Saturday, November 21, 2015

52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol by Bob Welch

9781400206742I don't know how much Dickens's A Christmas Carol has affected the Christmas culture of other countries, but it is deeply ingrained in America's Christmas lore despite its British setting. That Victorian era snow covered streets and people with bonnets and top hats conjure visions of Christmas nearly as much as the stable or the sleigh.  We receive or send cards adorned with period inspired drawings (much like the book's cover).  Why in a neighboring town to ours, there is a "Dickens of a Christmas" every year and shop windows for one night look like the shops near Scrooge's office.

You may not know this, but Charles Dickens was a 19th Century rock star of literature.  When he came to America, crowds waited at the docks to meet his arriving ship. He was known to sign 500 autographs at a time for admiring fans.  Some of his writings were released in serial form, making the waiting for the next installment equivalent to waiting for the next season of Downton Abbey.  While most of his books exceed 500 pages, the one title most modern Americans recognize is his novella The Christmas Carol has fewer than 125.  Whether you've read the actual book or seen one of the many movie versions, you certainly know the story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and his selfish, stingy ways.  Why his last name in lower case form is now recognized as a noun meaning a cold-hearted, stingy person.

Bob Welch's new holiday book 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM A CHRISTMAS CAROL beckons you to look at this classic with new eyes.  First, the author shares the social and political climate which spurred Dicken's to write the novella and then he shares "little life lessons" drawn from the actions of Scrooge, Marley, Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's nephew, and of course, Tiny Tim.  With 52 lessons, and each one being only a few pages, the concept of the book seems to fit a schedule of one per week over a year's time span but I know I would set aside a Christmas topic mid-year, so I recommend planning to read Welch's title as an accompaniment to reading the actual novel or watching your favorite movie version.  Or why not schedule a family Christmas Carol marathon?  Read the story orally over a couple nights (maybe with family members taking roles), then watch more than one movie version, and each time share several of the lessons provided by Welch.  52 LESSONS would make a great gift and is sure to be one that can be read each Christmas season or passed on to many readers in the extended family.

Here are a couple lesson titles -- Misery Loves Company, Don't Let People Steal Your Joy, Everyone has Value, and See Life as a Child.  I let you wonder how each lesson ties into the story itself.  I am sure you can tell that the last one is about Tiny Tim's life attitude.  But as Welch explains, there is a strong parallel between Dickens's joyful and hopeful Tiny Tim and Christ's admonishment that we should seek the kingdom of God with the heart of a child.  I received a copy of 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM A CHRISTMAS CAROL from BOOKLOOK for my honest review.  I encourage you to find this title, and if you find it as entertaining as I did, then check out Welch's books 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and 52 LITTLE LESSONS FROM LES MISERABLES.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Another Way Home by Deborah Raney: A Chicory Inn Novel

Another Way HomeDeborah Raney has hit another home run with her latest installment in the Chicory Inn series.
ANOTHER WAY HOME can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, but its family-centered story is made richer if the reader has already met the cast of characters.  When Grant and Audrey Whitman became empty nesters they decided two things: one, to turn their large home into a bed and breakfast inn, and two, to gather their grown children and extended families together every Tuesday night for supper. I definitely connected with how Grant and Audrey want to step back and let their adult children live their own lives.  That said, neither can totally protect their own hearts when they see their family suffering in any way. Raney's family drama has all the warmth and humor of a real family that loves each other despite everyday stress, personal drama, and imperfect people.  As the book opens, middle daughter Danae and her husband are beginning to dread the Tuesday night dinners because they know the siblings will skirt around the obvious --despite fertilization treatments, Danae is still not pregnant.  For the past three or four months, Danae has been decorating the large house she and Dallas purchased from sister Corinne and husband.  Now that the house is perfect, Danae has realized that it wasn't the house that she wanted, but it was her sister's life-- the one with a household full of kids.  When Danae learns that big sis is having another baby, Danae is sure that God's fairness meter is busted.  Encouraged by husband Dallas, she starts volunteering at a women's shelter in an attempt to break through her despair.

