed the women were working as administrative assistants -- basically paper pushers, the women were actually discovering positions of submarines, planned sea attacks, and more. After the war, most returned to civilian lives, never speaking about their war work,  Ann Zeilinger Caracristi stayed on in Washington D. C.  The separate Army and Navy security efforts would join after the war and become what we know today as NSA, the National Security Agency.  Caracristi would become NSA's first female Deputy Director.  The work of the "Code Girls" was only declassified in recent years, and a few women, now in their nineties were able to be recognized by their families and communities for their efforts. 

If you are like me and love finding those times, places, and people that the history books have chosen to ignore, you will want to read CODE GIRLS by Liza Mundy.  Right now, I am wondering if the movie rights to this book have already been sold and when we will all be seeing these women acknowledged on the big screen.  I suggest you read the well researched version before we are treated to the Hollywood version.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Ordinary Graces:Word Gifts for Any Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

{More About Lucinda McDowell}

Lucinda McDowellLucinda Secrest McDowell is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she offers “Encouraging Words” to all on the journey. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, Cindy is the author of 13 books, including “Ordinary Graces,” “Dwelling Places,” “Live These Words,” “Refresh!,” “Quilts from Heaven” and “Role of a Lifetime.” Whether co-directing the “reNEW – retreat for New England Writing,” mentoring young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages.
Find out more about Lucinda at
Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.


One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A copy of Ordinary Graces
  • A $75 Etsy gift card
  • A grace bracelet
  • A set of Ordinary Graces greeting cards

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on November 24. The winner will be announced November 27 on the Litfuse blog. (Plus, you can read a free sample chapter.)


{More about Ordinary Graces}

Ordinary Graces: Word Gifts for Any Season (Abingdon Press, October 2017)
Everyone loves to receive a gift.
And God has given us many, such as his grace—the gift we don’t deserve and can never earn. Promises from the One who declares we are already loved, already accepted, already created in his image. The question becomes, will we truly receive that gift? Will the reality of it actually change the way we think and notice and reach out?
God’s Word will stand forever, in any season of life. These truths prompt us to respond with compassion and courage.
Through inspiring devotions, Lucinda Secrest McDowell reveals biblical blessings that remind us that: God’s promises give us strength, God’s grace can be most evident at our weakest points, a proper response to our abundance of blessings is simply gratitude, and the “more” we are all looking for is the same abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Would you like to receive these gifts of ordinary grace? Join Lucinda in focusing on one word a day through devotional readings and short benedictions for any and every season to explore the many facets of Grace, Strength, Gratitude, and Life.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Read a sample chapter for FREE!

This past year,  I savored Lucinda Secrest McDowell's book DWELLING PLACES:WORDS TO LIVE IN EVERY SEASON.  By the end, the book was worn, pages ruffled and marked up with notes of who to share the two page devotions with and messages to myself to reread.  While it is  always a sense of satisfaction to finish a book, I was sad that the there were not as many devotions as there were days of the year.  I am delighted that I will be able to start 2018 with a new book by
Lucinda Secrest McDowell.  ORDINARY GRACES:WORD GIFTS FOR ANY SEASON again follows the two page format.  Each entry begins with a
Bible verse and then focuses on how to recognize the daily gifts of grace, how to accept it, and how to extend it to others.  Like DWELLING PLACES, each devotion ends, not with a prayer to God, but with a message from God to the reader.  Some may think putting words in God's mouth is presumptuous, but I found those simple, warm passages to be most encouraging and settling.  Arranged under four major topics - Grace, strength, gratitude, and life- ORDINARY GRACES promises to be again a book that will end up tattered and marked up with insightful notes.  I think this book would make a wonderful small gift for loved ones this season or for someone battling one of life's rough spots.  I received a copy of ORDINARY GRACES from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017




Murder in Disguise by Donn Taylor

A story of murder, a rumored secret life, and anonymous threats—don’t miss book three, Murder in Disguise, of Donn Taylor’s Preston Barclay Mystery series! Visiting professor Preston Barclay decides to investigate the department chairman’s mysterious death. The more Press questions, the more dangerous the threats against him become, and the more determined he grows to clear his friend’s name. Can Press’ stumbling efforts prevail against the entrenched forces of the police, the campus radicals, and an unseen but powerful criminal organization that increasingly puts lives in danger?

