Sunday, July 27, 2014

Poison Town by Creston Mapes


When reporter Jack Crittendon finds out his long time mechanic has fallen ill and that the Randall family believes that Trenton City, Ohio's largest employer, the fiberglass plant is responsible, Jack decides to do some investigating.  His editor Cecil gives a lukewarm nod to the project, saying that a previous reporter (now moved on to another location and out of reach) had started a similar search into complaints about the plant and hadn't unearthed anything, causing Jack to wonder why he never heard of her findings.  The deeper he and fellow reporter Derrick dig, the more confusing and dangerous things become.  Jack's mechanic appears to be poisoned while a patient at the hospital and a neighbor they planned to interview disappears.  Meanwhile Jack's family life is threatened by his inability to put an attack on his wife behind them. His wife is ready to forgive the attacker and believes if Jack was true to his profession of faith, he would be ready also.

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Reviewing POISON TOWN by Creston Mapes is going to be difficult.  First of all, I think Mapes wields a strong pen.  I never felt the book lagged -- the suspense was consistent, built it in all the right places, and followed through to the end.  Side stories did not feel added on, and all though a second book in a series, I had no problems what so ever following along.  Secondary characters such as Derrick added interest and I can see him in a more central role in future stories.  The whole Randall family add a "working class' wholesomeness and realness that this story requires.  They are definitely the "Davids' against the corporate Goliath.  I felt Jack's family strife was well conceived and rang true.  Forgiving anyone who has harmed your family is difficult to do and will certainly test one's faith.   So why, is it difficult for me to review this book?  I want to give it a total thumbs up, rate it a 5, call it awesome and be done.  Maybe I should, because I certainly enjoyed the book.  But there is this little gnawing disappointment ---- I just feel the greedy, evil corporation head who hides the poisonous side effects of their manufacturing processes has been overdone.  Yes, we've had actual cases of contaminants and gases poisoning innocent residents and workers, and we've have plenty of cover-ups over the years, that's true.  But I think we've had too many movies and books which paint the CEOS as willing to commit bribery, murder, and more to keep their commercial secrets.  To me, those story lines have become as old and tired as the obligatory car chase scene in every action movie.  Are there no fresh plots for suspense stories, or do I just read too much?

My apologies to Creston Mapes, who as I said earlier, is a good writer.  So talented, that I will be locating the first book in this series (Fear Name) and will certainly read Jack Crittenton's next adventure (Sky Zone).  I like his wife and mother-in-law too much to miss what happens next!  Hope the Randall family and Derrick make appearances, too.  In the end, I am giving this a thumbs up ( a strong 4) with a small cautionary note that the story may seem reminiscent of a 90s movie.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Beyond a Doubt by Colleen Coble

Last week I read Beyond a Doubt by Colleen Coble on my nook, the e-book checked out from WPLC. Wisconsin's source for library ebooks.  It didn't take me long to have that nagging feeling that this was a familiar story.  But then again, I've read a couple suspense series set in Michigan's UP so I continued to read just to be sure.  Of course even though much of the story began to fall into place  (a body unearthed in an old lighthouse, home of Bree Nicholls and her son plus the side story of rebellious teenager Lauri), there were so many details that I just couldn't remember, so I read the whole book again and ENJOYED IT.  Beyond a Doubt is the second book in a five book series, with a sixth book a holiday novella.  If you have never read the Rock Harbor series, I recommend it,  I love that you could read all five volumes in succession because the mystery and danger in  search and rescue canine trainer's Bree Nicholls' life just never ends. Each story will leave you wanting to pick up the next book as soon as possible!  Just reading the book trailers on Coble's website http://colleencoble.com/library/page/2/  makes me want to start at the beginning and read all five again -- but I simply don't have time.  While there, I saw some other titles that I'll have to examine closer.  If I really haven't read the Aloha Reef series, I will need to add them to my to-read list.  You suspense readers, why not head to the remote Upper Peninsula and join Bree Nicholls? Start with Without a Trace, be prepared for danger and the compelling need to keep reading.

