©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Clip In

Clip In is a rather interesting book to read, because it could change the church culture world-wide if churches could hear what this book is saying. In using bicycle riding as a metaphor, the authors have created an interesting challenge--the challenge for churches to become a place of warmth and refuge. This makes the church atmosphere one of welcome and hospitality.

There have been times in my Christian life where I've shied away from more hospitable churches, I've sought out colder churches because I wanted to be anonymous--I didn't want to be noticed. I was a side-line sitter in my own life. Now I want my church to be one where people feel the warmth of being a welcome guest.

I like the way the authors differentiated between visitors and guests. A visitor is someone who shows up at your door unannounced, a guest is eagerly anticipated. A visitor may have ulterior motives for showing up at your place, something to sell, or a candidate to promote; a guest has been invited, has a place set at your table, and is always met with a smile! The authors hope that churches will expunge the word "visitor" from their vocabularies and replace it with guests. I agree. I'd rather be a welcomed guest than an unanticipated visitor.

One of the primary precepts of Clip In is the 5-10 Link which encourages members to seek out people they do not know and connect them with someone else within the congregation. This not only creates a welcoming atmosphere, but it connects people to more than just one member of the church.

This review only scratches the surface of what's in this book. But Jim Ozier and Fiona Haworth have put together a great program of hospitality that is easy to implement, biblical in content, and like bicycle riding--once learned is never forgotten.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and an honored guest at your table.

Abingdon Press provided this book in exchange for my review.

Hope Crossing, Peace Ahead

I spent most of today washing clothes and reading, not the activities I would have chosen entirely, but it worked. My husband watched football.

I have decided that I have a couple of favorite Amish Romance authors: Cindy Woodsmall and Suzanne Woods Fisher. The book(s) I am reviewing today are by Cindy. The things they have in common are incredible characterizations, well developed plots, and true-to-life conflicts. I have read Amish fiction that puts the Amish people on a pedestal of perfection that is not possible in this life. It was easy for me to choose to read this book to review because Cindy does not do that, and to have the whole series in one cover, that's just bonus. The books read seamlessly from page one of book one to the last page of book three. Having them all together makes it easy to continue the story and keep up with the characters.

Cindy has written a book that encompasses several families, more than three romancing couples, some trouble for almost every character, and a satisfying ending for all of them. The story opens with Cara and Lori, mother and daughter, fighting to make a way in the Bronx, and hiding from a psychopathic stalker who has hounded her since she was a child in the foster care system. When the stalker shows up at her place, she gets out of town fast with nothing but her daughter and the clothes on their backs. She tries to remember a place her mother took her to when she was a just a child. It's fun to read to find out how Cara figures out where the place is she wants to go. Once in Dry Creek, she re-meets Ephraim who steps in to protect her when the bishop and the preachers want to pay Cara to leave.

Among the other characters is Mahlon and Deborah, Ephraim's sister.....Mahlon decides he can't stay in the Amish community or the Amish church. This decision devestates Deborah and Ada, Mahlon's mother; but Deborah decides to be Ruth for Ada, and together they pull themselves out of the grief of losing someone they both dearly loved. In the meantime the bills have to be paid and the way they are handling delivering the pies and baked goods to the bakeries is not working. With Cara's help and the brawn of a few friends, they decide they can do a roadside stand with seasonal Amish experiences for Englisch and other Amish people.

Lennie is Deborah's friend and the teacher at the Amish school in Dry Creek, and one of the best practical jokers in the community. It's hard to get one over on her, but it is possible. She does have one scholar who gives her grief just because he can, and because he trash-talks Lennie at home, his brother takes her on as his own special project to bring her down. In the attempts to harm Lennie, the scholar's brother causes the death of a different lady--in front of the children. The school board gets up tight when Lennie brings an Englisch counselor to the classroom to help the children work through their feelings and trauma.

In the meantime, Lennie's dad, Israel, finds that Ada is the woman who can fill that empty place in his soul for a mate.

