Sunday, February 7, 2016

Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock

Travelers Rest by Ann TatlockJane Morrow is house sitting for the summer, not so much to help her Europe-bound friends, but more so that Jane can be near her fiancee.  What should be those happy months right before the most wonderful moment of her life have become days of confusion, waiting, and despair.  Seth, once a gifted carpenter with the softest heart now lays paralyzed from the neck down after being hit by a sniper's bullet in Iraq.  Now state side and stabilized, Seth has asked Jane to stay away and to forget him; neither wish can she honor.  But she soon finds that the Seth in the military hospital is NOT the Seth she has known since childhood.  She asks God for help, but is not sure what help she really seeks; and knowing that her faith has never been strong, she wonders if he will answer at all.

The summer days pass as she and Seth tread new waters and while at the hospital Jane becomes close to two others. Truman lives in the community quarters of the hospital; a retired doctor and black, Truman's life has been shaped by one decision made decades before.  He's certain that it is too late to be forgiven, but then he meets Jane, who without realizing it, may have a key to the past.  Jane also meets Jon-Paul , a handsome lawyer who often comes to the hospital to play piano for the vets.  It is only after closely watching him play does Jane realize that Jon-Paul is blind.  TRAVELERS REST will grab at your heart as you realize that God may answer prayers in ways we do not consider.  This is a book about unexpected changes, life's deepest hurts, and paths to being whole.  Ann Tatlock is a sensitive author and I've enjoyed each of her books.  TRAVELERS REST was published in 2012  and was a 2013 Selah Award Finalist.  I wish I could say that no fiancee or wife or soldier today was faced with the circumstances that Seth and Jane faced in this novel.  Sadly fiction is often too close to truth, and I am afraid this may be true of this plot.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Reading, quilting and catching up

Last week was quite busy and so it's been a while since I posted.  Our book club met, but with a different format than usual.  We each chose a different title written by Sue Grafton.  She is the author of the A-Z mysteries with Kinsey Millhone as a female PI.  The first book was written and set in 1982 and even though the series has made it all the way to X (to be published shortly), the timeline in the books has only progressed to the late 1980's.  I used to read all Grafton's books, but lost track of the series some years ago, so when I began S IS FOR SILENCE, my choice of book, I remembered a little about Kensey and her landlord neighbor, but not too much.  S IS FOR SILENCE followed a different format than most, as Kinsey was asked to investigate a cold case, a disappearance over 34 years old.  Her investigations alternate with flashbacks to July, 1953, the time of the disappearance of a young mother/wife known for her wild ways.  Our club discussions centered on what similarities run among all the books and what differences show up in particular titles.  It appeared that mystery lovers among us liked the books they read, and those readers who don't normally choose mysteries for leisure reading were not so satisfied with this month's titles.  One member who has read all the Kinsey Millhone books chose to read KINSEY AND ME, a book of stories by Grafton which tell more about the author and how/why she created her main character.
 Image result for s is for silence

Last fall I saw many Christian fiction bloggers were reporting on Shelley Gray's new title WHISPERS IN THE READING ROOM.  I was not on any tour for this title, but when I saw the book featured a Chicago librarian right after the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, I was intrigued enough to request the book from our library system.  I  have been fascinated by that period in Chicago's history ever since I read THE DEVIL IN THE CITY.  Certainly I did not expect the novel by Gray to compare to Larson's detailed nonfiction title.  Despite liking the main characters librarian Lydia and the stranger who daily comes to the reading room, I was not thrilled with this book.  Gray also authored SECRETS OF SLOANE HOUSE, also set in the fair's Chicago.  Both books reveal much about the social class structure of the time, and especially the limiting lives of unmarried women.  While much of what she revealed about social class was probably true, it felt too artificial to this reader.   Loved the cover though, and I liked that she choose for her "strong" woman to be a librarian and that the hero appreciates her intelligence.