As the title hints, Danae and Dallas will find their way home to the life God has planned for them, but it's another way, one they never could have foreseen.  I received a copy of this title from Litfuse for my honest review.  I recommend fans of family dramas plan on reading this entire gentle warm hearted series.

    Thanksgiving weekend could be disastrous for the Whitman clan in @AuthorDebRaney's new book! Enter to win a copy:

Just in time to cozy up for a winter of reading: @AuthorDebRaney's new book just released, and you can win a copy!

About the author

About the author: 

Deborah Raney's books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deborah's novels---for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away.

Find Deborah online: websiteTwitterFacebook

To learn more check out this Litfuse page

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

The Five Times I Met Myself PKTo the worldwide customers who flock to purchase Black Fedora coffee, Brock Matthews, the brother behind the unique, top-selling blends is a coffee success.  But Brock knows differently; despite the money, the push to help their coffee growers and the fame their generosity has brought, he senses there are cracks to his life.  First there is the failed relationship with his father that was never healed before his father's death: then there is an unspoken, almost unacknowledged jealousy that his father made his younger brother CFO and chief stockholder, not himself.  And now, with his son ready to leave for college, Brock has to face what he has known for awhile, that his marriage has "lost the wind in its sails."   When he begins to have a recurring dream in which his fathers seems to be warning to prepare himself for a disaster, Brock knows something bad is going to happen and shares his fears with longtime friend Morgan.  Morgan gives Brock a book about lucid dreaming -- dreaming in which you know you are in a dream and suggests that Brock could approach his father and try to get him to share just what he wants Brock to do.  Brock reads the book and gives the technique a try, but not before he learns that Black Fedora is about to go under due to some illegal pilfering of funds and that his wife wants a separation.

Throughout the book, Brock meets himself several times in dreams, each time asking his younger self to do one thing -- something Brock feels will fix the present. Each time when Brock wakes, he finds that the present has been altered.  What he has wanted done, has been done, but the "new present" is never what he expected or wanted.  I started this book after a full afternoon of shopping with my husband.  I expected I would read a few chapters during the evening and then set it aside for a good night's sleep.  Our granddaughter was going to sleep over and I knew I would spend the whole next day playing games with her.  And to be truthful, I wasn't to sure if I would like the book once Brock started altering the past.  But I kept reading and reading, and by the time bedtime came around, I got E. settled in and told hubby that I would be reading for a while before I came to bed.  By 12:30 I had finished the entire 381 pages.  There was simply no place where I could stop and not spend restless time wondering what was going to happen to Brock.  Each new present day seemed more disappointing, almost dangerous, then ... Well, I can't have spoilers, can I? I highly recommend this book.

If we are honest, we would all confess that we've longed for "do-overs."  We have things we wish we had made right; we focus too much on past mistakes, or we dream that if we'd only made some different choices life would be peachy.  Well, Brock gets do-overs, but he keeps avoiding the one thing he can't face, and the lesson for all of us seems to be that if we want a future, we must face our failures, our fears HERE IN THE PRESENT.   I received a copy of THE FIVE TIMES I MET MYSELF from LITFUSE for my honest review.  

I am sharing a press release about THE FIVE TIMES I MET MYSELF and James L. Rupart.Seattle: It will help you understand the power of the novel which goes way beyond simple entertainment.

What if you met your 23-year-old self in a dream? What would you say? No matter how young or how old, there’s a part of us all that wishes we could go back and tell ourselves what we should have done differently. It’s a desire award-winning author James L. Rubart explores in his new novel, The Five Times I Met Myself (Thomas Nelson/November 10, 2015/ISBN: 978-1401686116/$15.99). 
Rubart’s strength of teaching life lessons within the context of story shines in this new release that will appeal to fans of Andy Andrews and Mitch Albom. The author introduces readers to Brock Matthews, whose once-promising life is now unraveling. There is tension in nearly every one of his relationships, and with his son soon leaving for college he’s forced to confront the gaping gulf that lies between him and his wife. His successful company, where he’s found so much of his sense of identity and fulfillment, is suddenly on the rocks. He’s at a loss for how to deal with the pressures he’s facing, when one night he encounters himself as a young adult in a vivid dream. When he learns he might be able to change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance but soon finds that while the results are astonishing, they’re also disturbing. 
For Brock, getting what he wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn’t know how to let go. In The Five Times I Met Myself Rubart examines the role of dreams in our lives and raises the question of whether or not they’re sometimes much more than just our subconscious minds working out the events of the day. 

