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…?
Learn more and purchase a copy.
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


 Product Details

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

 Product Details

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. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Bringing Maggie Home by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Dive into the story of a seventy-year-old unsolved mystery spanning three generations of women in Kim Vogel Sawyer’s new book, Bringing Maggie Home. When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between her headstrong and contentious mother and grandmother. Will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost?

{More about Bringing Maggie Home}

Bringing Maggie Home (WaterBrook, September 2017)
Decades of loss, an unsolved mystery, and a rift spanning three generations
Hazel DeFord is a woman haunted by her past. While berry picking in a blackberry thicket in 1943, ten-year old Hazel momentarily turns her back on her three-year old sister Maggie and the young girl disappears.
Almost seventy years later, the mystery remains unsolved and the secret guilt Hazel carries has alienated her from her daughter Diane, who can’t understand her mother’s overprotectiveness and near paranoia. While Diane resents her mother’s inexplicable eccentricities, her daughter Meghan—a cold case agent—cherishes her grandmother’s lavish attention and affection.
When a traffic accident forces Meghan to take a six-week leave-of-absence to recover, all three generations of DeFord women find themselves unexpectedly under the same roof. Meghan knows she will have to act as a mediator between the two headstrong and contentious women. But when they uncover Hazel’s painful secret, will Meghan also be able to use her investigative prowess to solve the family mystery and help both women recover all that’s been lost?
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Kim Vogel Sawyer

{More About Kim Vogel Sawyer}

Kim Vogel Sawyer is a highly acclaimed, best-selling author with more than one million books in print, in several different languages. Her titles have earned numerous accolades including the ACFW Carol Award, the Inspirational Readers Choice Award, and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Kim lives in central Kansas with her retired military husband Don, where she continues to write gentle stories of hope and redemption. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters and grandchildren.

 Bring three generations of women from one family together and you are certain to have a story which will feature unresolved hurts, misunderstandings, and wounded egos.  Kim Vogel Sawyer's newest novel offers all that, plus a decades old secret which has colored the lives of all three women.  Grandmother Hazel knows that the guilt from her little sister's disappearance has shaped her life ever since, but her daughter Diane and granddaughter Meghan know nothing about this, even though both their childhoods were affected by what happened in the early 1940's.   Meghan's decision to convalesce after a car accident at her grandmother's Las Vegas home followed by her own mother's unannounced arrival provide the perfect backdrop to show that the love of family, even when only a faintest flickering light, can re-ignite and burn steady.  Although what happened to Hazel's sister was predictable, both because it had a basis in history and also because it has showed up in other fiction books recently, I liked this novel. I thought the actual discovery of the secret was quite straight forward, not really an investigation.  Everything just seemed to fall into place and unravel when Meghan and her partner visit her grandmother's childhood town. The Christian thread was more predominate than many Christian novels I have been reading lately, but it fit the story and characters.  I enjoyed BRINGING MAGGIE HOME, not because of the mystery vein, but because relationships were restored and healing found. I received a copy of this novel from Litfuse and all opinions are mine. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Many Sparrows by Lori Benton

Travel back in time to the Ohio-Kentucky frontier in 1774 as it pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts and meet Clare, who is determined to emerge from the wilderness with her children, in Lori Benton’s new book, Many Sparrows. Clare will face the greatest fight of her life, as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, her son’s life might not be the only one at stake. Can a stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do—be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?

{More about Many Sparrows}

Many Sparrows (WaterBrook, August 2017)
Either she and her children would emerge from that wilderness together, or none of them would. . . .
In 1774, the Ohio-Kentucky frontier pulses with rising tension and brutal conflicts as Colonists push westward and encroach upon Native American territories. The young Inglesby family is making the perilous journey west when an accident sends Philip back to Redstone Fort for help, forcing him to leave his pregnant wife Clare and their four-year old son Jacob on a remote mountain trail.
When Philip does not return and Jacob disappears from the wagon under the cover of darkness, Clare awakens the next morning to find herself utterly alone, in labor and wondering how she can to recover her son . . . especially when her second child is moments away from being born.
Clare will face the greatest fight of her life, as she struggles to reclaim her son from the Shawnee Indians now holding him captive. But with the battle lines sharply drawn, Jacob’s life might not be the only one at stake. When frontiersman Jeremiah Ring comes to her aid, can the stranger convince Clare that recovering her son will require the very thing her anguished heart is unwilling to do—be still, wait and let God fight this battle for them?
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Lori Benton

