Friday, May 26, 2017


Lately the World War II historical fiction books I've read have not focused on the front lines, but on the people at home affected by the war. Some of those novels covered the European homefronts, while others have told stories of young Americans whose lives were interrupted and put on hold while brothers, fiances, and neighbors went off to war.  My interest in how those left behind coped and helped the war effort grew even more when I started watching the PBS series HOME FIRES. (On a side note, that series just ended after two seasons without a true ending.  I just learned that the producers are publishing three books to take the story to a suitable ending.  Check Amazon or Barnes and Noble for release dates.  Sorry for digressing.)

When I recently read a release for Eva Marie Everson's THE ONE TRUE LOVE OF ALICE ANN, it sparked my interest right away.  Another home front story, this one features a farm family in Georgia (very near the area which would be obtained by the government for Fort Stewart), especially the 16 year old daughter Alice-Ann who quickly grows up when her brother's best friend Mack enlists.
Alice-Ann's brother, 20 and already married and involved in the family farm, receives an agricultural deferment. That bit of information added another stronger layer of interest to my reading purpose. My father, who died two years ago at age 96, had an ag deferment, also, here in Wisconsin.  At first he was an employee of a farm, then he and my mother married, and he took over my grandfather's farm, a place that is still in our family.  I never truly understood how keeping all the farms at top production was contributing to our country's ability to wage war, but after reading about food shortages and ruined crops and such in Europe, plus thinking aboutthe enormous task of feeding the millions of soldiers, I now have a clearer view of the need for able-bodied men  and women to continue working our farms.

But I digress again.  Back to the book.  My copy, which I obtained through inter-library loan, bears a tiny genre sticker reading  "Gentle Reads," and that summarizes the book to a T.  This is a gentle, quiet romance about Alice-Ann growing from the wide-eyed teenager with a dreamy crush on her brother's handsome best buddy to a maturer woman who makes the right decision about who to marry. At sixteen, Alice-Ann believes Mack will come to his senses and recognize that she is growing up and that she's the one for him.  But the war intervenes and Alice-Ann keeps her dream alive by writing to Mack, finishing school, finding a job at the bank, and working very hard on the farm.  Hers is a story that could be found in almost every rural town across the nation.  Soon the reality of war comes to their Georgia town, as news of a local boy killed in action reaches them.  Then another local boy, Carlton, returns home badly wounded, and Alice-Ann begins to spend time with this friend of her brother's who just happens to be the older brother of her own best friend.  Can someone you've known all your life and whom you've considered just to be a family friend be more?

Gentle, quiet, yet realistic and worth telling -- that is the story of Alice-Ann.  Strength and courage were not only found on the front lines. You will be entertained by this book, but it serves a greater purpose. If you know someone of the Greatest generation, talk to them, learn their story before it is too late.  And don't think you need to seek out just the soldiers; everyone of that generation, and even the kids who were too young to serve, have something to share.  Let's acknowledge and treasure their experiences

Friday, May 19, 2017

HOME by Ginny L. Yttrup

HomeMost of us identify the word home with a place - a building or a community.  We may spout the words, "Home is where the heart is" or profess that we would follow a loved one anywhere, making where he/she is our home.  Ginny Yttrup's new book HOME shows us that "home" is also that place/state of mind where we are comfortable with ourselves, true to ourselves and to God.

Next door neighbors, good friends, and work partners, Melanie Vander and Jill Rodriquez both seem to have captured the American dream.  Both have loving spouses, Melanie has a growing career as an author, and Jill can continue her career as an editor from home, while raising twin boys and her daughter.  But despite the daily cups of coffee and personal thoughts shared, neither Melanie nor Jill realizes the emotional baggage the other hides. 

Melanie and her husband are facing financial ruin as a result of the continuing recession, causing her husband to work longer hours, and also fueling the writer's block Melanie currently experiences as a huge deadline looms closer.  When she escapes the pressures of home and travels to the lakeside retreat of a new friend, Craig feels his wife's absence is more than just physical.  But could the time there and the new novel which seems to be leading Melanie, instead of the other way around, bring a whole new understanding of home to Melanie and eventually Craig?  Meanwhile, Jill finds that the obsessive thoughts and actions that have darkened her life ever since the birth of her daughter must be faced.  The growing anxiety is crippling her and threatens all she loves.

While at times, it seemed odd having two such diverse stories happening at once, I quickly settled into this pattern, accepting it as another layer of realism.  Certainly, suburban neighborhoods are filled with friends facing unique life-shaping events at the same time.  Being there for someone else while your own life is breaking into a shambles is NOT fiction.  It happens every day, and God calls us to be there for others.  It may be what he provides as a path for our own healing. My heart ached for Jill as she found her way and also when Melanie and Craig finally admit what began her emotional exit from their marriage.  Jill seeks professional help in the novel, and there is also another counselor who is a minor, but significant, character.  The inclusion of these give Yttrup an avenue for
presenting important, well-grounded information about the stages of grief, OCD, and PTSD.
While I find that many Christian contemporary novels lack the depth for book club discussions, the themes of pain, loss, anxiety, coping mechanisms, being present in your own life, and more will give
readers plenty to think about and discuss.  Read this book and you will be left pondering Yttrup's message that "Home is the memory we've yet to live."

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Image result for lillian boxfishKathleen Rooney was inspired by the personal papers and published poems of Margaret Fishback, the poet and advertising copywriter for Macy's who in the 1930's  was the highest paid female advertising copywriter in the world.  Using Fishback as the model for her fictional character Lillian Boxfish, Rooney has written an unforgettable narrative with place (a ten mile section of New York City) being as important of a character as Boxfish herself. 

It is New Year's Eve 1984 and Lillian Boxfish, now 84 (or is it 85? A woman never tells) prepares to
walk to a nearby Italian restaurant for her early New Year's dinner, a ritual that she has followed for decades.  As she dons her signature orange-red lipstick (a popular color in the 1950's), full-length mink coat, and knee high rubber boots, Lillian begins to reminisce about her life in New York City.
Soon readers will realize that they are in for a treat as they follow Lillian walk to the restaurant.  This "old bird" of a lady is one of a kind, and she views New York City as the same.  One of the first indications that she is not a typical senior citizen trying to safely exist in a changing city is her reaction to a car passing by with the deafening beat of a rap song sounding over the souped up engine.  Rather than grumble to herself about the decline in music and youth, Lillian admits liking the demanding beat and the inventive use of words, and wishes she could hear more.