Pointing to Scripture that shows God uses dreams to speak to his people and even shape significant events, Rubart admits he takes his own quite seriously. “In the Old Testament Joseph had dreams that changed all of Egypt,” Rubart explains. “I believe God is still using dreams to change the lives of his children.” While we do not get the opportunity to change our past through a dream, Rubart believes redemption, restoration, and freedom can still come for our past choices and regrets. The Five Times I Met Myself encourages readers to ask themselves difficult questions about their choices and where their future is headed, while affirming that change and, ultimately, redemption are available to all, despite regrets and mistakes. Andy Andrews, the New York Times bestselling author of The Noticer and The Traveler’s Gift, has described The Five Times I Met Myself as life-changing. Rubart reveals that was precisely his hope when he sat down to write. “I don’t think it’s ever too late to start living with freedom. I don’t think there’s any brokenness God can’t breathe healing and life into. I’ve had people say my books are not fluffy reading, but that they stick with people months and years afterward. I hope that’s true. I want my stories to seep into people’s minds and, more importantly, their hearts and help them step into greater freedom

Sunday, November 15, 2015

June Bug by Chris Fabry

June Bug  Well, I did it again --- read a book that I felt I had already read, but since I couldn't remember the whole story, I read it from cover to cover.  Back a bit, I read the book summary/blurb for JUNE BUG by Chris Fabry, and was interested enough to order the book from Winnefox Library System.  That the story was going to be about a girl who sees an age-enhanced drawing of someone who looks like herself seemed just a tad familiar, but then there have been multiple books written about missing children and I've read some, so I never questioned if I'd read this particular title.  When the book came, the cover picture did not shout, "I've seen this before" and it went onto my reading pile. But when I started reading the actual book, it seemed vaguely familiar -- enough so that I went back and checked my lists of books read from 2009 until now.  Nowhere did I see the title JUNE BUG, but the further I got into the book, the more I knew that I had already read Fabry's tale.  I had a sense of what the ending was (but never peeked) but since all the action was reading like new material, I ended up reading the entire book.  Despite knowing I have a tall stack of books to be read before the holidays, I don't regret rereading this one.

June Bug, the name given to the main character by the man she believes is her father, is a gem.  She and her father have been traveling the country in his beat up RV and despite sometimes wishing she could remain in a town long enough to actually develop friendships and have a dog, she loves her dad and their life.  That he never wants to answer her questions about her mom really doesn't bother her; that is, until the day she sees that picture that she knows must be herself on the Walmart bulletin board.  Then when a newscast reveals that a car has been found in the bottom of a Dogwood West Virginia reservoir, he begins to make a trek across country, promising to reveal the truth when they get to Dogwood.  The grandparents in Dogwood and the sheriff there trying to solve a 7 year old disappearance, coupled with the people that June Bug and John meet on their RV trip are what made  this an interesting read  -- worth the second visit.   There is a wide range of skill in Christian fiction writing.  Fabry's tales always hit the high end on my scale, especially for complex character development -- even the second time around.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Guidebook to Murder: A Tourist Trap Mystery by Lynn Cahoon

Guidebook to Murder2 (eBook)When I purchased my new Nook Samsung tablet a few weeks ago, I wanted to read on it right away. Of course I could have read one of the many Nook ebooks which transferred over from my original Nook, but I also wanted to find out how to obtain books from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium downloaded onto my new device.  So I downloaded the OVERDRIVE app from GooglePlay (free app) and quickly picked an available title, one of Lynn Cahoon's Tourist Trap Mysteries.  I'd never read any of her books before, but I was pleasantly surprised. The series (6 books I believe) is set in the coastal town of South Cove, California, known for its tourist business, and features Jill Gardner, former lawyer who now runs a coffee/book shop.  When Jill receives a frantic call from her elderly friend Miss Emily, Jill believes it is because the City Council has been harassing the elderly woman about her refusal to sell her house for a new development.  Despite being the last holdout, Miss Emily has no intentions to move or sell.  When Jill visits soon after the call, she finds Miss Emily dead.  Even more surprising than the woman's untimely death is the news that her house and possessions have been left to Jill, not Miss Emily's nephew.