{More About Lori Benton}

Lori Benton was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the eighteenth century, where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, reading, or researching, Lori enjoys exploring and photographing the Oregon wilderness with her husband. She is the author of “Burning Sky,” recipient of three Christy Awards, “The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn,” Christy-nominee “The Wood’s Edge,” and “A Flight of Arrows.”
Find out more about Lori at
Lori Benton explains in an afterward to her new book that she feels a kinship to those fantasy/dystopian authors who create whole worlds for their characters.  In a similar fashion, Lori
has created whole worlds for her colonial and Native American characters, except she must hold
true to what actually happened when these distinct cultures intersected.  I've learned so much about various native nations and the spread of the colonials in the 1600's and 1700's through her books.  I confess that sometimes I balk at the slow reading pace needed to keep all the characters, complicated plots and historical details straight, but by the end of the book I am so pleased that I persevered.  MANY SPARROWS, her newest title, is my favorite Benton book yet, and I look forward to her next endeavor.  Just two years before the Revolutionary War, a young colonial family is pushing westward along the Ohio-Kentucky border, hoping to join up with a group seeking new lands a bit further west.  Husband Philip leaves his pregnant wife and four year old son alone after their wagon breaks an axle, hoping to find help if he backtracks.  Only Philip does not return and wife Clare discovers that their son has disappeared in the night.  As the labor pains begin, Clare fears all hope is lost.  When Jeremiah Ring, a frontiersman who moves freely between the Shawnee and the whites discoveres their disabled wagon, she must trust him or perish.  Soon you will see how strong a grieving, determined mother can be.

Benton has taken the factual details of the massacre of Mingo native Logan's whole family and his
violent, swift revengeful retaliation known as Logan's massacre and used it as the basis for this novel. Once on amiable terms with whites and even professing belief in Christ, Logan's actions lead to unrest and warring along the whole Ohio-Kentucky border, causing the Shawnees to decide to fight the whites.  There is so much to absorb in this novel - fragile peace talks, democratic meetings held at the Shawnee towns where even women can vote, complicated family relationships with multiple adoptions across nations and races, and Native American Christians trying to reconcile the faith that the whites profess to follow to what they see happening all around them.  I highly recommend this book, but I am going to withhold any explanation of the title MANY SPARROWS and let you discover its importance on your own.  You will not be disappointed.   I received a copy of this book from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Gathering Threads by Cindy Woodsmall

 Product Details

GATHERING THREADS is the third book in Cindy Woodsmall's THE AMISH OF SUMMER GROVE series and also the first book I've ever read by Woodsmall, although I recognize her name as one of the top Amish fiction authors.  When given an opportunity to read and review GATHERING THREADS I wondered if not having read the first two books would present a problem.  For the first time ever, I found a multi-page summary, called "the story so far," at the beginning of the book.  Although not filling in the full story of each characters' emotions, this summary told me enough to be off and running as I began the first page.  I wish all publishers of series books would offer this simple plot summary.  Avid readers know that months and even years intercede between titles within a series, and by the time we've had our hands on the latest addition, many other books and stories have crossed our paths.  Just a few pages looking back could refresh readers' minds.  We've all read those novels that try to fill the reader in by constantly adding little thought bubbles or flashback topics and those extras don't blend in that well.  A simple summary like I found in GATHERING THREADS would be a pleasant addition.

  Now for my reactions to this third novel. Ariana Brenneman, who in the previous novels found out that she and Skylar, had been placed with the wrong families after a horrendous fire at the birthing center, returns to the Amish community where she grew up after spending several months with her "real Englisch" family.  Despite wanting to come back to life with the Brennemans and the cafe she had been planning when her life changed forever, Ariana can't seem to get her footing.  No longer can she accept her daed's demands without questioning them, especially when he chooses the rulings of the bishop over listening to her concerns.  Her fiance Rudy seems to be a bit more understanding, but her needs to stay connected to her Englisch father (an atheist, but a seeking one) and to Quill, a former Amish whose departure left the community with unanswered questions, threaten the young couple's future plans.  Meanwhile Skylar who is the real Brenneman daughter (and sister to twin Abrahm) lives with her Amish parents, but does not embrace the faith.  Ariana's return and her problems bring out Skylar's jealousy and insecurities.  Woodsmall's plot did not follow the simplistic
lines that I expected; not everyone chooses the Amish way over the worldly one.  Blind, unthinking allegiance to authority is questioned and challenged.   Exposure to knowledge just for knowledge's sake is considered and its value embraced by some.  I have shied away from Amish fiction because I often find the characters and plots too simplistic.  A few strict Amish moved to our small Wisconsin rural community about 40 years ago, and we are now one of the largest Amish settlements in Wisconsin.  We have Amish neighbors all around us; we shop their businesses, see their schools, and more.  When I read Amish fiction, I want realistic, not idolized portrayals. I think Woodsmall did a good job of presenting a young woman who finds herself exposed to more of the "world" than most Amish.  What her family accepts would not happen in our area, but it was an ending that fit this story.