Sylvia is one of nine daughters who loves her dairy farm and loves working with the cows. When her little sister takes her boyfriend from her and marries him, Sylvia looks for another dairy farm to work. When she comes to the Blank's farm, she meets up with Aaron Blank, who has just gotten out of rehab for alcohol addiction.

I've just hit the highest points of the three books that chronicles the lives of many Amish in two communities that are fairly close together. I've left out huge chunks of the plot that runs through all three books, the highs and lows of these people's lives, the spiritual growth and trials, and the meeting of the minds. Cindy has woven all this and more into her books without distracting from the story she is telling. She even goes into detail within the story of what it takes to join the Amish faith.

This is a Five Star, Two Thumbs Up, Amish Pastry kind of book.

Waterbrook/Multnomah provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New Formula?

I've often remarked about the formula for writing a romance novel, but now there seems to be a new formula. The heroine of the romance novel must be orphaned (preferably by car accident) and raised by her grandmother. The grandmother must now be in ill health for one reason or another, and in a hurry to marry the heroine off. I've read two such novels back to back with the added attraction of having quilts play important parts of both books.

Quilted by Christmas by Jodie Bailey

Taryn has a secret that only her Jemma knows, but when Justin shows up at the craft fair where Jemma sells her quilts, Taryn's secret comes back to haunt her. Justin is the father of Taryn's secret--a little girl named Sarah Faith, almost twelve years old. Jemma wants Taryn to tell Justin, but in the meantime, Taryn's cousin Rachel is getting married and Jemma ends up in the hospital with a broken arm--which seem to be totally unrelated except for the fact that Jemma is making a quilt for Rachel and needs it finished by Christmas so it will be done in time for Rachel's wedding. Taryn is pressed into service to finish the quilt for Rachel and Justin flies in for the rescue to help her sew it.

This is a typical boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back romance. There aren't many surprises to the plot and this is a rather "fluffy" book without deep substance, but it is a quick read and entertaining for what it is. Four stars.

Swept Away by Laura V Hilton

As I was finishing reading this book this morning as I rode my stationary bike, my husband asked me what I was reading. I said it was a rather goofy book. He asked why I was finishing it and I told him I only had a few more minutes to finish it. Kindle is good to tell me how much time I need to finish a book. It's a handy little feature on the device, which makes this seem like a Kindle review, rather than a book review. Maybe it is the constraint of a short novel that makes the plot and characters seem disjointed. There were some loose ends left untied and gave me a feeling of incompleteness. Grandma hires Drew, the broom maker, to do some handy-man chores around her place. Sara Jane's grandmother, Sari, wants to finish her ballad quilt because she knows her memory is slipping and she doesn't know how long she will have lucid times. She ends up in the hospital with a concussion that has changed Grandma's personality too. Again a quilt plays a significant part in the book and AT TIMES, the quilt is the only thing holding the book together. Some of the spiritual aspects of the book are over the top and really not quite believable. Three Stars.

Abingdon Press provided these books in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Every Tear

Joanna served as a switchboard operator with the signal corps in France. Now that the war is over, Joanna really doesn't want to go back home. She feels that there is nothing there for her, but a letter from her brother has caught up with her telling her that their mother has passed away and he needs her help with their younger sister, Lily.

Myra Johnson has undertaken to write about a new (for me) era of historical fiction--World War I. I don't know that I have read any of her works before, but I can guarantee this won't be the only book by her I will read.

Myra has developed a story around multi-dimensional characters who face many of the same problems we face today, and she put them in a most picturesque place--my home town, Hot Springs, Arkansas. The bulk of the story takes place at the Arlington Hotel--the height of luxury for the time. Joanna gladly takes a position as a switchboard operator at the Arlington, where she renews her friendship with Thomas Ballard, the manager of the Arlington. Because Joanna needs to be home during the day for Lily and Jack, their brother, she takes the night shift at the switchboard. Because Thomas wants to know Joanna better, he finds ways to hang around after his working hours are over.