Without a Trace




Beyond a DoubtInto the DeepAbominationCry in the NightSilent Night, A Rock Harbor Novella

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Freezer Jams & Refrigerator Pickles: Easy Ways to Preserve Your Harvest

Our raised bed gardens


Fresh beans, crisp cucumbers right from the vine, and all those other garden treats.  We all so excited as we pick the first crops, but as the summer goes along are you wondering what to do with ANOTHER bowlful?  When my kids were young, I froze and canned a a lot -- learned it from my mom.  Now I still garden, but I don't care to stand over that hot canner or spend time blanching veggies that may or may not taste fresh when thawed.  Besides I have a smaller freezer and I keep that loaded with blueberries, cranberries, jam, and quality hamburger.  So when I got a chance to review this little cookbook by CQ Products, I was all in.  FREEZER JAMS & REFRIGERATOR PICKLES: EASY WAYS TO PRESERVE YOUR HARVEST is a nice collection of recipes for small batch preserving for the refrigerator and freezer.  Last weekend we had the whole family over for Sunday afternoon and I prepared pickled beans, sliced dill pickles, and beet pickles on Friday and put them in the refrigerator.  By Sunday all were ready to eat at our grill out.  I forgot to take pictures before the jars were opened, and if you look closely at the photo you can see that the jars are almost empty.  That's a good thing -- that means the recipes were a success.  I know there are plenty of recipes for all three of these delights, but I like the recipes in this little volume.  For one, the dill slicers don't have a ton of salt, yet they are crisp and tasty.  The dilled bean recipe didn't even require blanching the beans.  My son asked for the recipe and I know he will make more batches than I will because his family loves dilly beans!  My beets aren't ready yet so I bought some at an Amish garden stand.  I normally don't make pickled beets and instead satisfy my hankering for them by eating them at potlucks.  But my mom almost always put pickled beets on the table at picnics and family gatherings, so I made this recipe in her honor.  Since the recipe makes one jar that will keep several weeks in the fridge, I won't be overwhelmed with too many jars on the pantry shelf.

Other veggie recipes I want to try include a corn relish (YUM) and a pickled veggie blend of carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, and red bell peppers.  Those of you who have access to fresh fruits will love the jam and chutney recipes.  I've wanted to make apple butter but so many recipes make huge batches, and as I said before, I don't want so many jars of one thing.  If my son's apples are plentiful this fall, I will be making the recipe in this book which yields 4 cups that can be frozen for a year or stored in the fridge for three weeks. And before my raspberries are gone, I want to try the peach melba jam -- reminder to myself, buy a couple peaches, liquid pectin, and fruit fresh.

CQ products makes many, many small gift-type cookbooks.  I first saw them at an ACE Hardware store, but I think many gift shops also carry their books.  I know you can find this particular one on Barnes and Noble and you can certainly check out  http://www.cqproducts.com/ to see all the choices.  I want to thank CQ Products for sending me this and two other cookbooks for review purposes.  

A garden note--- Behind our raised beds is another garden plot.  This year that section has cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, beets, extra lettuce, peppers, and more tomato plants. It is edged in zinnias that are just beginning to bloom. This area also has my asparagus bed, two rhubarb plants and a small raspberry patch.  If you look closely to the right of the garden shed you will see our rain water collector, made from a large blue barrel. Russ painted it blue and had the top fashioned from sheet metal.  He calls this creation "Mr. Tin Man."  I think it looks like an old-fashioned water tower.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Shadowed by Grace: A Story of Monuments Men by Cara C. Putman

The destructive toll left behind by war is immense, often incomprehensible.  The path of humankind has been changed by war, sometimes for the better (think American Revolution), but even those times the personal stories of sacrifice loss are overwhelming.  Over 70 years after WWII, we are still interested in those real life stories of personal sacrifice, and that interest spills over into the creative minds of fiction writers like Cara C. Putnam.

Recent discoveries of collections of art which may have once belonged to European Jewish families brought about renewed interest in Hitler's plan to obtain the world's greatest art (and to destroy the works of those he felt immoral or decadent).  For the first time, many of us learned about that small group of noncombat soldiers known as the Monuments Men.  The recent movie by that name made us think what our world would look like without the great masterpieces.  Would we be the same people today without the Mona Lisa, the statue of David, and the best of religious art?  Cara Putnam's fictional title Shadowed by Grace has readers follow two Americans into Italy as the Germans are retreating.  Rachel Justice is among the first UP photographers allowed near the front lines.  Her female status presents a unique set of barriers, but her keen eye for the emotional photos needed by the papers back home makes her a welcome asset. For her own protection she is paired with  Lt. Scott Lindstrom whose main task is to help priests and local officials record the devastation to Italy's art -- its monuments, church altars, treasured paintings and such.  Cataloging the damage and pin pointing where other pieces are being hidden is the first step to protecting the treasures from any further loss.
From the beginning Rachel feels a connection to Scott, but still she hesitates to share that she has a second motive for being in Italy --  to locate her father, someone she knows nothing about except that he is probably an artists that her mother met in the 1920s.  When she shows Scott a small sketch book she's gotten from her ill mother, the book disappears and Rachel begins to wonder if Scott is among the American soldiers who are helping themselves to "art mementos."