I received a copy of this novel from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Pretender: a blackguard in disguise by Ta Mara Hanscom

According to author Ta Mara Hanscom there are two types of men - a knight, a person of highest moral character, and a blackguard, someone willing to trick and lie to get his way.  A proper lady should avoid a blackguard at all costs.  One would think that such definitions might lead into a fairytale, regency romance or perhaps a Gothic mystery, but Hanscom's story THE PRETENDER begins in 1975 South Dakota.  Tillie, a high school senior, not yet eighteen, leaves her small town for an art show in Rapids City.  The youngest in her close knit Italian family and the first to be born in the US, Tillie has been sheltered all her life.  What causes her to trust a handsome twenty-something stranger she meets her first night away from home, even she can't explain.  By the time her school trip comes to a close, Tillie is sure she is in love, and that Noah is a knight (see above definition).  Still keeping his existence a secret, Tillie returns to Rapid City a few weeks later and witnesses something that shatters her heart and labels Noah a blackguard.  Hanscom has peopled this novel with many characters, especially Tillie's large family which includes a brother and sister-in-law who work tirelessly to bring down members of the Mafia.  Then there is is Noah's story, his relationship with his preacher brother and his old crowd of boozers.  Noah and Tillie's story begins in this book but the full story of the families continue through another four books.  This is NOT a typical romance, nor is it historical fiction.  It is a story about family, disappointments, paths unseen and more.  I got confused at times with the Mafia-hunting and continent jumping, found some "circumstances" unbelievable, but was at other times completely drawn in by the story telling.  I received a copy of this title from Litfuse; all opinions are mine.

Monday, October 2, 2017

These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart

 These Healing Hills

A native Kentuckian herself, Ann H. Gabhart captures 1940's Appalachia and the work of the Frontier Nursing Service.  Perhaps you've seen photos of those dedicated nurses on horseback, who, under the guidance of Mary Breckinridge, brought medical care, nutritional education, and midwifery to the hills, resulting in fewer infant deaths. THOSE HEALING HILLS is a quiet book, but Gabhart has an eye for the details that makes both place and characters come alive.  Francine Howard sought nursing training while her boyfriend is fighting overseas.  When she learns that he is returning after the war's end with a British fiance, Francine knows she cannot stay in Cincinnati and takes a job in Appalachia which will lead to a midwife certification.  Soon, despite her inability to keep her directions straight on the poorly developed trails of the mountains, Fran is enjoying her work. While some nurses keep an emotional and social distances from the hill people, Fran admires their determination and hard work.  She even listens to Granny Em, an elusive elderly woman whose natural medicines and ways may just have merit.  Ben Locke, safely returned to the mountain after serving in Europe, must accept that life has changed in his absence.  His father had died, his little brother Woody is now a strong teen who wants to make his own decisions, his sister has married and will soon be a mother.  While the GI Bill offers Ben a chance to get the education he has always wanted, he is reluctant to leave the mountains he so longed for while overseas.  Plus his path keeps crossing that of Francine, and he finds his heart growing for this dedicated nurse, but then his mother reminds him that she is not a mountain girl.  Does that really matter?

Beside the Frontier Nursing Program, I've read historical writings about the librarians on horseback that served Appalachia during the same years.  Both programs helped enrich and improve the lives of families across the mountains, especially the mothers and children.  Gabhart has done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of the program, while weaving a sweet romantic story at the same time.
While reading this book, I kept thinking about the book CHRISTY and the television show that was based on that book.  An anniversary edition of CHRISTY is releasing soon, and I plan to give my self the pleasure of re-reading that classic this winter.  THOSE HEALING HILLS has made me anxious for that time.  I've been a Ann H. Gabhart fan ever since I first stumbled upon the story ANGEL SISTER; she is an expert at telling stories of the human heart.  I received a copy of this book from REVELL READS.  All opinions are mine. 

What will I be reading next?

I have quite a stack of books to be read and an extremely busy month ahead, leaving not much
reading time.  First up on my pile is THE PRETENDER by Ta Mara Hanscom.  While I am reading, why don't you check out this link which tells  you more about the book and leads to a link featuring
a giveaway.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Almost Missed You by Jessica Strawser


Amid quilting projects over the past few days I listened to the audio version of Jessica Strawser's debut novel ALMOST MISSED YOU.  As the book opens, Violet is basking in the beach's sunlight and sand, her mind drifting to what she believes will be a romantic evening for she and husband Finn after they tuck in their little 3 year old boy "Bear."  But when she arrives upstairs at their suite, Violet finds an empty room.  Gone are all traces of Finn and the little boy.  Told from three points of view, with plenty of flashbacks, this psychological novel is perfect for an audio production.  Each new scene is like a layer of an onion being peeled away to reveal more of the truth.  Violet and Finn seem like the perfect couple; even the story of how they meant is legendary among their acquaintances, but Violet will soon find that Finn has never been truthful with her, and that magical meeting has a dark shadow hanging over it.  In the hours and days that Violet waits for her son to be found, she learns that Finn has not been the only one keeping secrets.  Her friend Kaitlin, who was first Finn's friend, has not been forthright with all she knows about Finn's past, leaving Violet to feel even more alone and violated. ALMOST MISSED YOU shows love is complicated, not easy, and certainly not innocent.  Guilt, blame, and fear all are primary players in this suspenseful story, and those emotions drive the plot to unseen twists and turns, right down to the ending sentences.  I was amazed to learn that this was a first novel; I hope that Jessica Strawser has more stories to tell as intriguing as this one.  ALMOST MISSED YOU will appeal to younger adults, but despite that target audience, I enjoyed this audio version.