Now onto another reason why I did not take time to blog last week.  I have been working on another donation lap quilt and finally finished it.  Let me share a little back story on this quilt.  I bought the farm fabric shown below several years ago because it caught my eye.  I had no idea what I would do with it and I did not purchase any other fabric to go with it.  It has only two colors, the tan background and the red of the rather large animals.  I could not just cut the fabric for pieced blocks; that would destroy the animal images.  I did not want to just pair it with red fabric; that I thought would be too bright.
I love the piggie and chickens.
 So the fabric sat and sat and I kept auditioning ideas for what I could do with it.
Finally I took a sample of the fabric with me shopping and I purchased some geometrics that somewhat coordinated.  Then one day as I was admiring quilts on the web, I ran across this snuggly brick quilt at THE POLKA DOT CHAIR,  The 9.5 by 6.5 inch rectangles were just a perfect size for
showcasing the red-line drawn animals.  So I plotted out what size to make the quilt and got busy.
Simple Double diamond quilting
Cutting the rectangles was easy and so was sewing together each row.  I have read Jera Brandvig's QUILT AS YOU GO MADE MODERN and I've adapted some of her ideas for quilting parts of the top to sections of the batting, then sewing those large pieces together and adding the backing which then is quilted lightly to hold everything together.  This allows me to work with smaller sections for most of the quilting process.  I still spent one whole afternoon pinning the quilted top to the backing, had to repin several times to get rid of all wrinkles.  Ugh.  After the first seam of binding was sewn on, I used those little mini-clips to hold the binding in place while I hand stitched.  So much faster and safer than straight pins.  Time for another projects.
Finished quilt

Monday, January 25, 2016

Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid who Found the Way by Jimmy Wayne with Ken Abraham

Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the WaySuccessful country song writer and solo artist Jimmy Wayne hit his stride in Nashville in the early 2000's but after returning home following a 2009 tour where he opened for Brad Paisley, Wayne decided he needed to follow through with a self-made promise that his life would honor the elderly couple who gave him stability and unconditional love when no one else would.  On New Year's Day 2010 Jimmy Wayne visited Monroe Harding foster care home in Nashville and then left there to walk half way across America to Phoenix to raise awareness of the plight of teenagers in the foster system.

Jimmy Wayne considers his walk, which lasted until August 2010, a success even those it cost him his songwriting and recording contract and ended with a broken foot due to stress fractures, a success.
As he shared his own story of life in the foster system, he shared that teenagers who "age out of the system" often transition directly into homelessness, crime, and failure.  Too often they fail to finish school, secure stable jobs, and almost never pursue post-secondary education.  Shortly after his walk, California passed legislation that allows foster care until age 21, and other states have followed suit.
Since Wayne's walk, the musician has turned writer and motivational speaker.  His book WALK TO BEAUTIFUL tells a frank and often dark story of a young boy (and his sister) who are neglected and abused by an irresponsible and troubled mother.  Alcohol, violence, hunger, and fear abound.  As his mother moves from one man to another, the family moves from one dive to another.  Frequently in jail and even in prison, the mother shoves the children off on her father, also unemployed and abusive, or with friends.  By the time James Wayne is 13, his sister who is only one year older has been married off to an older man, and James, his mother, and her current husband are on the run following a domestic dispute at their house.  After weeks on the run, many spent in homeless shelters, the boy's mother abandons him at a bus stop, telling him to return to North Carolina and his sister.

By the time Jimmy is 15, he is not attending school regularly, and has been in so many different living arrangements that I could not keep them straight.  Basically homeless for the summer, he happens upon a house with a workshop on the property.  An older couple are busy there making decorative butter churns.  When Jimmy asks if he can mow their lawn, Bea, the wife, says yes, and that simple yes changes the boy's life.  He works for them for the entire summer and near the end of August, Bea asks him where he is living.  She then offers him a room in their house, and Jimmy finally finds a family that does not desert him.  In fact, he stays there through the rest of high school, technical college, and into his first days of employment.  Bea becomes his biggest cheerleader, attending his concerts after he begins playing and singing music. 