What starts out as a short walk to dinner, ends up being a 10 mile hike around New York City ending as the New Year strikes. Quite a jaunt for a 84 year old!  Although we never end up at Times Square and the dropping ball, we are given a priceless view of the changing Big Apple and the role it played in Lillian's work, marriage, parenting, and present life.  The choice of New Year's Eve, 1984, for the setting is a superb one, for it is the time of the New York Subway vigilante, the first scary days of the AIDS epidemic, and a backdrop fear that the city is failing.  Those who love New York City will love this book.  So will those who have seldom visited or only visited via television, movies, and books.  This is the type of literary fiction that book clubs should grab and spend hours discussing.  I was just skimming over a dozen or so reviews on Goodreads.  While most give this novel positive ratings, a few readers reacted differently.  Some mention that there have been too many other books depicting elderly taking walks of remembering; for me, this is my first such book, so I find the plot refreshing, although I was a bit tired of the walk about 3/4's of the way through.  Goodness knows, I would be totally exhausted if I really walked 7.5 miles at night in December!!  

I also learned on Goodreads that this book is available in audio version.  I love a good audio book, and this book's first personal continual narrative is perfect for that format.  Whether you grab the audio version, an ebook, or the print hardcover, take time to consider the cover.  The real Margaret Fishback's quirky ads and light verse were always accompanied by illustrations done by a friend and co-worker.  The same is true of the book's Boxfish.  The orange-red sketch of Boxfish chosen for the cover pays homage to those illustrations.

Friday, May 12, 2017

TOO DEEP FOR WORDS by Andrea Boeshaar

Too Deep for Words: A Civil War Novel  -     By: Andrea Boeshaar
TOO DEEP FOR WORDS continues The Shenandoah Valley Saga that Andrea Boeshaar began in A THOUSAND SHALL FALL. Sisters Carrie Ann and Margaret Jean Bell are reunited when Carrie Ann's new husband (an Union officer) rescues Margaret from her indentured servant position at the Wayfarers Inn.  But the two sisters have little time to settle back into a companionable relationship when word comes that another skirmish is happening between Union and Confederates along the Maryland-Virginia border, and within a day, Carrie Ann learns that her husband is missing and presumed dead. 

Like the first book in the series, the plot concentrates not so much on the battles of war, but on the lives of those who have connections on both the South and the North. Eli Kent, a Confederate soldier, who once served in the US Army with Carrie Ann's husband, is one. When he learns that he is the executor over his former friend's estate, he takes secret actions to protect not only his Southern family, but also Carrie Ann who refuses to accept her husband's death. 

I read the A THOUSAND SHALL FALL almost 18 months ago and it took me several chapters of TOO DEEP FOR WORDS to piece together the past actions of Carrie Ann, Margaret, Peyton, and Eli.  Current readers should not have that problem because they can move quickly from book one to the next. However, I did feel the ending left lots of room for a third book which would take the readers into a post-war Virginia, a book which is slated for 2018 publication. In this installment, the author has woven in scenes which include historical figures, including General Sheridan and President Lincoln, adding authenticity to the dates of action. 

TOO DEEP FOR WORDS and A THOUSAND SHALL FALL offer stories of promises held, dangerous choices, committed love, and discovered faith against the ever-changing background of a nation at war. I received a copy for review purposes from Kregel publications, and all opinions are mine.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Silver Suitcase by Terrie Todd

Click here to buy my books.THE SILVER SUITCASE, Terrie Todd's first novel, was a finalist in the 2011 and 2012 Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest.  Many of us may have read shorter pieces by this Canadian author, as she has written several pieces for THE CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL books.  I love it when I discover a new author that I am going want to return to, and Terrie Todd certainly fills the bill.

The book opens with a prologue that captured my "grandmotherly" heart.  "1981 - Benita Gladstone's best friend would soon turn sixty years old. Which might not be remarkable if Benita weren't ten."  Who could this be, except Benita's Gram, the lady whose has shared her home with Benita and her mother.  Now that the pair finally have a place of their own, Gram's house is still where Benita feels safest and most loved.  As I said, that granddaughter-grandmother bond was enough to draw me into the story.  For the rest of the book, twin stories alternate.  In Manitoba, late winter 2006, Benita, now married and a mother herself, is trying to cope with a rough patch of life.
Her husband has lost his job and the bills are mounting as the family tries to survive on her part time job.  When her grandmother Cornelia dies, Benita, crushed by grief and anxiety, finds solace in the silver suitcase her grandmother has left her.  Inside she finds diaries dating from the 1930's when Cornie was a young teen, reeling with grief from her own mother's death.  Touched by Gram's stories of growing up on an isolated farm during the Depression, Benita reads on, only to discover a secret that her Grandmother kept all the way to the grave.  

The truth of that secret leads the way for Benita to find healing in her own life.  Modern readers may question that Cornelia would keep this particular secret even into her senior years, that she never demanded or sought what her heart would have loved to have.  But I believe her story probably happened more than we can know.  It was a pain that she kept to herself and instead sought a life that served others.  The epilogue depicts several strangers finding scattered pages of the diaries, reading the contents which just happen to deliver a poignant message for each reader.  I've read review criticizing this ending, but I think it offers a symbolic lesson for all of us.  None of us really knows the impact that our words and actions can have on others.  Those of us who believe that God has a plan for our lives, we hope that something we say or do will be as powerful as Cornelia's effect on Benita and on those random strangers. Little may we realize that words or actions long forgotten or discarded may be the moments God has chosen to make memorable and significant to others.  I enjoyed the Canadian setting of this novel, the spiritual transformation of the wounded and bitter Cornelia, and the touch of small miracles that ended the book.  Despite my lengthy to-read list and the growing pile of books on my reading table, I will be searching for a copy of Todd's second book MAGGIE'S WAR.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Before We Were Yours  -     By: Lisa Wingate
Georgia Tann and her Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home Society are another one of those dark spots in our country's history.  From the 1920's until 1950, Miss Tann's endeavors were seen as the pinnacle of caring and compassionate orphan care.  What was really happening is beyond comprehension.  Destitute women, still under sedation from giving birth, were tricked into signing away their children.  Whole families of siblings were virtually kidnapped because their parents were poor and powerless.  Lies were told to adoptive families, abuse abounded within the homes that housed the "orphans," nonthriving babies were allowed to die without care.  The cutest kids, the ones with curly blonde hair and blue eyes (think Shirley Temple look-alikes) were sent to powerful political and Hollywood families at a premium price.  When Tann's dark secrets were finally revealed, no formal charges were pursued.  She was only days from a cancer death, and her secrets meant that others who conspired with her (hospitals, police, and politicians) and wealthy clients who simply did not ask questions would also be revealed.  I hope that someone writes a nonfiction expose about Tann and her wicked world (I don't think anyone has yet), but until then I strongly recommend  Lisa Wingate's sensitive fictional novel telling how Rill and her river rat siblings are kidnapped while their parents are absent from the houseboat they call home.  The oldest, Rill, remains determined to flee the "home" they are taken to, but she knows she must stay close to the little ones and protect them the best she can.  Soon she realizes that lies and abuse are rampant at the Tann home, and that she cannot believe anything she is told about her parents.