Friday, September 22, 2017

RULE OF LAW by Randy Singer


Randy Singer has become one of my favorite authors for legal-centered fiction, but I was a bit apprehensive about his new book RULE OF LAW which delves into the political-military scene as well. No need for concern, Singer delivers a complex story line that had me engaged from the opening scenes right through until a powerful, emotional ending.  Action begins with a secretive SEAL operation outside a prison in Yemen and bounces to the strategy room of the White House.  Soon readers will be led to the hallowed ground of Arlington Cemetery, the steps of the Supreme Court, and even to the dusty roads of the Middle East for a secret meeting with a radical Muslim Holy Man. 

Following a SEAL operation gone wrong, Paige Chambers, a young prosecuting attorney leaves her job to represent the widow of "Beef" Anderson who was killed along with all his teammates, including Paige's boyfriend (soon-to-be fiancee) Patrick Quillen.  Both Paige and widow Kristen have received anonymous information that high level government officials, either the CIA director or the President, or both, knew that this secret mission had been compromised, but proceeded in sending the SEALS to their deaths. But soon the legal case seeking answers to what happened at the raid seems to turn against Paige and her co-counsel, Wyatt Jackson.  Both are accused of receiving classified information, and when a sealed deposition is leaked to the press, they are the most likely suspects.

This plot line is complicated, filled with legal twists and even more overseas "turns," but Singer's writing pulls the reader along at every step, explaining legal dilemmas at just the right moments. The jumping back and forth between settings and characters happened at a pace that kept me informed but also kept the suspenseful thread proceeding.   Paige's co-counsel Wyatt Jackson adds that renegade-type lawyer that seems to be prevalent in so many legal dramas, and the rocky relationship between Paige and Jackson adds yet another layer to the story.  SEAL Patrick Quillen, although physically only present in the early pages, has a presence throughout the book, as Paige draws on his faith to strengthen her own.  Having finished the book late last night, my mind today keeps coming back to some of the big questions that RULE OF LAW proposes -- what role should drones play in our country's military?  Who should be able to initiate and carry out a drone strike?  What intelligence should be necessary for using drones?  Do we, the American people, know what is being done?  Do we have a right to know?  How much of a president's actions are protected information?  Just reading this book made me realize that each day technology and world circumstances makes what we consider "military action" or "war" has changed and continues to change.  Keep telling the stories, Randy Singer, and keep raising questions that stack our actions against our values.  I received a copy of this title from LITFUSE.  I was not required to write a review.  All opinions are mine.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Randy Singer's new title is a political/legal thriller

Did the president play political games with the lives of U.S. service members? Add Randy Singer’s new legal thriller, Rule of Law, to your must-read list this fall. For the members of SEAL Team Six, it was a rare mission ordered by the president, monitored in real time from the Situation Room. But when the mission results in spectacular failure, the finger-pointing goes all the way to the top. Paige Chambers, a determined young lawyer, has a very personal reason for wanting to know what happened. But will equal justice under law work when one of the most powerful people on the planet is also a defendant?

{More about Rule of Law}

Rule of Law (Tyndale, September 2017)
What did the president know? And when did she know it?
For the members of SEAL Team Six, it was a rare mission ordered by the president, monitored in real time from the Situation Room. The Houthi rebels in Yemen had captured an American journalist and a member of the Saudi royal family. Their executions were scheduled for Easter Sunday. The SEAL team would break them out.
But when the mission results in spectacular failure, the finger-pointing goes all the way to the top.
Did the president play political games with the lives of U.S. service members?
Paige Chambers, a determined young lawyer, has a very personal reason for wanting to know the answer. The case she files will polarize the nation and test the resiliency of the Constitution. The stakes are huge, the alliances shaky, and she will be left to wonder if the saying on the Supreme Court building still holds true.
Equal justice under law.
It makes a nice motto. But will it work when one of the most powerful people on the planet is also a defendant?
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Randy Singer

{More About Randy Singer}

Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed author and veteran trial attorney. He has penned more than ten legal thrillers, including his award-winning debut novel “Directed Verdict.” In addition to his law practice and writing, he serves as a teaching pastor for Trinity Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He also teaches classes in advocacy and ethics at Regent Law School and serves on the school’s Board of Visitors.
Find out more about Randy at http://www.ra

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Jana Kelley has written a complex contemporary trilogy following Mia Weston as she and her family live in Sudan, hoping to make a difference through her husband's work at Kellar Hope Foundation.  Nothing about life there is what Jana expected, but the family finds a "new normal" and Mia is determined to carefully share her Christian faith with the women she meets.  Each of the three books shows both how perilous and how rewarding telling others about the forgiving love of Christ can be.
MERCY TRIUMPHS has Mia, her husband and their children preparing for a visit back to Texas, but unsure if their travels will be approved by the Sudanese government.  Meanwhile Halimah, a young convert whose story is told in the first two books, is working with refugees in Kenya.  Living under the name Sara, the new believer fears for her future but finds assurance that God will protect her.
So when her younger sister living in Dubai with an aunt and uncle asks her to visit, Sara believes God is leading both women to a new safe life.