Jimmy Wayne's own life shows that what he proposes is a great idea.  The teenage boy that he was at age 15 and 16 was still so messed up and angry that had he been placed in a foster home and then "aged" out at 18, he would have ended up on the streets again.  Because he missed so much school, he had been held back in 6th grade; without adult encouragement and structure, he probably would not have stayed in high school.  Certainly he never would have pursued the steps to advanced education. The Costners (and some great guidance counselors) provided the stability and encouragement.  Little by little, the boy's anger diminished and he was able to be successful at school, make friends, and build a future.  Bea and Russell also saw that Jimmy went to church.  And here is a strange twist to the story.  As messed up as Jimmy's mother was, when she was sober, she went to church and expected the kids to go.  She could not keep her own life straight, but her church going planted a seed in Jimmy.  Throughout his childhood he was often angry at God, but when
Russell said he needed to go to church, Jimmy did not refuse.  And after Russell died, Bea kept providing a home for Jimmy and his life today shows the power of love. I received a copy of this title from BookLook for my honest review.  

Check this website to learn more about Jimmy Wayne, his music, and his current plans.  Also scout around Youtube to hear his music.  Jimmy Wayne wrote the Christmas novel PAPER ANGELS which has been made into a movie.  Even though Christmas is over, I plan on watching that movie as soon as I can get the dvd from a nearby library.  I was given a copy of this book for review purposes; all opinions are mine.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Murder, Simply Stitched: An Amish Quilit Shop Mystery by Isabella Alan

Wisconsin has been in winter's deep freeze for the past few days, making it time to work on a quilt project.  And to keep me company while I cut, pin, and sew, a cozy mystery.  My choice was the third book in Isabella Alan's AMISH QUILT SHOP MYSTERY SERIES last summer and enjoyed main character Angela Braddock, her quick wit, and especially her pet Frenchie Bulldog and kitten, that I decided to finish the series.  MURDER, SIMPLY STITCHED actually precedes MURDER, SIMPLY SERVED, the book I listened to last summer.  As with many series, there are those continuing details (such as Angela's budding romance with the sheriff) that make more sense if you read (listen) in order, but I still enjoyed the audio of this book.  Angela has inherited her aunt's quilt shop in Holmes County, Ohio, an aunt who had married an Amish and become Amish years before. Now, having a non-Amish own a "genuine Amish" quilt shop is a problem for some in the tiny community where buggies outnumber the cars except when tourists arrive.  Fearing that business in the upcoming winter may be slim, Angela has decided to sell some of her aunt's quilts at the Rolling Brook Auction. What promises to be a successful business decision is quickly overshadowed when Angela finds one of Rolling Brook's town council members dead near the jelly house at the auction grounds. When Angela's Amish friend and her husband appear to the only suspects, Angela can't focus on the quilt shop until she finds the real killer.  Of course, her snooping puts her at odds with the cute sheriff.

Like all cozy mystery series, you need to put all sense of reality aside to enjoy Alan's work.  But when you do, she has all the details necessary for a successful series.  First is Angela's quick wit, shown mostly in comments to herself.  Then there is her Frenchie bulldog who accompanies her almost everywhere.  He provides humor, makes friends with the unfriendly, and you can always count on him for a good chase scene. Plus he is the guardian extraordinaire for Angela's little mischievous kitten.  If you like cozy mysteries, give Isabella Alan a chance.  There are five books in the series.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Two British novels with contemporary and WWII settings