Rill's story is alternately told alternately with a contemporary story about Avery, a prominent lawyer who is being groomed to someday take her father's seat in the Senate.  During a press opportunity at a nursing home, Avery captures the attention of an elderly woman, May, who mistakes Avery for the woman's sister Fern.  Not content to brush off the woman's distress, Avery visits her again, and that visit begins a quest to learn more about her own grandmother, a woman now  locked away in the dementia's cruel prison. 

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS is a powerful stories of forgotten pasts, fabricated lives, chosen paths, secrets held, and family ties that will not die.  Be prepared to be drawn into this book; once I started I did not want to quit reading.  Last night, with 150 pages left, I put aside all thoughts of sleep until I knew what happened to Rill and why May felt a connection to Avery.  Wingate is a masterful storyteller; she creates a perfect 12 year old Rill, old enough to be apprehensive of what is happening around her, but still childlike enough to have limited understanding of the greed and evil that has taken over her life.  Wingate then chooses to make modern tale story quiet, while revealing.  There is plenty of tension and suspense in the secret story that Avery discovers; I like that Wingate chooses to have this discovery happen in a quiet, steady way -- no car chases, clandestine meetings, or suspicious people following her every move -- just a determined woman's to find some answers. I received an ARC copy from Netgalley.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Product DetailsCOAL RIVER is the second book I've read by Ellen Marie Wiseman, and both times the stories were led by strong, but emotionally scarred young women.  Nineteen year old Emma Malloy never intended to step foot in Coal River, Pennsylvania when she left nine years earlier.  Even mentioning the town brings back memories of her younger brother's drowning.  But when her parents die in a fire, leaving her penniless and homeless, she must accept her aunt's offer to return to the coal mining town.  Upon her arrival, it is clear that she is not being welcomed into the family, but instead expected to work as an unpaid servant for her uncle, an upper official at the mine. She cannot shut off the memories of the "mean boys", now men of the community, who bullied her little brother all those years ago, but soon her attention is drawn to the plight of the "breaker boys"  who spend ten hours or more a day sorting and breaking coal into uniform pieces.  Despite new child labor laws, some of these boys are as young as 6 years old, and often their work ends in damaged or severed limbs, or even death.  She also can't ignore the crushing poverty that almost every mining family faces.  Food and supplies must be bought at the company store, and the weekly pay checks are never enough to cover the inflated prices.  Coal dust covers the walls and windows of the shacks assigned to the families, and every wife fears the death wagon that delivers a deceased body to the doorstep. 

While a few miners band together to plan a peaceful strike, it appears that someone else is ready to invoke violence.  Despite fearing that her uncle will discover her interest in helping the young boys and the starving families, Emma begins to take action of her own. 

I was really drawn into this story at first, but then found some parts confusing and overly dramatic in the middle.  Then the book ended with a unanticipated and disappointing (to me) twist, leaving me with mixed feelings about the book.  The appearance of  Lewis Hine, a famous photographer who helped change the plight of child laborers, including mine workers, seemed a last ditch stab at winding up the story in a successful way.  I am familiar with his photos and have read about his work.
His inclusion in this book was not given the seriousness he deserves.  I've read other reviews of this
book online, and it seems to be earning mixed reviews -- which sums up my personal reaction.   Wondering what other historical fiction books cover coal mining; would like to read another for comparison. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Cousins of the Dove series by Cindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould

My Brother's Crown (Cousins of the Dove)The Cousins of the Dove is a three book series co-authored by Cindy Starns Clark and Leslie Gould. Book one MY BROTHER'S CROWN tells a dual tale, the first being that of Hugenot Catherine Gillett in 17th century France.  As Henry XIV's ban against non-Catholics becomes more strictly enforced, Catherine and her family struggle to figure out a way to save their printing business and their lives.  The second story is that of Renee Talbot, a descendent of Catherine's, and her cousins.
While the cousins are gathered to celebrate the donation to the Smithsonian of the rare Persecution Pamphlet, they cannot deny still being negatively affected by the gruesome discovery they made years earlier in the Dark Woods on their grandmother's estate. Brett Keller is hired to provide security for the document and he and Renee set out to discover the coded message within the pamphlet and to dig out some answers about the Dark Woods mystery. 
My Sister's Prayer (Cousins of the Dove)
While I enjoyed both of these stories, I was delighted to find that the second book was even stronger than the first.  MY SISTER'S PRAYER begins a few months later as Maddee Talbot (cousin of Renee) takes on the care of her troubled younger sister Nicole, who was injured in a car accident, an accident caused by Nicole's intoxication and drug abuse. While Maddee is sympathetic that Nicole has always been haunted by their night long ago in the Dark Woods, she fears that Nicole will sabotage this current chance to get sober and turn her life around.  As their weeks together progress, the two sisters struggle to build trust, especially when Maddee catches Nicole in some lies and then discovers that someone is watching the house.  Their grandmother gives them the task of reading a bundle of letters written in 1704 by Celeste Talbot, who secretly left England and traveled to America to wed an English soldier.  It is only after she sets sail that she learns that her younger sister has boarded the same ship and is deathly ill.  The stories of the two pairs of sisters have strong parallels and those centuries old letters have lessons for both Maddee and Nicole.  The Dark Woods mystery thread still runs through this novel; readers learn a bit more about what the girls discovered nine years earlier and how it affected them, but the complete mystery is NOT solved.  MY DAUGHTER'S LEGACY, the third and final book, releases this summer and I already have a hold on it through our library system.

Friday, April 14, 2017

If I'm Found by Terri Blackstock

If I’m FoundIn the new novel IF I'M FOUND, Terri Blackstock continues the suspense-filled tale of
Casey Cox who has been wrongly accused of killing a newspaper reporter investigating her father's suicide years earlier.  Book one, IF I RUN has Casey on the run as both a Shreveport police detective and a private investigator, Dylan Roberts rush to find her.  Casey settles into a new identity but her need to help a child in danger blows her cover and the first book ends with Casey on the run again.
But as that book ends, it is clear that Dylan now has doubts about her guilt and he is beginning to look into possible fraud in the police department.