I became very interested in the Monuments Men story after seeing documentary pieces and then the
recent movie.  I've read several fiction books dealing with the men and the protection/recovery of Europe's art, but no stories stand up to the amazing real story.  As I began reading Shadowed by Grace, I found myself drawn into the story with high expectations.  The writing kept my attention and soon I was over 100 pages into the book.  Then, for some reason I can't quite pinpoint, the story stalled and I had a hard time making it to the end.  I knew quite certainly how everything would play out  (there are a few mysteries to the book) but I hoped the historical background would carry my interest through.  It did, but not by much.  Shadowed by Grace is one of those books that I liked, but I really hoped I would like it even more!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Seagrass Pier by Colleen Coble: A Hope Beach Novel

Seagrass Pier 195x300Seagrass Pier is the third Hope Beach novel, the others include Tidewater Inn and Rosemary Cottage. Unlike many titles in a series, Seagrass Pier can easily be read as a stand-alone novel without confusion over characters and plots from the previous books.  Erin Summerall, a medical donor specialist, has herself received a new heart, needed after a virus destroyed her own.  Her recovery goes well, but Erin begins having nightmares about a murder.  Erin and the police all know that her new heart came from a young woman strangled on a cruise ship, so everyone takes her dreams seriously.  As they become more frequent and vivid, her "cell memories" hit the news.  Soon Erin begins to receive threatening messages.  Could it be the killer?  In an attempt to keep herself, her young daughter, and her frail mother safe, the young widow Erin settles in at a cottage at remote Seagrass Pier.  That move puts her face-to-face with FBI agent Marc who, despite orders from his superiors not to get involved, believes helping Erin will help him solve his own partner's death.  Like most romantic suspense stories, Coble's newest book is packed with plenty of action and angst with the recurring "cell memories" adding an eerie element. Whoever is stalking Erin is relentless and who it might be is not an easy pick.  As for the romance, sparks have always flown between Erin and Marc, especially years before Erin's marriage.  Marc's first introduction to young Josie with the dark hair and the little dimple so much like his, and he knows Erin has been hiding a secret. But Seagrass Pier goes beyond the formula suspense and romance especially in the story about Erin's mother who is beginning to exhibit early-onset dementia.  Her mixture of confusion and clarity add to the suspenseful plot, but on a more realistic level, Coble gives us a glimpse of the anguish caregivers and family members live each day.  I've read Tidewater Inn and started to listen to the audio version of Rosemary Cottage, and I would recommend the whole series, but most definitely Seagrass Pier if you are a fan of Christian contemporary suspense novels.  Being a "beach" novel, it would make a great book to take to the beach this August!  I received a copy of this title from BookLooks for my review.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Stay In Port Wing, WI

Back in the 1990's we camped on the shores of Lake Superior several times, both in the UP and in Wisconsin.  My favorite place was a small campground right next to the marina in Port Wing, WI.  Port Wing, Herbster, and Cornucopia are sort of the forgotten area between Bayfield and Superior.  Our times there were always so refreshing that I've wanted to go back, even after we gave up camping for the cabin. We spent last week at the cabin with our daughter and three year old granddaughter but decided to add a side trip to the big water.  Motels are quite confining with toddlers, so I looked into B and B's.  Garden-House in Port Wing, although not directly on the water sounded pleasant.  Their website gave me a preview of what our two-bedroom suite would look like, and children were welcomed, so I made a one-night reservation.