Intent on learning exactly what led to Miss Emily's demise and also to learn more about the woman's deceased only son, Jill finds she needs immediate help at the coffee shop.  She calls her retired aunt. You know how what seems to be the answer to a huge problem can soon be its own problem?? That pretty much describes what happens when Jill's aunt arrives and takes over.

Cahoon's book had all the easy reading qualities that I like in a cozy mystery.  No real gore, but still some suspense and danger.  There's a little humor and Jill is a genuinely caring person.  The array of possible "bad guys" are eclectic and entertaining, and I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised at the ending  There were "bread crumbs" of clues but they were hidden enough that I did not quite catch them.

I liked GUIDEBOOK TO MURDER enough that I will be either reading or listening to the other books in the series, at least the ones I can get from WPLC or Winnefox Library System.  I just can't resist a series set around coffee and books!  If you think you might like this series, check out Lynn Cahoon's website for more information.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A CUP OF DUST: A Novel of the Dust Bowl by Susie Finkbeiner

Whenever I read historical fiction set in the Dust Bowl area and in the Great Depression years, I judge that book against several things: John Steinbeck's GRAPES OF WRATH, Dorothea Lange's iconic photographs, the recent PBS/Ken Burn's television series, and personal stories of my father's childhood in Depression-era Wisconsin.  From the first pages of her first novel, A CUP OF DUST, I felt that Susie Finkbeiner was authentically recreating a Dust Bowl era Oklahoma town and its people. I was almost through the 300+ page novel, when I flipped to the final author's notes and read that Finkbeiner herself gauges any Dust Bowl information against Steinbeck, Lange, and Burns.  Perhaps that is why the mix of setting and character meshed so well in her book.

Ten year old Pearl Spence's family is surviving the Depression better than most.  Her father, the town's sheriff receives a regular paycheck, although quite small, and her mother wisely rations it throughout the month so that she can quietly and sometimes anonymously be generous to neighbors with less.  Pearl's precious Meemaw lives with the family, and between her and Pearl's mom, Pearl is being taught how to act like a lady, especially a Christian one.  Like most ten year old's, Pearl is navigating that area between a child's world of innocence and an adult's world of responsibility.  Sometimes she hears things she does not quite understand and the not understanding weighs heavily on her.  As for responsibilities, Pearl's greatest one is keeping track of her older sister Beanie, who is mentally slow and a definite wanderer.  There is a special connection between Pearl and her sheriff father.  Even quieter than Atticus in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, Sheriff Spence is both Pearl's protector, hero, and her moral compass.

If you've ever seen Dorothea Lange's photos of Depression era mothers and children, you will have no problem imagining Mrs. Jones and her son Ray.  They live in a soddy not too far from the Pence's and Ray is Pearl's best friend, while Mrs. Jones relies on doing the Spence's laundry for the family's meager income.  With each beating from her broken, useless husband, every sand-filled cough from her infant daughter and every inch of growth on Ray's frail frame, Mrs. Jones becomes more and more discouraged until no hope remains.  Their's is a story where you wished the author did not need to be so authentic.  Young Pearl (and everyone else for that matter) witnesses the abuse within the Jones's soddy, but even the sheriff feels that nothing can be done to intervene in "a man's home," so the family is quietly helped by Mrs. Pence's charity, but by nothing else.