Based on true events, Kelley's novels show how complicated life is for Christians living in Muslim dominated societies.  The stark differences between American society and life in Sudan is clear, and while it may be difficult to understand, we see that Mia truly comes to love the place which was home for three years.  As Jana Kelley writes on her website, she write(s) about faith and culture and about living a life that meshes the two," and she does it with an authenticity that is eye opening, entertaining, at times suspenseful, but mostly inspiring. I received a copy of this title from LITFUSE.  I was not compelled to write a review.  All opinions are mine.

Sunday, September 17, 2017



Debbie Macomber is one of America's most beloved authors of hopeful, contemporary novels, aimed mostly at women. Over 200 million copies of her books have sold with many of her stories  made into television movies and even a recent television series.  Set in close knit communities, her stories of overcoming adversity, finding love often make one want to find one of those cozy communities, purchase a big welcoming home, and sit on the front porch.  It has been quite a while since I've read one of Debbie's novels, so I looked forward to sinking into the pages of ANY DREAM WILL DO, her latest novel. Shay Benson knew she was making a huge mistake, but her brother needed her, or so she thought, and now five years later she has to start life all over.  Sure all chances of a normal life with someone to love or a job where people trust her have been destroyed, Shay shields her fears with a chip of her shoulder.  But something brings into the sanctuary of Pastor Drew Douglas's church on a cold winter's night. When he sees the young woman in the pews, his pastoral sense of duty kicks in and Drew takes the young woman to a shelter which works with women to give them a fresh start. But something keeps Drew checking back on Shay's progress and a friendship ensures, something both the widowed pastor and the determined Shay need.

While this book has all the hallmarks of Macomber's success -- a community with interesting, distinct characters  ( in this case, Drew's delightful young daughter); a hopeful story; and the expected romance,  too much of the story was expected, right down to the secret which Shay will not reveal.  I found this story almost like easy listening music or an often watched television series.  The story flowed quickly; I really did not need to engage my mind much to keep track of the story, and soon it was over.  I took this book along on a bus trip, and it was a good choice for that purpose.  I could read for a half hour or so on the bus and then leave the book alone to talk to my seat mate.  Then later I could pick up the book again and find myself right back into the story. Yes, I will continue to read Macomber's stories, but next time I am hoping for a bit more complexity.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND by Jane Kirkpatrick

 Product Details

Whenever I read a new Jane Kirkpatrick historical novel, I know I am going to meet a remarkable woman from our country's past, a lady who somehow stood up against the status quo and lived a life that changed the fate of families to come.  Jennie Pickett Parrish is that woman in Kirkpatrick's newest book ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND.  Married young to Charles Pickett, Jennie soon finds that the life of promise she expected is peppered with heartache.  Charles becomes moody and abusive, which Jennie attributes to drink and perhaps to a head injury; hoping to help support the family, Jennie begins distilling botanicals for healing essential oils.  Deep within Jennie is a desire to pursue the healing arts, perhaps even to be a doctor, but doubts and obstacles over shadow her dreams.  Few women have successfully entered the medical field, especially here in the new state of Oregon.  A learning disability, probably what we would call dyslexia, sets her apart from her siblings who all learned quickly.  For her, all book learning has been a burdensome challenge, so Jennie concentrates on raising her son, who even as a young child shows the signs of an addictive personality.

As we all experience, what is ahead in life is a complete unknown, and soon Jennie's life takes many twists, leaving her a divorcee, needing to find a way to support herself and her son. An opportunity to work as a nursing companion to an ailing wealthy woman allowing Jennie to pay back a loan her husband has defaulted on, and  ultimately leading to the chance to be the doctor Jennie always dreamed of being.  This isn't really a book about the world wanting to deny Jennie Pickett Parrish the opportunity to practice medicine; once she and her second husband decide she should pursue this dream, a pathway to the medical college opens for her --- possibly because her new husband (much older than she) was an influential Oregonian.  No, this is about the personal sacrifices necessary to pursue a quest for knowledge and a quest to improve the basic health of families.  The demons of addiction play a huge role in this book, and it is clear that Jennie Parrish sought the medical answers behind addiction, something we still seek.