My two most recent reads were both novels set in Great Britain; both had split settings, with the main
stories being  contemporary ones, but which relied on unraveling earlier WWII stories.  I first read ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey, a book I obtained from the Wisconsin Public Library Consortium (WPLC).   If you look closely at the cover you can see this teaser,"How do you solve a mystery when you can't remember the clues?"  That is what drew me to the book, but I was NOT prepared for how unsettling the read would actually be.  Maud clearly suffers from some form of dementia.  She has nursing help that comes daily and her daughter stops each day.  Large notes are pasted all over the house instructing her not to cook or leave the house.  Tinier scraps of paper stuffed in her pockets try to order her actions.  But each day she discovers one scrap that takes over her thoughts -- Elizabeth is missing, and Maud takes off trying to find out what this cryptic note means.
When she mentions it to her daughter or anyone else, she is always given a brush off.  Readers eventually learn that Elizabeth is a former friend and her house is in the same neighborhood as Maud's, but when Maud does make it there, no one is home.  When Maud sees a moving van there, she suspects that Elizabeth's son has done something to his mother so he can have her possessions  Quickly you get the feeling that Elizabeth has probably died or is in a facility somewhere and that Maud can't process that.  Yet we are never told for sure, and it is quite late in the novel before we learn the truth.  Maud's searches for Elizabeth always send her mind back to the time right after WWII, and it appears those memories are more lucid and complete than her present day thinking.  Maud's older sister Sukey, recently married at the time, suddenly disappears and is never found.  Each flashback adds a bit more to the story about Maud and Sukey, but soon we are back in the present with a very disoriented Maud. These switches are jarring and create an uneasiness that realistically portrays the world of someone with dementia.  No matter how much Maud wants to hold on to the real world, her mind distorts it. We find her lost on the streets and watch her interact with people she doesn't recognize but should (daughter and granddaughter) and it is heartbreaking.  Yet Healey inserts bits of humor, shows us a very patient and loving daughter, and gives us an ending that reminds us that no one should be forgotten or ignored.

Iona Grey's LETTERS TO THE LOST (which I borrowed from the Millpond Library) was published one month before Emma Healey's book, and it too depends on a lengthy series of flashbacks to tell an unfinished tale.  It too involves an empty house.  On a cold grey night, a young woman (Jess) flees her abusive boyfriend and finds herself in the back gardens of an abandoned house.  Knowing she will not survive in the cold, especially since she ditched her shoes so she could run faster, Jess breaks into the house.  Almost penniless and afraid her boyfriend will find her, she stays hidden there for days, eating out of date foods she finds in the pantry "tins."  When she does finally make a quick trip out, she is almost caught by Will, a young man whose job it is to investigate whether or not unclaimed estates actually have heirs.  He represents a firm that is on the same level as "ambulance chasers" and he has been sent to try to find out if Nancy, the woman who had lived in the house, has any heirs.  When Will is told by his boss to forget this house and Nancy's estate because it is worthless, he can't.

Soon after Jess's break-in, a letter arrives through the mail slot.  The United States postmark piques her curiosity and Jess opens it to find it is a love letter sent by a WWII vet, now in his nineties, trying to find the woman whom he lost many years before.  That letter sends Jess on a search of the house and answers.  When she finds a box of old letters from the same man to "Mrs. S. Thorne," she begins reading and is captivated by what they reveal.  Each letter singles a change in time/setting for the readers, and we are given a more complete narration than Jess gets from the soldier's writing.  But even she can piece together that these young lovers face obstacles that go beyond war time rationing and the pilot's dangerous missions.  Jess becomes determined to find the S. Thorne if she is still alive, and to also straighten out her own life.  Those endeavors will bring her back into Will's life, and his own troubles add yet another layer to this complex story.

Two very different books with just the hint of similarity in structure.  Both well written, but in greatly different styles, showing that good writing is complex and not easily described.  Both novels are debut works and I certainly will be followed by many more by each other.  Have you discovered a debut author recently or an author that is new to you?  Let me know.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Doodletopia Cartoons by Christopher Hart

Are you a doodler?  The last art class I ever took was way, way back in junior high and I certainly never excelled there.  But I still love the feel of a pencil or ink pen in my hand and have always filled empty times (such as sitting through a college lecture or a school inservice meeting) with my own version of doodling.  I used to entertain the littlest grandkiddos with some simple cartooning, mostly cats, dogs, and silly faces, so when I was given the opportunity to examine Christopher Hart's new book on drawing, designing and coloring your "own super-fun cartoon creations", I was all in.