{More about Murder in Disguise}

Murder in Disguise (Lamplighter Mysteries, October 2017)
Official verdict: Suicide.
But why would that vigorous department chairman kill himself? To avoid disgrace? Those rumored ventures on the dark side? Some other secret life? Visiting professor Preston Barclay wonders. But his questions bring no answers, only anonymous threats. He has enough problems already, proving himself on a strange campus while radical faculty do all they can to undermine him. Worse yet, that sexy siren assigned as his assistant complicates his courtship of the beautiful Mara Thorn.
While Press keeps asking questions, Mara’s research reveals a cancer of criminal activity that permeates the community and even the campus itself. The more Press questions, the more dangerous the threats against him become, and the more determined he grows to clear his friend’s name.
But can Press and Mara’s stumbling efforts prevail against the entrenched forces of the police, the campus radicals, and an unseen but powerful criminal organization that increasingly puts their lives in danger…?
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Donn Taylor

{More About Donn Taylor}

With a PhD in English literature (Renaissance), Donn Taylor taught literature for 18 years at two liberal arts colleges. Now retired, he has published suspense novels, mysteries, and poetry. His historical novel “Lightning on a Quiet Night” was a finalist for the 2015 Selah Awards. He is a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. In a prior incarnation, he led an Infantry rifle platoon in the Korean War, served with Army aviation in Vietnam, and worked with air reconnaissance in Europe and Asia. He now lives in the woods near Houston, TX, where he writes fiction, poetry, and essays on current topics.
Find out more about Donn at


At first glance, MURDER IN DISGUISE has much to offer.  First there is the apparent suicide of the department head at the university where Professor Preston Barclay has taken a summer position.  Too many suspicious questions regarding this death remain unanswered, including where are Jordan's research notes and his beloved coffee cup?
So within hours of arriving, Press and his karate-kicking girlfriend Mara's attentions are entrenched in solving the mystery.  I've read other reviews of this novel, and it appears that some readers  love the Press-Mara duo and their dynamics, but I soon tired of Preston's "music in his mind" and the constant word plays.  And it seemed that the campus "culture" wars got more focus than the crime of sex trafficking.  I never really felt any sincere outrage from Barclay once he suspected that the trafficking of young girls was what Jordan had been investigating.  Instead, the narration goes forward with the mix of word play humor and suspense, but no drive to rescue the youngest victims and return them to safety.  When I read author Donn Taylor's credentials, I feel that I should like his work better than I do. I am glad that others have liked the series, but it did not click with me.

Monday, November 6, 2017


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Wanda Brunstetter has written over 80 books, many of them Amish fiction.  Since Wanda has family ties to the Amish, I have always felt her books portrayed the group quite accurately.  For her latest release she has teamed up with her daughter-in-law, Jean Brunstetter, and granddaughter, Richelle Brunstetter, to tell three Christmas tales.  THE BELOVED CHRISTMAS QUILT crosses three generations of Amish women who each find strength and comfort through the scripture embroidered on the back of a green and red quilt, first given to Dena, a young wife who dies too soon.

As Christmas approaches, I always find that time to read is a precious commodity, and I am not alone in that time crunch. I think that is why Christmas novellas have become so popular.  As readers, we don't want to shy away from books for a whole season; yet, seldom do we have time to delve into a lengthy, complicated novel.  Novellas, usually less than 200 pages, can be read in one or two sittings, and their focus on characters living out their own Christmas seasons, can put one in a holiday spirit. In less time than it takes to watch a television drama, I was able to finish one of the stories. I think that is a great way to end a busy day.  If you have someone on your gift list that enjoys Amish romances, why not pick up a paperback copy of these three stories: Luella's Promise, Karen's Gift, Roseanna's Groom? I received a copy of this collection from Barbour Publishing; I was not required to post a review, and all opinions are mine.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

 A Dangerous Legacy (Empire State, #1)