Joanna's biggest problem is how to get through to Lily in a way to keep her out of trouble. She knows that she doesn't want Lily making the same mistakes she made as a teenager. The other issue Joanna has is how to get over the loss of her fiance' in France during the war.

I chose to read this book primarily because of its setting. The places mentioned are familiar to me because I grew up in the town. The Arlington is at the head of the main street of Hot Springs. Turn to the left, and you will pass the St Joseph Hospital where I was born (the building has since been torn town); turn to the right, and you will pass the Majestic--one of the other luxury hotels in town (it burned down last year, sadly). This is in one of the most beautiful areas of town.

The plot moves with an engaging pace, the characters are empathetic, the problems are believable, and the resolution is satisfying for the reader. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a trip down memory lane.

Abingdon Press provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Dandelion Field

Dandelions are the bane of every landscaper and lawn-owner, and the pride of every three-year-old wanting to give his mother flowers. It is the wishing flower of the five-year-old who finally has lung capacity to blow the seeds off the head. Those seeds blow everywhere in a good wind, send down roots and grow new plants wherever they land.

Gin is like a dandelion in some ways, she blows wherever the wind takes her, but she doesn't like to set down roots or stay in one place too long. When she landed in Bannister Falls, she promised her daughter, Raine, that she would stay until Raine graduated from high school. Gin found a job at My Place diner, the place to eat on the wrong side of the tracks; and a place to live on the wrong side of the tracks--both of which put Raine at a disadvantage when she started school.

Evie and her son, Cody, have lived in Bannister Falls all their lives, but their lives are on a collision course with Gin's and Raine's lives in an inseperable way. Cody and Raine become friends through several classes together, especially the family life class where they became partners in one of the lab projects.

Kathryn Springer has written a coming of age novel that brings young love and a mid-life love together in a way that satisfies the reader. As I read the book (and it is incredibly hard to put down), I was reminded of a book I read and re-read over and over again when I was in junior high school--Mr and Mrs Bo Jo Jones. Both stories are honest looks at teen pregnancy and its trials, but the Dandelion Field also brings in how God works in our lives regardless of the circumstances we place ourselves in. God doesn't overlook our sin, but He does forgive and cleanse, and, if we allow it, He will use it to draw ourselves closer to Him. From the very beginning of the world, God wanted and wants nothing more than our fellowship, unencumbered by sin. He will use whatever means necessary to get our attention and to bring us to Him.

One of the key elements of the book that plays a significant part is the death of Cody's father in a fire, when Cody was six years old. His influence on Cody through his best friend, Dan, is unmistakable. It is Dan's constant support and his enduring friendship that pave a way for Gin and Raine to find their way into God's family. It is Dan's reaching out that keeps Gin's sanity in tact when Raine decides she needs some time alone.

This book is so hard to put down, I devoured it in two sittings. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Dandelion Bouquet

Zondervan allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Winter Brides

Three stories of romance resulting in three winter weddings, stories written by three authors giving three points of view. The best of the lot is A January Bride by Deborah Raney.

In A December Bride, Layla needs a date to her cousin's wedding. Her usual date is sick and can't make it, so Seth Murphy steps up to volunteer. At the wedding, he can't stand it that her cousin is maligning her and tells her that he and Layla are getting married in four weeks. Layla's cousin is not one to be upstaged, so she makes the announcement of Layla and Seth's engagement to her guests.

In A January Bride, Maddie needs a place to write her novel--a deadline is looming and she must get it finished, BUT, the house where she is staying happens to be under remodel construction. Her neighbor Ginny suggests that she use the Bed and Breakfast Inn that is currently not in significant use, the owner being widowed. This sets up a situation for Maddie to be able to write in peace and quiet, but she can't stand being able to use the Inn without compensating the owner. She does a little cleaning and dusting each day, and leaves a note for the owner. He comes home and sees what she's done and he writes a note to thank her. Through these notes a friendship develops, but a case of mistaken identity also develops.