As the second book IF I'M FOUND opens, Casey secures a new identity, but rather than hiding out in a safe location, she begins to search for information that will identify just who is "dirty" in the Shreveport police department.  The book follows a very similar pattern to book one.  Casey cannot focus on just keeping safe; she gets involved in the lives of the new people she meets, and her need to do right by them leads to new danger for herself.  Dylan continues to believe in her innocence and tries to keep a barrier between her and the police department, all the while keeping up the pretense that he is looking to find and capture her.  The story line that Dylan suffers from PTSD continues in this book and adds a layer of realism to a story that at times seems like an entertaining rerun of THE FUGITIVE.  There is a building relationship between Dylan and Casey, but the danger they face takes precedence, something I appreciate. For me, sudden romances between two people thrust together in times of danger often seem too contrived. I've always enjoyed Terri Blackstock's writing and this series is a break from her typical crime fighting series.  A third book will be following soon, and hopefully, Casey will be vindicated and the villains will be caught.  I received a copy from NetGalley and all opinions are mine.

Monday, April 10, 2017

A Trail of Crumbs: A Novel of the Great Depression by Susie Finkbeiner

9780825444463-1Author Susie Finkbeiner has picked up the tale of 10 year old Pearl Spence and her Oklahoma family just months after the death of her Meemaw in her new novel A TRAIL OF CRUMBS.  While the author, through Pearl's recollections, tries to file the readers in on the dangerous events that are resolved at the end of book one A CUP OF DUST, my advice is read that title first and then start A TRAIL OF CRUMBS.  Then you will better understand the spunky, yet fragile Pearl.  Having already experienced more than most adults, Pearl tries to make sense of her abandonment by her birth mother.  Despite the security provided by her loving adoptive parents (especially her father), Pearl's life continues to be affected by the hardships of the Oklahoma dust storms and the crushing depression.  The latest storms have brought the family to its knees as they bury another loved one and hear the doctor's message that Pearl must leave Oklahoma as another bout of dust pneumonia would kill her.

Readers follow the family east to Bliss, Michigan, home of Papa Spence's cousin Gus.  While sights of green grass and flowing rivers may be bliss, Pearl fears that all will not be bliss in Michigan, especially when she witnesses that the vacant, tired look in her mother's eyes does not disappear despite their new home.  And despite Pearl's prayers that Bliss offer up just one friend her age, none materialize and it will be the heroines in her library books and Cousin Gus's wife who will be the girl's companions throughout the summer. Soon the family will face a new threat, one more costly and dangerous than any dust storm.

Finkbeiner writing is both gentle and strong at the same time, just as Pearl is.  We see life through her eyes, and as I mentioned before she has endured more than most adults, and those events have left some deep-seated fears and regrets.  Readers of fiction like to have life neatly tied up at the end of each book, but this book does not offer resolution.  The book ends at the end of a year; Pearl has turned eleven and the family is surviving, but for those readers who want to know more, we have to wait for the third book A SONG OF HOPE which publishes in February 2018.  All the time I was reading A TRAIL OF CRUMBS, I was trying to piece together the whole story of the first book which I read almost two years ago.  By the time I finished this book, I had come to love Pearl and admire her father one more time, but I have to admit I am greatly disappointed that I will need to wait a year to finish their story.  I don't fault the author for this time lapse, but I wish publishers would
space series like this one closer together.  This isn't the type of series built around a town or multiple members of a family, or one character who solves one mystery after another.  This is one whole story, broken into three parts, and I really think readers deserve access to the whole story in a short time frame.  My advice, read books one and two together, and keep them close so you can refresh your memory when the final book comes.  Susie Finkbeiner is a talented author, especially gifted in capturing time and place.  I look forward to her future writings.  I received a copy of this title from Kregel Publications; all opinions are mine, and I was not required to write a review.

SPECIAL NOTE:  Here is a link to my review of A CUP OF DUST, the first book in this series.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poem's is "Hope is the thing with feathers" which compares hope to a tiny bird tossed about during a tumultuous storm, but who never quits singing.  Christian (and Wisconsin) author Cynthia Ruchti tells a similar story in her new book A FRAGILE HOPE.
Josiah Chamberlain has made his life repairing other people's marriages through his writing and his lectures.  Ever observant and perceptive of human behavior, especially in regards to couples, Josiah has completely lost contact with his own marriage.  So when he receives news that his wife Karin has been in a car accident, that the driver of her car was a man and the husband of a friend, and that his wife is now in a coma, Josiah's world begins to spin and his mind begins to question everything.
When he learns that the man has died and that Karin is pregnant with a child that Josiah is certain cannot be his, the storm of his life bashes him like the tiny bird in the Dickinson poem. 

Josiah feels a great betrayal, yet he cannot walk away from that tiny heartbeat the nurses have let him hear and from the wife he still loves.  A tiny hope remains and through the foggy, tumultuous weeks that follow, that hope is fed by the faith of a stranger in the ICU family room, his grieving father-in-law, and an unorthodox new doctor.  Throughout the book wife Karin's thoughts are shared in two ways - one, through the greeting card sentiments, drawn from her SEEDLINGS AND SENTIMENT business, that start each chapter and from her infrequent coma-bound "thoughts" which we are privy to, but are not understood by anyone else. 

As always, Ruchti, a master storyteller, unfolds a story layered with unforgettable characters and meaning that will have readers thinking about our own lives, especially our relationships with our family and our faith.  While most of us have never experienced that awful nightmare of a loved one teetering for weeks and months between life and persistent vegetative state, we have may have walked in  our own foggy darkness over a real or perceived betrayal.  We may have let that betrayal color our lives in permanent gloom, or like, Josiah, we may have let the tiny bird of hope find a resting place.   For Josiah, the knowledge that He (Jesus) was on that night (night of the Last Supper) betrayed and yet remained among those He loved, to do what God had called Him to do, is the truth he cannot reject. Holding on to that kernel of faith, Josiah finds a fragile bit of hope and faces his new life -- no longer the modern world's expert on love and marriage, but merely a husband loving his wife, even when his questions have no answers.

I received an advanced reader's copy of this title.  All opinions are mine.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Murder is No Accident by A.H. Gabhart

ANGEL SISTER by Ann Gabhart and the two books which completed the series are among my all-time favorite Christian fiction.  Gabhart excelled at capturing both time and place of the Depression and the forties, but most of all she created such in-depth characters.  When I learned that she was writing cozy mysteries under the name A.H.Gabhart, I was a bit skeptical, thinking such writing would be a waste of her talent.  Think about it.  Really, aren't the characters in most mysteries sketchy -- sort of cookie cutter or paper doll thin?  Maybe the author spends time developing the main characters who will reappear in future novels, but even then, we are usually only given a bit of their story per book.  Recently, I've read a few mysteries in which the antagonist/murderer isn't even in the book until the end when they conveniently are introduced to wrap up the story.  With all that in mind, I wanted to read one of A.H. Gabhart's mysteries, but I was also prepared to be disappointed.