At the full 8.5 by 11 page format and 160 pages, this how-to book offers lots of opportunities to try out Hart's instructions step by step.  He advises how to use a center line hatching (like a simple cross of intersecting lines) to position and size a simple cartoon creature.  He also shows how the same shape can be made into different characters, say either a porcupine or a bear cub. There is a whole section where Hart has started a half drawing and budding cartoonists are then given the chance to finish the drawing.  In another section, Hart has created some simple human cartoons and then you are supposed to creatively dress the figures according to Hart's suggestions -- cave woman, Cleopatra, or cowboy.  I especially like the section on lettering.  As a former teacher, I can see so many opportunities for students to use creative lettering.  Too often all kids do now (and grown ups too) is rely on some computerized font.  Let's get some creative juices flowing again.

Yes, I've seen other cartooning books with somewhat similar instructions, but Hart seems to have distilled his instructions down to simple basics without making the book or drawings appear childish.
Yet, he has kept an element of fun throughout the whole book and if you take the time to read the full commentary, it is quite instructive.

If you have someone with a little doodling flair in your life, consider getting this book for them.  I would really like to grab my pencils and doodle away on these pages myself, but I have one granddaughter that this book would be perfect for.  I'd recommend this book for ages 8 up to 99+
As the latest coloring craze has shown, you're never too old for some artistic fun.  I was given a copy of this title by Blogging for Books for review purposes.  I was not compensated in any way and all opinions are mine.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Come Rain, Come Shine: A Mitfored Novel by Jan Karon

Readers of the Mitford series of books by Jan Karon have followed Father Tim through his late-in-life marriage, adoption of a teenage son, and his many adventures which seem to always include a reason to bake a Southern ham.  I did not start this series until several books had been published, and when I did start, I liked that I could quickly go from one book to another without that pesky interlude waiting for the next book to be published.  Eventually I hit that wall where I had read everything Karon had written and then I had to wait patiently like her other fans for a new book.  Then when Father Tim retired in the series, I fell away as a reader.  Eventually I did catch up and placed a hold for the newest book COME RAIN, COME SHINE with the library system before the book even published!  I was delighted to receive a copy right at the start of 2016.  Great reading for the new year.

COME RAIN, COME SHINE is a fast four year advance from the end of her last book SOMEWHERE SAFE WITH SOMEBODY GOOD.  Adopted son Dooley has just finished veterinary school and will be taking over the country practice where he has spent so many hours since a teenager.  He and longtime girlfriend Lace Harper (adopted daughter of the town's doctor) are finally ready to tie the knot.  Lace and Dooley have decided that it will be a simple wedding at the farm/clinic, a pot luck actually, with only 50 guests.  Father Tim and wife Cynthia have moved temporarily to the country to prepare for the wedding, and  in the midst of sowing new grass seed, weeding, and cleaning, everyone begins to wonder how a "simple" wedding suddenly got so complicated.  And Lace, set on spending no more than $100 on a dress, can't find anything to wear.  Like all the other Mitford novels, miracles come in small, unexpected ways, often the faces and actions of everyday family and neighbors.

Karon's writing style is unique; she skips from character to character without any transitions, much as if a video camera was catching short vignettes across the neighborhood.  The pronouns "he" and "she" are used without any further clarification and the reader must decipher who is doing what, where, and when.  Often new information is inserted without a clear explanation and I would be wondering if I had missed something by reading too fast or inattentively.  Then a page or two later, the whole incident would be explained more fully.  Readers had just been exposed to the happening first, like an unexpected surprise.  Facts and rationale would come later.  Like all the Mitford novels, there are lessons in forgiveness, kindness, humility, and other virtures.  And of course, there are surprises. I wish I could share the best ones in this novel, but that would not be right. No spoilers allowed.  If you've read any of the other Karon books, get this latest one.  I don't know if the series will end now with Dooley's marriage or not. If it does, it is a great ending.  But I hope it doesn't end yet; this wedding has left some great leads for further books.  And fellow readers, if you have never started this series, you are so lucky.  You can begin with book one AT HOME IN MITFORD and move through all eleven books with no waiting!