©picture by scribbles (Marye McKenney)

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Forever Yours

Five novels in one cover that aren't about new romance, but are about renewed romance--marriages saved from the brink of divorce, divorced couples reunited, or a couple who loved once before are given a second chance. The authors are top flight, the novels are full length, but some of them drag. These are not these authors best offerings, which is not to say that they were not entertaining--for the most part they were. These stories were just not up to the quality I'm used to from these authors.

1. Andrea Boeshaar--Castle in the Clouds
2. Gina Fields--Familiar Strangers
3. Joyce Livingstone--One Last Christmas
4. Kim O'Brien--A Wedding Renewal in Sweetwater, Texas
5. Kathleen Y'Barbo--Major League Dad

Every romance in this anthology offers something for the romance reader. My favorite story in this collection is One Last Christmas--when a husband asks for a divorce, the wife goes about winning him back. She wants him to see where they've been in their history together, the good times, the bad times, and the in-between times. It takes a special New Year's Eve service to bring them back together.

There are enjoyable hours to be had reading this book, so I give it four stars.

My thanks to Barbour Books for allowing me to read and and review this book.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Praying the Bible

I have admired Donald Whitney's writings ever since I read his book on Spiritual Disciplines--it was even better than Dallas Willard's treatise on disciplines. Now I've had the opportunity to read his book on Praying the Bible, and I must say it was worth every minute of my time. He takes praying to a whole new level--he shows how to take a passage of scripture, make it relevant to daily life, and then use that passage in prayer in a way that is not boring or repetitive. As an example, he took the twenty-third Psalm and broke it down phrase by phrase, then he showed how each phrase could bring a prayer need to mind.

This book is easy to read, and with the plain language, easy to practice. It is not a long book--112 pages in the hardcover edition, but the depth that he brings to the discipline of prayer in his few words is not to be ignored. A definite FIVE STARS.

My thanks to Crossway Books who allowed me to read and review this book. My opinions are my own, not those of the publisher.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Brightest and the Best

I love the way Olivia Newport weaves real history into her historical novels. She has taken a post World War I issue and brought it to the attentions of many who probably didn't know the issue even existed--the rights of the Amish to practice their beliefs and to educate their children as they see fit. There isn't much "romance" in the story but that doesn't detract from the highly readable novel she has produced.

Brightest and Best pits power-hungry men against a peaceable community of men who are trying to prove their manhood by pushing people around who won't fight back. Their aspirations for more and better cloud their sketchy judgment and make them do things that in other times they wouldn't dream of doing. They were practicing a form of racism that is still just as hateful as any found today. At the base of any racism is a feeling of superiority over another race and as God has told us so many times, there is no Jew, no Greek, no Gentile, no Hebrew, no distinctions among any men.

Ella lives with her father and step-mother, but she loves Gideon and his children. All she wants is to marry Gideon, love his children, and make more with him. First they go through many trials to get there--their community school falling apart, unjustified arrests, having children removed from their homes, beatings, burglaries, and then fights in court.

I love the way Olivia writes and how she develops her characters, settings, and plot pacing. It is a book that is hard to put down and one that engages the reader intimately into the warp and woof of the story. Very definitely Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a new one-room school house that teaches real values.

My thanks to Shiloh Run Press for allowing me to read and review this book.

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Know You, I Danced With You Once Upon a Dream

Melody Carlson generally writes really good books, but with Once Upon a Summertime, she's missed her mark by just a few inches. Anna Gordon begins the book in her hometown, managing a small motel and butting heads with all of the rest of the staff. She can't come to a meeting of the minds with the owners, and the sharp edges of her tongue are quite evident. When she is fired without a reference, her childhood friend convinces her to apply for a job with a boutique hotel in New York City. At the interview, she is honest with the owner about her last employment and realizes she will not get the management job she wants. On her way out, she uses the restroom and cleans up after two maids who had used it before her. The owner's wife observes what Anna has done and hires her to be the housekeeping staff manager immediately. When the new manager comes in, Anna recognizes him to be a boy she had a crush on in high school, but he's all grown up now.

In some of Melody's books, the protagonists have to overcome conflict with each other and that is the case here as well. Some of the conflicts between Anna and Sean (the manager) are unnecessary and some situations create conflict between Anna and her friend. When it comes to the denouement, I was singularly disappointed. Anna and her friend, Marley, have become roommates, and with Sean's help, Anna has furnished Marley's and her apartment while Marley is out of town which leads to another conflict.

I wish Anna's sharp edges had been softened a bit, that Sean hadn't created so many uncomfortable situations for Anna, and that the "love" that grew between them wasn't so trite. Still the story is enjoyable and most of my criticisms are just my tastes. Four strong Stars.

My thanks to Revell for allowing me to read and review this book.