Ever since I read my first book about Elizabeth Blackwell, I have been fascinated by the women who forged their way into the medical fields.  And I have been a Jane Kirkpatrick fan since I picked up my first title written by her, one that just happened to be set in Wisconsin, my home state.  ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND seemed a sure win for me and it was!  I must say that ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND is quieter than some of her books.  Set in the 1870's and after, this is not a book with lots of physical action -- no Indian/white settler disputes,  wagon trail treks, or starvation winters.  This is about the baby steps of change that lead to societal change.  It also shows that sometimes we have to accept that we cannot change other people, that we cannot heal them of their demons. And with that acceptance, we can move ahead to a life where we can make a difference. It is also a story about a love that defies age barriers.  I received an advanced reader's copy of ALL SHE LEFT BEHIND and I was not required to write a review.  All opinions are mine. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Broken Road by Richard Paul Evans

 The Broken Road

Richard Paul Evans is probably best known for his heart-warming Christmas fiction, beginning with THE CHRISTMAS BOX, the book that started my annual quest for a new Christmas novel to read during the holiday rush.  Last year, I read and listened to his four-book series THE WALK which features a grief-stricken young widower who walks his way across the country, finding reasons to live along the way.  Recently I picked up the audio version of his new book BROKEN ROAD which resembles THE WALK series only in the fact that someone eventually ends up taking a walk, this time along Route 66 - LOL.  Charles James began life in poverty and abuse; his Saturday mornings always began with his father and he searching the restaurant and area dumpsters for food and goodies.  When his father's oppression and cruel discipline became too much, the teen-aged Charles left home, changed his name, and headed for California.  Determination, chance, and a drive to succeed propel Charles through the next decade.  A (fictional) encounter with the author Evans has Charles agreeing to tell his story.  Through a series of flashbacks, we learn how he met the love of his life and how he scrambled to the top of the high-profile financial presentation world.  You know what I mean, even though I can't grab the correct term for it -- those flashy presentations that promise instant wealth if you just buy their special books and programs, available today only,  all for a hefty fee.  With millions in his pockets and a face that everyone recognizes, Charles has begun to have nightmares and second thoughts.  His retelling of his success in book one of a trilogy ends with a cliffhanger, of course, leaving readers ready and eager for book two.

BROKEN ROAD was an easy and relatively short listen which I enjoyed while quilting and then driving to an appointment.  The only downside is the same one I always have with series books.  I wish I had discovered this title after all three books were released; then I could have had a continuous, smooth listen to the details of Charles James' life.  Oh, for just another teaser, did I tell you that Charles James claims to be the great grandson of Jesse James?

Monday, August 28, 2017

A TIME TO STAND by Robert Whitlow

 Image result for a time to stand whitlow

Campbellton, GA is the setting for Robert Whitlow's timely legal thriller.  The relationships between its black and white citizens go back generation to share cropper days and even to slavery.  When one of Campbellton's young black male's is shot by a new-to-the-city white police officer, the town divides its loyalties.  Just minutes after receiving a dispatch call that Deshaun Hamlin is a suspect in the robbery at the QuikMart, Officer Luke Nelson approaches Hamlin on a nearby street.  Sure that the young man is reaching for a gun when the youth puts his hand in a pocket, Nelson shoots.

As Deshaun teeters between life and death, it is learned that he never had a gun and probably was not involved in the robbery.  Luke is placed on leave and waits to learn if he will be indicted.  A family man, he is supported by his church and others in the community, while at the same time, dozens of others, especially the church members of Deshaun's grandmother's church, demand justice for the boy.

Meanwhile, a perfect storm of life events brings African-American attorney Adisa Johnson back to her hometown of Campbellton.  At first, Adisa's race and loyalty to her neighborhood have her leaning toward supporting those who want Nelson tried for assault and attempted murder, but her legal experience pushes her to see that the officer must get fair treatment.  Never did she consider defending him, but that is what happens.  Robert Whitlow is one of my favorite authors for legal fiction, and he does not disappoint in this timely novel. He fleshes out the town, making its history almost a distinct character in the book, and that helped me see that "place" is an important part of the stories behind the headlines of today's news.  There is prejudice at every turn in this book, but Whitlow shows that even strongly held prejudices can come down when a few people take a stand for fairness, forgiveness, and the truth.
I received an e-copy of this book from Netgalley.  I was not required to write a review and all opinions are mine. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017


The Silver Star | Book by Jeannette Walls | Official Publisher Page ...

We had not been to a movie all summer, so last Friday I talked my husband into a mid-day trip to the Marcus theater in Sun Prairie, WI to see THE GLASS CASTLE.  I was a bit leery because I knew what the movie was a serious topic, plus hubby is not a big Woody Harrelson fan, but figured the popcorn and recliners were enough to keep him happy.  From the first moments both of us were pulled into this well executed drama based on Jeanette Walls' dysfunctional family.  It was over a hour into the movie before Russ whispered in my ear, "Is that Woody Harrelson?"  Needless to explain, Harrelson is superb at portraying the domineering, eccentric, alcoholic father who despite all his faults loves his family.  But topping his acting is the sensitive, heart wrenching acting done by the two girls who play the young Jeanette.  I seldom watch a movie twice, but I think I will rewatch this one on dvd or streaming when available.