In A February Bride, Allie runs out on her wedding day, leaving Marcus at the altar. Four months later, Marcus' sister, Hannah, asks Allie to be her maid of honor. Allie is willing to do the job, but her reservations run deep. She's never really stopped loving Marcus, but really can't explain why she ran out on him--oh, she knows the reason and knows it is a good reason, but she just can't bring herself to tell Marcus. It's just too hard to reconcile it all together.

These stories are cute on the surface, but on the whole, not all that good. The plots in the December Bride and the February Bride were a bit far-fetched. On the whole I'd give the book a Four Star rating.

Zondervan provided the book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, December 12, 2014


Imagine, with me, standing beside a quiet pond with wave lapping almost imperceptibly. Imagine again seeing a pebble at your feet, just right for plopping into the water. As you drop the pebble into the water, you notice the ripples, small at first, then growing and fading. Then a flat rock catches your eye, and the urge to skip it across the water overwhelms you. The ripples grow, then intersect, overtaking each other until they lap on the shores of the pond.

As I read Christa Parrish's new novel, Still Life, this image came to my mind over and over again. There is never an action we take, a word we say, a choice we make, or a thought we think that does not create a ripple somewhere. Those ripples inevitably reach someone else and have effects on their lives. Nothing we do is isolated, ever.

Katherine is in Cleveland with her lover, Julian is trying to get home for his wife's birthday, the airplane is overbooked, and one simple act sets of a chain of ripples that can't be called back. Because Katherine gives her seat to Julian, she lives, but her life comes at a price far beyond her anticipation.

Katherine is a realtor, married to Will and involved in an affair with Thomas. Her younger son, Evan, is especially going to bear the brunt of the fallout from this relationship. Christa doesn't go into the whys or wherefores of the affair, she just drops the reader into the middle of it.

Julian is a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who sees more than the just pictures he takes. His lens magnifies the world around him and allows those who view his photographs to see more than just the people in the prints. He's been married for just a few months, having rescued his wife from a spiritually abusive cult. She has never celebrated her birthday before and he wanted to show her his love in a new and special way.

Evan is Katherine and Will's younger son, born with a defective heart. Many of his early years were spent in hospitals and having surgeries. He loves Julian's work and has a couple of his prints in his bedroom. Julian is his inspiration and Julian's death is a huge blow to Evan.

Ada, Julian's wife, has no idea how to live without her husband. His sister comes in and takes over the funeral arrangements, her friends surround her almost to smothering, and she feels she has to find her feet. Her first thought is to go back to her home, but finds that totally unwelcoming. She begins looking up where the people are from her husband's pictures, finding the ripples that have intersected into her life.

Christa Parrish writes with a depth I've not encountered before. This is my first novel by her that I've read and I found it thought provoking, insightful, and with spiritual implications that every believer should heed. Her characters are well-developed with empathetic traits that make it easy to step into their shoes. Her settings reside in the background, but have enough detail to make them easy to imagine and only add to the color of the story.

I certainly would buy this book for a friend, and I have a friend to whom I recommend many books. This one will go on her list, and she tends to pass on my recommendations. I found this book appealing on many levels, especially the photography (I like to dabble in photography) and it will stay with me for a long, long time. There are many reminders throughout the book of the spiritual implications of our actions and reactions, reminders that should help us give second thoughts to the paths we are traveling. I'd love to see this book made into a movie, but I think it would lose some in translation. Christa did leave the ending of the book in such a way that allows her to write another to follow it, and I will look forward to it with abated breath.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph for your collection

Thomas Nelson has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Not So Beautiful

I've read several books by Lisa Samson and thoroughly enjoyed them. The BEST thing I can say about A Thing of Beauty is that it did not take long to read. Fiona (Fia) Hume has been a child star who divorced her parents because they were mishandling her money. Now she lives in Baltimore, pretty much in seclusion. She's been through a typical child star life, including rehab, and now just wants to be herself without all the paparazzi, without notice. She is now a professional escort with a few exclusive clients who respect her boundaries. Basically, she allows herself to be arm-candy for men who need dates for important functions. Her parents are definitely disfunctional, but she does make peace with her father, and in the process makes peace with herself.