I am happy to say that there was no disappointment.  Gabhart continues to pen genuine small-town  characters that readers will love.  In MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT, I quickly bonded with 15 year old Maggie Greene who has been secretly hiding out in the tower room of the empty Victorian Chandler house.  She relishes not only the view, but also the quiet away from the stress of her troubled family.  As the book opens, Maggie is again there, working on one of the stories she loves writing; when she hears realtor Geraldine Harper enter, Maggie keeps extra quiet, not wanting to be discovered.  Within minutes, Maggie will hear a second person enter, argue with Geraldine, then a thud, followed by someone leaving.  When Maggie finally descends nervously from her tower perch, she discovers Mrs. Harper's body at the bottom of the stairs. 

Deputy Sheriff Mike Keane is called to the scene, following an anonymous call that there is a dead body at the estate (can you guess who made that call?) and while the coroner declares that Geraldine tripped and fell, Mike can not shake an uneasy feeling.  As he considers other possibilities, we are treated to learning more about Mike, the person.  We see him in action with the church youth group on a fishing trip, we see his interaction with the troubled teenager he has taken under his wing. and we watch as he struggles with his long-suffering love for Alex, the girl who left their small town for a big city law career.  Adding more layers to the story are Reece, the town's lawyer and Alex's uncle; Michael's Aunt Lindy (a school teacher); Miss Fonda, heir to the Chandler house, now a victim of Alzheimer's; and not least, Maggie's father who has finally decided to do something about his
alcohol addiction.  Oh, and I can't leave out the new shop keepers in town, one of whom seems to be just too interested in a death that happened in the Chandler house decades earlier. 

If you've never read any of Gabhart's writing, treat yourself and find one of her books.  I like that her books can span generations.  I would recommend MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT to young adolescents and young adults who like mysteries, and I could just as confidently recommend the title to my older reading friends.  Likewise, I believe her historical fiction novels would appeal to many ages.  I was supplied a copy of MURDER IS NO ACCIDENT by Revel Reads.  I was not compelled to write a review and all opinions are mine.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Banana Cream Pie Murder by Joanne Fluke

As Joanne Fluke's latest Hannah Swenson mystery opens, Hannah and new husband Ross are enjoying the last days of their honeymoon cruise.  Meanwhile, back in Lake Eden Hannah's mother discovers the body of retired actress/community theater director Victoria Bascomb.  Within hours of arriving home, Hannah is involved in trying to solve the mystery along with her younger sister Michelle.  While the book starts out with some interesting details about Hannah and Ross adjusting to life as a married couple -- do they like the whole apartment makeover done by Hannah's mom and sisters?  Will Ross mind having Michelle stay with them for a few weeks?  Can Hannah adjust to having Ross around every evening?  Before she even has a chance to consider the last question, Ross is gone (for work?) and really never appears much again.  That appears to leave Hannah free to snoop and pry into the murder.  Was it the mayor, who appears to be a suspect in several Fluke novels?  But perhaps this time, he is guilty.  Victoria was his sister and she was planning to change her will, cutting him out as punishment for his bad behavior. 

Although I've known about the Hannah Swenson mysteries for years, I did not start reading them until after I saw the Hallmark movies based on the series.  With my interest sparked by television, I read the newest Christmas tale CHRISTMAS CARAMEL MURDER and now BANANA CREAM PIE MURDER, plus I downloaded a few others on my Nook. While the idea of inserting actual recipes into the stories is appealing, I found that this book just had too many recipes.  Now, I often spend evenings reading cookbooks like they were novels, but the inclusion of a new recipe or two at the end of every chapter of the had me distracted.  Mostly it was the lengthy instructions with all sorts of "personal comments" from Hannah, Michelle, or the author that had me skipping ahead to the next chapter.  I mean there was a murderer on the loose. Recipe overload aside, this mystery offered a bit of humor via a trick on the mayor during a pie eating contest.  Then there was an ending packing two surprises worthy of another television adaption. While this wasn't my favorite cozy mystery of all time, it was a quick, entertaining read.   Plus, I have to admit I have a hankering for an old fashioned banana cream pie; so much so, that I put bananas on my grocery list and I hope I get a pie made before hubby eats all the bananas on his cereal.  I received a digital copy of this novel from NetGalley.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Women of Easter by Liz Curtis Higgs

The Women of EasterThe full title to Liz Curtis Higgs's latest book is THE WOMEN OF EASTER: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene.  And that is exactly what the book delivers.  We first see Jesus at Mary and Martha's home, an encounter that showcases the opposite reactions of the two sisters.  While Martha frets over the earthly obligations of being the perfect hostess, Mary seeks a spot at the Lord's feet, taking in his every word.  Then we see the pair of sisters again, when Jesus arrives after receiving word of Lazarus's illness.  Again, we are familiar with this passage and its outcome, but our author sheds insight on its importance in Christ's ministry and as a fore teller of Christ's own resurrection -- the power over death that only comes from God.  And Higgs's explanation of Mary's washing of Jesus's feet with oil again points to the cross and days ahead.

From these chapters, we travel ahead with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem and its outlying areas.  We experience Palm Sunday, the business of the temple, and the plot  against Jesus.  While the disciples' reactions are explained, much emphasis is given to those times when the women were present, especially the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. First we see and feel the pain that Mary, Christ's mother, felt.  It reminds us of those times our days and nights have been darkened by grief and pain that won't diminish.  Her time beneath the cross is yet another sign of the significance of what Christ did for us.  And then the empty tomb! A time to rejoice and shout.  You would expect the full clutch of disciples to be there to discover the empty grave.  But no, it is the women who have gathered the necessary spices and oils (after the Sabbath) and leave as early as possible to show their pure love for the Master by tending to the body. Remember, this was a time when women had few rights, yet God chose Mary Magdalene to be the bearer of news that Christ's body was gone, and that an angel had proclaimed he had risen. 