Throughout the movie, I kept wondering why I was not making stronger connections between the book and the film.  Finally I came to the conclusion that indeed I had NOT read THE GLASS CASTLE, but had heard about it when our book club discussed HALF BROKE HORSES which is a fictionalized account of Walls' maternal grandmother's life.  That led me to the decision that I needed to read THE GLASS CASTLE (or reread it, if perchance I have read it).  When on the computer to place a hold for THE GLASS CASTLE through the library system, I found that our library had a copy of THE SILVER STAR, a fiction title by Walls released after CASTLE and HORSES.  Next time at the library, I picked SS up.

THE SILVER STAR shows again that Walls is an expert at revealing the trauma, the bravery, and the love that can be tangled together within dysfunction.  Sisters "Bean" and Liz find themselves on their own in 1970's California when their mother takes off.  With money running out and afraid that social services will realize they are alone, the two take off for Virginia and their Uncle Tinsley.  Liz remembers Uncle Tinsley and his wife as loving and happy, but Bean was only a toddler when they left Virginia with their mother in a frantic fugue.   After a harrowing cross-country bus trip, the pair arrive in Virginia to find that Tinsley has been living virtually a hermit's life since his wife's death.  Over the summer the trio meld into an unusual family while the girls wait for what they are sure will be their mother's return to her daughters.

Walls captures the 70's, but it is her depictions of children who shoulder the responsibilities of an adult world, while the demons of alcohol, mental illness, loneliness, and failure prevent the adults from fully participating in life that kept me reading.   But children are children that should be protected and nurtured and this book makes that point very clearly.  THE SILVER STAR was a fast, entertaining, but thoughtful read.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating and other adventures along Lake Superior by Mary Dougherty

Title: Life in a Northern Town: Cooking, Eating, and Other Adventures along Lake Superior, Author: Mary Dougherty

In the throes of a vacation in a charming, almost dreamy, village with views and beaches that defy description, have you considered giving up your "real" life and just staying in that heavenly spot?  I think we have all had those day dreams, but for Mary Dougherty, her husband and their young family, those dreams over several summer sailing trips to Bayfield, WI became reality.  After moving to Bayfield from Minnesota,the family expanded, Mary opened (and closed) a restaurant, and the whole family grew attached to this tiny town that leads into the Apostle Island National Lakeshore. Known for its fish, orchards, closeness to nature, and its famous Chautauqua Big Top music, Bayfield can almost claim its own culture.  A photographer and a foodie, Mary's book combines her thoughts on the place she now calls home, the meals she prepares using local foods, and stunning photography into a delightful book.  While smaller than a traditional coffee table book, LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN goes way beyond a regional cookbook and offers more than a book of photographs.  In fact, many of the photographs are a bit small, making me wish each had their own full page spread.  Arranged around the seasons, Mary's book gives us an insider's look into what it might be to live along the big lake.  Imagine, getting a late summer day call from your spouse, saying, "Let's take a sail tonight.  Gather the kids, pack a picnic, grab a bottle of wine, and let's go."
Within an hour, you and the whole family are out on an uninhabited Apostle Island beach, and while the kids jump into the water from the rocks, you and hubby are unwinding!  Or, how about taking Saturday morning excursions to find the unmarked waterfalls of the area and then returning home to your own special chili simmering on the stove?  Those are just a few normal life-special memory stories that the author shares.

Poetry and carefully selected quotations underscore Dougherty's musings on valuing one's friends, taking time to savor what one eats, and even planning now for winter's needs.  While I must admit that I will probably only make a few of her recipes because most contain spices that aren't part of my diet scope, I still loved reading the stories behind each recipe.  Despite already having a special affinity for the Apostle Islands and Bayfield (the spot where we honeymooned and have visited several time since), I gained a whole new layer of "LOVE" for the town.  And just maybe we all need to think about our real hometowns, little or big, in a new light.  What evening picnic surprises are we missing?  Where are our Saturday morning adventures and what favorite food can we share with neighbors and friends? This book was published by the Wisconsin Historical Society
and I borrowed a copy from the Winnefox Library System.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble

 Beneath Copper Falls (Rock Harbor Series) by [Coble, Colleen]

In the last two days, I've read two of Colleen Coble's Rock Harbor suspense books.  That's a lot of
fast-paced, mind-twisting mystery and a LOT of time on the NOOK in less than 48 hours. The first book was a re-release of Abomination, now called HOUSE OF SWANS, and the second book was Coble's July release BENEATH COPPER FALLS.  BENEATH COPPER FALLS was definitely Coble at her A-game. She delivered a tightly woven story that offered the Upper Peninsula Michigan setting that I love, along with a chilling mystery (when you get to the end, you will know why I chose the word chilling), and a budding romance, as well as believable side stories. I liked that the romance which grew between Dana Newell and Boone was not as fast paced as the suspense.  To the pair, it just seemed like they had a growing friendship and a natural concern for each other, especially since Dana's former boyfriend was stalking her and had followed her all the way from Washington state to Rock Harbor on Lake Superior. When Dana fears a link between Garrett, her former boyfriend, and an elusive man dubbed "The Groom Reaper," both Dana and Boone alert the authorities and begin their own investigations.  There are a lot of short chapters in BENEATH COPPER FALLS with change of characters and even change of cities.  While these may seem abrupt and confusing, that is the intent since we are being given pieces to a puzzle that do not easily fit together until later.  I found my mind trying to race ahead and fit it all together.