 In A DANGEROUS LEGACY, Elizabeth Camden again delivers what I've come to expect from her writing: a strong heroine who has found a place in a male dominated career, interesting new advances in America's inventions and technology, and a story filled with mystery and challenges to the very class-structured society of the 19th  and early twentieth centuries.  Lucy Drake and her brother have lived their entire adult lives trying to regain control of their grandfather's patent for a plumbing valve, which has fallen into the hands of their ruthless, cheating uncle.  Both Nick and Lucy work long hours just to pay lawyer fees: Nick underground in the city's water/sewer works and Lucy as an UP telegraph operator. Now almost penniless, it appears that they may need to give up their long, tireless fight.  Then Lucy intercepts a message incriminates her uncle and cousin in a plot to stop the selection of Panama for the new transcontinental canal.  Seeking help from her new friend British Sir Colin Beckwith, Lucy and Colin devise a plan to learn more about what is behind the cryptic telegraph message.

I first read  Elizabeth Camden when I read BEYOND ALL DREAMS about a map librarian at what would become the National Archives.  Being a librarian myself and the mother of an archivist, I was drawn to the historical perspective of establishing the National Archives.  Finding out that Camden herself was a librarian, I began to appreciate even more her detailed looks at changing social class, emerging careers and technology.  I look forward to her next novel and encourage others to check out her work.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

NOMADLAND: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

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Russ and I have been campers our entire marriage, starting out almost 46 years ago with a blue and white cabin tent, to be followed by two different pop up campers filled with our three kids and often extra friends.  Then we experienced another series of tenting years that led back into a roomy pop camper and an even roomier, dreamy 27 foot travel trailer.  Now, after several years with no camping, we are back on the road occasionally with a 17 foot R-pod tear drop. In our retirement years, the thought of full-timing has faintly called, but our roots are too deeply dug into our home community, especially since all 6 grandchildren and their parents are less than 2 hours away.  Still, I belong to several Facebook camping groups and often see postings from people, both young and old, who live fulltime in their RV's, and their lifestyles always intrigue me.  So when I heard Jessica Bruder on NPR talking about her new book which investigates the hidden-in-plain sight phenomenon of RV nomads, who are houseless, not homeless, and travel the country from one short term job to another, I was intrigued.  Promoted as ways to earn some extra money as you see the country, these short term jobs are often a needed life line for people who survive on social security, ssi disability, or shrinking retirement funds.  For over three years, Bruder traveled off and on with people like Linda May and others who work as forest camp hosts, seasonal sugar beet workers, amusement park employees and Amazon workcampers. Long hours, no benefits, and low pay seem to be common denominators across the jobs.  Bruder gained access to the inner stories of many of these campers and shares their tales of how they ended up on the road.  The recession of 2008 seems to be a turning point for many as lost jobs and up-side down mortgages pushed them into old rvs, vans, and trucks outfitted with the barest necessities and perhaps a solar panel to boondock (living off the grid).  As Bruder joins in on  the winter rendezous in Arizona and other group gatherings she finds another denominator -- most of these travelers have given up on the American dream.  No longer do they seek or expect to spend their final years in their own bricks and mortar home; most believe it is a lifestyle that has betrayed and failed them.   While many spend the winter months in the Southeast on National Parks land where they can camp for free for a limited number of days and then travel to work jobs in the summer and fall, they must move about in between,  often "hiding in plain sight" on city streets and parking lots.  Others crash for short term stays at relatives and friends.  Although there are patterns to their travels, stability is rare. 

I found this book both fascinating and disturbing.  There is a bit of admiration for those who choose to shun belongings and seek a simpler life, even when I know I could not fit my life into 200 square feet or even less. That the nomads have used social media and word of mouth to create a support network is remarkable.  I was pleased to read Bruder's stories of friendships made and help extended. But I feel a sadness for those who were forced into this nomadic life, whether from the economic downturn or personal upheaval, and even after making such a choice, must scratch for survival.  People in their late 70's should not have to work 12 hour shifts at Amazon, regularly lifting 50 lb. boxes, and constantly on their feet, often incurring injuries that don't heal for months.  Jessica Bruder's writing focuses on America's "subcultures and dark corners of the economy."  While these topics could be depressing, Bruder approaches this story of the nomadic life with sensitivity and intelligence, making the book a joy to read.  I actually read the entire book in just a few hours, finding I could not put it down, except to share details with my husband.