As Liz Curtis Higgs retells the details of Holy Week and Easter, she often quotes scripture, often citing different translations of the same verse or partial verse.  This is a technique that broadens the scope of our understanding, and it is a technique that she's used before in her nonfiction books, as have other Christian writers. Even so, it is a style that can be difficult to read and follow.  I wish I had taken the time to reread one translation in its entirety before starting this book; perhaps, that would have helped minimize the scattered feeling I sometimes felt at the verse-by-verse narration and commentary moved through multiple translations of key phrases.  Perhaps the most insightful part of THE WOMEN OF EASTER are the discussion questions which follow the book.  I made the mistake of not reading those questions during the reading process.  I highly recommend that any future reader read the accompanying discussion questions immediately after reading a chapter.  Hopefully, most readers of this book will have the opportunity to read the book as part of a study/discussion group. That, I believe, will give you the greatest results.  I received a copy of this prepublication from Blogging for Books. All opinions are mine.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Home At Last by Deborah Raney

Most of us would rank spending time with family as one of our highest priorities, but recognize that life's responsibilities and stresses often rush in and prevent quality time with loved ones.  In Deborah Raney's Chicory Inn series, readers meet an extended family who are able to honor that promise to make family first.  Their success centers around matriarch Audrey Whitman's decision to make Tuesday nights family dinner night; everyone gathers at the family home, now a B and B called Chicory Inn.  Grandchildren are spoiled, silly games are played, and occasionally problems are aired.
I've enjoyed the early books of this series, so I was delighted to revisit Chicory Inn  in book four CLOSE TO HOME and in book five HOME AT LAST.  Author Raney again dishes up some memorable Tuesday nights, but more importantly gives readers windows to heartfelt, realistic stories of second chances, challenges, and acceptance.  In CLOSE TO HOME, young widow Bree Whitman knows she must move on with her life as the five year anniversary of her soldier husband's death arrives and passes.  But she fears any new life she chooses will mean leaving behind the large Whitman family, her late husband's parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews she has come to love so much.  While we have not all experienced death of a young spouse, we've all experienced loss and can relate to Bree's inability to move on.  As always Deborah Raney's "take" is sensitive and beautiful.

HOME AT LAST, Raney's most recent novel, ends the series.  A secondary story thread about great-mother Cee-Cee failing health continues in HOME AT LAST, while the primary focus in on family bachelor Link.  Tired of his dead-end job and his single status, Link takes a risk and asks out beautiful Shayla, who runs a bakery and coffee shop with her father.  While Shayla is mutually attracted, she sees too many barriers -- her need to care for her young niece, her father's dependence on her, and not least, her bi-racial heritage.  Shayla's life is complicated and falling in love with Link isn't the smooth, easy road to a happy ending that one would expect.  Author Raney tackles prejudice, race, and past mistakes, showing us that God can handle all of that and with patience, we can all find HOME AT LAST.

I received copies of these two novels from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine. Close to Home: A Chicory Inn Novel - Book 4

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Penny Brannigan mystery by Elizabeth J. Duncan

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Mystery (A Penny Brannigan Mystery) by [Duncan, Elizabeth J.]Our local bookclub read the Agatha Christie novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in January as a salute to the 100th anniversary to Christie's first publication.  While we had a great discussion including comparisons to the various movie interpretations of the novel, most of us came to the conclusion that we are drawn to the more complex character development in more modern mysteries. We also wonder just what the upcoming release of a brand new MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, starring Johnny Depp, will do to the original plot and characters.  We ended the evening by sharing names of "cozy mystery" series that we have enjoyed.  I recommended Diane Mott Davidson's series featuring Goldie the caterer, but since there haven't been any new titles recently, I was eager to hear the recommendations of others.

That's how I came to read my first Penny Brannigan novel.  Set in Wales (first book set in Wales for me, too), Penny is a transplanted Canadian who makes her living as a manicurist in a small village.
As the book opens, Penny's long time friend, former school teacher Emma Teasdale has just died and Penny tells the funeral director that she would like to do the friend's nails one last time as a tribute to their friendship.  Then Penny must prepare for a busy weekend as she is going to the do the nails for a bridal party.  Meg Wynne Thompson, the bride, is new to the community, and her upcoming marriage to the most eligible bachelor in Lianelen has everyone gossiping, especially after her drunken father has an outburst at the rehearsal dinner.  The next day, when the bride fails to show up for the ceremony, it becomes apparent that Penny may have been the last person to see the missing bride.  When Penny figures out that the person who came to get a manicure WAS NOT really Meg Wynne Thompson, the police suspect foul play.

I liked Duncan's writing and especially the development of the kind, quiet and observant Penny, but I felt that the mystery really took a back seat to Penny and her life in the village. That made it necessary for much of the mystery plot to be revealed at the very end.  I guess I prefer mysteries which reveal more clues as you read along and which include both the victim and the villain in more of the plot.  I've got lots on my to-read pile, but I think I can make time to try another Penny Brannigan story when I'm in the mood for a quiet mystery and a trip to Wales.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

Murder on the MoorThe covers of Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering Mysteries all have a distinctive look - to me, they are reminiscent of Art Deco, the 1920's and 30's classic look while still projecting a British feeling, all which perfectly replicate the settings and tones of Deering's books.  Drew Farthering, himself, graces the cover of MURDER ON THE MOOR but the eye is also drawn to images of a dark, brooding country estate.  Note the foggy moor in the background, as its wildness, isolation and  abandoned structures and ruins is as much a character in this tale of murder and secrets as are the residents of the small Yorkshire town Bunting Nest. 

Drew Farthering and his wife are called to Bloodworth Park Lodge by Drew's childhood friend Beaky Bloodworth.  Newly married and recent heir to the Yorkshire estate of his uncle, Beaky (nicknamed for his nose), is unsettled by the apparent murder of the village vicar and his wife's obsessive worry over strange noises and sightings near the estate.  Within days of arriving at Park Lodge, Drew and Madeline learn of a second murder, hear the ancient tales of a wandering wild beast, and find gigantic canine-like footprints in a crumbling, unused section of the estate's home.  Suspects and red herrings abound in this delightful tale.  Is it Beaky's beautiful new wife, unhappy with leaving her glamorous London life for this remote, worn out estate?  Has she found a new love in the dark, rugged Welsh groundskeeper Rys Delwyn or the neighbor Morris Gray, whose own marriage seems stalled in mediocrity?  A dead body on the church steps, a tampered sports car, strange noises in the night, and then there is that isolated, dark moor -- all this adds up to a mystery Agatha Christy would smile to read!  Add in the dynamics between the charming Drew and Madeline, and you have another successful Drew Fathering mystery.  I received a copy of this title from CELEBRATE LIT fpr review purposes. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Down and out with a nasty cold

Usually, I'm not the one in our family to get laid low by a cold, but this time I confess that I am laid low and miserable.  I am not sleeping well and the stuffy sinuses are making it difficult to even read.  Luckily, I do not have any deadline reading for a few days, and by then I hope the cold is long gone.  I do feel badly about how the cold is affecting my reading enjoyment because I have just started MURDER ON THE MOOR by Julianna Deering, the fifth mystery novel featuring Drew Fathering, a British mystery author, and his elegant American wife Madeline.  Billed as a return to the Golden Age of Mystery, I think Deering's series would make a perfect television show.  The settings in old British estates and countryside villages rival Downton Abbey, the dynamics between Drew,  Madeline, and the antics of Drew's sidekick Nick would transfer to the small screen brilliantly.
To me, their antics have a bit of 1920's Fitzgerald flair.