Like most suspense series set in a central location, there are repeat characters.  In the Rock Harbor books, that would be Bree, who trains search and rescue dogs and her husband Kade.  I like their presence in the books and they had a layer of authenticity to the UP setting.  However, both of the last two books feature their restored lighthouse home as a place that a "bad guy" tries to break into, and each time their young children are there.  While the author has not actually written scenes in which the kids face the dangerous person, I guess the kids' inclusion in these scenes is a bit too dark for me.
I know if Colleen Coble writes another Rock Harbor mystery, I will return to this fictional Lake Superior town, but for now I long for a real journey to the UP forests, shorelines, and rocks that I find most peaceful.  If I can't get there in person this fall, I will be searching for another book (but not a suspense) that will take me there.

I obtained a copy of HOUSE OF SWANS from WPLC, the Wisconsin libraries spot for e-books, and received an e-version of BENEATH COPPER FALLS from NetGalley.  All opinions are mine and I was not required to write a review. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Image result for radio girls stratford Image result for wisconsin on the air

Like the early days of aviation, the beginnings of radio are a bit vague with much happening in different places at approximately the same time.  That said, the University of Wisconsin physics department claims the first broadcasting of voice (song actually) to a different location 100 years ago this year. That was the beginning of what we today call Wisconsin Public Radio, although regular broadcasting was sketchy at best for several years. Early this summer I found out about the nonfiction title WISCONSIN ON THE AIR which gives a retrospective look at radio in our state and also found a fiction title RADIO GIRLS which focuses on the early days of the BBC in London.  Written by Sarah-Jane Stratford, RADIO GIRLS draws on both historical figures in late 1920's BBC and purely fictional characters.  American-raised (Canadian born) Maisie Musgrave (fictional character) finds work as a secretary at the BBC and is soon fascinated by all aspects of this fledgling technological endeavor.  Readers will probably be amazed, as I was, that early radio could NOT broadcast current news, a limitation lobbied for by the newspaper industry to protect their own monopoly, but soon the radio growth in popularity was due in part to the wide ranging people and topics that were part of the TALKS programming.  This division of the BBC was led by a woman, Hilda Matheson.  Stratford's portrayal of the real Matheson is just what you would expect for a norm-defying nineteen twenties woman.  She out-manages all the men and seems to never tire of the challenges she faces.  When Matheson becomes Maisie's boss, Hilda sees great potential in the mousy, poor girl.  Within months, Maisie blossoms into not only a fledgling radio programmer, but also a bit of a spy.

I really enjoyed the technological, political and social threads of this book.  We need to be reminded that other decades saw great shifts in thought and way of life.  Stratford borrowed a bit of German history (Goebel's desire take over the radio stations and to bar all women from jobs) and fictionalizes it into a German led plot to infiltrate the BBC, and while this gives the book a mystery for Maisie and Hilda, I felt disappointed when I read the author's notes on what was true and what was fiction.  To me, what was really happening in Great Britain at the time, including women getting the vote, was drama enough.  I have to confess that I read this book as we were camping at a Canadian Provincial Park. which made finding any time to read quite low on my priority list. Uusually if I am drawn into a book, I will be able to finish it in 1-2 days no matter what, buy this book took an entire week, and I can't blame it all on vacation mode. 

Since I finished RADIO GIRLS, I started the nonfiction book WISCONSIN ON THE AIR; 100 years of Public Broadcasting in the State That Invented It by Jack Mitchell.  Although I have not finished the book, I already see many parallels with the early days of the BBC.  In fact, one of the real BBC people in the novel has already been mentioned in the nonfiction title, as has the TALKS programming.  The early rifts between broadcasting and newspapers is also evident, plus Wisconsin had an educational mission similar to the one of the BBC.  I started reading WISCONSIN ON THE AIR yesterday while on our 10 hour+ drive back from Canada, and I felt I was reading faster, being more drawn into this book than the fiction one, even though this title borders on being highly academic.  And while reading, I found myself switching off XM radio as soon as I could get a Wisconsin Public Radio signal!!  Time for a bit of Saturday morning games, classical music, and a broadcast of the entertaining Dr. Zorba Paster.   Final lesson -- other technologies have vastly changed our societies and cultures, and those new technologies were heralded as methods of great advancement, while, at the same time, feared as the downfall of intelligence and thought.