I believe if this novel has simply been a tale of the Spence's survival during the Depression, it would have offered plenty -- the fight against death of their town by desertion, the endless dust storms and cleaning, the fight against the jackrabbits, the slaughtering of the cattle, and so on.  But A CUP OF DUST offers more -- a stranger who for some reason seems to know Pearl's name and whose very presence frightens the little girl.  When others begin to accept him, and when even her mother and father begin to trust Eddie, Pearl cannot understand why.  As Pearl's dreams turn into nightmares and Eddie seems to be at the center of all of them, Pearl must find a way to make her family understand her fears. Finkbeiner has used her lifelong fascination with the Dust Bowl to write a strong novel.  I hope she has many more stories left to tell.  If you want to learn more about Susie Finkbeiner's writing checkout her blog or her website.  I received a copy of this title from Kregel Publications for review purposes.  All views are mine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fall activities and a bit of reading

Haven't done much blogging in the last two weeks.  We've been taking advantage of the unseasonably warm temperatures to spend time with family and friends and BE OUTDOORS.
Last Thursday evening two friends and I caught an early supper and then attended the Montello Women's Club's annual floral show.  Three florists make floral arrangements (mainly fall and holiday) on stage and then they are won by audience members.  Not my lucky year to win an arrangement or one of the fund raising baskets, but I had a great time.  Plus I got some decorating ideas.  All of the florists had some version of a bouquet in a pumpkin or a gourd, so I decided to try my own arrangement for the luncheon we were hosting today for Russ's sisters, sister-in-law, and our good friends.  I scooped out a smaller pumpkin (about 7 inches), inserted a plastic bowl and oasis, then arranged mums and filler flowers.  I got my mum stems from Chris's Floral in Markesan and added some ninebark, lavender, and osteospermum from my yard.  Turned out quite nicely, I think.
I really do like fresh flowers in the house.  Somehow we missed taking photos of everyone here for lunch.  Guess I was too busy thinking about the food.  We also skyped with Russ's brother Fred and his wife Marie.

Last Tuesday-Thursday temperatures (first week in November) were near 70 degrees so we
packed up Kermit, our little Rpod trailer and headed to the Adams County Park on Castle Rock Lake.
This is a large campground, but we were almost the only people there; I think there may have been one fisherman in another trailer.  We simply enjoyed the view of the lake and took long walks.  It was a little hard getting used to dark at 5:30, especially when Kermit is so tiny inside.  But each night we had a campfire and ate supper by lantern light.  Very relaxing.  On Wednesday, we drove into Wisconsin Dells to see the play LOMBARDI at the Palace Dinner Theater.  Based on the popular book, PRIDE MATTERS, this play told a lot about Lombardi, his wife, and his relationship with his players.  Very good acting,

I am also including a photo of our grandson, Ethan, trick or treating with our granddaughter (his cousin) also five.  It was a little rainy that day and near the end, their mothers say they were both very tired.  I think Ethan is encouraging Lizzie to keep going; he looks like a little protector.  As the saying goes, cousins are often first and best friends.

I've also been busy finishing some simple sewing projects for a fundraising event.
Maybe I will post photos later.  While I was sewing I listened to another audio book.  Called THE AMISH GARDEN, this was a compilation of four novellas by Beth
Wiseman, Vanetta Chapman, Kathleen Fuller, Tricia Goyer, each featuring gardening in the setting and plot.  Each novella gave me a little different appreciation for gardens and the place they can have in our lives.  Although during the time I was listening to the book, I had to finish up "putting the gardens to bed for the winter" and despite loving our yard, I still found that chore to be a CHORE! The novellas also featured romance, but the stories of caring for others and love for family were equal in importance to the romance.  I liked that Vanetta Chapman's story featured a mature couple in their fifties.  Not everything in the world is about young people!! Time to find another easy listening book for my next sewing and quilting projects.  Maybe I will find another set of novellas; I like the short format.  

An Amish Garden

Last night after I finished a quick sewing project, I finished reading A QUILT FOR CHRISTMAS by Sandra Dallas on my new Nook tablet.  I obtained the book through
the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium.  Using the Overdrive app on the tablet is a little different than reading on my older Nook, and I am still getting used to it.  Set in the Civil War and right after, Dallas's book tells the story of a Kansas farm woman and her two young children struggling on their own while her husband is fighting for the union.  The further I got into the book, the more familiar it seemed.  Either I have read this before or it was made into a tv movie.  I think the former.

A Quilt for Christmas

I've got a stack of books to read and review over the next two weeks, plus I do have some books to write about that I haven't reviewed yet.  Time to get busy.