For now, I am going to post a link to the Celebrate Lit website and their kickoff information for
a blog tour featuring Deering's new novel MURDER ON THE MOOR.  Hope you can grab yourself a copy and enjoy.  At least, stop back when it is my time on the tour!! And stay well.  Me, I'm making a cuppa (tea, that is) and then I'll see if Drew, Madeline, and Nick can take me away from my stuffy head miseries.
 Murder on the Moor

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley

Jana Kelley has written a pair of contemporary novels that draw upon her years living in Africa and the Middle East, resulting in a look into a world few Western Christians have experienced.  In SIDE BY SIDE, readers are introduced to Mia, a young Texas housewife, who has moved to Northern Sudan with her husband and three children when Michael accepts a position with a health care foundation.  Slowly, Mia finds her footing and even begins to make friends with the local family next door.  Young children do not understand barriers and their desire to play together gives Mia and  neighbor Hanaan a chance to share their cultures with each other. Readers get honest peeks into shared family time, women's get-togethers, celebrations, and special foods. While Mia would like to share her faith, she knows the laws in Sudan, and so she waits.  Meanwhile, across the city, a young Muslim college student, faces an uncertain future.  Knowing that her education will soon end and then her father will seek a spouse from among the family's cousins, Haliman feels drawn to the small New Testament a professor had given her months before.  In stolen moments of alone time, she reads and re-reads the book, knowing that Jesus's words call to her.  When her new faith is discovered, Haliman is beaten by her father and disowned.  Before her father has time to send her away, or worse kill her, Haliman flees.  Friends find a place for her to heal -in the home of Mia and Michael. Side by side, Mia and Haliman learn much about life and God.
In the second book, DOOR TO FREEDOM, Mia adjusts to life after Haliman has been smuggled out of Sudan for a new life.  While having read the first book made the start of this book a smooth transition, I don't think a reader would have much trouble jumping into the second book without the first.  Just like the first book, DOOR TO FREEDOM is told from two viewpoints, one being Christian Mia and the other, a young Muslim woman.  Mia and Michael have found other Sudanese friends, including a couple who want to know more about Jesus.  But then it seems that the government is threatening to shut down the medical foundation where Michael works, and the couple begins to fear that they are being watched.  Beth, an American nurse, who had been Mia's first friend in Sudan warns Mia and Michael that they should not be so bold.  Meanwhile at Haliman's home, her younger sister is experiencing the aftermath of her sister's flight.  Now held up at the only daughter, Rania, is held almost captive in the family compound. Her father, fearing any influences that might corrupt this daughter, he quickly searches for a suitable husband, not caring that Rania hopes to study art.  Feeling hopeless, Rania remembers the tiny book of scripture Haliman gave her to hide, begging her to read someday.  Will fear rule over Mia and Rania, or will they see God's hand in what lies ahead?

Author Jana Kelley's style reads like nonfiction.  These tales of persecution are powerful and truthful, yet Kelley is respectful of the Muslim women and their lives.  She beautifully explains many of their customs, foods, and everyday life.  I learned much from reading these two novels.  Both are published by publisher New Hope whose mission is bringing to print books that challenge Christians in their beliefs  and their roles in God's mission.  I received copies from Litfuse and all opinions are my own.

More about the book.

Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley

Can you imagine the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law? Jana Kelley explores modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan in her new book, Door to Freedom. In the Islamic country of Sudan, Mia has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.

{More about Door to Freedom}

Door to Freedom (New Hope, February 2017)
It’s rough and it’s smooth. It’s dark and it’s light. It’s a masterpiece. It’s us. Here in Sudan. We are scared of it and drawn to it. There is an open door, and there is much opposition.
In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia, who is raising her family in a Muslim country, has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.
Part of New Hope Publishers’ line of contemporary missional fiction, Door to Freedom, the sequel to Side by Side, opens the reader’s eyes to modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan. Based on real-life events, Door to Freedom also reveals some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as for the salvation of the persecutors.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Jana Kelley

{More About Jana Kelley}

Author of the captivating novel “Side by Side,” Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend East Texas Baptist University. She and her husband married a month after she graduated, and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. After 13 years living in Africa and the Middle East, Jana, her husband, and their three boys moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.
Find out more about Jana at

Sunday, February 19, 2017

JUSTICE DELAYED: A Memphis Cold Case Novel by Patricia Bradley

Justice Delayed (Memphis Cold Case #1)Andi Hollister has overcome much in her young life to become a rising star on Memphis news television.  Eighteen years earlier, at age 13, heart surgery saved her life.  But that surgery could never mend the heartache left by her sister's murder just days before Andi's surgery.  Even though Stephanie's sometime boyfriend confessed to the murder and sits on death row, the family still has unanswered questions.  So when a former roommate of Stephanie's contacts Andi and requests a meeting just 3 days before Jimmy's execution, Andi consents.  When the roommate fails to arrive, Andi soon finds herself pulled into a police investigation that leads to the possibility of opening Stephanie's murder case. 

Whenever a cold case is solved in real life, it makes headlines and gets plenty of television coverage; that coverage has translated to cold cases being popular fodder for movies, series television, and now fiction.  I've read other crime novels by Patricia Bradley and she does excel at mixing romance, police drama, and suspense.  In this novel, she reaches back to the real-life 90's headlines and the  scandals of the African blood diamonds and makes diamond smuggling the base for this thriller.
What I liked most about the book is that we the readers have significant knowledge of Stephanie and her activities that would clarify what really happened to her, but it is information that no one in the family or law enforcement have discovered, even 18 years later.  But someone else, someone dangerous, knows the facts and will do whatever is necessary to keep the case "cold."  Bradley plays the romance key in this romantic suspense in a subdued manner, and I appreciate that.   Andi finds herself reconnecting with Will, a family friend, who now works on Memphis cold cases.  At one time, Andi was just a pesky younger sister of Will's best friend, and Will was the older teen who always hung out at Andi's home because his own home life was lacking.  Now both successful adults, Andi and Will are attracted to each other, but finding the answers to Stephanie's death is what gets priority.  Be prepared for lots of twists and turns, and a finale that would play out successfully on the big screen.  I was given a copy of this title from Revell Reads.  All opinions are mine.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul by Ruth Soukup

Image result for unstuffedHints and methods for decluttering and tidying can be found almost anywhere these days -- magazines, videos, televisions and dozens and dozens of books.  Organizing experts have sprung up across the country, even in mid-sized towns.  Truthfully, our home isn't the scene for the next hoarders episode, but there are areas of disorganization and overabundance that could use some work.  So when I see new books and articles about taming the stuff, a bit of guilt begins to gnaw, and perhaps that it is why I borrowed UNSTUFFED by Ruth Soukup through interlibrary loan. 