Change of Heart

I read a really sweet book called Change of Heart by Molly Jebber. Becca Yost has been stood up at the altar of her wedding and needs a change of scenery, so she goes to visit her sister in Massillon, Ohio. Her sister has left the Amish world to be married to the love of her life, but she was widowed early and has opened a seamstress shop for sewing new clothes and mending others. While visiting her sister, Becca, too decides to leave the Amish world to stay with her sister and work with the local doctor Matt Carrington.

While this is not the average Amish novel, the faith and values are still there. But at the same time, Molly has included class elitism and snobbery in the story as well. Matt's mother is not at all accepting of Becca and tries every trick known to overbearing mothers to break them up, including offering Becca money, and trying to shame her in public. When circumstances conspire to put Becca and Matt's mother in the same stage, Becca chooses to try olive branch after olive branch to get Matt's mother to accept her. It is through some very trying events that Matt's mother begins to see how charming and brave Becca is.

Like I said before, this isn't your normal Amish novel and only the second one I've read where the heroine leaves the church to live outside the community. Molly does follow the romance novel formula where boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. But it still rates four strong stars.

My thanks to Kensington books for allowing me to read and review this book.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Once Upon a Time . . .

I've read a lot of Janette Oke's books, and I enjoy her writing style, although sometimes it is rather sweet. In my reading, I had skipped the Seasons of the Heart series and I really missed something.

Once Upon a Summer reads like a Tom Sawyer type book with a young boy as a protagonist. The romance in the book is not overt, but it's secondary to the plot.

Josh lives with his grandfather, his great uncle, his aunt, and later on, his great-grandfather, who also adds a dog to the family. While Josh is an obedient boy, he loves his fun, and he's not above pulling a few hi-jinks. He's really content with his homelife, and so when changes come, he is not all that happy about it. Once he gets used to the changes, he's especially glad--like when Gramps--his great-grandfather--comes to live with them. Gramps brings a new life into the family and becomes Josh's best fishing partner. Josh is particularly protective of Auntie Lou and gets a bit riled up when Grandpa and Uncle Charlie decide to find her a husband.

The language Janette uses in the conversations sounds more like it comes from the southern US, rather than Canada. Because she does not specify a location for the book, the reader can imagine the setting to suit his or her own preferences.

I absolutely loved this book, so the rest of the series will go into my TBR list.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a trip to the crik to go fishing.

My thanks to Bethany House for allowing me to read and review this book.

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Heart's Home

Whooops! I read a book and forgot to review it! GASP! I'm so sorry, friends and publishers. I'll be on my best behavior from now on.

Colleen Coble has written a sweet little book called A Heart's Home. Emmie and Isaac are slated to get married, but Emmie's best friend dies in childbirth and her husband is holding Emmie to a promise she made under duress. It breaks Emmie's heart to tell Isaac what she promised her friend and that now her friend's husband is holding her to the promise.

Colleen's imagination takes the reader back to the days of the Westward Movement and the settlement of the frontiers of America. She has brought to her readers a situation that was not uncommon--death in childbirth--inserted a promise to a dear friend, and then worked out a solution that surprises but gratifies the reader. There is a sweetness to the book that makes it a perfect afternoon read, and enough adventure to keep the reader engaged throughout the book.

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a dear friend to hold your hand.

My thanks to Thomas Nelson for allowing me to read and review this book.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Heart of Forgiveness

I love the novels Suzanne Woods Fisher writes--she has "real" characters with flaws and foibles that match my own, even though they are Amish. BUT, she has written a book about forgiveness and the Amish way of life. Forgiveness figures largely into the Amish lifestyle, because they know they need forgiveness and they also know they need to GIVE forgiveness just as much.

The Heart of the Amish is a book of testimonies of Amish forgivers and forgivees, along with scientific studies that show how holding grudges, giving forgiveness, receiving forgiveness affects us physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Suzanne does not paint the Amish as perfect people who live without sin, but people who have faults, who make bad choices, who live in a community where forgiveness is a key characteristic of their lives.

In reading this book I remember Simon asking Jesus why He was letting a prostitute anoint his feet, and Jesus asked him who would love more--someone who had been forgiven for a big thing or a small thing. The big thing or the mass quantity of things forgiven leads to a greater love, and that love shows in how the Amish live.

This book won't take long to read, but it is worth every moment that it will take. Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a cup of forgiveness, just to get you started.

My thanks to Revell for allowing me to read and review this book.

For the Love of . . .

Every now and then you find an author who speaks your language, who understands your sass, and who knows where you live in a way that no one else has ever done before. Jen Hatmaker has done this for me. For the Love is such a book that understands me even though Jen and I have never met in person. She read my beads and told me what I needed to know.

This book is for every woman who needs a touch of grace in her life, who needs permission to wear her yoga pants all day long, who irons her clothes in the dryer, (and for me) who washes non-dishes in the dishwasher because it's a good way to get things clean.

The most important thing (among many important things) that Jen said in this book is about claiming God's promises. There are times when we see that God promises something we dearly want, and we have to ask ourselves, "Is this true for that single mom in Haiti?" Is God going to gift that single mom in Haiti with monetary prosperity when there is no money to be had in Haiti? Or is He going to give her a prosperity of soul and fill her spirit with the Comforter? It's a no-brainer.