Nowhere in this book does faith come into play, the plot is rather disjointed, the characters have some depth but not enough. I think I am getting snarky here. I didn't like the book, and I don't think this is up to Lisa's usual quality. This won't keep me from reading her other books, but this one is a miss. Two Stars.

Thomas Nelson provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lizzy and Jane

I've not had the opportunity to read any of Katherine Reay's works, until I was allowed to read Lizzy and Jane. Let me tell you, this book is hard to put down. It creates a train of thought that rarely comes to mind--how to minister to a person's whole being.

Lizzy and Jane are sisters, not close in age or relationship, but now Lizzy has found out that Jane has breast cancer, and she is expected to go to Seattle and help her. Lizzy does not feel that she can take time away from her restaurant where she is a chef, until her boss feels she needs some time away to get her passion back. Once Lizzy hits Seattle, she makes it her job to find something her sister can eat.

Throughout this book, Katherine seeks to find the soul of each of her characters and reveal the souls to her readers. I found her technique quite intriguing as well as compelling. There is a bit of romance intertwined into the story, but it doesn't take center stage--in fact, it is a minor part. The most profound element to the plot is how Lizzy finds what her sister can eat, what she can tolerate, what brings her the most comfort; and then Lizzy translates that to use for another patient who gets chemotherapy at the same time. Her first trial is a bust for the other patient, until Lizzy figures out how to reach the other patient and prepares meals he can eat.

I related to this book in an unexpected way. I have cancer, and while I do not take chemotherapy, I do have food restrictions--restrictions that even though my friends have asked me about, they never seem to remember what they are. The thought that someone would care enough to find the things that would taste good, that wouldn't hurt sensitive mouths, that would nourish the soul as well as the body--that thought amazes me. I haven't seen that kind of caring, even within my church family. It a gift for someone with culinary training and a desire to help the deepest needs to delve deep into someone's soul to find what would touch that person in a way no one had ever tried before.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Five Star Meal that touches your soul.

Thomas Nelson has provided this book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Daisies Are Forever

If you look at the cover of the book, the title doesn't fit. When you read the book, the title barely fits. This is the absolute worst thing I can think of to say about this book.

Daisies Are Forever is one of those books that will leave you haunted if you don't finish it. I had to flip to the back of the book and read the ending when I was about halfway through it. (Yeah, I am one of those people). I've watched Band of Brothers more times than I care to count, which is a pretty good picture of the war for the soldiers. This book gives a pretty good idea of what the war was like for civilians going through it--the lack of food, the dearth of safety, the brutality of the Soviet soldiers as they took over parts of Germany, the constant bombing raids by British and American Air Forces, and the nightmares of the aftermath.

Gisela knows she has to leave Heiligenbeil, and her cousin, Ella, wants Gisela to take her two young daughters--Annelies and Renate--with her to Berlin. Along the way, she meets up with Mitch, an escaped POW; Kurt, a wounded soldier; Audra, a young lady who wants to go to America; and she also escorts her neighbors Bettina and Katya--two rather senile, old ladies. With this entourage, she has to avoid Soviet soldiers, keep her group together AND fed, and get any kind of transportation she can to get to Berlin where her mother lives. Once she reaches her mother's place in Berlin, the worry becomes keeping her group sheltered and safe as well as fed.

Liz Tolzma has written an incredibly intriguing book with more details about the war than I have ever thought about. Her research for her plot is well done, her characters have depth and interest, and the subplots only add more color to the story. The conflict of the war, the conflicts among the characters, and the personal conflicts all add together to produce a gripping story that is hard to put down.