The first part of the book has some very simple commonsense steps for decluttering your belongings, most of which I had already heard.  What stood out is Soukup's written time schedule for going through one's house in ONE full weekend.  Clearly this would be a full, exhausting weekend, but if her plan is followed, you'd end up with a neat pantry, orderly pots and pans, and no orphan plastic dishes or lids.  And that's just the kitchen.  Imagine a medicine cabinet with no expired pills, lotions, or nasty, unwanted creams and a bedroom closet with no lone socks or skirts two sizes too small. 

What makes the book even more useful is the author's perspective on our over-scheduled hectic lives.
She points out the connection between unrecognized anxiety/exhaustion and our compulsion to always be adding more to our plate.  I am quite sure my husband and I have passed that exhausting phase of life now that we are retired, but just reading this book brings back memories of the late nights finishing laundry, the severe headaches that wiped me out for a day or more, and whole weeks without an evening sans activities.  And I felt we tried to see that our lives were NOT overscheduled. All families with working parent(s) and kids in activities could benefit from reading Soukup's book, even if you have heard similar messages elsewhere.  Soukup goes on to show how our compulsions to shop, to have more, and to keep abreast of the newest technology all work to make our lives more complicated, not better. 

Again, I can't say that the author said anything that I had not already read or thought myself, but still I really enjoyed the book.  I am thinking perhaps I need to read something similar every couple months to keep me focused on simplifying our lives.  And now for my goal for this week -- going through all the bathroom drawers and linen closet.  Threadbare washclothes and broken combs, you will be tossed!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

The Magnolia Story  -     By: Chip Gaines, Joanna Gaines
   To set the record straight, I am a HGTV and DIY network addict. Remodeling shows, house hunting anywhere, and even tiny house construction, I gobble it all up. But none of the shows provide the silly boost of positive energy to my week like FIXER UPPER with Chip and Joanna Gaines.  So often we learn that the television persona is just a charade, so I was a bit hesitant to start reading their new book THE MAGNOLIA STORY, fearing that my image of them  might become a bit tarnished.  I should not have worried.  Chip, Joanna, and co-writer Mark Dagostino have written a delightful look at the couple's separate childhoods, their courtship and early marriage, but mostly they've focused on the love, dreams, and entrepreneurial spirit that made their small Waco construction/decor businesses take off.  Unlike so many reality tv stars, it wasn't their outrageous behavior that got them noticed; instead it was Joanna's unique family friendly decorating style featured on her modest blog.  And it was their loving, but crazy couple dynamics that cinched them a spot on HGTV's prime time line up. 

The book is narrated alternatively by either Joanna or Chip, and their differing perspectives on the same topic is often funny.  What's that line - women are from Venus, men are from Mars??  But behind every comment,  you can feel the genuine love and respect that each has for the other.  And then there is their ability to not only let the other person dream big, but also to support the dream in a fashion that both are involved in making it a reality.  The book describes this process happening not once, but over and over.  And now with their hit show, they are not just flipping houses for profit; they are restoring parts of Waco for new generations and helping other families' dreams come to fruition.  I'm delighted I read the book, and now, even more than ever, I am ready for another dose of Chip's antics and Joanna's shiplap!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini

Christmas BellsWe are six weeks into 2017 and I have finally finished (I think) my Christmas reading for 2016.  Despite being a late read, THE CHRISTMAS BELLS by Jennifer Chiaverini was an entertaining, well constructed read.  I first read Chiaverini's writing when I began her popular quilting fiction series ELM CREEK QUILTS.  I loved the characters, the continuing stories, the connections to quilts, and that she was a Wisconsin author just made the books better.  A few years ago she expanded her writing to historical fiction.  I love historical fiction which has been well researched, and find fascinating stories which include real people.  That means I should have loved SPYMISTRESS and MRS. LINCOLN'S DRESSMAKER.  Both books were extremely well researched, but perhaps that was the problem, as I found the writing in both books a bit stiff and textbook-like.  Many of my bookclub members felt the same.  For more details check

After struggling a bit with those two titles, I have not sought out her books for two years, but then CHRISTMAS BELLS caught my attention at the library and home it came!  I am so glad I made that impulsive book grab.  Set in Boston, both in the present and in the 1860's Civil War period, the book
reveals how Henry Longfellow came to write his poem, later turned to carol, I HEARD THE CHRISTMAS BELLS.  Steeped in grief after his beloved wife's untimely death and worried about his young son's enlistment in the North's military, Longfellow struggled to go on and care for the rest of his young family.  Set against the backdrop of Longfellow's story is the modern, multi-character story of a  Boston Catholic church preparing for the children's Christmas concert.  Director Sophie loves her unpaid work at the church, but the news that she will be losing her full-time paid teaching job
due to budget cuts, along with a broken engagement, has dampened her joy.  Perhaps that is why she does not realize, even though everyone else does, that her accompanist is more than just a supportive friend.   Chosen for the solo on the Christmas Bell song is a young boy who really needs special attention this season.  In fact his whole family does as they try a way to celebrate despite their soldier father's absence.  Filling out the present day story are a grieving Senator's wife, a perceptive nun, and a youthful priest.  One might think that Chiaverini has chosen too many characters for a moderate length novel, but she does a superb job of unveiling each story in the context of the church's preparation for the annual concert.  And while I felt her earlier historical fiction writings were a bit stiff and "too bookish," her telling of Longfellow's grief and fatherly care was spot on.  In fact, for this former English teacher, this accounting made the poet come alive for the first time.  And it gave me a clearer understanding of the role a poet could play in shaping society's opinions -- think modern day blogger.

All said, I think Jennifer Chiaverini is back on my reading list and when checking online, I see there are several historical novels I have missed.  The reading list for 2017 is growing longer and longer!
Oh yes, I want to end this review with a "plug" for the Wisconsin Historical Society which Chiaverini credits for being the source for much of her research for this book.  It is that research that makes this book feel so authentic.