One treat that Jen included in her book is a fail-proof recipe for Beef Bourguignon. I will post it here.

Beef Bourguignon Serves 6-8
To begin, you’ll need:
1 T. olive oil
8 oz. bacon, diced
2 1/ 2 lbs. chuck beef cut into one-inch cubes
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. carrots, sliced diagonally into one-inch chunks
2 yellow onions, sliced
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 bottle dry red wine (like a Pinot Noir)
1 can (2 cups) beef broth
1 T. tomato paste
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (or 1/ 2 teaspoon dried)
4 T. unsalted butter at room temperature
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 lb. fresh mushrooms, thickly sliced

For serving, you’ll need:
Country bread or Sour Dough, toasted or grilled and rubbed with garlic clove
1/ 2 cup chopped fresh parsley

First of all, don’t panic at the ingredient list. Look at it: butter and flour and such. You have almost all of this. Don’t let the fancy name fool you: This is basically stew. A one pot meal, sisters. So get your Dutch oven because you are about to make magic.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add bacon (baaaaacooooon!) and cook over medium about ten minutes, stirring a bit until it is brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to a large plate (but leave that baaaaacooooon grease in the pot, for the love of deliciousness).
Dry the beef cubes with a paper towel and give them a hefty douse of salt and pepper. In single layer batches, sear the beef cubes on all four sides in the hot-oil-slash-bacon-grease (about three to five minutes). Remove the cubes to the plate with the bacon and keep this up until all of the beef is browned. (Don’t skip this step! Sure, it adds a few minutes to the recipe but it will turn that cheap cut of meat into a superstar later. Stop rushing. What else do you need to do? Go cure cancer?)
Into all that good juice and drippings, toss in the carrots, onions, a tablespoon of salt and two teaspoons of pepper for ten to fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the garlic and cook for another few minutes. (At this point, the aroma gets ridiculous.)
Put the meat and bacon back in the pot. Add the bottle of wine (you read that right . . . the entire bottle, you lushes!) plus enough beef broth to cover the meat.
Add the tomato paste and thyme.
Bring to a simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and slide in the oven for about two hours until the meat and vegetables are fork-tender.
Pray someone knocks on your door to witness how good your house smells.
Back on the stovetop, combine two tablespoons of butter and the flour with a fork. Stir the product into the stew (this will thicken it and add creaminess).
Saute the mushrooms in two more tablespoons of butter until lightly browned, and add to the stew. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for fifteen minutes. Season to taste.

This book is worth every single star I'm giving it--all five, two thumbs up, and a day in yoga pants.

My thanks to Thomas Nelson for allowing me to read and review this book.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Through Waters Deep

When I pick up a Sarah Sundin book, I always have trouble deciding how to read it. I mean, I do know how to read, but Sarah's books are so good that I don't know whether to read slowly and savor each scene and each character or to read it fast because I just can't put it down. Generally, I read them rather quickly because I just can't put them down. It's just the way it is.

So, Mary Stirling is living in Boston and working for the Navy Ship Yard where they are building the battle ships and destroyers for the U S Navy prior to World War II. She happens to see Jim Avery, a guy she went to high school with, who is now stationed out of Boston on the destroyer Atwood. When sabotage begins to show up--like gasoline in a champagne bottle for a launching, a bomb in a compartment in the communications room on the Atwood, people framing one another for the sabotage incidents--those things get Mary's "Nancy Drew" interest. Because she can take shorthand dictation at 200 words per minute, she starts keeping notes on conversations and impressions and then turning those notes in to the FBI agents who are investigating the sabotage.

I have to admit I am rather jealous of Mary's shorthand prowess, as I only reached 120 wpm and I rarely use it anymore. But that's a different tale for a different time.

Through Deep Waters is one of those novels that teaches spiritual truths when you really aren't paying attention. When another friend from high school moves in with Mary and her roommate, Mary remembers the crush Jim had on this friend and sacrifices her growing love for Jim so this friend can have her chance at true love with him. Jim is put into a couple of situations where he has to consider the greater good in choosing his actions in the particular situations--in one he chooses many lives over one man's fingers, in another he chooses to rescue several men's lives in spite of direct orders not to.

I had a few surprises in how my expectations were fulfilled or not. Jim's friend Arch is from a rather wealthy family and wants to meet a girl who loves him for himself and not his money. I had a girl from the book picked out for him, but Sarah surprised me. I can't wait for the next book to see how this one works out.

I love Sarah's writings, partially because my father and many of my uncles served during World War II and the part of history they lived is fascinating to me. I love Sarah's writings because she's got a good grasp of the trade--she pulls characters, settings, and plots together in a cohesive reading extravaganza. If I had a bucket list of authors I'd want to meet in person, Sarah would be at the top!

Five Stars, Two Thumbs Up, and a Nancy Drew novel to help you hone your investigative skills.