We had a detour for road construction and had an even more difficult time maneuvering winding dirt roads so we could make it to Meyers Beach, a wonderful sandy beach outside Cornucopia that kayakers and beah sitters frequent.  After the long drive, the detour and the afternoon beach excursion, we were ready for the comfort of a homey (but luxurious) B and B.  We were NOT disappointed. Karleen Tjepkarma and her husband are wonderful hosts.  A fragrant bouquet of pink peonies graced the desk in our suite, books and art were everywhere.  Granddaughter Lizzie loved the freedom to run across the backyard, seeking out the koi in the little pond, while I was able to just soak in the beauty of the perennial beds and flowering shrubs.


Photos of GardenHouse

Both R. and I looked through a couple nature photography coffee table books before we called it a night -- wise choices for a B & B near the big lake.  The best still awaited, though.  I've been to several B & B's in England and one in Hazel Green, WI, and all those places served great breakfasts, but everything about the morning repast at Garden-House was 5-star.  The table setting rivaled a photo shoot layout.  Even Lizzie had special dishes.  My cranberry-raspberry green tea was one of the best I've had (and I've become a little bit of a tea snob lately).  Fresh fruit medley served in crystal goblets was followed by aebleskivers (spherical Norwegian pancakes) stuffed with apricot jam, nutella, or lemon curd (my favorite) and sausage. While we ate, we were able to learn more about Karleen's art, the couple's music, and the Port Wing news.   Karleen's special homemade toasted coconut ice cream was the final course to this special breakfast, a total surprise.  Ice cream for breakfast certainly was a hit with Lizzie.

It was quite the disappointment to learn that the campground I held so special in my memory has been gone for several years, replaced by several homes.  The Port Wing art studio, formerly a small church, is now for sale.  Port Wing, Herbster, and  Cornucopia are definitely not for the tourists who want the Bayfield shops and crowds, but if you like to soak up the sight and breezes of Lake Superior with a little taste of the hard life of those early Wisconsin immigrants who settled on the shores, fished and tried to farm, then you might like to explore highway 13.  If you do, and if you want to meet some interesting hosts who will make you feel completely at home, check out garden-house.com/  Do check their website, as their photos are much better than mine.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Apart at the Seams by Marie Bostwick

APART AT THE SEAMSApart at the Seams is the sixth book in Marie Bostwick's  Cobbled Court Quilt series. I've loved  the previous books which all take place in the charming town New Bern, Connecticut and its little quilt shop tucked away in a courtyard off the main streets.  All the books are loosely connected, centering on women who find that Evelyn's shop is not just a spot to buy quality fabric; it is a shelter from life's hurts and a spot where friendships grow.  In this most recent addition to the Cobbled Court saga, Gayla Oliver, a college placement counselor, finds a document her husband has left on his computer.  It appears to be a note informing her that the marriage was over.  When he swears that the note had been written months earlier and that he has realized that ending their marriage would be a mistake, Gayla can't forgive him.
She seeks solace at the little cottage they'd bought in New Bern, the place they'd expected to bring them closer together.  Instead, Gayla finds herself alone and uncertain about her future.

Despite never having sewn anything, Gayla has always been drawn to the beauty of fabric, and soon she's invited to be part of the Cobbled Court quilting group.  Each of the women have recently challenged each other to try something new -- something totally unexpected.  Readers will be surprised as each friend shares what they've undertaken- especially Evelyn's elderly mother.  One of the group is  Ivy Peterman, a struggling single mother who juggles motherhood, her job at the quilt shop, and her college classes.  Ivy's past story of escaping domestic abuse is the main story in an earlier book.  In Apart at the Seams, Ivy learns that her ex-husband will be paroled from prison and the courts have approved his request to having visiting rights with the children.  Despite all she has achieved, Ivy still must push ahead if she wants a safe, secure, and happy future for herself and her children.

Jennifer Chiaverini, Debbie Macomber, Jan Karon and other successful authors have captivated readers with their fictional towns peopled with ordinary people facing both life's highs and lows. Fans of these authors can't wait for the next volume.  I believe Marie Bostwick and the busy ladies (and their families) of New Bern deserve the same loyal following and accolades as the others.  Can't wait for Marie's next work, whether it's a Cobbled Court story or a stand alone book.  I obtained my copy of Apart at the Seams through the Winnefox Library System.  If you are interested in her work, all her books are available at BN, Amazon, and many other bookstores.  I was lucky enough to meet Marie at the Quilt Expo in Madison two years ago, and since then I've started following her on Facebook.  Meeting her and following her frequent postings about everyday life have convinced me she's as full of heart as her writing!