Where do the daisies come in? Gisela wears a scarf with daisies printed on it, and her grandfather gives her a daisy to keep in her Bible at Isaiah 43 to give her strength. He knew this journey would be impossible to complete without knowing that God is with her regardless of the trials she would go through.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a daisy in your Bible.

Thomas Nelson provided this book for me to read in exchange for my honest opinion.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

No Life Is an Accident

I've not read anything by Pamela Binnings Ewen, but An Accidental Life is quite an introduction to her writings. Pamela has taken a really tough subject and brought it to life through her fictional characters--the subject of live birth late-term abortions. When a young pregnant lady hears her baby cry during the late-term abortion, she changes her mind about the baby, but the doctor attending the abortion does nothing to take care of the baby and refuses to allow his nurses to do anything either. The young woman filed a complaint with the police and starts an investigation that covers several states, and several years.

In an intersecting plot, Pamela writes about Rebecca and Peter Jacobs, both lawyers, with careers and plans that don't include children, until . . . Rebecca has just been named partner in the law firm where she works, she's brought in a new client that will add many billable hours to the firm's coffers, and Peter is a deputy prosecuting attorney in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Peter plans a trip for Rebecca and him to go to Italy and have a few days on their own without law firms or police detectives bothering them. Rebecca has just found out she's pregnant, and now has to break the news to Peter. At the same time, this case with the live birth abortion has landed in his lap. Life is about to get very interesting for the Jacobs family.

Most of this book encompasses the court trial, the investigation of the doctor charged in the infant's death, and ultimately the coming to terms with the coming baby in the Jacobs household. I have to say that I have never read such a thought-provoking book, and while it didn't change my stand on abortion, I saw a side of that particular industry I've never seen before. I will not go into the politics of abortion or what I feel about it, but this book will not let you slide through it without changing your thinking in some way or another. I never expected it to be this kind of book when I asked to be able to review it, and I was thoroughly blown away.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a precious baby to cuddle.

B&H Publishing Group has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Forever. . .

Sally Bingham is the fiancee of Donald--a self-important man with a horrible temper, the daughter of Honest Ed--a used car salesman, and a breeder/shower of Welsh Corgis, but her life is about to spiral out of control. She's been getting emails from Lizzie Zook, an Amish girl in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and the emails have piqued her interest. After an argument with Donald, she decided to go see Lizzie and find out what these emails are all about. This is where her life gets interesting. I can't really divulge much more of the plot without giving away the whole book. On the surface, Lizzie's emails seem to be about Sally's Welsh Corgis, but underneath, Lizzie is wanting so much more from Sally, and this leads to Sally finding out so much more about herself that she never knew, but it also leads to Sally finding a place that her heart has longed for--a place to belong.

Kate Lloyd is an author of Amish fiction and other Christian novels. I've read one of her previous novels and absolutely, positively, no question about it, LOVED it.

Kate writes with a depth of soul that is hard to find in many novels. Her characters are as real as real life, and their issues are things we all face in our day to day lives, so they are relatable and sympathetic. Woven into Forever Amish is the story of a prodigal returning home; the story of never fitting in, but finally finding home; the story of a family tiff that is reconciled; the story of a narrow escape from a destructive relationship; and the story of a heart finding its true home in God. That sounds like a lot to put into a book, but Kate has done this with finesse and grace. In some Amish fiction novels, the bishop of the community is sometimes seen as a hard man, but Bishop Troyer is a man who seeks God fully and yet is very gracious, even tender-hearted when dealing with his flock. I am obviously not Amish, and, to a degree, I have an "Englisch" view of the Amish being a legalistic sect, but there are so many aspects of Amish life I can admire. They are a hard-working lot, with an ability to play and have fun. They are a loving lot--there is no length to which they will not go in order to show the love of Christ.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Welsh Corgi puppy for a companion.

David C Cook has allowed me to read this book in exchange for my honest review.